What is Social Proof?

September 14, 2021

It used to be easy. Social proof back in the day was pretty much what we'd call a relationship. Two people know one another, trust what they're doing for a living, and that was that.

But the digital world has broken down that trust. Often the people we're interacting with and working for on a daily basis aren't people we really know in real life. Sure, we're acquaintances but we aren't real friends or contacts. That can cause problems, especially when you're trying to sell or market a product.

If you're reading this there's a good chance you've heard me talk about "social proof" at least once. But what does it mean?

Social proof is "a psychological phenomenon where people assume the actions of others in an attempt to reflect correct behavior for a given situation."


Pretty much it's peer pressure. We see someone else doing something we like, so we mirror it to fit in with them. But in marketing practice we think about it more like validation, and it doesn't always have to come from the outside. It's taking the power of those in-person relationships and making them work in the digital world.

But there's more to it than that.

Yes, social proof is leveraging others to demonstrate your value. But the other side of this story is what you send out to the world to prove to others -- especially those who don't know you -- that you know your stuff and can be trusted. Especially in our all-digital world, making real connections through content matters more than ever.

Examples of Social Proof

Sure, a testimonial from an industry expert you respect on a vendor's landing page is social proof. So is a list of clients you know on a pricing page. That's borrowing third-party influence to swap potential buyers. But those are just a couple of examples of the many different types of social proof that marketers think about when assembling influence campaigns. We've coverage testimonials and endorsements, but the list also includes:

  • The Expert's Stamp of Approval: More than just an endorsement, how does your opinion of a product change when a business leader or thought leader that you respect goes out of their way to write about, use or otherwise get behind a product?
  • Media Attention: The ROI value of traditional PR is open for debate (and that's a whole other topic that we'll go into another time) but what's not in doubt is the power of earned media to prove your status as a provider of a product or service. Getting into the Wall Street Journal as an expert might not sell any widgets for your company today but it's powerful social proof that you know what you're doing when a new customer walks in the door.
  • Social Media Activity: Social platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter get a well deserved bad rap, but there is real marketing value in getting involved on these platforms provided you do it the right way. And the right way involves posting informed, thought provoking content o a consistent basis, not spamming your work contacts with lame sports memes. The shares and attention you get on these platforms are a great source of social proof.
  • Inbound Content: Hubspot coined the term inbound to describe the power of quality content to attract buyer interest to your website and your company through search engine optimization and, although that game has been changing in recent years, inbound is a great source of social proof. When you spend months or years blogging on a certain topic, sharing your industry insights, educating potential buyers, etc your expertise becomes crystal clear.
  • Thought Leadership: The buzzword to end all buzzwords. Somewhere around the turn of the millennium (another long ago buzzword) the idea of becoming a thought leader became all the rage. You're the expert; share it with the world by writing for industry publications and appearing at events. Maybe even write a book. These days there are better and more effective ways to demonstrate that expertise, but the power of thought leadership in all its forms to anchor social proof has not waverd.

Why Social Proof Matters

The fact is, scale is impersonal.

My agency, for example, no longer only works with clients in our city but with companies and brands all of the world. Many of them I've never met face to face.

That's a bummer, but it highlights the role that social proof plays in building strong business relationships in the age of social media, digital-first everything and all the rest. Knowing what someone does or sells is one thing, but how can you choose the right provider when you have an essentially endless list of potential alternatives and you don't know any of them personally?

You look at what else they're doing.

The industry event they're speaking at. The conversations and posts they're promoting on social media. The content they're creating to add context and commentary to what's happening in their industry. That's how you can tell the most involved from the least involved circa 2021, and it's a powerful force in decision-makring.

I'm not just making this up. According to Hubspot...

  • 88% of consumers trust user reviews as much as personal recommendations
  • Placing the logos of business customers on a company website can increase conversions by as much as 400%
  • Influencer marketing has been considered the fastest-growing consumer-acquisition channel
  • The average consumer reads 10 online reviews before making a purchase decision
  • 57% of consumers will only buy or use a business service if it has at least a 4-star rating
  • For 50% of all consumers, their very next step after reading a positive review about a company is to visit their website

You're the expert. Share that with the world. That way, when the world comes looking for your product or service they'll see right away that you've been in mix for long enough to know what you're doing and can offer the context they need to fully understand what they're about to buy.  

That's social proof.

At Layup Content we build content marketing and thought leadership campaigns that connect with real people, because we're real people ourselves. Social proof is fundamental to that. Want to learn more about what this looks like in practice? Let's talk.

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