How to Encourage Social Proof on Instagram: Tactics that Work Best for Small Businesses

With over ten years of social media expertise, freelance social media consultant Val Razo often hears from small businesses that they lack social proof. In this article, Val explains the importance of social proof and shares tips on how small businesses can encourage social proof on Instagram.

At the beginning of my social media marketing career, when I worked in a digital marketing agency and we helped global supplier of cat and dog food Royal Canin establish and maintain an Instagram presence, my team lead asked me to seek customer reviews people wrote about Royal Canin and repurpose them for Instagram.

I knew that people would pay attention to peer recommendations, but I couldn’t have predicted that those posts would get 6x higher user engagement than usual.

Yes, in the era of social media paid ads and partner collaborations, social proof plays a key role in business growth.

As specified in the recent Local Consumer Review Survey, 75% of consumers always read customer reviews, 59% expect a business to have between 20 to 99 reviews, and Instagram is the second most popular platform for finding customer reviews after local news.

A few years later, when I started providing SMM consulting for small businesses, I emphasized the importance of social proof for several clients who wanted to prove their brands were trustworthy and could solve customer pain points.

The phenomenon of social proof and its common types 

Social proof (also known as informational social influence) is a psychological and social phenomenon that occurs when people don’t know how to act in a given situation and copy the actions of others. In other words, social proof is what helps uncertain people learn from others and make their decisions based on what other people would do.

People crave social proof, and when it comes to Instagram, they also use the platform to read what other customers think. Damian Grabarczyk, the co-founder and growth marketer of PetLab Co., says: 

“At PetLab Co., social media is our primary growth channel, and we heavily invest in it to raise awareness, engage our target audience, and cultivate a loyal customer base. One of our most effective strategies is leveraging social proof on Instagram. By sharing authentic customer reviews and real-life feedback, we build a community where potential buyers can see the positive experiences of others. This approach enhances our credibility and gives new customers the confidence to make informed purchasing decisions. The result has been a notable increase in sales and customer loyalty, demonstrating the power of social proof in driving sustainable growth.”

The company often shares customer reviews on its Instagram feed, but its followers use the comment section to read more real-life feedback from others, just like in the example below:

Source: @thepetlabco

Social proof includes customer reviews, but it’s not limited to this content type. Here is the list of the common social proof types:

customer reviewsuser-generated contentinfluencer endorsementscase studiescustomer testimonials

Why should small businesses bother with social proof on Instagram?

During the first stages of the customer journey, when people become mindful of your brand or seek out options, they pay close attention to peer recommendations as they help them make the right purchase decision. Thus, it’s important to post social proof on your profile. Moreover, it can encourage other customers to share their experiences.

According to the social proof statistics, 82% of customers search for friend recommendations before making a purchase, 77% of small businesses use social media to reach their customers, and testimonials can increase conversions by 34%.

Social proof is the secret weapon that makes you any different from other businesses that hope for the attention of the same audience. Here are some reasons to bother about social proof:

It creates a strong brand imageIt boosts brand awarenessIt increases business trustIt reduces purchase anxiety

Instagram is one of the most popular sources for social proof, with its user base of 2 billion people and diverse ways of sharing brand-related information. 

For small businesses, Instagram isn’t the most obvious place to encourage social proof: its customer base is small, and there is a lack of samples. But when you know actionable ways to get social proof on Instagram correctly, you can get wonderful results. 

Case in point: 

When one of my SMM clients, My Bright Journal, decided to encourage social proof on Instagram in 2017, we selected several niche Instagram influencers who could be interested in reviewing the parent-child journal in exchange for branded freebies. 

Below is an example of social proof from My Bright Journal.

Source: @my.bright.journal

After collaborating with three influencers, we started receiving feedback from other users. They were ready to allow us to post their images on the profile,, and other followers made orders directly on Instagram. 

Obviously, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to encouraging social proof, so you must find out what works best for your business. Thus, it’s important to analyze data, and this research by claims that 92% of marketers find data analytics valuable, and 45% of them recommend doing a marketing strategy review quarterly. It can help you experiment with ways to encourage social proof and get results.

Now that you see the potential of Instagram for collecting social proof let’s walk through the process step-by-step.

1. Set a good example for potential contributors

According to the chameleon effect, it’s in human nature to imitate each other’s behavior unconsciously, which means people make behavioral changes to match the behavior of others. When it comes to social proof, people are more likely to share their experiences with others when they see other customers’ feedback. Thus, it’s important to set an example for Instagram followers if you want to encourage social proof for your small business. 

