What Is Social Proof And Why Your Business Can Live Or Die By It

By Yaro Starak
45 Comments

When everyone looks up at the sky, do you do the same?

If no one is buying a certain flavour of ice cream, do you stay clear of it too?

If your friends all wear a certain brand of clothing do you desire to do the same, or the opposite?

The force that influences you every day when it comes to decision making, from the biggest decisions like where you want to live, down to the smaller every day choices like what to have for lunch, is called Social Proof.

Social Proof exists because we group together in a society. All other people around you and what choices they make, are pushing or pulling you to do or not do certain things. This is an incredibly strong force when it comes to influencing our behaviors. We are pack animals, no matter how independent we think we are, unless you live in a cave, you are conditioned by other people around you.

As business owners social proof is important because it’s such an influential selling tool. It’s potentially a business killer too, because negative social proof can kill your brand and your sales.

Let’s take a closer look at how we can use social proof as bloggers and information marketers…

An Introduction To Social Proof For Selling Online

Here’s how Wikipedia introduces Social Proof –

Social proof, also known as informational social influence, is a psychological phenomenon where people assume the actions of others reflect correct behavior for a given situation. This effect is prominent in ambiguous social situations where people are unable to determine the appropriate mode of behavior, and is driven by the assumption that surrounding people possess more knowledge about the situation.

Although like every one else I have been influenced by others around me from an early age, I only became aware of the concept of social proof as a marketing tool after studying direct response advertising.

For years I can remember watching late night infomercials, with all the testimonials from people who had used some sort of exercise machine, or food slicer and dicer or fad diet, and the amazing results they had achieved.

Unfortunately due to the poor reputation of the late night infomercial world I personally had more feeling of skepticism towards these testimonials than a compulsion to purchase, however the proof is in the results. TV marketers do not keep running ads if they don’t get a response, and social proof was a big part of the reason why they did.

Anthony Robbin’s became a household name because of late night infomercials and can you remember much social proof in them?

My Eyes Opened When It Came Time To Sell Something

I’m a bit of a contrarian, at least I considered myself one growing up. It wasn’t by design, I just didn’t like the feeling of doing something because everyone else was. You might call me an anti-social proof person back then. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t impacted by it, but instead of wanting to run with the crowd, I went against it, at least in some things like drinking alcohol as a teenager, which I never did.

Of course back then I would never have called any of this sort of behavior as social proof, I just acted on my feelings, as we all do when influenced by other people.

Fast forward to my more recent career as an information marketer and I start to see social proof everywhere, and discover it actually has a name. I learned you can, and should, tap into as much social proof as possible.

Today the very nature of the Internet, being such a social environment, has resulted in social proof becoming by far the greatest force when it comes to buying decisions.

Recommendation engines in shopping sites like Amazon.com rely on other people’s feedback to help drive sales and refer people to products they will like based on the buying behaviours of people like them.

Bloggers act as a social proof force, recommending products without necessarily intending to simply by stating they are using some piece of equipment or software. If enough bloggers state they are using a certain product or service, that can be all that is needed to drive an army of customers snapping up a product without one cent of money spent on advertising.

The “wisdom of the crowd” is a phrase that applies particularly well to the large social environment created on the internet and the power of a group to come together and make a decision collectively. It also happens to be another label for social proof, although strictly speaking it doesn’t necessarily always lead to the “wisest” decision. Social proof triggers can result in bad decisions too, because it can be a blind choice, made because other people made it, not necessarily based on sound rationalisation looking at the facts.

How I Applied Social Proof

I started to see the true power of this technique when I launched my first information product. I had already spent countless hours studying the product launch formula. I watched many internet marketers make huge profits leveraging social proof in their sales materials and even in their teaching materials (teaching materials are after all, the best sales materials).

I noticed that one technique, a type of social proof inducing mechanism, was especially powerful: The Case Study.

Case studies are social proof highlight reels, showing what other people who were just like you are now experiencing as a result of making a decision to buy something that you have the option to buy too. If you see enough of these sorts of case studies you start to see the outcome as a forgone conclusion. Make this purchase and the result is yours, because it has happened to so many other people after buying.

The best kind of case study is one where the person starts in a worse situation than you can imagine, and then buys what you offer and goes on to experience a better result than even you did as a result of the purchase. If you have several of these kinds of examples, well, you have all the sales materials you need!

