min read

The Psychology of Social Proof and its Impact on Consumer Behavior

Published on
June 1, 2024

Table of contents

Key takeaways

  • Social proof is a confirmation bias that makes people take action based on people around them
  • Businesses can leverage social proof to make sales, drive traffic and more
  • Social proof impact the consumer behavior in various ways
  • Video testimonials act strong social proof as videos are hard to fake

What is Social Proof?

Social proof is both a psychological and social phenomenon that governs how people behave. It’s a confirmation bias that makes people take action depending on what others are doing. 

Recall your first day at college. You were nervous and confused if you should take out your laptop or take notes in your notebook. You look around to confirm. This confirms if it’s acceptable to use a laptop during class hours. Looking for such acceptable behavior is social proof.

In 1935, Muzafer Sherif conducted an experiment. In this experiment, people sat in a dark room and looked at a little dot of light that seemed to move, even though it really wasn't. Different people saw it move in different ways, but each person always saw it the same way.

Then, a few days later, they did another part of the experiment. This time, people were put in groups with two others. They had to talk out loud about how they thought the light was moving. Even if they had thought differently before, the groups all ended up thinking the same thing. 

To make sure they weren't just agreeing with the group to fit in, they were asked to look at the light by themselves later. But they still thought what the group thought. This shows that when things are unclear, people often believe what others believe.

One of the all time best selling books, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Robert Cialdini said - “we view a behavior as more correct in a given situation to the degree that we see others performing it”. In plain English, it means people depend on others to decide if something is doable or not. If people with considerable social influence, like celebrities, do or suggest something, people are more likely to obey.

Tools for social proof

Standing out online isn’t as easy as it was earlier. Trust still plays the role of #1 factor in helping a brand succeed. If a post on social media has a job of displaying social proof, why shouldn’t your website do that job as well?

You’re here because you want to leverage social proof on your website in some form. For that, you will need tools. Here are some tools you can use to leverage social proof for your business website.

#1 Testimonial Donut

We are accepting beta users right now. You will get video testimonials for your brand website, free for 6 months. We will design the mockups for you to make it look however you want. All you have to do is choose 5 customers and we will share a link which you can further forward to them. Your customers will record the video using the link and we will create the custom widget which you can add on your website. Video testimonials are better than text testimonials any time of the day, why not give it a try?

#2 Trust Pulse

Trust Pulse is a real time event tracking tool that shows pop up live streaming events like purchases, registrations, signups and more. Showing live activity of the customers increases the chances of conversion by 15% and creates a serious FOMO. You can customize the notifications and widgets to match the website design.

#3 OptinMonster

OptinMonster is a drag and drop popup builder. You can generate leads by quoting testimonials of existing customers. You can create campaigns like popups, floating bars, fullscreen interstitials and more. OptinMonster also has advanced smart triggers such as exit-intent, scroll-depth and geo-location tracking to give you more control and better chances of conversion.

Here’s an example of a popup as a demo of social proof effect.

6 ways social proof impacts customer behavior

#1 Purchase confidence (better conversions)

Social proof can help you share transformational stories with your audience who’re most likely to base their decisions on how others have benefited by using your product. Sharing generic stories isn’t going to help anymore.

See how Weight Watcher implements sharing transformations of their customers as social proof for potential customers to trust them. Imagine the rate of conversions after implementing this.

#2 Simplified decisions

It is rightly said, “A confused mind doesn’t buy”. If you want to control the chances of people making a purchase, you should eliminate the confusion that they might have.

If you’re an e-commerce business, including “Editor’s Picks” or “Best Seller” does the magic of simplifying decision making for your visitors. You can curate quality assured products and tag it as Best Seller or Editor’s Picks to validate the demand and make people take action. I’m sure you must have seen such tags on e-commerce sites like Amazon or eBay. 

When customers seek validation from people who’ve already purchased from you, theoretically they’ve already made their mind to make a purchase - All they need is a gentle push.

#3 Fear of missing out and validation

FOMO is a driver for so many sales during festive seasons. We all have been there. It’s exclusive and persuasive enough to remove the friction of purchase and make people buy.

Airbnb does this really well with their Airbnb Experiences feature. With this feature, users can book unique activities and tours led by locals. When a user shares photos and the experiences they had on their social handles, it creates a FOMO in their friends. 

This works in favor of Airbnb as a brand & the locals who gave Airbnb users that experience.

How’s that for a FOMO?

#4 Behavioral imitation

Influence of social media is a powerful driving force to alter consumer behavior. “TikTok made me buy it” becoming a trend is a classic example of this.

A TikTok user, @natures_food posted a video demonstrating how to prepare a healthy breakfast recipe using natural cereals only. This video went viral and many users imitated this recipe and the hashtag #NaturesCereal got millions of views. This video increased the sales of ingredients mentioned in the video like pomegranates, berries, and coconut water. Nature’s Cereal got even bigger on YouTube, gathering millions upon millions of views.

#5 Competitive advantage

Social proof can provide significant competitive advantage for any business, even if you’re just starting out.

Businesses with a large customer base demonstrate that a large number of customers have chosen their products/services over the competition. This adds to the trustworthiness and reliability of their business.

Large ecommerce businesses like Amazon do this really well. Highlight the number of reviews a product has increases the chances of purchasing. Who makes a purchase without checking the reviews? I don’t.

Amazon uses the sheer volume of reviews that the paid customers have left for the product which instills the confidence.

Another example would be Michael Jordan turning Air Jordan sneakers into a cultural phenomenon. Nike is still cutting those paychecks every year to retain this competitive advantage.

As a small business, you can focus on getting your customers to leave reviews or share video testimonials to give you that competitive advantage. This adds to the authenticity of your business.

#6 Preference confirmation

Like simplifying decisions, social proof also helps with preference confirmations. People make decisions based on what others prefer. This confirmation fosters a sense of trust which further reduces the uncertainty in the process of making decisions.

Speaking of the user-experience, social proof takes care of that as well. When people get personalized recommendations based on their preferences, chances of conversions are through the roof.

What governs their preferences? Social proof.

Spotify’s weekly playlists does exactly this to you. It’s personalized based on your preferences, which is further based on other user’s preferences shown to you.


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