Here are several ways to do it right.

Publish a mix of branded content and social proof

Most people who run small businesses without understanding how social media works want to use Instagram as a channel to post branded content and promote their products or services. 

Although it may seem logical to businesses, I teach my SMM clients to publish a mix of branded content and social proof. This not only promotes their products in a natural way but also sets an example for other followers to create social proof.

Take a look at this strategy in action from Along Story. The company publishes reviews on its profile as posts and Instagram Story highlights.

Source: @alongsstory

What I would recommend for this business is to make a better Instagram feed. Instagram is all about visual content, so your feed has to be cohesive and eye-catching. To plan your feed and make sure published posts look good, you can rely on Buffer and therefore keep your content organized.

Source: Buffer

Here’s why using Buffer helps to organize a mix of branded content and social proof:

It helps to edit your images right in your account: It’s no secret that some visuals require a few tweaks to match your brand identity, especially when you use content made by your customers. Buffer’s integrations and editing tools make it easy to make stunning visuals within the same composer.It allows you to preview your posts and make sure your feed is appealing: Buffer helps to visually plan your feed and schedule different content types (posts, Reels, Stories) to stay organized with a mix of content.

Collaborate with Instagram content creators

As a small business owner, you may have trouble obtaining social proof from existing customers. However, working with Instagram content creators—users who are focused on creating content for businesses in need—offers more opportunities for small businesses to get a trove of customer feedback to use on their Instagram.

Reach out to content creators who could create Instagram collab posts and therefore promote your business among their followers while creating social proof for your Instagram profile.

But connecting with the right content creators who can deliver wonderful results is important.

Case in point:

When Giuliana Prosecco decided to find new, fresh ways to gain content to repurpose, they launched a brief on content creator asset-sourcing platform Popular Pays to connect with relevant content creators and manage collaborations in one place.

With the help of Popular Pays, Giuliana Prosecco had 13 influencer partnerships, and this campaign resulted in 4.2M paid and organic impressions, as well as 40 assets to repurpose. Promoting these assets helped Giuliana Prosecco build brand awareness in a manner framed by endorsements from influencers, helping to build social proof in the minds of audience members.

Below is one of the examples of this campaign:

Source: @iamthesocialista

Repurpose old social proof for Instagram

Apart from the fact that social proof encourages potential clients to make a purchase decision, it doesn’t take much effort to create, as you just repurpose fan-made content for Instagram.

For example, if your business receives Google reviews from visitors or clients, you can repurpose these reviews for your Instagram feed. Gemma Ferrar, a certificated sleep consultant, is a great example to draw inspiration:

Source: @littledreamsbathandswindon

Gemma knows the power of testimonials for your consulting business, so she asks clients to write a short review of 2-3 sentences, which she then repurposes with the help of a simple template for your account. Here’s how it looks on the profile:

Source: @littledreamsbathandswindon

If your small business doesn’t have reviews (yet) for repurposing, don’t forget about the power of influencer marketing, as you can team up with relevant niche nano influencers who can create social proof for your Instagram in exchange for branded freebies. 

2. Make it easy for followers to contribute

Modern customers use social media to share their customer experience with others and help potential consumers make the right choice. For small businesses, securing social proof from customers may be hard. Not only should your customers know that you bother about their feedback, but you should also make it effortless for customers to share social proof.

Write about seeking social proof in the bio section

Your customers have a short attention span of 8 seconds, so it’s more often than not that they don’t spend much time scrolling your feed.

This means you should grab their attention fast and guide them on what you expect them to do (provide social proof). The best way is to make the most out of your Instagram bio as it’s the card people see first when visiting your account.

There are a ton of Instagram bio ideas for companies to use. But if you want to optimize your account for collecting social proof, write about it in your bio section. 

Some brands keep their Instagram bio simple, using a campaign-branded hashtag for collecting social proof. To illustrate, check out Levi’s:

Source: @levis

Other companies guide visitors on how to submit social proof. Brands like Lulus ask followers to tag their account and include a hashtag to make it easier for marketers to find and collect social proof:

Source: @lulus

The ideal Instagram bio that encourages social proof includes:

Relevant keywordsAn invitation to share customer storiesA branded hashtag you use for collecting social proofA clear call to action

Automate the process

Small business owners have a lot on their plate, so automating processes when possible is important. Encouraging social proof on Instagram is what you can automate and see wonderful results.

