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Why 'Social Proof' Matters in Your Social-Marketing Success

by Dan Martell  |  
December 28, 2010

In this article, you'll learn how to...

  • Apply social proof to your business and social-media presence
  • Determine the right number of followers your business needs for social proof

Take two nightclubs. From the outside, both are nondescript, windowless structures. One has a loud and vibrant crowd outside, a long line of people eager to get inside. The other club looks empty; no one is in sight, except for a very bored bouncer.

Which place piques your interest? Where would you rather spend your Saturday night? The answer is obvious—and it's why some clubs intentionally slow down their entrance rates to keep the lines longer outside.

That is "social proof" at work. It's a powerful psychological phenomenon that extends well beyond nightclub lines. It shapes how standing ovations form at live events. It makes restaurants seat you at the window table first. It's the motivation behind laugh tracks in sitcoms.

And although that canned laughter isn't fooling anyone, research has found that a show with a laugh track has higher "perceived funniness" than the same show without the laugh track.

Robert Cialdini's book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion made social proof famous. According to the theory, an action is considered more appropriate when we see others doing it.

In short, our thoughts and behavior patterns are shaped by the opinions and actions of others—and that force is even stronger when those opinions and actions are of people we know and respect.

The important lesson for social marketers is that the same behavioral force can be applied to your business and social-media presence. When social proof works with you, it helps keep visitors on your Web page and improves conversion rates on your landing page (encouraging clicks, likes, and subscriptions).

After all, no matter what you sell or promote, Internet marketing is all about persuasion. And social proof is one of the most persuasive tools around.

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Dan Martell is a cofounder of Flowtown, a social media marketing platform. He also advises and helps launch startups and small businesses by using metrics-driven marketing tactics. Follow Dan on Twitter or email him at

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  • by Pamela DeLoatch Tue Dec 28, 2010 via web

    Insightful points about how people are influenced in their decision making. If a book gets numerous high ratings from Amazon readers, we're more likely to buy it, over a book with fewer or lower ratings.

    Likewise, when a company demonstrates its success with customers, whether through positive interactions via social media, or quality customer success stories, potential customers are more likely to believe that that company can also help them.

  • by Jon-Mikel Bailey Tue Dec 28, 2010 via web

    I love the laugh track analogy. I also think the trade shows are a great example of this. The booths with the guy sitting behind a table looking board to tears get passed by. The booths with people out engaging with people and talking about what they do attract interest. And the booths with the guy doing magic tricks or tap dancing get made fun of from a reasonable distance. Great post, thanks!

  • by Margaret Molloy Tue Dec 28, 2010 via web

    Thanks for the insightful piece. Inertia or indecision is a huge factor in delaying purchases. In a cluttered world, buyers often crave more confidence in the decisions they make. Social proof is one currency that inspires confidence especially when it reflects quantity and quality of actual and perceived endorsement.

  • by Louise Mason Tue Dec 28, 2010 via web

    i thought i'd add a comment to increase your social proof based on number of comments!
    what i really liked about this post was the real world examples first, by which i mean the offline ones. A great example of how existing marketing concepts can be applied to social marketing.
    definitely given me something to think about, how to improve follower numbers and maybe even hiding the low ones in the mean time.
    Thanks for the post.

  • by nauman Sat Jan 1, 2011 via web

    social proof can be displayed through endorsement by industry authorities. for example see in the following site:

    you will see the c social proof on right side which also makes sense and performs well.

  • by Ken Morrison Fri Jan 7, 2011 via web

    The nightclub entrance line up is a wonderful metaphor that I can use to help my students understand this concept. Thanks for another great article.

  • by Ricky Yean Tue Jan 11, 2011 via web

    Great article and the analogies to illustrate the concept.

    Question: The level of "social proof" required may be different from each industry, but do consumers know that? If you're just browsing Facebook and stumbling upon a local coffee shop's page to find just 200 fans, I think that would still look bad to you, no?

    - Ricky
    co-founder, Crowdbooster

  • by Yinka Olaito Fri Jan 21, 2011 via web

    As we make progress in the new millenium social proofs will gain more credibility. the more we place value on the things mentioned here the better for the brands. thanks

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