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Social proof is overrated.

CJ Chilvers
CJ Chilvers
2 min read

There’s so much bad advice in content strategy, that no one bothers to talk about what is merely overrated advice.

After decades of email marketing, copywriting, and content strategy, I’ve can confidently say that “social proof” gets too much attention. It’s important, but it’s overrated.

It’s a favorite topic among 20-something advice-givers on social media, because it solves a lot of the writer’s problems (but often ignores the reader’s and/or client’s problems).

What is social proof?

To the advice-givers, it’s a magical, evolutionary hack that convinces customers to buy into something because others have. It should be plastered all over your email, landing pages, bios – all above the fold (and there’s never a fold).

There’s an actual definition for social proof, but I’ve come to define it as, “reassurance for an already-made decision.”

That’s all it is to the reader.

They’ve arrived at a page, or opened an email. That takes a reader all the way from attention and interest to decision and action within 5 seconds. 

They’ve read a headline and chosen to read more. They’ve clicked a button. Those are all incredibly important, and telling, decisions and actions.

Social proof is what comes after those critical first decisions. You can’t build trust in a solution if the reader doesn’t know (or care) what the solution is.

So, why is social proof such a popular topic for the advice-givers, versus getting past that first 5 seconds?

To the writer or business owner, social proof isn’t only reassurance copy. It’s a psychologically satisfying way to battle imposter syndrome, convince higher-ups that you’re doing a good job, and convince your workers that they’re helping to solve problems in the real world.

It feels really good.

But to the reader, social proof is primarily a way of reassuring themselves about their initial decision. Then, it’s about reassuring themselves that this solution has solved a problem like their own, for people like themselves. 

You can’t get a click before an open. You can’t get interest before attention. You can’t close a sale before there’s a real customer.

You don’t need reassurance about a decision before the decision.

There’s a reason books have traditionally put their social proof copy on the back cover, or inside flap. It’s not what turns heads in a book store. It’s what reassures the reader that they’ve decided on and acted on the right book.

Social proof is important, but it’s nowhere near the importance of getting that initial attention, interest, decision, and action.