The Power of Social Proof

imagine this scenario: you’re scrolling through Instagram and stumble upon an ad of an unboxing of a shapewear bodysuit. The bodysuit looks super cute and the person says they’ll be trying it on for the first time on camera. They put it on, and show the bodysuit with a pair of jeans. The outfit is really simple and cute, and you can imagine yourself wearing something similar. The reviewer loves it, they’re glowing about the product, and you think they look great . The ad interests you enough to check out the brand website. You click on the bodysuit and see thousands, literally thousands, of 5 star reviews. This pairing of user-generated content, an interest in the product, and tons of 5 star reviews is enough to make many people hit the buy now button.  I was in this exact situation earlier this week. The ad alone tempted me to click on the website, which is something I rarely do with Instagram ads.  This is the power of social proof.

What is social proof?

At its core, social proof is a powerful psychological phenomenon that describes our tendency to rely on the actions and opinions of others. This is especially the case when we’re uncertain about what to do.

Think about the last time you scrolled through Amazon in search of a new gadget or browsed Yelp for restaurant recommendations. Chances are, whether positive or negative, these reviewed swayed your purchasing decisions.

When it comes to shopping in specific, social proof usually comes down to two things: reviews and user-generated content (UGC). Seeing a Tiktok of someone loving their bodysuit is still a recommendation for the brand. It functions similarly to a review you’d see on a website.  UGC can be more potent than paid sponsorships because these reviews are ‘organic’ and consumers tend to trust organic content more than paid content.

brand trust

One of the main reasons why reviews are  important is because they’re way for a brand to build trust with their audience. Review are a way for potential customers to verify the brand and what they’re doing. Trying a new brand is a risk and reviews help potential customers vet products and gather information to make an informed decision.

If a brand is saying their products are high-quality but the reviews complain about quality issues this can deter customers and make the brand appear less credible or trustworthy. Consumers do not like to be misled.  Reviews are one way that consumers can suss out what’s what. Bands know this.  A study by TINT found that “72% of consumers consider customer reviews and testimonials more credible than when a brand talks about its own products.” And, with a staggering 75% of consumers actively seeking out reviews before making a purchase, it’s clear that social proof plays a pivotal role in shaping our perceptions of brands and products.

brand reputation

It’s not simply positive 5-star reviews that sway people, it’s also a quantity of reviews. If you see a product with 4 5-star reviews is that really going to sway you into buy that product? It might actually have the opposite effect and convince you to not buy the product.

If a brand is lacking reviews, they can create campaigns to entice people to leave reviews. I was recently working on a campaign for an apartment rental company and some of their properties had no or low reviews. They launched a campaign asking for tenants to leave a review and if they did they’d be entered into a draw to receive a $25 gift card. Their reviews increased by over 200% within two weeks, and rose to 400% by the end of the moth.  They averaged 15 reviews a month before this program and now averages close to 200— a number that’s held for four months.

In the marketing biz, reviews are also part of how companies manage their reputation. Good reviews indicate a positive reputation and bad can indicate a negative one. If a product or brand has had a lot of negative reviews, they can negate this by running an incentivized review campaign.

Here’s the thing, a lot of incentivized campaigns don’t explicitly ask for positive reviews. Like my own experience, a company will simply ask for a review, period. But, because of the principle of reciprocity, if a customer is asked to leave a review and there’s a potential for a reward, they are more inclined to leave a positive review. So, not only is a brand gaining more reviews but they’re also increasing the number of positive reviews. It’s a bit sneaky.


But social proof isn’t confined to traditional review platforms—it’s also prevalent on social media, where UGC reigns supreme. Whether it’s a TikTok showcasing a must-have beauty product or an Instagram post raving about a new skincare regimen, these organic endorsements carry significant weight with today’s consumers. Not to mention, customers engage more with UGC then brand content (the stats say 3-4x more). UGC is more effective and it’s being utilized by more brands because of this. And, with nearly half of all consumers trusting online reviews as much as recommendations from friends and family, it’s clear that social proof isn’t just a marketing strategy—it’s a cornerstone of modern consumer behavior (Brightlocal).

Some of the strongest or best ads come from UGC. I’ve seen some excellent ads from trendy online brands that have repurposed customer reviews of their product. Not only do you get to see a product in action, but you get to hear from a real customer who loves the product.

A brand that’s come to my attention for their exceptional use of this tactic is Heyshape. They have a TON of different ads using UGC or influencer content that shows reactions of influencers/customers trying their product for the first time. It’s extremely effective. Some of their content is UGC and some isn’t. But, their paid content looks incredibly similar to the UGC and it has the same, or similar effect, with consumers. Their content appears to be authentic and in places resembling real reviews. Given the information we just learned, these kinds of ads are incredibly effective because a brand has essentially turned a review into an ad.


Influencer driven content and integrated ads are still extremely effective. 37% of consumers have a greater trust in influencers than brands and influencer ads typically result in a 9x increase in brand loyalty/attachment and purchase intent. (IMH). Depending on the contract, a brand can retain content rights from a influencer. So, let’s say I create a sponsored ad trying on clothes from Brand X.  In my video I might have shared my genuine positive opinions, first impressions, and genuine excitement about the products. If Brand X retains my content rights they can repurpose my content into an ad and it can appear like UGC. So, not only does the brand get the initial exposure of the influencer ad, but they then get the secondary benefits of UGC that might have even more weight because of the influencer.

sneaky tactics

There’s one sneaky thing to note about website reviews. Because consumers are more inclined to buy something with (a) good reviews, and (b) a lot of positive reviews, brands can manipulate these on their website. You can click on a product, let’s say a cute pair of tights, and the brand displays their reviews directly underneath the product. You can see the star rating and number of reviews, let’s say 5,000 reviews and 4.5 stars. Consumers can assume that those specific reviews are for the specific product you’re looking at. But, in many circumstances that’s not the case.

Those reviews can be a total of all reviews and comments across all their products or a selection of products. So, there might only be 500 3-star reviews for the tights you’re looking at and another product or multiple products have higher reviews. By adding all of these reviews together, these positive reviews can right skewing the data to make the number appear greater, and also imply that specific number applies to your product of interest.

why should you care?

You should care because reviews are a bit of a necessary evil. Calling them evil is definitely an exaggeration but you get the point. Reviews are helpful because they help us mitigate risk and add greater confidence to our purchasing decisions. A willingness to do research and look at reviews is an excellent sign that you’re trying to avoid impulse purchasing. However, brands can manipulate reviews and the psychological impact they can have on consumers.

If you see 5 star reviews under your product on a website you may feel like you don’t need to do further research because hello the reviews are right there! You can get lulled into a false sense of security and feel confident about your purchase. You’ve seen the reviews and have done your due diligence to mitigate risk when that’s not the reality. Lastly, seeing so much excitement in UGC and within reviews themselves can be contagious. All of these positive emotions can stir up anticipation and desire motivating us to experience the same positive outcomes.

Thanks for reading! If you’d like to read more on thoughtful consumerism, check out this article on 11 one-minute habits to shop more mindfully.

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