Social proof : an effective tool of persuasion

In life, we sometimes need to convince others. To sell, to gain credibility, to develop leadership … Among all the means to convince, I often talk to you about what is called social proof .

It is the natural tendency that all of us, as human beings, have to refer to the behavior of others to act ourselves. If we find that a majority of people act in a certain way, chances are we will follow the movement, especially if we are uncertain …

In this article, I will explain a lot about social proof, based on research done by researchers. Are we sheep that follow the flock? Why are we so sensitive to social proof ? How to use it intelligently on his blog and what are his dangers? This is a great overview of this exciting psychological and sociological mechanism!

Social proof, a method of persuasion

In a 2001 study , Arizona University researcher Robert Cialdini identified six effective methods of persuasion.

  • 1. Principle of Social Proof – We will be more likely to follow someone who looks like us than someone who does not look like us.
  • 2. Principle of Affinity – We cooperate more with someone who appreciates us.
  • 3. Principle of Reciprocity – People tend to treat us as we treat them. If you want something, it’s better to give yourself something.
  • 4. Principle of Commitment – We better keep promises that we make voluntarily and that we expressly express.
  • 5. Principle of authority – The experts are trusted.
  • 6. Principle of rarity – We want more what exists in limited quantity than what exists “on a large scale”.

These methods of persuasion are very often used in marketing to sell you things:

  • You are shown a dentist in an advertisement for toothpaste because its expert status is supposed to convince you of the incredible benefits of this toothpaste (after all, if a specialist says it!);
  • Amazon is revealed to you “More than 2 copies in stock! Hurry to order “, because the idea of ​​a stock-out can push the hesitant to buy;
  • We inform you that “98 people are looking at the listing of this establishment” on … to remind you that you are not alone in the world to consider a reservation in this or that accommodation.
  • We add a banner on a book to indicate that it is a “bestseller” that has already convinced over a million readers.

And this list could go on for a long time!

Social proof is a simple mechanism: it is the idea that when we find ourselves in a situation of uncertainty, we will use the behavior of others as a clue to make a decision.

Why do we rely on the behavior of others?

Spontaneously, we tend to believe that others have more knowledge and a better understanding of the situation than us … and this is especially true when we do not know how to act or what to think!

The study of Muzafer Sherif

The best known study on social proof dates from 1935, it was conducted by Muzafer Sherif . He asked himself a simple question: how do we react when we find ourselves in a situation where we have no “point of reference” to answer a question? Will we respond to chance or try, rationally, to create benchmarks to give the right answer?

The researcher placed each participant in his own experience in a room plunged into darkness and asked him to fix a bright spot located 4-5 meters from him. This kind of situation gives the impression that the bright spot moves when it is not the case in reality. Sherif, however, asked the participants to estimate the movement of the luminous point, in centimeters.

A little later, he summoned the participants again … but this time, he formed groups of three. Everyone had to announce his estimate aloud. Over time, it became apparent that the group reached a consensus on the movement of the bright spot even though, initially, the individual estimates were different from each other.

Even more fascinating, if we once again put the participants face to face with the luminous point, they kept the “group” estimate … even if they were no longer part of it.

Sherif then concluded that the participants had built a “common repository”. In the absence of objective elements to evaluate the movement of the luminous point, they all relied on one another to reach a consensus.

Social proof, help in everyday situations

Social proof can have a very positive role in society, when we do not know what attitude to adopt and that we do not want to feel completely out of step with others.

For example, if you come to a new business and find that everyone is hugging and dressing in a casual way, you will adapt by looking at what others are doing.

Social proof has a useful function to integrate and decide the best way to act.

