Is Social Proof Really Any Proof At All?

Social proof, also known as informational social influence, is a psychological phenomenon where people assume the actions of others reflect correct behavior for a given situation. This effect is prominent in ambiguous social situations where people are unable to determine the appropriate mode of behavior, and is driven by the assumption that surrounding people possess more knowledge about the situation.

– Wikipedia

The only social proof is in your content and testimonials.

Ameena Falchetto

By definition social proof numbers are shortcuts. Brand logos and other symbols are shortcuts. It isn't “good” or “bad” that we use shortcuts, in fact we use shortcuts all the time. So here's a question for you…

How much social proof do you think your business needs in order to attract more leads and customers? And what exactly is social proof in the context of a website or blog? Let's dig in.

All The Social Proof  You Want, And Then Some

For a blog there's a long list of possibilities:

  • Twitter followers
  • Facebook Page fans
  • Google+ shares (for the entire blog)
  • YouTube subscribers
  • RSS subscribers
  • Email subscribers
  • Alexa ranking
  • AdAge ranking
  • Junta blog ranking
  • Alltop listing
  • Blog Grade (from HubSpot)
  • Twitter Grade (again from HubSpot)
  • Social Media Examiner blog ranking
  • Socialfresh rating
  • Any other awards the blog has won including industry-specific blog awards

And for a single blog post? I'm thankful that we're in the digital space here as it would take a large sheet of paper. Let's start with the ones we use here:

  • Tweets
  • Google+ 1's
  • LinkedIn shares
  • Facebook likes
  • Stumbles

And it doesn't stop there:

  • Comment count
  • Blokube votes
  • Blogengage votes
  • Serpd votes
  • Diggs
  • Delicious bookmarks
  • Reddits
  • DZone votes

Actually it's best if I just give you a screenshot of all the options.

Social Proof Icons

Which of these tell you what you want to know?

Frankly I think we need some more options…or not.

Frankly it's not up for debate as to whether or not having social proof numbers on your website or blog work, they do.

In the context of a blog, people see these numbers and are more inclined to share the post they're reading. For a company website it's slightly different. Before lending your “social juice” to the company you have to determine whether you really like them or not. Liking a company's page on Facebook says that you do indeed like that company, and people see that.

On the other hand a share can be more casual. You aren't suggesting you like the company itself rather you enjoyed reading the article and thought it might be of interest to your friends.

So let's not debate if numbers garner other numbers – they do. Instead let's ask an even better question…

Does A Lack Of Social Proof Hamper The Growth Of A Blog?

I want to open up the floor to you. What do you think? Do you think these social proof numbers are indeed real proof that people find what they read valuable? Why do you think people share posts? Why do you? And finally, do you think not having social proof numbers for your blog will restrict it's growth?

Let's talk about it in the comments below!

I'll see you there…


  1. A lack of social proof has the potential to hamper the growth of your blog the same as a presence of astronomical numbers likewise can potentially hamper growth. As it’s been stated, there are tons of what I like to call ” number magicians ” floating around the web. And it’s very easy to be deceived if you don’t know how to examine what you’re seeing number wise. I’d stick to the value or lack of value to the content that’s being provided plus not so much the numbers, shares,etc. but rather the character of the individuals following and sharing content from the blog. Let’s say you have a case of someone who is by far not the best web designer and has no languages under their belt to help in that matter, using pre-designed templates, and their set up is visually ” ugly “, but the person has 3 followers who share 75% of that person’s post….and the 3 followers are Steve Jobs, President Obama, and Warren Buffet (Hope that’s spelled right.) .

    • To find out who is sharing the content though you’d have to do a search on Twitter for the retweets, and even then you might miss some if the person doing the retweet doesn’t add the Twitter handle of the content producer.

      I see your point though Quintius.

  2. Like Ameena, it does drive me nuts to have to hunt down social sharing options, or even just find your Twitter handle to give proper credit. A huge annoyance to me is when a business blog pretty much limits me to sharing/commenting via FB, not gonna happen. As for the numbers, it’s part of the game. Maybe I won’t share something that’s been shared 500 times – or I’ll now move it to G+ where perhaps my commentary may get a little more notice (hasn’t worked yet, but I’m testing that theory). On social proof such as badges and other sidebar decor, I am torn; would I like some accolades, of course. Am I gonna put in the time to play the games in order to get them? Doubtful as I’m spending time working for clients, looking for more work, getting stuff done – and getting ready for my vacation. FWIW.

