Social Proof

Yesterday, I was speaking with a colleague about the value of social proof. When we talk about marketing, there’s an infinite number of ways to reach out to your customers. You can start by asking friends, going door-to-door, making phone calls, or putting up a website.

So why is social proof so powerful? Especially when you have the power of the internet and reaching millions, you say?

One word:



Your friends and your family are the primary filters of information in your life. We vest the people closest to us with the greatest trust. We place value on their judgement when we need to make decisions because we know them well. We can use them as a reference point for what’s good and what’s rubbish.

We don’t always have time to become an expert in a given field, so it’s natural to want to ask someone more knowledgeable for help. We tend to use our friends as our first point of reference for this mental shortcut.filters

Case in point: I was looking to buy a bike last weekend. I went to a bike shop and braced myself for a sales pitch. In the shop, I could feel the salesman peering at me: I knew his pattern, I knew he was following me and when he would pop his head around the corner. I knew he would come and tell me the benefits of different models and finally show me some prices.

Afterwards, I went hiking in the mountains and asked a bicyclist his thoughts on what bike I should buy. Because all I wanted was an unbaised, “honest” opinion on bikes. I’m not a bike expert. I don’t know if a steel frame is going to be too heavy for me, or if 28″ wheels are that much better than 26″. Bikes are a commodity for me.

But if I had a friend who came up to me and said, listen – you can buy the $250 bike on the cheap end, but there’s this great bike I tried and used that cost me $450 – it rode great, never had any problems, and maintenance was a breeze – I’d take the recommendation in a hearbeat.

Thus, just as in Who Wants to be A Millionaire , we like to “phone a friend” regarding new purchases or new ideas. The vetting process is very important in human psychology. In order to get through the day, we must filter out information from noise.

That’s why your business’s Yelp score is so important. When your customers have third-party references on you, they feel more comfortable making a purchase, because Yelp’s users aren’t paid to review any single business, so they have less incentive to exaggerate the quality of products & services.


How can you help your business grow? Simple. Put testimonials – with REAL faces and names – on your webpage. It’s the perfect form of social proof.



See “What is the Monkeysphere” for an explanation on why we only care about the opinions of the 150 people closest to us.

And for a more scientific approach… The Dunbar number.


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