How to Use Social Proof to Your Advantage

How to Use Social Proof to Your Advantage I’ve gotten treated much better by people in the past six months than I have ever before.

Why is this?

While it’s true that I may have got smarter or better looking during this period of time, it’s not a full explanation. So, what have I done to deserve this?


Simple. I’ve accumulated social proof.

Social proof is probably the most powerful way of influencing people. Much of the effort that companies put into the process of marketing is directed at generating social proof.

Most people are incredibly susceptible to social proof. You and I are as well, but far less than the average person. The reason I say this is because people like you and I, who are into self-development, are usually critical thinkers and doers.

I recently wrote a piece over at Bold and Determined in which I emphasized the importance of building referrals and social proof. In this post I want to show a few innovative ways that social proof can be used.

Here are three everyday examples of how you can use social proof:

  • Girls. If you surround yourself with a lot of girls, other girls will automatically think that you are interesting. If you’re a little innovative you can use dirty tricks like this one to your advantage.
  • Business. The most efficient marketing and sales method is word-of-mouth referrals and being able to showcase previously satisfied customers.
  • Social Proof in General.  Think of celebrities. They can get away with anything because: 1. They are perceived as familiar. 2.  They are put on a pedestal due to social proof.

Why does social proof work?

The reason why social proof works well is because it signals to other people that you are preselected – meaning that people have already taken the time to look into you and decided they like you.  This saves other people time and energy in making a decision by thinking:

“Oh, if so and so already approve of him, then I don’t have to do the due diligence myself.”

And this is more powerful than you can imagine, because 95% of all people are primarily concerned with saving energy. They operate from a semi-awake state of striving to maintain homeostasis.

Are You Looking to See What Someone Else is Doing?

I read in some marketing or psychology book that:

“95 % of all people are imitators and 5 % are doers. Therefore social proof works best in most cases when you are looking to influence the consumer.”

And this is absolutely true. Most people are imitators.

Doers on the other hand tend to be critical thinkers who care very little about the opinion of other people.


Because they’re concerned with doing, not with imitating.  Doers don’t have the “approval-seeking filter” that imitators have in their brains. They have overcome it by learning to think accurately.

Go up and look at the Elvis picture on top.

But 5 million fans can’t be wrong…?

Actually yes they can.  The masses are rarely right about anything. Just because you have the numbers on your side doesn’t mean you’re right. (which is why democracy isn’t so great)

If the masses have agreed on something you can almost be sure that it’s something that you ought to stay as far away from as possible.

Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.

– Mark Twain –

Back away slowly, as if you were escaping from a bear, whenever someone tells you:

  • But, they say…
  • I hear there’s a lot of people…
  • Everyone else is doing it…

Know this:

Other people are NOT a reliable source of information. Trust yourself only. Do your own thinking. Stop trying to save energy.

The next time you find yourself looking to see whatever someone else is doing – think again!

There is no substitute for your own judgment…

…and if you don’t use it you have no one to blame but yourself.

Online Uses of Social Proof

Online is the future and it’s time to get with the program.

No matter who you are or what your niche is, if you are looking to be successful you will want to establish yourself online. You don’t need to be a computer whiz to do this. You could either do it yourself, or you could hire some professional to help you do it.

Even if you don’t use professional help, and your site looks like crap, it’s still much better than having no site at all. It can still count for some social proof, because far too few people have caught onto the trend of creating their own websites.

With that said,

Here are a couple of common ways to use social proof online:

Using Influencers and Experts

This is probably the most powerful way to use social proof when you’re selling a product or a service. You’re borrowing authority directly from experts, and people who look up to these guys will eat it up. I probably would too if it was an interesting product.

social proof1

This image is from the website where I purchased the theme being used for this blog. Most of the experts that endorse the theme are either famous bloggers, marketers, or WordPress authorities.

Followers and Subscribers

It varies greatly how much social proof you’ll get from having followers on social networks, but subscribers are always going to count for solid social proof.

social proof3

Why is this?

Because by having subscribers it signals lot more commitment than having followers on Twitter, Google+, or Facebook. You can have a ton of followers on social media, but it says nothing about their commitment. Stupid people will dig you for it. Intelligent people will not be swayed as easily.

As Featured…

If you’ve been featured in a popular blog, website, newspaper, or TV show you will want to put that up in your sidebar. That’s potent social proof.

social proof 4

You’ll see this on every large company website, it’s common for blogs too.

The reasons why you might not want to do it would be if you absolutely don’t want to be associated with it or if you think it would look ugly on your site.

Brilliant Historic Uses of Social Proof

I like studying big historic events because they’re often orchestrated in very clever ways. Here are a few excellent examples of how social proof has been used to influence people.

Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon always made sure to bury the dead soldiers of his own army far away from the roads or battlefields. He did this to give the impression that a disproportionate amount of the enemy troops had fallen compared to his own army.

