Social Proof

“Social Proof” is something you NEED to become familiar with. It’s essential if you are going to be doing any kind of marketing.

What is social proof? Basically, it’s this:

Other people think this, therefore it is likely to be true.

If you are thinking straight away that this is a logical fallacy, just hold your objections. I’ll explain how social proof is different than an appeal to popularity.

Social proof is a very fast method of judging initial likelihood of truth – A filter, more than “proof” in the logical sense. This is in the realm of induction, obviously. If lots of people see the same thing, that thing probably happened. If lots of people think something works, it probably does. If everybody thinks something sucks, it probably does.

In Marketing

In the realm of marketing it is one of the essential three pieces of any campaign:

  1. Packaging
  2. Copy
  3. Social proof

For those of you who are authors like me, it is of utmost importance that you understand what these three things are and how to operate them correctly. For advertising on Amazon, these convert into:

  1. Book cover
  2. Blurb
  3. Reviews

I’ve done a lot of content on the first one, which is, without a doubt in my mind, the most important of the three, mostly because it happens (at least in the digital space) first, and therefore the book cover has to be good before the other two even matter. Second in importance is actually the social proof, because an abstraction of it (the star rating) is displayed next to the cover.

A typical sale proceeds like this:

  1. User sees the cover. It catches their eye and makes them feel like they want to know more, either through proper emotion or by communicating story elements or genre. A short description underneath (in an ad, for instance) might further entice them.
  2. User clicks on the book cover and looks at the description (blurb). If it looks like a book they want to read, they scroll down to look at the reviews.
  3. They look at the average review rating (stars). If it is high enough (4+) they will look at a few highlighted reviews to see if real people bought the book and talk about the things the user likes to read.
  4. The user either buys the book, or clicks away.

Social proof for a book sale is incredibly important because it provides both an abstracted and condensed proof (the star average) as well as qualitative information in the form of written reviews, pictures, etc. A user expects a range of opinions. Some people will like it more than others, obviously, but the user wants to see that in general, most people are pleased with the book and, more importantly, people like the user enjoy the book. That’s the qualitative part.

So for authors, user reviews are of utmost importance for selling the book to new readers. Unfortunately, real, honest reviews are hard to come by. It’s beyond the scope of this article, but be prepared to do a lot of work to get reviews. I like to get 10 reviews before I even think of advertising.

Take a look at one of my recent fantasy books as an example (I actually don’t advertise this one yet – better to wait until book 2 is out to save money on read-through).

Guns on all sides…

The process wouldn’t be too different for other Amazon products as well.

More examples

There are lots of examples of social proof:

  1. Expert consensus: 9 out of 10 dentists recommend our mouthwash! or Critics agree this movie is great!
  2. Peer review: experts in the field determine what is published in official journals and therefore who other experts are
  3. Sales: The biggest movie of the year! The best-selling book of the decade!
  4. Audience score: A rotten tomatoes, Amazon, or metacritic score.
  5. Industry standard: Software like MS word or Adobe Photoshop, for example.

Is social proof actually proof?

In a deductive sense, it is not. Something is not true simply because lots of people think it is true. At one point, people thought the sun revolved around the earth.

Science doesn’t rely on social proof when trying to deduce facts, however, to say that science avoids social proof entirely is not true. Large portions of science deal with human behavior, which is by its nature social behavior, and thus social proof is used to either test theories (in fields such as economics or psychology) or is used to draw attention for study.

For instance, if an economic theory states that people will act a certain way according to “confidence” and they in fact do, the social proof is the proof of the theory.

Where fallacies come in.

It’s easy to think that social proof amounts to an “appeal to popularity,” but this is not necessarily the case, as I have demonstrated with the above section on Amazon sales.

It becomes an appeal to popularity when you are either:

  1. Equating popularity with quality vis a vis
  2. Equating inductive arguments (which deal with likelihood) with deductive arguments (which deal with verification of facts).

Just as an example, you cannot say that something is “good” merely because it has been purchased a lot. McDonald’s is very popular, but few people would consider the food to be “good.” It is merely good relative to other options in the moment, such as being hungry because you are busy and have no other decent food available.

Equating induction should be obvious. Lots of people believed cloves could treat the black plague – that doesn’t mean cloves are an actual medicine.

Check out a few more of my books on Amazon below:

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