The wide spectrum of ‘Social Proof’ | KHWS

The wide spectrum of ‘Social Proof’

Behavioural Insight

KHWS’ work with Durham University Business School leverages behavioural science to identify the consumer behaviours that nudge & inform our decisions. In essence, behavioural science is the study of how we make choices and act upon them. Our proprietary model is based on 9 key Sales Triggers™, essentially 9 different factors that can lead us to purchase a product.

Each of these 9 Sales Triggers has many iterations, and our work in different categories for a range of brands has led KHWS to create a comprehensive database that we use to test & see their impact on nudging purchase behaviour.

One of our Sales Triggers™, ‘Social Proof’ is an extremely effectively strategy in enabling business growth. ‘Social proof’ plays on a common human tendency, whereby if we are uncertain about something, we are likely to imitate the action of others, especially those we admire. In relation to marketing, a consumer is more likely to purchase ‘X’ product if they see that someone else has enjoyed ‘X’ product.

In this blog we look at 3 ways in which ‘Social Proof’ can be deployed: through customer reviews, influencers, and expert recommendations.

Recent data has shown that these methods are effective marketing tools. 88% of consumers trust user reviews as much as personal recommendations, whilst Influencer marketing is the fastest-growing consumer-acquisition channel (HubSpot).

But this Sales Trigger™ is not isolated to marketing. ‘Social proof’ has proven to be an effective strategy deployed by governments to drive take up of public policy.

The Obama administration was also one of the early adopters of ‘Social Proof’, establishing its own unit – the Social and Behavioural Science Team. Today, there are 200 behavioural insight teams acting under governments across the world.

The use of social proof tends to be most powerful in situations of uncertainty. The Covid-19 pandemic has provided people will months of ‘uncertainty’. The Behavioural insights Team (BIT), first introduced to the UK Cabinet Office in 2010, has adopted the use of ‘Social Proof’ to take advantages of people’s ambivalence, and ‘nudge’ them into certain behaviours.

BIT created messages that used ‘Social Proof’ to motivate North Yorkshire residents to volunteer in their community.

“Volunteer numbers have tripled since March. Join them and sign up today.”

This message appeals to the notion that people are more likely to make a contribution, when others are doing the same.

A BIT located in the U.S, played on another aspect of ‘Social Proof’ to encourage people to get the vaccine. This time, the message was centred around the ‘Expert Recommendation’ strand of ‘Social Proof’:

“Doctors and nurses have decided to get the Covid-19 vaccine. Now they recommend that you do too.”

BIT confirmed that the messaged helped to increase vaccine confidence by approximately 6% (Behavioural Insights Team). If such an increase were translated to action, it would mean over 10 million more residents would get vaccinated in the U.S.

However, ‘Social Proof’ is not only restricted to specialised behavioural insight teams, when applied to the public sector. There are also examples of how ‘Social Proof’ has been used by those in mainstream media.

At the end of March, comedian, Lenny Henry collaborated with the NHS to create an open letter, urging the black community to get the vaccine. The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics state that vaccination rates for people who identify as having black heritage are 32.5% lower than the rates for people who identify as white in the U.K.

Henry appealed to Britain’s black community to:

“Trust the facts about the vaccine from our own professors, doctors, scientists involved in the vaccine’s development”.

Interestingly, this can be viewed as a hybrid blend of 2 ‘Social Proof’ iterations, whereby an ‘Influencer’ has included in their message an ‘Expert Recommendation’. The likelihood of someone’s ‘uncertainty’ being ‘nudged’ into action is increased when more than one instance of ‘Social Proof’ is present.

The Covid Pandemic has been a perfect litmus test for assessing the importance of ‘Social Proof’. As previously discussed, it is a Sales Trigger Tool that can provide the edge, when the consumer is in a position of uncertainty. Therefore, when this is applied to the public sector, it is unsurprising that this same technique has been used to increase volunteering or to encourage people to get the vaccine. The BIT located in the U.S have already displayed how their behavioural science methods have led to an increase in vaccine confidence. Whilst the evidence of ‘Social Proof’ in mainstream media, reemphasises the important role it has taken during Covid.

These examples strengthen the idea that ‘Social Proof’ is an effective Sales Trigger™ when it is deployed in the realm of marketing. The case of Lenny Henry’s open letter also illustrates how a blend of ‘Social Proof’ iterations can be even more effective.

For more information on our Sales Trigger™ Insight Tool visit