The Psychology of Marketing: 18 Ways to Use Social Proof to Boost Your Results
Science plays a key role in marketing, especially the science of psychology.
We have written about the 15 psychological principles in marketing and studied seven social media psychological research. This time, we’d love to dive deeper into one of the most powerful and prominent psychological phenomena…
The use of social proof can be found in many areas of both offline and online marketing. In this post, we’ll focus on the use of social proof on social media to boost your marketing effectiveness.
Let’s get started!
6 Types of Social Proof
Before we go through the strategies, let’s go through what social proof is and the science behind it. Here’s how social proof is being described on Wikipedia:
Social proof is a psychological phenomenon where people assume the actions of others in an attempt to reflect correct behavior for a given situation.
According to Robert Cialdini, who studied the principle of social proof in-depth in his book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, “we view a behavior as more correct in a given situation to the degree that we see others performing it”. So often in situations where we are uncertain about what to do, we would assume that the people around us (experts, celebrities, friends, etc.) have more knowledge about what’s going on and what should be done.
On top of that, we often make judgments based on our overall impression of someone — A.K.A. the halo effect (named by psychologist Edward Thorndike). For example:
- We think anything that experts use is great because they are probably more knowledgeable than us in their area of specialization.
- We buy products endorsed by celebrities because we want to look like them.
- We trust user reviews because they have experienced the product or service, unlike ourselves.
In general, there are six types of social proof¹.
- Expert: Expert social proof is when an expert in your industry recommends your products or services or is associated with your brand. Examples: a Twitter shoutout by an expert or having an expert on your Twitter chat.
- Celebrity: Celebrity social proof is when a celebrity endorses your products. Examples: an Instagram post or tweet about your product by a celebrity or influencer.
- User: User social proof is when your current users recommend your products and services based on their experiences with your brand. Examples: praises on social media or positive ratings on review sites.
- The wisdom of the crowd: This type of social proof is when a large group of people is seen to be endorsing your brand. Examples: having thousands of customers or millions of followers on your social media profiles.
- The wisdom of your friends: This type of social proof is when people see their friends approve your product. Examples: seeing their friends use your product or follow you on social media.
- Certification: This type of social proof is when you are given a stamp of approval by an authoritative figure in your industry. Examples: the blue checkmark on Twitter or Facebook.
Now let’s dive into how you can use social proof in your marketing…
18 Easy Ways to Use Social Proof in Your Marketing
1. Invite experts to take over your social media
Having industry experts take over your social media profiles can be a great way to tap into their influence and the positive association their followers have with anything they do (i.e. halo effect).
For example, when an expert takes over your Instagram account to post an educational content, tell Instagram Stories, or go live, people who know her might like your brand more as her presence on your social media creates a positive influence on them.
The best part of such collaborations is that they are often a win-win situation as the industry experts also benefit by getting to reach your audience.
Every now and then, we invite experts or influencers to take over our Instagram account to interact with our followers and share educational content. Recently, Ryan Hoover and Niv Dror of Product Hunt took over our Instagram Stories to share how they use Buffer and give our followers a tour of their new office. Here’re some snippets of their story:
As a bonus, Product Hunt also tweeted about the takeover to tell their Twitter followers about it.
2. Collaborate with experts for a social media event
Similarly, you could invite experts as guests for your social media events, such as Twitter chats or Facebook Live video discussions. Such collaborations can allow you to tap into the experts’ positive influence and give your social media audiences an opportunity to hear and learn from experts in the industry.
Almost every week, we host someone knowledgeable about social media, marketing, or workplace culture on our Twitter chat, #bufferchat. We’d ask the guest (and the community) a series of questions to get her insights on the topic.
3. Show appreciation for mentions
Every so often, you might receive a nice mention from the press, a big brand, or an influencer in your industry. This is a great form of expert social proof.
There are many ways to share such social proof on social media. At Buffer, we like to show our appreciate for such mentions and avoid coming across as being boastful. Here are some phrases we like to use:
- “Grateful for the mention”
- “Honored to be featured”
Earlier this year, Tesla received the Best Car Award in Germany for the third year in a row, and they showed their appreciation with this tweet:
I like that they also showed their gratitude to the 124,000 people who voted for them.
4. Share milestones
Another quick way to create social proof is to show gratitude for your user or follower milestones. Reaching milestones is a fun occasion to celebrate and a great time to thank the people who have helped you achieve that.