    • Thank you for bringing up the FB commenting issue Davina. I was just speaking with a colleague of mine about that and your point helps a lot.

      I also agree on playing the game to get the numbers. Time is better spent bringing in more business. Have fun on your vacation!

  3. Robert,

    Of course GETTING the social “love” helps.

    But the “proof” is a little hard to say. I would say that “new” people may be impressed by seeing large numbers. (hundreds of comments, Retweets, Stumbles) WHile more savvy people will know that these can be rigged to some extent. (though REALLY large number often mean something)

    SO I would say the value of social proof is dependent on two things

    1. Technical knowledge of person viewing the numbers
    2. Sheer amount of the number. I will admit that seeing 1000+ (RT’s, +1, Stumbles or Likes) wll impress me. At least impress me with the users facility with social networks. If the article is on Social Networking…that means a lot. If it is on Dog Grooming…well not so much.


  4. I think that too many RT’s or +1 doesn’t say much. However the lack of those says a lot.

    I know social proof works but it pisses me off because we all know that it’s very easy to fake it but still we trust.

    • What you describe Cristina is the difficulty that people and companies new to blogging face. If no one shares their content is anyone reading it, and if so, why aren’t they sharing it?

  5. Social Proof is an interesting phenomenon. I believe people are more susceptible to it than they may consciously admit. If we are honest I suspect most of us leave blogs with little social proof quicker than others… Still it is not the bottom line, and quality content surrounded by good design will likely keep me interested even if there are few indicators of social proof. One must learn to look beyond the numbers and see if the individual has anything really valuable to offer. Unfortunately I do agree with you on the catch-22 about how lack of social proof can hamper a blogs growth, this creates a problem whereby many bloggers artificially inflate these numbers… with people faking social proof (or buying followers / facebook fans etc.) it creates a culture of individuals who no longer trust social proof. So does it mean anything? It’s become so convoluted it is hard to tell.

    • So bottom line people have to read the content and assess for themselves whether they see it as quality and will share it or not. Great point Daniel. I think though that many people do use the shortcuts. Not everyone, but it does happen.

  6. Social proof doesn’t make a lick of difference in terms of evidence you see when you look at a blog. Social proof in terms of blogs comes from who you see reacting to a blog and how you value that person.

    it’s the same as the social proof phenomenon in the world of angel and venture capital investment: if someone you know and respect invests, you’re more likely to invest. Likewise, if someone I know and respect shares a blog or blog post with me, comments on a blog, or subscribes to a blog then I’m more likely to give that blog the same level of respect (at least initially) that I hold for the person whom referred me to it.

    I don’t see “number of shares” (tweets, fb, +1s whatever) on a post as being analogous to the concept of social proof because those “shares” are all anonymous to me. Social proof doesn’t work if the “social” aspect of it is just anonymous numbers.

    • Hi Iain great point on the lack of “social” in proof here. What about if you see a friend on Twitter or Facebook (or Google+) sharing a post?

      • Yeah well that’s precisely what I mean when I say “Social proof in terms of blogs comes from who you see reacting to a blog and how you value that person”. If I were to see someone share something (regardless of how they shared it) I’m not only more likely to read it, but more likely to share it in turn.

        I don’t see the “counters” of how many *other* people have shared/reacted to a blog post as being relevant at all.

        In fact, given my experience as the publisher of a mind staggeringly unpopular set of blogs I’d even go so far as to say that the negative effect of having counters for sharing on your site far outweighs the benefits.

        “Social proof” in the sense of “social media” to me is all about who in your network shares something, not about seeing that X thousands of people whom you don’t know have shared whatever it is you’re looking at.

  7. Seeing something with a million retweets recorded doesn’t make me think “Oh let’s retweet this too” but then I am not one to follow the herd.

    Retweets and FB shares DON’T make money in themselves. However, if a post is lacking the social media share buttons I get annoyed and will actually stop visiting that site as often. I love sharing the knowledge.

    I have to admit social proof in the form of testimonials makes a huge difference. How many retweets doesn’t.

Speak Your Mind