Just imagine you’re visiting Montreal in January, walking down Saint-Laurent Blvd.

It’s noon, you’re hungry, and it’s freezing.

To your surprise, you see 70 people freezing while waiting in line to get in a restaurant called “Schwartz Smoked Meat Sandwiches.”

It can’t be THAT good… can it? Curious, you hop in line…

That’s the power of social proof.

So, what’s the equivalent in the digital world?

Let’s grab a sandwich, dig out some of the theory, and look at concrete examples on how to apply it.

What is Social Proof?

From a very young age, we try to replicate and mimic the behaviors of others. The words we use, the actions we take, and the things we like/dislike, usually come from observing our environment and the people in it.

Social Proof is a convenient shortcut that we take to determine how to behave.

That’s one of the conclusions Robert Cialdini makes in his book, Influence: The psychology of persuasion, after studying human behaviors for decades. According to R. Cialdini:

Robert Cialdini

When we are unsure of ourselves, when the situation is unclear or ambiguous, when uncertainty reigns, we are most likely to look to and accept the actions of others as correct […] The greater the number of people who find any idea correct, the more the idea will be correct.Robert Cialdini

Two important things to unpack here:

  • Social proof is more efficient in a new context.
  • It has a greater impact when more people are involved.

So, whether you’re looking for a restaurant while walking on the street or dealing with an empty bag of popcorn at the end of a movie, the actions of those around you will be important in defining yours.

How To Use Social Proof

The research is clear, social proof does modify human behavior, but how can we apply it in the context of a product to drive growth? Here are the steps:

  1. Understand your audience

    First and foremost, if you’re in the product business, you need to understand the desires, pains, and barriers of your target market. What do they want? Why would they use your product? What fears do they have regarding your product? What stops them from buying?

    The best way to find those answers is to pick up the phone or go outside your building to talk to your users.

  2. Create your customer journey map

    Once you have a better understanding of why your customer sticks around (or doesn’t!), you need to map out the full experience of your product, to understand where the experience fails your users. We have plenty of examples of customer journey maps at the end of our case studies.

    When your users experience your brand, how do they feel? What’s at stake for them? How do you welcome them? Do they leave on a high note? Are they exhausted?

    Those questions will give you a better view of where psychological biases can help your users make the right choices with less effort.

  3. Find your low experience points

    What you really want is to make sure you level up the worst parts of the experience and make them as easy as possible. Social proof can ease decisions for your users if used at the right moment.

  4. Test different types of social proof

    Last but not least, you need to test different ideas. To ensure you choose the right hypothesis, be sure to understand the different types of social proof, how they can be applied, and the impact they can have.

7 Practical Examples Of Social Proof

Here they are, the 7 types of social proof, with fictitious examples, to help you choose which one is best for your product.

1. User Reviews

One of the most common types is reviews. It’s been proven that they work (up to 270% lift 1) and that even if they’re coming from people we don’t know, we still value their opinion.

Here are two variants of reviews applied to an imaginary e-commerce site selling mid-century chairs!

Example of user reviews social proof

Note that there are a lot more ways to create compelling reviews with current users. You can highlight the last review (like above), present the top reviews, ask users to create their own video reviews, establish verified users, etc.

2. Wisdom Of The Crowd

This type of social proof is when a large group of people is used to demonstrate the endorsements of your brand. 2

In the example below, we tried two different variants:

  1. We used platform interactions to show what people are looking at.
  2. We extracted the sales data to show which of the styles was the most popular

Example of most popular items

For the 2nd variant, this change could potentially increase sales of the light grey fabric by 13-20% 3. This was validated in one of Mr. Cialdini’s studies, where they helped a restaurant increased sales of specific dishes just by highlighting them as “our most popular dishes.”

There are plenty of ways to represent the presence of the crowd. In our Calm case study, you can see an example of how highlighting the number of people meditating with the “Daily Calm” can turn a simple add-on into a great motivator.

3. Certification

Did you know that adding a stamp from an authoritative figure in your industry can increase conversions by 42%? 4

Next time you’re on the fence of putting a lot of resources into a certification process, make sure you take this into account, it might be worth the effort!

Example of certification social proof

Let’s see a real example of the Amazon purchase experience (subscription). Notice how the prime badge is perceived as “Amazon certified”.

Also, in this screen they used another social proof type that we just saw: Wisdom of the crowd.

4. The Expert

Getting approval from a credible expert, blogger, or maker in the industry, can have an incredible influence on your product.

This would be the equivalent of having Robert Cialdini sharing this “Social Proof Guide.” Share this to make it happen!

Below, we used, Frank Gehry, a famous American architect, to elevate the status of the chair.

Example of expert

5. Celebrities

Similar to the expert, star power is an excellent way to boost the status of an item, thanks to the Halo Effect 5.

We are more likely to buy a product when endorsed by a celebrity we like, because some of us aspire to be more like them6.

Example of status power

Celebrities endorse brands all the time. It’s the actual foundation of the massive wave of Instagram influencers (but we won’t dive into this now!).

Back in February, Expensify surprised more than one with their “Expensify this!” campaign endorsed by none other than 2Chainz. Great stunt!

6. Close Friends And Family

This type of social proof is when people see their friends approve your product.

In a study by Nielsen 7, 92% of people interviewed said they trust the recommendations from the people they know.

Example of close friends and family

Try to leverage a connection from one of the major social networks, to show potential interactions from your users’ network. Do they have friends on the platform? Did they buy something? What did they do?

⚠️ Warning: Make sure you respect people’s privacy. Even in the fictitious example above, without the proper consent, this could be ethically questionable.

7. Similar Users

At last, social proof is most effective when users are observing the behaviors of people just like them.

We will use the actions of others to decide on proper behavior for ourselves, especially when we view those others as similar to ourselves.

Robert Cialdini

In this example, we’re playing with the fact that users had the same intent or the same goal.

Example of similarity

According to psychologists at Columbia University, social proof by similarity could increase conversions by 212%! How?

The researchers dropped lost wallets containing a letter that made it evident that the wallet had been lost not once, but twice. The letters were written in standard English, while the other letters were written in broken English, simulating a foreigner. In other words, the person who had initially found the wallet and had tried to return it was depicted by the letter as being either similar or dissimilar to most Americans.

Well, only 33 percent of the wallets were returned when the letter was seen as dissimilar, but 70 percent were returned when the letter felt relatable. See the full study in Cialdini’s book: Influence.

Bonus: Don’t Use Too Much Social Proof!

As product creators, we have to be aware of the limits of our users.

While mixing a few different types of social proof can be the most effective way to convert users, you have to be careful not to fall into the temptation trap…

i.e., using all the different types all at once! ❌

Example of too much social proof

Remember that your brand reputation is on the line. When users feel pushed too hard, they react the opposite way of what you want them to do.

Your Key Takeaways

Remember this waiting line, in a cold winter day… Well it was totally worth it! Thanks to all those people waiting.

If you already have a product that people love and recommend. Social proof will only multiply this factor and drive better growth.

Before you go, here’s a short summary of what you just learned:

Key Takeaways
  • Social Proof is very useful for users when faced with a new or uncertain situation.
  • It has a more significant impact when the number of people performing the same action is higher.
  • It can have a high lift when users have hard decisions to take, making the experience more enjoyable.
  • There are 7 types of social proof that all have different impacts, and that can be used at various moments in the customer lifecycle.
  • Test different variations depending on your industry and your product.
  • Don’t go overboard.

Remember, social proof is one of the most powerful ways for new and returning users to validate, in their mind, that they’re at the right place…

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