Here are some of the milestones you can celebrate with your audience:
- Reaching X users
- Reaching X customers
- Reaching X downloads of your app
- Reaching X followers on your social media profile
When Piktochart turned five, they celebrated the occasion and thanked their users with this tweet (and a giveaway contest):
5. Experiment with (micro) influencer marketing
Influencer marketing can be a cost-efficient way of getting celebrity social proof.
This is usually more prevalent on Instagram. Brands would sponsor micro-influencers — people with a strong social media influence in a niche area and who aren’t celebrities — to post about their products.
Because of their social media influence, these people are often deemed as celebrities within the niche area. When others see them with a particular product, they would transfer the positive attributes they see in these “celebrities” to the product.
Daniel Wellington, a Swedish watch company that is known for their elegance and minimalistic watches, often sponsors micro-influencers on Instagram to promote their watches. They would usually offer a unique discount code to each micro-influencer, too.
6. Explore having brand ambassadors
Social media ambassadors provide a mix of expert, celebrity, and user social proof, depending on the ambassadors you select. They could be industry experts (expert social proof), social media influencers (celebrity social proof), or passionate users (user social proof).
Ambassadors would usually “wear” their ambassador badge proudly on their social media bio and include any branded hashtag in the relevant social media posts.
Specialized, a global cycling brand, has an ambassador program where they sponsor top cyclists and passionate cyclists all around the world. They even provide social media and personal branding training for their ambassadors.
Their ambassadors often mention the brand and use their branded hashtag, #specializedambassador, in their Instagram posts.
7. Curate user-generated content
User-generated content is our favorite strategy on Instagram because it has helped us grow our following (and engagement) from 4,500 to 21,000 within six months. It is also a great strategy for generating user social proof.
Boxed Water, a sustainable drinking water company, re-posts their customers’ Instagram photos onto their Instagram account. In fact, almost all of their Instagram photos are from their customers.
8. Share customers’ love for your product
Receiving shout-outs on social media from your customers can be one of the best things about being a social media manager!
A fun way to generate user social proof is to share these shout-outs on your social media profile, showing others the love your users have for your product.
Slack receives tons of love for their product on Twitter. To share this love with others, Slack created a Twitter account, @SlackLoveTweets, which retweets shout-outs from their users. (I believe they used a separate Twitter account as retweeting shout-outs might not be part of their main social media strategy. You could just use your main account, too, if it’s appropriate.)
Inspired by Slack, we also started a Twitter account, @bufferlove, to retweet the kind words from our users.
9. Use shout-outs in your content
Another fun way to generate user social proof with these shout-outs is to use them in your content.
We’re grateful to receive amazing shout-outs from our users. Brian Peters, our digital marketing strategist, had a fun idea of reading them out as Nice Tweets — a twist of Jimmy Kimmel’s Mean Tweets videos.
This video generated 74 reactions, four comments, and 18 shares and reached more than 9,000 people organically on Facebook.
10. Display testimonials on your website
The third way of using your customers’ shout-outs is to display them as testimonials on your website.
Apart from retweeting the shout-outs on Twitter, Slack compiled the (8,647 and counting) tweets and put them on a landing page: https://slack.com/love.
(At the bottom of the landing page, Slack also included logos of prominent customers such as Airbnb, Pinterest, and Harvard University. This is a form of expert user proof. When one knows that such great organizations are using Slack, she would likely feel more compelled to try Slack in her organization.)
11. Mention the size of your customer base in your bio
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 of the wisdom of the crowd social proof. When people see that many others are using your product, they would likely have a positive first impression of your product.
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. 100 rooms booked weekly)
- Number of recommendations given (e.g. more than 100 5-star ratings on Yelp)
Companies like HubSpot and Help Scout include the size of their customer base and the number of countries their customers are in, in their Twitter bio.
12. Reach the friends of your Facebook Page fans with Facebook ads
If you have the budget for social ads, here’s an easy-to-implement tactic: target your Facebook ads at the friends of the people who like your Page. This is assuming that this target audience is similar to your current Facebook Page fans and would also like the products you sell.
When you are defining your target audience in the Facebook Ads Manager, scroll down to “Connections” and select “Add a connection type”. Then, select “Facebook Pages” > “Friends of people who like your Page” and enter your Page name in the field provided.
Facebook will automatically add the wisdom of friends social proof for you.
Recently, I chanced upon a Facebook ad by Netflix. At the top of the ad — possibly the first thing that caught my attention as I viewed the ad from the top to the bottom — was a line telling me how many of my friends like Netflix.
