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How to Successfully Sell with Social Proof

Written by Brenda on April 14, 2015 Sell Online.

Social proof means that potential readers, customers, or followers will make a decision based on a larger group’s previous decisionsFast Company states that you can narrow down the topic to five different types of social proof:

  1. Wisdom from your friends
  2. Wisdom from large crowds
  3. User social proof
  4. Social proof from famous people
  5. Social proof from a credible expert

Through the careful use of these different types of social proof, you can reach more potential customers, sell more products online and improve your retention rates.

Let’s take a look at some ways you can use social proof to sell more, along with a few tips for finding the right type of social proof to use for your company.

Peer pressure: lame in school, cool for your business

Social Proof and How to Use it to Sell Sell SellIf you take a look at all five of the social proof types we talked about above, three of them have one thing in common: they are all about peer pressure.

When you hear about a new movie from your friends and all of them are talking about it, you feel left out, so you go see the movie.

When you gain some wisdom about a product from large crowds, your curiosity is more than a temptation. Why do 500,000 people follow this company on Facebook? I need to do some investigating to see what all the fuss is about.

When you see that previous users rave about a company or product, it’s difficult to fight the urge to walk away. Think about the times you are on the edge with a product on Amazon, so you scroll down to the reviews, and they are often what sway your decision.

Think about when you look for a video to watch on YouTube. Let’s say you’re looking for a music video and two options come up for the same song. Which would you watch? The one with 500 views, or the one with 50,000? You might think the one with 500 is less legitimate, right?

This form of social proof uses the masses to sell more products. So if you want to use it, it’s up to you to locate groups of people who are excited about your company. If you don’t have a sizable social following, ask some of your most recent customers for quality testimonials that you can post on your website instead.

Paying for social proof vs. bringing it in organically

Two other common forms of social proof include paying for a celebrity endorsement and setting up a star rating system so people can comment on and rate your products or services.

Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson may not beat a hundred happy customers.

To sum things up quickly for you: they both work nicely. If you have Phil Mickelson talking about your golf glove/bottle opener hybrid, your customers see a credible source and flock to buy your new product.

On the other hand, if you have a rating system with 200 decent reviews and a 4.5 star rating for the beer-cracking gloves, you’re also bound to improve your sales.

The large differences between these two social proof examples are time and money. When you pay a credible expert or celebrity, you have to part ways with a significant amount of cash upfront. You’re likely to increase your sales, but what happens when you can no longer afford to pay the spokesperson?

With a rating system you build credibility organically, and the ratings stick around forever. You might also find that 200 reviews from regular Joes are more persuasive than the smiling face of someone like Mickelson.

Stories or statistics?

Research completed by the psychologists Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons suggests that stories carry an unshakable amount of force when it comes to selling online.

You might often debate on whether to include stats or stories on your product pages and blog posts, but according to this study, a story is always going to serve you best.

Why is this the case? A story about your company gets stuck in your customers’ heads. For a brief moment, they’re swept away into another world. It prompts them to believe you as an authoritative voice, because you experienced something relevant.

Statistics, on the other hand, are a great way to grab attention or prove your point. However, they don’t stick in the customer’s mind. When you state a percentage or average, people think for a moment… and then forget about the information entirely. This makes it more difficult for a statistic to help you sell things as people progress through your sales funnel.

A story is one of the strongest forms of social proof you can utilize. Imagine you sell a revolutionary type of hiking boot. Which is going to help you sell more boots: a statistic about how many people end up with sore feet after a hike, or a story about how you trekked the entire Pacific Crest Trail and found that your revolutionary boots held up without giving you so much as a sore toe?

What if your social proof is minimal?

Low Social ProofWhat if you have just a little bit of social proof, but nothing to really brag about? According to an interesting post from the Visual Website Optimizer blog, Anne Stahl argues that lower social proof areas can actually hurt you when trying to achieve certain goals.

Anne’s article focuses primarily on social media. For example, if you have a social media follower counter on your website and it shows only a handful of followers, this could make potential customers or readers think that you’re not worth buying from because no one is following you.

The same goes for share counters on your product pages or blog posts. If they’re in the single digits, what’s keeping new visitors from thinking that no one liked what you were selling or what you had to say?

In short, you should consider the fact that having no social proof may be better than having low social proof. You should certainly add links to your social media profiles, but you don’t necessarily have to display the follower counts. If your products aren’t often shared, consider hiding your social options or using a plugin that condenses them into a single “share” panel.


Your social proof fully depends on how you strategize beforehand. Obviously, it’s tough to build up a following if you completely remove your social buttons and ratings systems because you are too afraid that this might hurt your image.

Think about building up an email list for your brand, then asking these loyal customers to follow you on social media or to rate your products. Then, once you feel comfortable with a certain social following count, or displaying share counts, you can reveal these numbers to the world.

What types of social proof do you currently use on your website? How are they working for you? Let us know in the comments!

Image sources: Jurgen Appelo, TourProGolfClubs


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