During the Battle of Leipzig Napoleon ordered for as many enemy helmets as possible to be thrown into the Rhine River. The helmets then floated downstream towards the enemy camp and gave the impression that Napoleon’s army was winning the battle. This lowered the enemy’s morale significantly.

Napoleon was always popular among the people, but not so much with the elite. To change this he got himself inaugurated into the French Academy and deliberately associated himself with these intellectuals as much as he could to gain the respect of the elite.  And it worked.

Julius Caesar

Before large battles Caesar would prop up slaves, women, and other people who weren’t part of his army, on mules and put helmets on their heads. He did this to give the impression that his cavalry was larger than it really was.

Caesar wrote a total of 11 war commentaries. Why did he do this when he had his hands full leading his armies?

He did it because back in those days news traveled very slowly, and propaganda was hard to see through.  The purpose of these commentaries was to prove to the Roman people that Caesar was worthy of his elected position. By writing these commentaries Caesar was able to remain popular among the people despite being away from Rome for many years.

Adolf Hitler

Before Hitler had reached the status of demigod among the German people, he had to build his image of being an authority for many years. One of the ways he did this was by giving speeches. He continually improved his process for making a powerful first impression on the audience, until he one day came up with an extremely potent formula for doing this.

The formula looked like this:

1. The person who spoke before Hitler was always a terrible public speaker who bored the audience. This was a deliberate ploy to make Hitler seem even more brilliant than he was. Hitler was then introduced in a respectful manner by a person that the audience already looked up to – a man whose judgment was trusted by the audience (social proof).

Note the eagle, the red flags, and the lighting.

Note the eagle, the red flags, and the lighting.

2. Dozens of uniform-clad guards then marched up to the stage in pairs of two accompanied by loud music, creating a sense of importance and prestige.  The pairs always marched to the far sides of the aisle leading up to the stage. Hitler then came in last, walking in the middle of the aisle looking dead ahead, not even so much as glimpsing to the side. This made him seem even more important.

3. Then add to this that Hitler had Albert Speer create massive spotlights, humongous red flags, and a large eagle Nazi emblem. These things had powerful symbolic value.

Back in those days no one else made use of these powerful tools to amplify the effect of speeches.

Learn to Use Social Proof to Your Advantage

Intelligent people are not easily swayed by social proof, but most other people are.

A lot of smart people think that other people should automatically acknowledge how smart and skilled they are — without having to resort to using social proof in any way.

These people are stubborn fools.

Whether you are of the opinion that using social proof is unfair, unethical or beneath your dignity doesn’t matter.

It’s still there and it’s going to be used by your competitors.

Social proof will be used by people who are less qualified than you are, but more strategic. These people may be less skilled than you are, but they will still beat you.

They will be more respected than you are.

They will earn more money than you do.

They will have a much easier time getting ahead than you do.

Whether they “deserve” any of these things is irrelevant.

They’re still going to get them — because they use social proof to their benefit…

…and social proof is always going to matter, whether you want it to or not. Instead of hating on those who use it to their advantage, start using it yourself.


The easiest way to gain social proof is either by borrowing it from someone who is already perceived as an expert/authority/guru, or by slowly building it yourself by putting in the work towards becoming an authority. You can do this by writing, by giving speeches or by associating yourself with powerful people.

Now ask yourself:

How can I get social proof to work in my favor?

What activities can I start doing to cumulatively build social proof over the long-term?

In which area of my life should I start?



  1. There is definitely a psychological explanation in regards to the evolutionary process and how social proof played a role in the whole “tribe mentality.”

    No doubt, having social prowess in a tribal system would grant you access to resources (food and shelter) and females. It makes perfect sense.

  2. Ludvig! I got an excellent idea with a friend.
    We are going to get involved in a political party, just for improving our social status. We think politics are dishonest, but we want to hang around important people.

  3. Free will can best be defined as “the little space between stimulus and response” in which a person gets to decide what course of action to take out of the possible options. Quote from Victor Frankl

  4. Man I am glad I visited this site. Now THIS is the kind of intellectually stimulating environment I have been looking for.

    Ludvig. This is a slight deviation off topic – do you believe that intelligence and the ability to think affects free will? The reason I ask is this post got me thinking, if the vast majority of people are not critical thinkers (and I know this is true since I cannot fathom how utterly stupid some of the people I talk to daily are) – are they really FREE to make the same choices as someone who can step back from his mind, and consider his options? Eg take a die hard religious person who fears God totally, are they as free as an atheist who doesn’t fear God and can think for himself? Or is there fear of God so overwhelming that they are forced to behave on manner x.

    That’s just an example. There are many areas outside religion where this may apply. Your thoughts are appreciated in advance.