13. Use social proof on your ad copy
Another way to use social proof in your ads is to include it in the copy of your ad. You could choose among the various types of social proof:
- Expert social proof: Feature an expert recommending your product
- Celebrity social proof: Feature a celebrity or micro-influencer endorsing your product
- The wisdom of the crowd: Mention the number of customers you have
In their recent Facebook ad, SkillShare, an online learning platform, mentioned that there are more than two million students learning on their platform.
14. Encourage customers to leave a good rating on your Facebook Page
If you are a local business, you can enable ratings and reviews on your Facebook Page. Good ratings and reviews are a great form of user social proof.
A study by G/O Digital found that:
- 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.
Here’s an additional bonus: Facebook has launched a local search feature where you can find local businesses with the best Facebook reviews and ratings. Having a good Facebook Page rating will help you rank higher in the search results.
Here’re a few tips on asking customers for reviews:
- Ask in person
- Reach out to repeat customers
- Add a prompt to your surveys
- Offer incentives or hold a contest
- Spotlight customers who give reviews
I did a quick search for “Pet Sitting in San Francisco, California” using Facebook’s local search, and Year of The Dog Walking & Sitting Service came up first on the list.
Even though it doesn’t have a full 5-star average rating, it ranked higher than all other pet sitting services in the area likely because it has the most number of 5-star ratings.
15. Get verified
On Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, you can get verified and receive a blue checkmark on your bio.
Having a blue checkmark by your bio is a form of certification social proof. The social media platform, as an authoritative figure, deemed that you are popular, influential, or interesting enough to be awarded the checkmark — usually reserved for celebrities and top brands.
Apart from gaining credibility and respect from the community, you would also gain access to new features reserved for verified accounts or Pages only.
If you wish to get the checkmark on Twitter, here’s our guide to getting verified on Twitter.
The additional benefit of being verified is that you might rank higher on the platform’s search engine. You are also more prominent in the search result with the blue checkmark.
16. Be responsive
On your Facebook Page, you can choose to state how responsive you are on Messenger. If you provide customer support on Twitter, you can state the time period when you are most responsive. It can encourage people to message you, knowing that they would quickly get a response from you.
Here’s how you can set it up for Facebook and Twitter:
- Facebook: Go to your Page settings and select the “Messaging” tab. Scroll down to “Response Assistant” and choose the response time that best represents how fast you reply to messages. You can also set it to update automatically.
- Twitter: Go to this direct link: https://business.twitter.com/i/settings/support and click on “Add business feature”. To show that your account provides support, you’ll need to accept direct messages from anyone. Once that’s done, you can set your most responsive hours and customize a welcome message when they direct message you.
17. Display social share count
Showing the number of social share count is a form of the wisdom of the crowd social proof. People are more likely going to read and think highly of an article that has been shared by thousands.
But lower social share count can have the opposite enough. People might think that the article isn’t good enough, even if it was very well-written. To counter this, you could use a tool like Social Warfare, which displays share buttons but hides the share counts until the article received a certain number of shares.
Social Media Examiner uses Sumo’s Share tool to display the share count of the articles on their blog. With thousands of shares for almost all their articles, they are able to generate the wisdom of the crowd social proof.
18. Host Twitter chats
To trend on Twitter is another form of the wisdom of the crowd social proof. When your hashtag trends on Twitter, it might attract people to find out more about it and even join in the conversation.
One of the best ways we have found to trend on Twitter is hosting Twitter chats. We’re grateful to the hundreds of people who participate in our #bufferchat every Wednesday and have helped us trend on Twitter several times.
Trending on Twitter has helped us reach more people, and hopefully, several of them were curious enough to check out (and maybe even) use Buffer!
Here’s more about trends on Twitter, including Twitter’s rules for trends.
A good news about Twitter trends is that they are determined by an algorithm, and, by default, customized for individuals based on who they follow, their interests, and their location. This means that you don’t have to compete with everyone around the world to trend on your target audience’s feed. As long as your conversation is popular enough and relevant to your target audience, Twitter will show it to them.
During a recent Buffer meetup, #buffermeetup was trending on a teammate’s Twitter feed.
How have you been using social proof in your marketing?
Social proof can come in many shapes and sizes. I hope these 18 ideas can help you get started with using social proof in your marketing and also help you generate more ideas.
I’d love to learn from you, too. It’d be great to hear how you have been using social proof, social media-related or not, in your marketing. How well has it been working for you?