Social proof: the right and wrong ways to use it

Anna Metcalfe

Cantaloupe Ltd | B2B, SaaS, Software, Tech | Simplifying your 'complex' to achieve results

It was an ordinary family meal. We were catching up, exchanging news and generally having fun. Then someone mentioned mattresses.

In normal circumstances, I’d not falter. But at this point, I’d already started the “new mattress” conversation with my beloved. Turns out, my sister was one step ahead.

It’s a mind-blowing subject, mattresses. There are pocket-sprung ones in far too many specifications, memory foam ones (some affordable, others incredibly expensive), gel ones (complete with fancy cooling systems), hybrid ones (in case we can’t decide) …oh, and latex ones.

And that’s before you consider the raft of mattress toppers… get the gist? You’ve probably been there at some point. Hard work isn’t it? You just want a comfy mattress to sleep on.

Well, I was there. Only just. And with much to learn before a purchase.

Then my sister mentioned the M-word.

Long story short (you’ll be glad of that), she’d bought a latex mattress. Wasn’t even on my radar.

By the time I was eating my breakfast the following morning, I’d received an email from her, with all the links and answers I needed. By teatime, my purchase was made.

The power of social proof.

Social what?

It’s a proven psychological phenomenon. When people are unsure how to act, they often look to see how others are acting.

It’s not always a conscious thing, but social proof exists in all aspects of our lives. And it’s something you can incorporate into your marketing and communication.

Why social proof happens

Most of us generally want to fit in. We’re pre-programmed with this desire. In certain circumstances, we’ll assume that others have a better grasp of what’s going on – so we might choose to mimic their actions.

Whilst word-of-mouth from a valuable source (aka my mattress story) is an obvious example of social proof, there are many more:

  • the ice bucket challenge. It went viral. All our friends were doing it, so it must be the right thing to do — social proof.
  • Black Friday sales. In past years, crowds have gathered outside leading stores. It’s time to bag a bargain — social proof.
  • that software everyone’s talking about. Your competitors use it and there are some great testimonials from leading companies — social proof.

How to use social proof in your business

All well and good, but how does this translate to your marketing? Social proof, in a small or large way, is everywhere:

  • testimonials: “I love this company; their products last a lifetime.”
  • user reviews: on Facebook, Google, TripAdvisor, Feefo – you name it
  • case studies: featuring your customers benefiting from your products
  • awards: perceived as independent endorsements
  • client logos: especially if they’re well-known
  • media coverage: “As featured in…”
  • social media shares and likes: the power of crowds
  • sales and research statistics: “85% of our customers said…”
  • influencer endorsements: “As recommended by…

So, you probably have some of that ammunition? Great. Now you need a clear plan to use it in the right way.

You’ll want to incorporate your social proof into your website, literature, email communication, content, and sales messages. Whilst this can look different for every business, here are some obvious starting points:

  • use your best testimonials – either as short comments in key copy areas or perhaps as a separate page on your website
  • for recent and relevant awards, use the official logos far and wide
  • case studies are great “soft sell” tools. Ensure your sales team has access to them
  • keep asking for feedback to build positive momentum. And if you’re strong on Feefo (for example) shout about it
  • look for social proof in your sales figures
  • use results from surveys that you carry out

When social proof goes wrong

It can happen. Perhaps it’s already happened to you? Low social proof is worse than NO social proof. It makes people distrust you and have low expectations of your product or service.

Here are some pitfalls to avoid (or correct):

  • if you’re sharing social media links, make sure you’ve got more than nine followers! You know what I mean…
  • if your awards are six years old, you might want to remove them until you have something more up to date
  • if you market yourself on case studies, are they recent examples?
  • don’t exaggerate – your social proof must be believable and relevant to your audience
  • beware endorsements from a dodgy celebrity – their reputation will affect yours

Finally, it helps to understand why negative social proof never works. Here’s an example, based around a fundraising message. Which one do you think would work better?

“Our work relies on donations and only a small proportion of people that read this donate. So, please be someone that does.”

“90% of our work is funded by donations – that’s from kind people like you. Please give as much as you can, every pound makes a difference.”

Yep, you guessed it, the second one is the better option. I hope you can spot the positive social proof in there? Negative social proof (as seen in the first quote) rarely works. Best avoided.

I’d love to help you weave more social proof into your communications. It’s powerful stuff when you get it right.

Oh, and if you want to know where to buy a really comfy latex mattress, that’s me too.

Originally published on

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