Social Media and Social Proof: How Understanding Consumer Psychology Can Boost Results

By: Tim Wang / 14 March 2019


Ever see a long line at a food truck and wonder if it’s worth the wait to try? Or maybe  you’ve seen videos shared by friends of juicy pulled pork on top crispy fries with oozing cheese and immediately went to eat that dish?

Okay, maybe you’re not as food-obsessed as I am. But still.

This train of thought and action is deeply rooted in the subconscious and is often referred to as social proof. This phenomenon is absolutely pervasive in modern consumer culture, so let’s take a closer look at what social proof is and learn how to best apply it your merch marketing.


What is social proof?


Social proof is defined as the interaction between psychological and social influence that refers to people’s dependence on the response and behavior of others to self-determine what they should do in a given situation.

What does this actually mean?  In layman’s terms, people look at others actions as a source of what they should or shouldn’t do, then imitate  that behavior.

Even though the term social proof didn’t appear til the 1980’s, the marketing concept dates to the mid-nineteenth century with early testimonial advertisements. But more recently, with the introduction of social media, the social proof is now ubiquitous in our lives.  Social media users are constantly inundated by products and services liked, shared and commented upon by individuals in their network. These are all forms of modern social proof.


Why is social proof important to you?


A 2018 survey by Bright local showed that 84 percent trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendations. A decision is then usually made after one to six recommendations, which may come in the form of  online reviews, comments, or posts. Therefore, businesses ought to create and maintain platforms that encourage customers to share their experience with the community, and then engage with these customers by directly replying to their messages online . This two-way dialogue around client feedback will not only help project  quality customer care, but in turn will help you run your business better.

The different types of social proof


In general, social proof can be broken into the following six types:

  1. Customers: Customer social proof is when your users recommend your products, services, or business based on personal experiences with your brand.
    • Examples: ratings through review sites or posts on social media platforms.
  2. Celebrities: Celebrity social proof is when an influencer or celebrity endorses your products. Might be a paid ad or endorsement of their own volition.
    • Examples: a tweet or Instagram post about their experience with your product or establishment
  3. Expert: Expert social proof is when a specialist in your industry recommends your business or is associated with your brand.
    • Examples:  An expert in your field discusses your business in a book, speech or online video.
  4. Crowds: Also known as wisdom of the crowd, this type of social proof is the popularity or when large numbers are seen to be endorsing your brand.
    • Examples: long wait lines at a restaurant or millions of followers on social media platforms.
  5. Friends: This type of social proof is when people observe activities of a friend.
    • Examples: You hear a friend raving about a new product they recently experienced; you see a friend post about a service on social media.
  6. Certification: This type of social proof is typically communicated by  a stamp of approval,certification or award by a high-quality, trustworthy, authoritative body in their industry.
    • Examples: USDA Certified Organic label or the blue check mark on Twitter

Now that we’ve discussed what social proof is, let’s take a look at ways to implement this into your marketing


How to use social proof in your marketing


1. Encouraging customers to leave a good rating


Before purchasing any product, most customers  wants to know “will this work?” The best place to find answers is  the reviews section . User reviews are perhaps the most common form of social proof. This is why it is important to provide customers an area to review products on your website.

Example: Many big brands such as Amazon display a rating system and customer reviews with all their products.

  • The number of reviews indicates  the popularity of the item
  • The number of answered questions represent  engagement and feedback
  • The rating/star system show the overall satisfaction with the product

All together, this creates a sense of confidence in the product, which in turn encourages customers to buy. These few lines of script to enable reviews for your website can help market the product all on its own.  

Beyond the company website, you may want to consider third-party platforms that support a customer review system. Some examples are Yelp, Trip Advisor, Google, and Facebook. Depending on the service and product, it is best to register with a few of these platforms.

G/O Digital, a marketing solutions company, published a study that showed:

  • 80 percent said they’d be more likely to purchase if they saw positive user reviews on the company’s Facebook page.
  • 41 percent said the most important factor in engaging with a local business’ Facebook page is seeing customer reviews or ratings.

Enabling onsite reviews and being active on social review sites is a great way to take advantage of user social proof.  


2. Share customer appreciation for your products or services  


Another easy way to generate customer social proof is to share the @mentions or shout-outs on your social media accounts. This quickly shows the love that users have for your business.

Example: Slack, a international service for internal business communications, created a Twitter account, @SlackLoveTweets, which retweets @mentions from their users.


