Social Proof: What it IS and What it is NOT

What does social proof mean?

Do you ever hear a term over and over and wonder to yourself….What the heck does that mean?  It happens to me all the time.  As crazy as it sounds, when I hear a term I’m unfamiliar with, my mind becomes obsessed and I go into research mode:

  • Defining what the terms IS (generally straight forward)
  • Determining what the term is NOT (usually much more challenging)

Social Proof was one of those terms.  Let’s first look at what Social Proof IS by way of its definition. 

Social (adj) means relating to activities that involve being with other people, especially activities that you do for pleasure.

Proof (noun) means information or evidence that shows that something is definitely true or definitely exists. 

Social Proof means, by way of definition:  activities that involve being with other people to bring evidence that shows that something is definitely true or definitely exists.  A line of people waiting to get inside a local restaurant you’ve heard is amazing, is a sign of social proof. 

How does social proof in person, translate to social proof online?

While it may be difficult to envision how to show social proof on your website, there are a number of proven ways to do so.

Social Proof IS:

  • Highlighting user-generated content to engage shoppers.  Prominently display how many shoppers, viewed, added to cart, and purchased an item in real-time.  This piques the visitor’s curiosity to engage further with the products you offer
  • Curating and promoting user-generated content.  Connect to your Instagram account and capture what your followers are saying about your products.  In fact, you can take it a step further by requesting permission to use your follower’s posts to promote those same products, by making them shoppable on your site.
  • Exposing real-time trending products.  Display the products that are trending on one page, giving shoppers a glimpse into the most popular products on your site. 
  • Displaying customer reviews.  Influence purchase decisions by showing your customers reviews on products they’ve purchased.

Social Proof IS NOT:

What social proof is NOT, is a bit more vague and unclear.

In order to determine what social proof is NOT, we need to evaluate the opposite meaning, or antonym, of social proof. 

The antonym of social (adj) is independent, autonomous or unsociable. 

The antonym of proof (noun) is conjecture, assumption or disproof.

The opposite of social proof is: something independently or autonomously determined by conjecture or assumption.

Examples of website tools that are not social proof because they are based on independent, autonomous conjecture. 

  • Personalization is NOT social proof.  According to Gartner,  personalization is a process that creates a relevant, individualized interaction between two parties designed to enhance the experience of the recipient.  Personalization is based on the website visitiors browsing behavior or situational content and does not offer any social evidence as to the interaction provided.
  • Website navigation is NOT social proof.  Website navigation helps visitors find content and products on a website.  The navigation is part of the website overall structure and hierarchy, and does not take into account any social activities.


Social Proof capitalizes on the psychological and social phenomenon wherein people copy the behavior of what others are doing in similar situations.  It exploits the wisdom of the crowd to direct and influence engagement, purchases, and actions. 

Debbie wears multiple hats at SiteVibes, including writing and researching awesome topics to share with customers, partners and just general site visitors. When she isn't doing day-to-day SiteVibes work, Debbie enjoys volunteering with nonprofit organizations, digging into a new book, and going for walks.