So obviously, the marketing pros have quickly understood … well before the web era! From the 18th-19th century, in France, for example, we began to structure the slap in theatersand opera. The managers hired professional “claqueurs” … whose mission was to react at certain strategic moments of a play, to push the public to do the same. The commissioners did this by asking their neighbors about the highlights, the laugherslaughed at the slightest touch of humor, the weeping men wiped away tears when the plot was moving …

Later, we found the same principle in some sitcoms, with prerecorded laughter added to the soundtrack … Although it seems perfectly stupid or even annoying for the viewer, a study (again signed Robert Cialdini) showed that series including this type of laughter was considered funnier than another.

5 ways to use social proof to convince

The social proof is everywhere on the web, through a crowd of elements which direct us, more or less subtle, in our decisions and in our judgments. Here are some examples.

Online reviews

As early as 2004, a researcher had fun comparing people’s reactions to a book. Some participants in the study heard 5 positive critics uttered by the same voice, and 5 positive reviews by 5 different voices.

It turned out that the presence of “multiple sources” had more impact. 5 reviews were better than one!

Putting forward opinions on its site can be, if they are positive, an excellent argument to convince. If the opinions are, in addition, embellished with photos , this reinforces in general their power of persuasion.


Allowing users to leave comments can also play on social proof, whether on social networks or on the site itself. The principle is simple: if people react to the post, it must be interesting … It often encourages debate!

I lived a very good example on my travel blog. I had published an article about attending a court trial . For more than 5 months, he remained without receiving any comment … until the day when a surfer launched himself. Her message “paved the way” for others who, seeing a comment, felt free to ask their own questions. The article has 68 comments today.


Publicly displaying a number of subscribers, comments, articles can often gain credibility. Social proof works again in a very simple way: “If there are many people who like this page, it must be qualitative”. “If this blog has published a lot of articles, it must have built rich and interesting content.”

For this reason, it is sometimes very relevant to run a Facebook advertising campaign to launch your page: this boost to win your first subscribers often triggers a training mechanism that pushes others to love. the page.

Testimonials and case studies

If you offer a product or service, user / customer testimonials can play an important persuasive role.

Imagine an undecided prospect facing your offer: if you give him the opportunity to read the testimonials of people you have helped, situations where your product / service has been helpful, it’s a real help to make a decision, to even more so if the “witness” is like him (same problematic, same sector of activity …).

It is not always easy to have this type of advice available when you start your activity … but you can already highlight the opinions of your nearest circle on the projects that you have done (volunteer or Low price). For example, if you are embarking on the creation of a website, you can very well value the testimony of Tata Jocelyne, whose site you created for her orthodontic practice.

Presidential bonds

Being quoted by a media or winning a prize can also act as a form of social proof: you have been “recognized” as worthy of interest … so you must be!

Obviously, you will be even more credible if you include a link to articles that have spoken to you … because after all, anyone could post some loose logos on their page.

Is social proof still effective?

In my opinion, social proof does not escape the classic risk inherent in any marketing strategy: well used, it is innovative and effective; repeated everywhere, all the time and without subtlety, it becomes less striking and more annoying for people!

The more generic social proof messages are , the less impact they have … because as I said at the beginning of the article, we are mostly influenced by people who are like us. A very generic comment (“Super article”, “Super service”) is so vague that it will have less impact than a more in-depth message … even if, in the end, this message is more targeted and will not affect all Internet users.

Moreover, sites that club social proof 15 times in the same page may raise your concern: are they quacks? From carpet dealers? Can we trust someone who tries so hard to convince you?

Beyond this aspect, there is also evidence that social proof is less effective against a knowledgeable person . When someone is more expert than average on a subject or situation, he is naturally less sensitive to the arguments that evoke the behavior of the majority.

The majority is not always right … and following the behavior or the general opinion is not always the guarantee of a good decision.

In addition, misused social proof can become counterproductive … especially if you publish a “negative social proof”. For example: “90% of new bloggers give up in the first 6 months. Do not behave like them “, on the contrary, risk pushing undecided people to give up instead of encouraging them to continue.

In summary, social proof is a natural tendency that can be used wisely to convince … if it is done sparingly and prudently!

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