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Persuasive Strategies: Social Proof

Article by: Nancy Tobler
March 26, 2018

Google “social proof and persuasion” and you will find many bloggers who have written on Cialdini’s six proven persuasive strategies. In my own search, the authors’ expertise ranged from radiology physicians, to web designers, to advertisers, to academics, to religious organizations, to public relations officers. This should provide some social proof that the persuasive ideas covered in this series are useful in all walks of life.

Today we are going to add social proof to our persuasive tools of reciprocity, liking, authority and consistency. Social proof is the persuasive power of seeing that other people like and use a product or service. The more the merrier. Social proof was one of the earliest researched areas in persuasion.

People tend to act in ways that are similar to others. Despite saying we “march to the beat of our own drummer,” it is much more likely that we “stay in step,” or “keep up with the Joneses.” Social proof works best in situations where someone is unsure of how to act and considers the persuader as similar.

One of the fascinating examples comes from Colleen Szot’s infomercial for Nordic Trac. She changed the call to action from “Operators are standing by,” to “If operators are busy, please call again.” This one shift created a perception that many people were calling. Szot’s advertisement surpassed the previous highest response rate on the home-shopping channel.

How to use social proof

  • Testimonials are one of the best ways to use social proof. But, you have to be careful with them. Income testimonials must be accompanied with what the average person makes. Product claims must also show what the typical user can expect.
  • Use of “customers who bought this product also bought…” is another way to create social proof. For example, Amazon shows what others have purchased with the product you selected.
  • Longevity indicates that other people must like the company because it has been in business for so many years.
  • Using social media can also provide social proof. When a lot of people “like” your page, this provides group support.
  • Showing you how to use the products creates social proof. Seeing another person use the product educates the consumer and provides an element of social proof. This works especially well if the user looks like a regular person rather than a paid professional. One company that has tips pages is Monat Global. As a distributor you can create your own product tips blog.


Did I persuade you? If you got past the first paragraph, I must have some power to influence your behavior. It could be that you like me (liking), or see me as an expert (authority), or you owe me (reciprocity), or because you read the first one and now you are committed (consistency). It could be that if so many different industries are looking at these persuasive ideas, maybe we should also look at them in direct selling, and that would be social proof.

Check out these other articles for information on the other persuasive strategies of likingreciprocity, consistency, and authority.

Cialdini, R.B. (2003). The science of persuasion: Social psychology has determined the basic principles that govern getting to “yes”. Scientific American Mind, 14(1). 70-77.

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Nancy Tobler

Nancy Tobler has a PhD in communication from the University of Utah. She specializes in research on how organizations change,...

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