True to form, I went looking for case studies when it came time to sell my training product on how to make money blogging. Of course the first launch was with a new product no one had used before, so I didn’t have any previous students to draw from, so I relied on my own personal case study story. For subsequent launches, as a group of star students began to emerge I was able to draw on these people for short testimonial interviews, and for a handful of them, full blown hour-long case study interviews.

Many of my podcast interview subjects are actually case studies for my products, at least in part. While I wasn’t specifically inviting these people to promote my products – I wanted to share their success story – often my influence would show up when they said they learned something from me, or implemented one of my techniques. You can see plenty examples of these kinds of interviews on my How People Make Money With Blogs Case Study page.

I should note that for you direct response marketing or copywriting pros, you might refer to case studies as examples of the concept of “proof” rather than social proof. As far as I am concerned, case studies are the ultimate example of both proof and social proof, but you do need a lot of them for the social aspect to kick in, which is why people have pages and pages of testimonials to sell their products.

Simple Social Proof

One of the simplest examples of social proof you will find on almost all blogs are comments. Comments are indicators that enough people are paying attention to what you are writing to reply. The same can be said for things like facebook “like” and twitter “tweet” buttons and before them, the Digg and Stumble buttons, and more recently Pinterest “Pin” button, which all demonstrate social proof within a social media context.

All these elements help to reinforce that this is “good content” because other people have read it and shared it or commented on it. This is the same reason why there was a craze a few years ago of bloggers placing RSS counters, or traffic stats widgets, pagerank and alexa bars and all kinds of similar badges to show that people pay attention to you. The more attention you have the more you deserve it from others – social proof in action.

How To Apply Social Proof To Your Business

The first step when applying social proof is to become aware of how effective it is and then look for ways to leverage it within what you already do.

Chances are you already have built up some kind of social proof elements simply through the course of business. Showing a stat counter of how many people have downloaded your software or used your product is a good start. You may have received positive feedback emails from customers who have benefited from what you sold them – can they be your next case study? Perhaps you have a lot of comments on a particular blog post, or can you add a comment function to something to start building a social proof resource? Facebook comments?

One of the best triggers for social proof is a great product. Actually, it IS the best form of social proof.

Why? Because a brilliant product is purchased by a lot of people, talked about by a lot of people and even defended or raved about online by evangelists. This is pure social proof because it occurs organically, you simply give people what they want and they then become a force that influences future potential customers, and so on and on.

My advice if you are an information marketer looking to sell digital products online, is to collect some really good case studies, ideally at least one really thorough one. Record a video interview with that person if you can and break down all the steps they took to get a result. Don’t worry if they reveal everything that is in your product, that will just serve as more proof of how good it is.

I also recommend giving away your best stuff for free. If you have a free report that spreads far and wide, people start to include you in conversations whenever your industry is discussed. You become one of the “experts” or “celebrities” or whatever you want to call it. What matters is that you factor into that world because lots of people have heard of you in relation to a subject. If your name is dropped often enough people assume you are great even if they have never experienced what you do. That’s what social proof is all about – giving you status based on social reference.

Social proof is everywhere. I can’t even begin to explain how pervasive a force it is. What’s important is that you turn your awareness on to it, especially when it comes to marketing your products and services.

One thing I have personally noticed is that as I became more aware of social proof in a selling context, the easier I could spot it influencing my decision making. I can’t “break free” from social proof – I don’t really want to because it helps me make quicker decisions – but I do like “seeing” the forces that influence me rather than being blind to them, which is what I was predominately in the past.

As part of emotional mastery, spotting social proof in your life is a great tool because you take back the power. You can observe the decisions that people around you make and how it pushes or pulls you, but you don’t act on impulse because of them.

You can review social proof with a sense of detachment to it, see the wisdom in it when you need it to help you make a decision, and then act. It becomes a rational tool for choosing a path rather than an irrational emotional act made because you are a herd creature (or at least you can tell yourself that and then go and make the same decision as everyone else anyway!).

Thanks for reading, now go and tell your friends to read this, oh, and click the tweet button ;-)

Yaro Starak
Herd Animal

Photo courtesy of Flashpacking Life

About Yaro Starak

Yaro Starak is the author of the Blog Profits Blueprint, a report you can download instantly to learn how to make $10,000 a month, from only blogging 2 hours per day. You can find Yaro on Facebook, Twitter and .

