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Remember when they put those really bad laugh tracks on TV comedy shows to encourage you to laugh at the jokes. That’s an example of social proof. ( FYI, they do still use them. They’ve just got better at it and you don’t notice them anymore!)

Simply put, social proof is the phenomena where people follow the actions (or decisions) of others when they find out that others are already doing something, based on the assumption that others have more knowledge about the situation than they do.

In higher ed recruitment marketing, social proofs are particularly important because prospective students are very tuned in, and sensitive to, the behavior of their peers and other external advisers and actively seek social proof to assist them in their decision making.

Types of social proof and some higher ed examples

Let’s take a closer look at some of the different types of social proof and how they can be used in higher education marketing.


When you say something about how good your university is, it’s marketing. When a student says something good about you, it’s a testimonial. Student testimonials are powerful micro narratives that you can weave through you program, information and landing pages, providing solid “proofs” of student experience and results. Short relevant testimonials fit well into main pages and longer student success or graduate success testimonials provide more details for deeper pages. Use video where ever possible for testimonials as they bring more credibility than straight text. My personal preference is not to gather success stories and testimonials together in one spot, but rather spread them liberally across a website. Visitor’s don’t generally visit a testimonials page, but will spend time on them when they are embedded in other content. Here’s an earlier HEM post on testimonials you might find interesting for more ideas and examples.

testimonials example

Social Sharing

Social sharing buttons and statistics are showing up more and more on higher ed websites. Reporting likes and followers to the visitor provides a strong proof of the interest and approval of their peers. Be careful with applying this tactic to pages that have low traffic or low approval ratings. Poor stats will produce negative social proof, the opposite of the intended effect. No proof is better than low proof; the impression left is that your content is either too new to place faith in or it is not being used by anyone because it’s not useful.

sm stats example

Rankings and Awards

Using rankings and awards are a time tested tactic for providing social proof of a school’s merit and general approval ratings. In this home page example, Mohawk College claims the number one spot in student Key Performance Indicators in 12/13 in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. Always be sure to back up these claims, (as Mohawk did in this example), with a click through to all the details about the ranking to confirm your proof.

ranking example

Trust Icons

Trust icons range widely in form and purpose, from indicators of secure ecommerce servers to identification of accreditation bodies. Trust icons are typically formal endorsements from expert bodies or influencers, have some level of public recognition, and offer the visitor proof that the organization can be trusted and are recognized by other public organizations. Trust icons are particularly important on landing pages and should be placed near your calls to action for maximum effect on conversion rates. In the example below, accreditation is the focus of the proofs and is delivered in two different ways.

trust icon example

Social proofs are important to communicate your story, it’s authenticity and relevance to your visitor. If used effectively they can increase your visitor’s time on site, positively communicate your brand and encourage click-throughs on your conversion paths.

What social proofs have been most effective for you in your higher ed marketing?