Is your business not as big? No need to worry! Another easy way to share customer love is to generate a unique hashtag that only pertains to your business. This hashtag will allow you track and re-post user-generated content.  

Example: Herschel Supply Co. uses #Herschel. It is simple and easy to use, yet unique. The simpler the better  so it’s easy for people to remember when showing their appreciation, though it’s generally best to avoid terms that are already commonly used.

Pro Tip: If your business has an Instagram account, you can re-post the content as soon as it is made available. Learn how here.



3. Re-post  honorable mentions from reputable sources

Every so often you might receive acknowledgement from the press, a big brand, or a specialist in your industry. This is a great form of expert social proof. To make the most out of this, you can take the featured content and publish it on social media.  If it happens to be an @mention on their account, great! Go ahead and re-post for everyone to see.

Example: Tesla earned the Best Car Award in Germany for three years in a row.

  • To publicize this, they tweeted a thank you note and link to the awards list.  This informs their current and future customer base of their accolades.
  • The last sentence in the tweet also works as wisdom of the crowd because it received votes from a large sample size


4. Use Brand Ambassadors


Social media is perfect for brand ambassadors. In addition to celebrities and athletes,  internet personalities, industry experts, and loyal users all make great brand ambassadors on social media. Ambassadors may display  their ambassador title in the bio section, but most importantly will help promote your business by sharing their experience with your brand directly to their audience.

Example: Virus Intl is a performance apparel clothing line. They choose top performing athletes from many sports across the board to promote their athletic wear.

  • Each athlete has their sport and location mentioned as well as a click-thru link to their individual Instagram accounts


Collaborations like Virus Intl, paid endorsements, or natural endorsements help prove the value of your product or service to potential customers.


5.  Strength in numbers


If you have a large customer base, you could mention the size of your customer base in your profile bio.  It is a great example showing wisdom of the crowd Apart from the size of your customer base, here’re a few other stats you could mention:

  • Number of countries your company serves or your customers are in (e.g. in 100+ countries)
  • Number of goods sold every day, week, month, or year (e.g. X burgers sold daily)
  • Number of recommendations given (e.g. more than 1000 5-star ratings on Yelp)

Customers feel more comfortable participating  when they see large crowds. If you have an email list or subscription, a practical application would be to mention the size of the community the potential customer would be joining. Let them know they are joining something big!


6.  Collaboration with experts for a live event

Many platforms now offer live streaming such as Facebook live, Instagram TV,,  Youtube Live or Apple podcasts. You can invite specialists for a social media event to discuss your business or product. Their positive influence and will give your audience an opportunity to learn from leaders in the industry.

Pro Tip: Ask your audience to submit questions or consider a live Q&A session

Example: The Joe Rogan Experience

  • Joe Rogan is an actor, comedian, and businessman.
  • He invites experts ranging from philosophers  to rocket scientists
  • By engaging in conversation with so many leading figures, Joe promote his personal brand to establish his foothold in the film and entertainment industry.


7.  Getting Verified

On certain platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, you can get verified and receive a blue check mark on your bio. Receiving a blue check mark in your account bio is a form of certification social proof. Depending on the social media platform it is meant to signify that you are an authoritative figure, that you are popular or influential, or  that you are interesting enough to be awarded the check mark.

Example: Facebook Verified Page

In addition from gaining credibility and respect from the community, you may also gain access to new features reserved for verified accounts or Pages only.

Each platform has a different methodology to be verified but here is Facebook’s process.


8.  Getting Tested reports that in 2018, an estimated 1.8 billion people worldwide purchased goods online.  During the same year, global e-retail sales amounted to 2.8 trillion U.S. dollars. As online sales continue to grow, customers want security. There are many ways to go about this such as: website and payment security and business accreditation. Below are a few examples of badges your company website might receive upon passing the test.



  • The certification is based on numerous data points, which provide reference points for comparing the criteria shoppers want to know in advance of making a purchase.
  • Also this hits 2 bird with 1 stone. This is a combination of expert and certification social proof.


What other ways have you been using social proof and marketing?

As we’ve seen, social proof comes in all different shapes and sizes. The 8 practices listed here are a good start, but by no means represent a comprehensive list. There are plenty of other ways businesses can utilize the concept of social proof to maximize brand value, so  e would love to learn from you, too. Tell us how you have been using social proof, social media-related or otherwise, in your marketing. How well has it been working for you? Let us know in the comments.

Creative Director at Premium Direct Imports. Once featured in WIRED magazine, Tim is a photographer and gym enthusiast. A native Californian that loves animal meat, we aren't all vegans.