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45 Comments

  • Finally an article talking about the importance of social “awareness” of an internet site or business. Social proof is one of those things or steps to take at the very beginning of any career. Just because of that, it is one of the best ways to leverage to your success.

    I mostly buy from people who recommend and have mostly benefited from. That is the most powerful way to make or break anything. Excellent article Yaro.

    • Glad you liked it Samuel and yes I think social proof dictates most purchases for me too on some level.

  • George

    Hi Yaro – entertaining spoof on Tony Robbins, but even without social proof he has been prettty successful. What were the main techniques that he used?

    • I’m not a student of Tony’s marketing campaigns, but like most marketers he makes use of countless case studies. He uses social proof when he has every day people talk about their experiences working with Tony and he also uses celebrity endorsements for the same reason – another form of powerful social proof, especially in previous decades.

  • “positive feedback emails from customers who have benefited from what you sold them” – great idea. Sometimes we just keep these to ourselves when really asking if you can post this on your website/blog could benefit both of you.

    All great ideas Yaro. Off to look for some stuff to use as social proof that is hiding on my computer…

    • I hope you find some good ones S! I’ve probably got a few hundred hidden in my email archives over the years that I’ve yet to make use of, but they certainly make me feel food when I get them.

  • Hi Yaro
    The importance of social proofing to any business both online and offline cannot be over emphasized. However, this post have just elaborated it all and i think even a newbie will be able to comprehend the benefit of social awareness after going through this article. Please just keep it up.

  • Moe

    If you have zero twitter followers and zero facebook likes widgetized in your blog, almost nobody will follow or like you. If you buy social proof, say 10,000 of each, all of a sudden people step in line. Crowds breed crowds.

    • Yes, that is a god point Moe – you can “buy” social proof, however if you have a bad product or bad customer service the initial rush of people who come to you because of your social proof you bought, will turn into negative social proof quickly when you don’t meet their needs, hence destroying any credibility you had.

      Start with a great product, then social proof is easy.

      • Hello Yaro,

        You make an excellent point.

        It is easy to “buy” social proof. I see so many advertisements that encourage people to purchase Twitter followers and Facebook “likes”. I do not doubt that these “quick fix” ads are tempting to newcomers of the online marketing industry.

        Taking this type of shortcut will most likely backfire. When it comes to genuine social proof, there are no quick fixes or cutting corners.

        Offering a great product is the answer. You and many others are living proof!

        Best,

        Stacie Walker

    • Campbell

      Yes, that pretty much sums up how superficial and shallow our society has really become. Just because you use facebook or twitter does not mean that you posses strong moral fiber.

      But despite this obvious truth people judge you before they even know you as a person and will only give you the benefit of the doubt ‘if” you have social proof?

      What a load of complete utter B.S that is to degrade a human beings worth down to something as superficial and as shallow as that! Am I the only one that finds something wrong with this scenario?

    • Moe

      Yes I completely agree Yaro. I was merely just pointing out that it works. If you are a newbie and putting out great content, products etc. It can be very frustrating trying to build organic social proof from scratch.

      Sometimes a little jump start can make the difference between a newbie giving up on a great idea or going on to have great success.

  • Hi Yaro, thanks for the great post! As I was reading your article, it dawned on me that as a consumer myself social proofing has indeed influenced my buying decision. I would be more convinced to buy a certain product/ service upon recommendations by bloggers/friends/family members.

    Another point I would like to suggest is that when marketing business for social proofing is to showcase the number of subscribers in email list. This technique can be seen in a lot of authority blogs. Credibility and trust is built as people would naturally believe that there is something good in it for them since there are so many others who had signed up.

    • I’ve had my email and RSS counters on this blog for many years (although recently taken down because the counters weren’t working properly).

      I do think it’s a good technique, but in the grand scheme of things only a tiny detail that I wouldn’t stress about if you don’t have a lot of subscribers yet.

  • Building social proof is paramount to an information marketers success. My mentor taught me from the very early days the importance of social proof i.e. ‘turning suspects into prospects’. He also refers to another form of social proof as ‘Google Wealth’ which I must say, I have none at this present time!

