My grandfather was a prudent saver. He slowly became affluent, yet remained afraid to buy his dream car.

“What would the neighbors think?”, he warned himself.

Who wouldn’t dare buy a 1973 Volkswagen Sirocco, you wonder? It turns out that we are wired to consider the neighbors.

When our ancestors roamed the forest in bands of hunters, it was important to be a good member of the tribe. Surviving alone in this hostile environment was impossible.

Exclusion meant death.

Even though the pressures of finding food and shelter have waned, the

Even though the pressures of finding food and shelter have waned, the intense desire to belong remains.

This need to belong can overrule reason.

The psychologist Solomon Asch proved this in his famous conformity experiments. Test subjects were told they were doing a visual perception test and asked the following:

Easy enough, right?

What made it hard was that the test subject had to give the answer after a group of peers (all actors), pointed to the wrong line in unison.

Alone, only 1% gave the wrong answers. But the peer pressure resulted in:

People tend to consider their peers before committing.

Yet in every situation where you are unsure of how to behave, one often looks to others for clues.

Ambiguity makes people copy the actions of others.

This is called social proof.

Social proof comes in public compliance (despite believing the herd is wrong) but also as private acceptance (a belief that a herd must be correct).6

People just assume the herd has more information.

This is why referrals and online reviews are powerful instruments for your brand. (And according to Nielsen’s Trust in Advertising studies, the most powerful.)

It is also why the long-time unemployed find it difficult to find work.
Employers reason that many others already found them unemployable.

The larger the herd, the more powerful the social proof.

In what is called the ‘multiple sources’ effect, a larger herd is assumed to be more right than a smaller one.7

It is why brands buy social media followers. It boosts their credibility. If a large chunk of the herd follows the brand, it must be worth following.

The more uncertainty, the more powerful the social proof.

People are more sensitive to social proof when your brand is new to them, making a commitment risky.8

Therefore, when building a new brand, finding forms of social proof should be of prime importance. It lends your project credibility in the eyes of the ambiguous buyer.

Here are the 8 types of social proof:

  • Customers: social proof from your existing customers or users (Testimonials on Trustpilot or handcrafted case studies).
  • Experts – credible and esteemed experts in your (Professor X at the University of Y teaches with
  • Celebrities – or other influencers (That singer showcasing your product on their feed, or a photo in your restaurant).
  • Crowds – social proof large numbers of people ( “100,000+ brand builders bought this book!”).
  • Friends – people who are friends of your users/website visitors (“12 of your friends like com”).
  • Certifications – an industry-relevant institute certifies that you are an expert, high-quality or trustworthy source (“ISO ”).
  • Press – Prominent publications mention (“As seen on Famous News Site”)
  • Partners – industry leaders help realize your (“Proud partner of Big Company”)

Showcase every bit of social proof you can muster, wherever this is appropriate.

Positive social proof greatly influences the trust in your brand. Of course, it cuts both ways. Negative social proof makes the herd distrust it.

This is why your reputation (what others think and say about you) is part of your brand.

  • A good reputation enhances trust and facilitates commitment.
  • A bad reputation destroys trust and prohibits commitment.

So invest in your reputation.

With positive social proof, people more easily commit to a new brand.