Social Proof and the Science Behind Why People Follow the Crowd

By December 11, 2020 No Comments

By SCS Marketing & PR

Originally a term coined by Robert Cialdini in his 1984 book ‘Influence’, Social proof is a psychological and social phenomenon where people ‘copy the actions of others in an attempt to undertake behaviour in a given situation’.

In essence, if large groups are doing it, it must be right, and so people follow along and believe in an idea or person that is widely accepted. But how does this apply to social media marketing in a business context?

Social Media Credibility

More often than not (unless a brand is terribly niche) a brand’s credibility is built on having more followers, more likes, more shares and more views than its competitors.

Numbers (apparently) do not lie and if you have got one million followers you will appear instantly more credible and increase your chances of attracting further followers. Instagram, for example, adds gravitas to ‘volume’ with their blue tick of approval when accounts cross over a certain threshold of follower size.

Vloggers and Instagrammers have become ‘Microcelebrities’ and built businesses off the back of a certain volume of followers. The connection and trust that they develop with their following is the perfect target for corporate sponsorship, provided the microcelebrity can continue to offer authenticity and creativity beyond just brand advertising.

Zoella, for example, was famous for her ‘warts and all’ vlogging style from her bedroom with her friends and boyfriend. Now, she has her own cosmetics line available to buy in high street stores up and down the country.

Influencer support

Social proof works, in a business context, by tapping into the basic human instinct to follow the actions of others, building trust and credibility, and lowering barriers to making purchases online.

If you can commission a brand ambassador, for example to be your ‘expert’ spokesperson on your industry, you will create a faster connection with large groups of people who already support the behaviour and actions of your company spokesperson.

The group is a very powerful concept. Social psychology examines groups and looks at how likeminded people in a group reinforce one another’s viewpoints. Group polarization strengthens the opinions of each person in the group.

GymShark is an example of one UK business which is currently tapping into this very effectively on Instagram by recruiting ‘microcelebrities’ to wear their clothing line when they are running live workouts or posting on their accounts. This allows the brand to recruit large groups who have many commonalities and will be influenced by who they are following and they will also influence each other. This will directly affect the sales of a GymShark product.

To buy or not to buy – Instagram

Instagram is one of the most popular marketing platforms, at the moment. Buying followers on Instagram is commonplace and easy and can kick start your business or persona. It is a lengthy process to get real followers and vanity metrics are all about appearances; people follow those who others follow.

According to recent research in 2019 from The Institute of Contemporary Music Performance which looked at the most-followed stars across ‘Showbiz’ and ‘Sports’, American chat show host Ellen DeGeneres was found to have the highest number of fake followers overall at 48 per cent. Followed by Korean pop band BTS, in second place with 47 per cent of fake followers, and then Kourtney Kardashian in third place with 46 per cent.

If you have to build your brand quickly, you have options. But there is risk. You should always read the terms and conditions of the social media platform. Fake buys may well trigger the algorithm and get your account closed down. At SCS Marketing & PR we always recommend growing your following organically.

Starting out with a small but ferociously loyal base and building up gradually with some key industry influencer endorsements or brand participation, creates a more solid and authentic foundation. It may take longer, but in the long run, your customers will be loyal – and ‘real’!

For more information about our Social Media services call the SCS Marketing & PR team on 01252 621293 or email for more information.