  • I can’t agree more with the case study. Your first cast studies don’t need to be case studies for your product. They could be case studies for people emailing you with questions. Showing that a person gets highlighted on your blog or podcast just for asking will increase engagement, which increases trust, and ultimately increase the social proof of your business.

  • excellent post….

    personally, adding a Proof of Income section on my blog has boosted my readership. this was further helped most recently when I posted a copy of my largest Google Adsense check $5,963.41

    I can’t agree with you more Yaro. I know years back when I used to see your world travel pics, the condo, the car all paid for in cash that it made an impact on my psyche.

    social proof is powerful and it works. years of research and education isn’t all fluff. it does impact our psychology.

    with the increasing number of bloggers and websites, I believe that social proof will start to hold even more importance in the future. there are many who talk the talk, but it’s refreshing to see solid proof of those who actually walk the walk.

    great post Yaro

    • Ahh I remember the days of the google adsense check competitions. First I saw Darren’s Problogger/Photoblog check, then it was shoemoney with his six figure check and later I started pulling out my affiliate checks. My best ever was about $26K from a Rich Schefren promotion…I loved going to the bank with that one!

  • Hi Yaro – I totally agree with you, that social proof (and online credibility) is very important. Without it we aren’t able to get customers and loyal readers, only clicks ;)
    BR, Chris

  • Hi Yaro great post, I take screenshots of all the positive feedback I get from emails and Facebook then share them on Social Networks, (not in a boasting way though) just to show that we try and deliver what we set out to do. Social Proof is important and should be taken seriously.

    Cheers
    Andi

  • Olga

    Terrific post, as always, Yaro! Thanks for sharing with us your words of wisdom!

  • Thanks for your post Yaro,
    Yes, on my blog(s) you can directly see that there are – conversations – going on (also with a possibility to reply on comments from commenters), because for that they can find a list with recent posts. Also when I find out that some old post is suddenly catching much attention and gets commenters, I sometimes pick them up from the archive and give them a more prominent place. That way when you come on any of my blogs, you mostly will see posts with social proof.

  • This is some pretty powerful stuff! I never really thought this deeply into it, but in the past I worked with a group of marketers and we had video testimonials on each others blogs and it definitely helped.

    It could have been coincidence, but I was making a few extra sales per week after having those videos from other marketers in my field on the sidebar of my blog.

    This is only a basic way to do it because I was an affiliate marketer so case studies and other examples in this post wouldn’t have made as much sense at the time.

    Thanks for the awesome post!
    -Gabe

  • The emotional impact of the forms of social proof that you talk about definally comes out in the way people respond to you.

    Your blog and the products that you are involved with feel real because there’s an atmosphere of trust surrounding everything you deliver online.

    As always, I enjoy your posts and learn a little more from each one of them

  • That post really put my mind thinking of “Social Proof” I have been trying to make a living on the internet for years,with some small success,until I realized your concept two years ago without knowing it was happening-
    To explain more.

    I had made 30-40 blogs can not remember what some were about,had heaps of email address but small earns..So I got sick of sending out email newsletters and closed down my autoresponders,felt a bit naked,however I decided to buy some cheap best selling products on Amazon to review.I decided to buy the products to put a unique spin on the content written by me.Yes spent around $600 and out of 40 or so products found only 15 that excited me.

    The first new blog was on a $20 toy,it went viral with 786 comments,so created a forum(social proof in a way) Now people just Tweet,Facebook,etc,anything I write-Social proof creeps up on you providing the content you write is unique,was once told “Feed the starving crowd” in other words people basically search Google for information they need and if they find the site or blog that gives them their need, they spread the word…One point to mention, I replied to every comment fast and emails sent to me with honesty,not trying to up sell them, the replys came back wanting to know where should they buy from-Bingo!

    That is Social Proof- sorry to go on a bit but your post is brilliant for beginners starting out or old internet marketers hitting the wall-Thank you, has made me want to expand the Social Proof bigger than ever-It works.

  • I actually hadn’t thought of this in the depth you went into it, but am certainly aware of it now, thanks to the information you provided. The video was hilarious!

  • Hi Yaro,
    Blogging and social proof is reward for effort obviously your writings are testimonial. After reading this post on social proofing I like to add that in life “it is better to give than receive” it is universal. What I learned from social proof is (search engines notice) shhh! Popularity rules the day. Taking the time to read, comment , like and reply to others opinions and thank you’s on social media is noticed by the cyber powers that be. Conversation and opinions count for online business. Amazon product reviews prime example, reading these reviews is really helpful. There is some smart people out there, I learn from their comments as well. Did not have to go to the library to understand the subject at all.

