Applying social proof and content marketing

How to increase your visibility? How to raise awareness among your prospects? Your products and/or services are excellent and you devote lots of attention and effort to satisfying your customers. Even so, reaching success levels is harder than you had hoped it would be. How to attract potential customers if you don’t (yet) have the reputation of a Microsoft, a McDonald’s, or a Coca-Cola?

by Smart Media Agency BE | September 21, 2022

Picture this scene: you are walking along the road at lunchtime, stomach rumbling. You see two sandwich shops ahead, their windows are both well-stocked and appetising, and their prices are similar. There’s one difference between the two: one is empty, while the other one has a queue of about fifteen people patiently waiting in front of the other one’s door. And, most likely, you will prefer to join the queue, than to go into the sandwich shop where there is no one.

You may lose half of your break time, the sandwich may be neither better nor worse than the one from the other store, however, you will be happy with your decision, due to the fact it is validated by all those who came before and after you in desiring the same sandwich.

Social proof, a psychological mechanism

This reflex dates back to our years as hunter-gatherers, when danger lurked behind the long grass and a bad choice of berries or roots meant becoming somebody else’s dinner.

Although buying a chocolate croissant is less dangerous than gathering berries all those many years ago, we have still held on to this reflex: before buying, we like to know more about the company, about the product. This applies even more when the differences between two products are of little significance and there is no good reason to allow a rational choice. Or when we have no time to consider the pros and cons at ease. Then we take a shortcut and rely on the opinion of our contemporaries. These may be close acquaintances and people we trust, or unknown people hidden behind a computer screen. In psychology, this mechanism is known as social proof. And it’s a marketing tool that is well worth remembering.

Social proof, a powerful marketing tool

One of the best books on this subject is undoubtedly the one by Robert Cialdini: Influence – The psychology of persuasion. It is among the true classics in social psychology. In this book, Robert Cialdini recounts 6 principles of influence, applicable at any time, and particularly today:

  • Reciprocity: people feel like they owe you something when you give them something first, for example a free sample
  • Commitment and consistency: when we make a decision, we like to stick to it and remain consistent, particularly when there is an audience to witness our commitment. Used properly, this principle is the foundation of customer loyalty.
  • Liking: we believe and are more keen to follow people who we like, due to the trust we have developed in them. The same applies when our own values and those represented by the brand are similar. If you want to exploit this, you must build a trust relationship with your community and align your positioning and brand marketing.
  • Authority: we trust a person of authority. This may be due to a professional title, acquired and recognised experience, a uniform (for example, a doctor’s gown), but also jargon (knowledgeable words which give the impression that someone knows what they are talking about).
  • Scarcity: our brains are wired to believe that something that is rare or difficult to obtain will be more valuable to us. By limiting the availability of an offer or the number of products available, for example, you create a sense of urgency and scarcity which can speed up the conversion of your prospect.
  • And finally, social proof: “When a large number of people does something, we understand it’s the best course of action. This verification of the facts is both the strength and the weakness of social proof. […] Social proof represents an easy shortcut, but at the same time this makes it vulnerable to attackers lying in wait to take advantage along the way”, says Robert Cialdini.

With this sentence, the author of Influence – The psychology of persuasion pinpoints the main use and risk of social proof. The key advantage is allowing us to take a rapid and relatively reasonable decision, without having to study all the options ourselves.

The danger, however, lies in those who take advantage of this, as people who understand the principle and our psychology, and make use of it for dishonest purposes.

There are plenty of good or bad reasons to apply this principle. And without judging the merits of yours, you will see that it is possible, to use this in your marketing to develop your community, your sales and your business.

True value and perceived value

Allow social proof to validate your product, and it will automatically gain the credibility it was lacking among potential customers who were not (yet) aware of you. This influences consumer behaviour, modifies the perceived value of your product and creates a trust relationship with them.

However, it is important to note that the principle of social proof applying to a bakery does not apply to various other businesses:

  • Perhaps your business model rests on a small number of very good customers, rather than many customers who consume goods costing just a few euros.
  • You may not have a queue of customers blatantly buying your products and/or services, either because you are not particularly glamourous or ‘instagrammable’, or because they are of a more private nature, for example.
  • And furthermore, you might not even be well positioned, in which case no one ‘witnesses’ your customers leaving your premises with a smile on their face.

Before making a purchase, consumers tend to seek information. The bigger the purchase, the more likely they are to make enquiries about the product, service or company. Thanks to the internet, their enquiries can almost go on for ever. And while we are on the subject of the internet, let’s continue. More and more businesses are launching their own e-shop. When the company sells services rather than products, it is likely to present them on its website. And even if the brand does not have a website, it is likely to be active on social networks, to the extent that more and more platforms facilitate direct sales. These days, companies depend on digital, whatever their business model and activities are.

How to make use of the phenomenon of social proof at a digital level?

A good product benefits, for example, from positive opinions and welcome recommendations, while a poor product will soon suffer from a bad reputation and customers who prefer a better-scoring competitor

Utilising social proof online

There are different methods, according to the type of business.

  • The power of numbers: statistics have many advantages. The first is facilitating a very visual design, which is easy to read. The second lies in the impact on the consumer. By integrating convincing data, such as the numbers of users, evaluations, subscribers, etc. you can demonstrate to your prospects that they are right to trust you, since so many others do already.
  • Plenty of independent and substantiated opinions: tools allowing users to record what they consume and even leave comments. A strong argument for an undecided customer. So, definitely do not delay in finding opinions. Thanks to marketing automation tools, you can automate the dispatch of e-mails, allowing your customers and users to share their experience or inviting them to leave a comment.
  • Word of mouth: There’s nothing like a warm recommendation from someone close to sway you towards one product or another. Our faith in friends, family or children facilitates our conversion into a new customer. If you have the means and the opportunity, sponsorship programmes are an excellent driver of acquisition, and encourage your community to make the effort to make recommendations in exchange for supplementary goods or services.
  • User-generated content: content created and shared by the users of the product or service? That’s worth all the gold and all the communication in the world. The average user has no reason to flatter a brand (sponsoring, gift, remuneration, etc.). Therefore his opinion, as a neutral third party, carries real weight among other consumers. To utilise this resource, you can set up challenges and competitions on social networks, for example, or simply promise to share and reward the nicest content in your community.
  • Famous ambassadors: last but certainly not least. Not all voices are equal. Therefore, one way to use social proof is to seek the approval of influencers, celebrities, experts, or other profiles with the power and a network in a similar environment to your own. This is an aspect that should not be forgotten, when so many of us check out the brand online before buying, to be certain of its quality.


But watch out! The fact that this principle can boost your sales, create a solid customer base and develop an unfailing reputation, means the opposite is also true! Social proofs works in both directions: a good product benefits, for example, from positive opinions and welcome recommendations, while a poor product will soon suffer from a bad reputation and customers who prefer a better-scoring competitor. Another example, low usage statistics are not appreciated and generate suspicion. Lastly, a poor choice of ambassador risks undermining your credibility, more than building confidence!

So, pay attention to your quality, your solutions, your products and your services, if you decide to apply social proof in your marketing.


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