    • G-Freedom,

      “and I know this is true since I cannot fathom how utterly stupid some of the people I talk to daily are”

      — Hahaha!

      “are they really FREE to make the same choices as someone who can step back from his mind, and consider his options? ”

      — The short answer is, NO.

      Here are my thoughts on this:

      If we presume that free will exists, I think that there are two main things that will limit it from a practical standpoint:

      1. The wiring of the brain. (This includes everything from information to habits to accurate thinking –> which is what your question was about.)

      2. The self-esteem of the person in question. A person with poor self-esteem (including entitlement) will be very limited in his or her actions. It simply won’t occur for this person to do 9 out of 10 actions, because:

      A) There are no previously stored reference points/memories of having accomplished anything similar.

      B) Limiting beliefs and other negative aspects of poor self-esteem have their drain on the available mental energy for this person, making him/her less resourceful. If you know about the concept of Allostasis, it also becomes relevant here.

      • Define “Free Will.”

      • That’s a tough one, Abgrund.

        Here’s a short answer:
        — Being able to decide whatever you want in the present moment, despite being faced with terrible consequences of doing so.

        If I were to believe in free will, which I haven’t decided on yet, I could justify many reasons for practicing the PFC on a daily basis.

        Please share your own definition, or improve on mine.

      • I think that “Free Will” in the usual metaphysical sense is (like most metaphysical concepts) meaningless. “Free Will” cannot be observed and reality is exactly the same with or without it. Also, like epistemology, it is paradoxical: If entities do not have Free Will, all speculation about Free Will is strictly determined, so there is no point arguing about it. The same applies to the silly argument that if people don’t have Free Will, they should not be held accountable for their actions – obviously, if this is true, I also have no Free Will and cannot help but demand the death penalty for murderers, politicians, and other thieves.

        “Free Will” is often supposed to be contrary to strict material determinism; i.e., a special case in which matter does not conform to physical law. Of course no such phenomenon has ever been observed; all we can say is that human behavior is not totally predictable. Because of quantum uncertainty and the nature of the brain as a highly complex, highly non-linear dynamic system (i.e. the brain can turn a single random electron transition into a change in behavior), human unpredictability is already guaranteed /by/ the laws of physics. “Free Will” explains nothing and add nothing.

        I would say then that “free will” (lowercase) can only be meaningful as a description of a psychological state. If I /feel/ that I am freely making choices, I have free will, even though an observer might well believe my choices entirely predetermined. Indeed most choices may be pretty obviously predetermined, in spite of the experience of free will. I /feel/ as though I am free to strip naked and go knock on the neighbors’ door if I choose, but I know very well that I will not. On the other hand, I can’t predict when I will fall asleep, but falling asleep does not /feel/ like an exercise of free will because I can’t choose it. The situations in which we /experience/ free will can be the very ones in which our behavior is obviously deterministic (i.e., highly predictable).

      • As for being able to do what one wants in spite of consequences, I don’t think that can be defined either. By definition, one always does what one wants /the most/. What you are talking about seems to be more on the lines of resolving internal conflicts consistently with /previous/ decisions; i.e., “willpower” or “integrity”.

      • ” I /feel/ as though I am free to strip naked and go knock on the neighbors’ door if I choose, but I know very well that I will not. On the other hand, I can’t predict when I will fall asleep, but falling asleep does not /feel/ like an exercise of free will because I can’t choose it”

        — Very good example.

  5. In life there are mostly two types of people. The hard workers and the ones who depend on favors from the top to survive. The hard workers never get the recognition they deserve because they don’t believe in social proofing or what they call “kissing up”. I believe if you work hard let people know what you can do “social proof” so that you can get the rewards you deserve. The truth of life is if no one knows who you are they will never get the opportunity to ask about what you can do.

  6. Great post Ludvig.

    Very few people are aware of this about my life but a few years ago, I got taught about attraction and dating by a friend who is still rated as the best dating coach in the world.

    How he got his fame was by building huge social circles with extremely attractive girls and rocking up to the hottest nightclubs in London. Through going out every day and honing his craft, he realised that the key to being attractive is to simply get confirmation from others that you are attractive.

    He understood Social Proof and Preselection and was able to generate it at will.

    I would say it is the most powerful form of influence you can generate. As they say, ‘Once it rains, it pours’.

    That’s why in the online blogging world, they emphasise the idea of gaining a 1000 fans. Because it’s those 1000 fans that will help spread the word and cause everything to snowball.

    • Onder,
      Very interesting comment!

      This friend of yours, is it “Gambler?”. It sound familiar!

      Also very interesting that you mention 1000 fans. I have written a post just about this topic. Not sure when or where I’ll publish it. But I know exactly what you’re talking about here. Thanks for the great comment.

  7. awesome stuff!!!!! love driving through history.

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