  • Ia agree with you about social proof. I have found it hard to get people to comment on my blog. I’ve added all of the share buttons, but not much action. However, it get tons of comments on my You Tube channel. And this does not even provide them with a back link to their website. Anyway, I thought this is odd and would share it. Thanks for posting this knowledge and sharing it with us.

  • Brian Engelhardt

    Hi Yaro, Awesome post. I’m inspired. It’s amazing how good a writer, one can become, with a few years experience under one’s belt. And I like the way you invoke a cool sense of humor as well. I guess those are a few reasons why, I’ve stayed on your mailing list after so many years. No one knows me yet. I don’t even have a website. But very soon, I expect that will change. The light bulb has gone on. And now, because I’m more aware, I will make better use of something so very powerful called “Social Proof”. Thank You. .

  • Tim

    Beware though …. there is a fine line between believable ‘social proof’ and that other place. I once knew a company that called this type of proof – ‘orchid letters’. Perhaps something to do with the aroma ….?

  • fas

    Excellent post, yes social proof does matter but testimonials are the most used ones but not so honest!

  • Loved the video. “As long as one person is happy from me taking all their money, it was worth it, even if that one person was me!” Awesome!

  • very good post on one of the foundational pieces of direct marketing. Social proof is one of the hard-wired psychological triggers and people are often unaware of the effect on their decision process.

    We evolved utilizing social proof as a means to react quickly without thinking. For example, a herd of gazelles don’t all need to see a lion before they run. If part of the herd starts to run, they all go.

    And when it comes to using proof for a launch, we often say “no proof, no launch”. As you noted, when you first did your product, your success was your proof, which can still be effective, but nothing beats having good case studies.

    And certainly with the growing transparent social space more people are utilizing social proof in the form of reviews, comments, likes (and especially likes by people you like) and they are having a larger impact as well as the “reverse social proof” that comes with bad reviews.

  • very useful post as usual
    i depend heavily on social proof to increase sales and am happy with the results

  • [...] What Is Social Proof And Why Your Business Can Live Or Die By It [...]

  • Great post, Yaro. I think Social Proof is such an integral part of making a business, or a product – I know I wouldn’t buy anything without reading a review of it first.

  • Yes, that’s a great point Yaro,

    That’s why I recently created a special list with the Top 3 with Bestselling products in Web Marketing, and also a list with recent commenters.

    That way visitors can directly see that there actually people that buy things and that there actually are real commenters that they can direclty click on to see for themselves.

  • [...] expertise online is to get other experts to do that for you. This is a phenomenon called social spoof. When users see that an expert they know, trust, and love endorses your product or just respects [...]

  • Yes, social class is irapmtont in our society. I see it everyday from school to work and even experience it myself. Recently I found out I was expecting and instead of this time being joyous and carefree, I am in a constant worry about how I can afford to pay for this baby. News, media, celebs all make having a baby seem exciting with no worries, but no one ever tells you the costs of the doctors, nurses, paper work, and the birthing facility. Social class effects all aspects of life and should be address more in society.

  • PJ

    Yaro, your article has really helped to show the many ways that we are all influenced whether we like it of not. Now, for putting together a plan on how to use these insights in a proactive way.

    A contrarian … hmmm, or am I?

  • [...] selling principles come in to play here.  Social proof, reciprocity, recency effect, scarcity, sampling effect, and the loss effect, to name a few.  Of [...]

  • […] What Is Social Proof And Why Your Business Can Live Or Die By It   While online marketers don't have the tactile social proof options that bricks and mortar retailers do, there are certainly social proof elements you can include.   Off the top of my head, here are a few ideas – […]

  • Hi Yaro,
    OK, so I’m a little late seeing this post but you’ve certainly opened my eyes to properly using social proof.
    I’m just about to start a new marketing campaign for 2014 and will now be leveraging social proof a whole lot more.
    Huge thanks.
    Karl

  • […] Starak, a well-respected blogger and online entrepreneur, shares a Wikipedia definition as a reference in a recent article, stating that social proof (also known as informational social influence) is “a psychological […]

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