The Hidden Psychology Behind Social Proof

Social proof is essential for every small business looking to maximize their organic growth. In this article, we’ll take a deep dive into what social proof is and how it works.

You’ve probably heard the term social proof before at a round-table marketing meeting but weren’t exactly sure what it meant. The reality is, social proof lies at the foundation of many of today’s most effective marketing campaigns. In 2019, nearly all businesses have learned to leverage social proof as part of their marketing efforts to drive higher trust, engagement and sales. But what is the psychology behind social proof, and how does it work to drive people’s decisions to make a purchase, sign up for an event, or step into your store?

The Social Proof Theory

At the core of the psychology behind the phenomena of social proof is (drumroll please) the Social Proof Theory. The theory states that when an individual is unsure of what the proper behavior is in any given situation, they’ll look to those around them to determine their response. As children, we learn early on to take note of our environment for what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior. But in cases when we aren’t sure what the proper action is, we would prefer instead to mimic the response of our social surroundings than be the odd one out.

Part of the reason this theory is so effective is that we almost always assume that other people have more knowledge about any given situation than we do. And this in part is due to the effects of uncertainty, which is the fuel that activates and feeds the mechanisms of social proof.

If you’ve ever been out in a new city and weren’t sure where to go for dinner, you’ve felt this before. While most people don’t enjoy the feeling of being unsure about what to do, for many of us it can be a debilitating experience – especially when faced with a high-pressure situation. As children, we learn to turn to our parental and authority figures for guidance. And as adults, we tend to do the same, turning to our peers for direction in times of uncertainty.

The Compounding Factors of Social Proof

While social proof is a standalone theory in itself, many other factors contribute to our final decision-making process. While the list is long, let’s take a look at just a few:

1. We trust people who seem similar to us

While we look to mimic our surroundings, we also look to mimic similarity. You wouldn’t ask your 60-year old uncle which bar to go to, because, well, he’s not your demographic – and let’s be honest, you probably wouldn’t enjoy the same ‘vibe’. That means an individual is more likely to adopt the behavior and attitudes of those who are perceived to be similar to himself.

2. We mimic those who have more expertise

Social proof can hold even greater weight when people making up the surroundings of an individual are considered to be highly credible. A good example of this would be if you were looking for a friend’s recommendations on what products to buy and you were given one from a friend who is considered an ‘expert.’ Today we call these kinds of individuals influencers, which is why leveraging top accounts on social media can be so effective in your marketing efforts to drive sales.

3. We follow the crowd more often than you think

The greater the amount of people advocating for a specific action, the more likely it is to be adopted by their peers. When a large number of people reach a consensus on a decision, it can be hard to sway the pack to change their minds. That’s when social proof works best. This is also why social media, television, and radio have such a visceral effect on how we make purchasing decisions. With a single glance, we can be convinced we’re making the right decision to do something – even if it may be the wrong one.

Putting Theory Into Practice

Social proof is an essential tool for every small business looking to drive organic growth.

Leveraging the compounding factors that contribute to social proof can help us in all aspects of our business’s growth. As marketers, understanding The Social Proof Theory is essential to everything we do, from driving positive customer reviews to promoting celebrity-endorsed content. In today’s online marketplace, social proof has never been a more vital tool for small businesses.

Turn Your Customer Into Your Competitive Edge

Your power users are an untapped resource of value and information. Let’s face it, who knows your product or service better than the customers who use it most? Recognize your most valuable customers for their true value, and they’ll reward you right back with trust and the social proof you need. 

So what are you waiting for?
Start building better relationships with your power users today with Innercircle:

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