Channeling the Power of Social Proof for Digital Marketing

Channeling the Power of Social Proof for Digital Marketing

It is the start of the year, you list down in your planner your travel plans. One goal is to travel with friends. One of your friends asks you to check for a great place that all of you will visit and enjoy a few days of break. You checked out websites, travel apps and even ask a few people where is the best place to take a few days of vacation. You read blogs and websites, reviews and even considered family and friends’ recommendation. Upon doing research, which place do you think you would select and share with your friends? Are you most likely to go to most visited places or will you try to take the risk and go to a road less traveled?

If you are like most people, you are likely choosing a destination with the most number of people who already went and recommended the place. You will probably even ignore those places without any reviews in it. It is not a twist of fate that we will choose a good travel destination with lots of positive reviews and lots of people visiting. It has to do with psychological occurrence called social proof.

Social Proof

What is social proof? The social proof theory was coined by Robert Cialdini in his 1984 book titled “Influence”. It describes a psychological and social phenomenon wherein people copy the action of others in an attempt to undertake the behavior in a given situation1.

Let’s go back to your search for a great vacation place for your friends. The reason you will consider visiting the place with the most number of people who already visited and recommended is assuming that the place is really good and will provide great tourist experience instead of trying a new place. Our thinking is that if the place is a must visit it must be so good enough that people are flocking to go to. That is what we call the social proof.

Why Is It important to Channel the Social Proof?

Based on the study “The Science and Practice of Persuasion” by Robert Cialdini and Noah Goldstein which was published at Cornell University in 2002, research reveals that there are six basic principles how one person might influence another. Those principles are labeled, liking, reciprocation, consistency, scarcity, social validation, and authority. In the article, these principles were used in the hospitality industry to harness the power of persuasion and ensure success in the industry2. How do we apply this in a digital marketing setup?

In order to apply this in Digital Marketing setup, we must take note of the six principles:

  1. Liking

Based on the study, most people acknowledge that those who are physically attractive have a social advantage held by a few others, but evidence suggests that people have grossly underestimated the degree to which is true. In addition, attractive people are more successful at eliciting compliance with their request. In digital marketing, you tend to make your products and services attractive and appealing to potential buyers and users. It is our nature to be attracted to beautiful things or beings. Remember our example above in researching for a potential place for a vacation? In an online setting of promoting a place, this means putting up an attractive or interactive website, take nice and quality photos of the location, and sharing a good description and details via travel applications which will gain a liking with the masses. In addition, it is also a value add if a tourist leaves positive remarks regarding on their vacation experience that will invite people to try and visit the place.

  1. Reciprocation

A Chinese proverb states “Favor from others should be remembered for a thousand years”. This emphasizes the importance of reciprocity. One of the tactics used by social media strategists is providing special gifts, freebies, samples and raffle prizes to generate the interest of the people and get curiosity as well. In addition, a contest that requires to follow and tag a few friends for a certain freebie is guaranteed to gain more followers and potential travelers to try to visit the place. Most of us would really love to win a raffle of an all-expense paid vacation or even get discounted rates that we will surely recommend it with our family, friends, and colleagues. This also encourages people to try it and gain a following.

Ever notice why we keep coming back to hotels with good service, hotel room upgrades and discounted rates? It is our innate nature to not only appreciate good things done for us but also, we crave for a good service which keeps us relax especially on vacation. You also notice when the hospitality staff does not treat us right, we tend not to repeat the experience and look for better accommodation elsewhere.

  1. Consistency

With this principle, consistency means taking advantage of the fundamental human tendency to be and to appear consistent with one’s actions, statements, and beliefs. Applying the principle in digital marketing means we need to be consistent in the content of our pages, sites, and even images we share to our customers and would-be customers. Like when you browse a travel application or travel website, most of the time we are more inclined to check sites with consistent updates with their websites compared to those travel sites with few or no updates at all. Furthermore, people are more inclined to return to a specific place especially if the hospitality and reception of the staff are consistently warm and relaxing. Consistency is our key in delivering the right message and advertisements in our social media for people to follow and get more interested in a product, services or items.

  1. Scarcity

Scarcity pertains to items and opportunities that are short in supply or unavailable tend to be more desirable to consumers than those items that are plentiful and more accessible. Have you observed that whether it’s the last piece of cake, a few sets of clothes, last hotel room, and final unclaimed online stock, items, opportunities or services that are short in supply or unavailable tend to be more desirable to the majority of us? According to Michael Lynn, author of “Scarcity Effects on Value: Mediated by Assumed Expensiveness” in Psychology Today journal, “The often adaptive shortcut is one that naturally develops, since we learn early in our lives that things existing in limited quantities are hard to get, and that things that are hard to get are typically better than those that are easy to get”3.

When we apply this to digital marketing, we emphasize the scarcity principle by saying that the supplies are in limited supply or will be offered for a limited time only. One example is the flurry of coffee drinkers every Christmas to avail the ever-coveted planners by completing the stickers and trying limited coffee drinks. In addition, when you travel you notice that some hotels would advertise in the websites that there are limited rooms, or the day trip guides are only limited which our tendency is to act now and purchase it immediately fearing that we won’t be able to book an accommodation or avail services.

  1. Social Validation

The principle of social validation asserts that people frequently look to others for cues on how to think, feel, and behave. In applying this principle, if you are an owner of a resort, hotel or restaurant, you always aim to have positive reviews which will be the basis for other potential customers to consider trying and purchasing the product, service or accommodations. In our example above, when we research for a place to visit, we consider the positive review and experience before booking a hotel, a tour or even the restaurant. For sure you don’t want to stay in a questionable hotel with few reviews or have lots of negative reviews? Another example of social validation is using the Airbnb application. Most of the time when you want to avail accommodations in the website, you tend to check the comments and reviews provided by the previous occupants. You based your preference on which accommodations have positive comments compared to those who have a few or no reviews at all.

  1. Authority

The principle of authority is we tend to defer to the counsel of authority of figures and experts to help us decide how to behave, especially when we are feeling ambivalent about a decision or when we are in an ambiguous situation. Experts also have a hand in helping us decide what we should think. In our search for the best travel deal, we sometimes look up to expert opinions from celebrities, social media influencers, and endorsers regarding a tourist location. It is not a surprise anymore that when we see our favorite celebrities or social influencers which we considered as “authority” in speaking or representing a certain product, item, services, and even opportunities. Most of these influencers have a very active social media following which tends to encourage masses to try a new product or patronize services.

In digital marketing, find a reliable influencer or expert that will provide useful insights and endorse your products and services. You can also collaborate with a group of people who provide expert opinions, review and recommend your products and services. In addition, some travel accommodations or services also post their awards and recognitions which also increase their customers and recommendations by proving that they are one of the best in the field. Ever noticed hotels and restaurants with TripAdvisor badges or approval sign from trusted websites and magazines? It is also their way to prove that they are one of the highly recommended places you can avail around the area and provide one of the best services they can offer.

Social proof is a useful tactic in digital marketing. Social proof principles are already being used in different industries and digital marketing is not an exemption.  These principles also work in aggregation with one another to produce a more effective persuasive effect. You can use it to plan on how to capture your customers and potential customers. In addition, it shows how to provide a better customer or user experience. But do take note that if we are going to apply social proof principles it is also important that in applying them, we need to be honest and ethically conscious to avoid any bad consequences in promoting our products and services to people.


  3. Michael Lynn, “Scarcity Effects on Value,” Psychology and Marketing, Vol. 8 (1991), p43-47