Here’s how you can automate the process and ask followers to leave an opinion:

Leverage Instagram Story features like question stickers or linksInstall an Instagram chatbot and send customer satisfaction surveysUtilize QR codes in your Instagram marketing effortsIntegrate a feedback form on your website and link back to it from IG bio

Alternatively, you can outsource marketing efforts and find a dedicated marketing team whose members can manage your Instagram and manually send social proof requests to followers who have shown interest in brand communication.

Personalize social proof requests

To ensure people don’t ignore your social proof requests, you need to go the extra mile and send personalized messages with the invitation to share their customer experience with you. Why? People feel honored when you show interest in them, and they are more likely to do a favor and provide social proof.

However, sending personalized requests to your followers isn’t the best choice; you need to choose the right people for collaboration. When deciding whom to turn to for social proof requests, consider your most active followers, who always interact with your brand on Instagram. 

So, do you need an example of personalizing social proof requests? Here’s a template I use:

To increase your chances of getting a reply, I recommend using one of these channels for sending social proof requests: 

Direct messagesComments

Note: If your personalized requests result in more social proof for your profile, that’s great. But you should remember that you still need to sign a collaboration agreement contract with customers who provide social proof, as it’s a proven way to obtain explicit permission from the author to use their feedback legally.

3. Reward followers for providing social proof

To get social proof, you need to motivate your customers. It’s psychologically proven that people seek rewards and bonuses, which also help activate our brains. For small businesses who lack samples, it can be an effective idea to make it clear for customers to understand what they can get in exchange for sharing their customer experiences and allow your business to use this social proof. 

Offer incentives 

Sometimes, it can be hard to convince your existing customers to share their experiences and give you permission to use social proof in your marketing efforts. However, it’s shocking how the situation may change once you offer customer incentives.

Let’s take a look at an Instagram post from Nim Stant that invites followers to enjoy the free trial in exchange for providing customer testimonials.

Source: @nim_stant

Some types of incentives include:

Free trialsDiscountsCouponsSales VIP accessBranded freebiesBrand merch

Run a giveaway 

People love free stuff. And it’s the reason why Instagram giveaways have always been a popular tactic for businesses and marketers to drive engagement. According to Tailwind’s research, giveaways get 3.5x more likes and 64x more comments than an average post.

Giveaways can help to generate leads for your small business. But if you want to encourage social proof, you can organize a giveaway that aims at collecting social proof. How? Simply put, something like ‘review our product’ or ‘fill out customer satisfaction survey’ is one of the participation requirements.

Moreover, there’s no need to give away expensive gifts. For small businesses, checking out merch ideas and giving away branded freebies that include a company logo could be beneficial. Not only do you reward winners of your giveaway, but you also help your small business get more exposure.

Here comes an example from Popinsider

Source: @thepopinsider

Want to know the best part? After running an Instagram giveaway that aims at collecting social proof, you can go the extra mile and invite your winners to create video testimonials for your page, just like in the example below:

Source: @thecarpediemdentalspa

Create a dedicated Instagram profile

Based on my experience, customers want to be heard when sharing customer stories with your brand. While you can react to their reviews and implement feedback, rewarding all contributors and mentioning them to a wider audience is also a good idea. That’s why I recommend creating a dedicated Instagram profile for social proof.

The most common reasons to create a separate profile for social proof include:

Keep your main feed attractive and cohesive: If you take care of your brand image on Instagram, you will likely pay attention to visuals and want your feed to look cohesive. When it comes to social proof, chances are that this content type doesn’t fit your Instagram profile, especially if you publish before/after posts.Make it easier for customers to find social proof: To ease potential customers’ worries, it’s better to show them that other customers are happy with your products/services and provide diverse proof from different customers. A dedicated IG page serves as a portfolio of social proof.

Frank Body is a great example of this strategy in action as the company operates in the skincare industry where social proof matters most and reviews could be sensitive to a wider audience:

Source: @frankfeedback

One drawback for small businesses is the need to manage multiple Instagram accounts Instagram may be a great source of candid feedback for small businesses. Most users are interested in communicating with brands, and Instagram has built-in. Users must manage several profiles from one account.

Encouraging social proof boosts Instagram presence for small businesses 

A major problem in encouraging social proof for small businesses is a lack of examples from other clients. When people don’t see social proof, they are less likely to provide it, and it might seem like a closed circle.

However, Instagram may be a great source of candid feedback for small businesses. Most users are interested in communicating with brands, and Instagram has built-in features to make the process easier and faster. Thus, don’t miss your chance to try some of the above-given tactics and encourage social proof on Instagram.

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