I’m not a big sports fan.
However, my wife decided to invite her family over for dinner, totaling 12 adults, 2 babies, a 5-year-old, and a clowder of cats.
So, around day 3, after one of the babies peed on our new sofa, the refrigerator broke down, and every square inch of our house was covered with food, diapers, and suitcases, I suddenly became interested in getting out of the house to see a hockey game.
Along with another family member who needed to escape for a few hours, I drove down to see the local minor league hockey team play a regional rival.
The first two periods saw our team down by three points. Then, in the third period, in
a burst of explosive energy, our boys started fighting their way back.
The crowd began screaming. Clapping their hands. Stomping their feet. Taunting the opposing team’s goalie. Thousands of people were suddenly functioning as one. And oddly enough, though I’m generally not given to such displays, I found myself screaming and clapping and stomping right along with everyone else.
The Rule of Social Proof
Why did I begin acting that way when it’s very clearly not in my nature to do so? Simple. Because everyone else was doing it. So many others were doing it, in fact, and doing it so loudly, I found it impossible to just sit there.
And that’s the Rule of Social Proof in a nutshell.
All of us look to others to help us decide how to act, to guide our behavior, to determine whether something is right or wrong. The more people doing it, the more correct it seems.
We do it on the highway. We merge right when we see cars ahead of us merging right.
We do it at the office. We use the same inane jargon and laugh at the same lame jokes.
We do it at parties. We dress like everyone else and have a drink in hand if others do.
We’re all driven in so many ways to conform. But, as with all the principles of influence, this isn’t a bad thing, because as a smart marketer, you can use this knowledge to your advantage.
After all, why do you think bartenders salt their tip jar? Telethon hosts read the names of those who call in a pledge? Bar owners keep people waiting in long lines outside?
Because of the Rule of Social Proof. If others are doing it, it must be the right thing to do. And because it works!
Why does Social Proof work like this? Because Social Proof is what psychologists call a “decision heuristic,” a shortcut for making decisions. Life is too complicated to carefully evaluate every element of every situation, so we learn to take shortcuts to help us make what are usually reasonable and reliable decisions.
It’s a sound, logical adaptive behavior, after all. It’s mathematically justified: The more people who do something, the more likely it is correct, or at least relatively safe. Not always, but for most things it works with a high degree of reliability.
And when you understand the rule, you can trigger it at will to generate a “Yes” response to your marketing offers and calls to action.
Putting Social Proof to Work
Now for the nuts and bolts. To put the rule to work for you, just follow this logic: Most people are imitators. So, if you want someone to do something, show others doing it.
Here are a few specific applications of this idea:
- List testimonials of satisfied customers and clients. (Tried and true.)
- Feature testimonials by those who have been “converted” from another product or service. (Converts are always more believable than typical customers.)
- Show pictures of people using your product or service. (Seeing is believing.)
- Relay case histories of some of your best customers or clients. (Studies show that tangible case histories can be more effective than impressive statistics.)
- Show people similar to your prospect using your product or service. (The more similar the more effective.)
- Show the general excitement of others who have discovered your product or service. (Popularity and enthusiasm: an unbeatable emotional wallop.)
- Mention how long your company has been around. (A subtle indication of popularity.)
- Tout the number of products sold. (Ditto.)
- Display the number of customers or clients you serve. (McDonald’s built an empire by displaying on their signs a running count of customers served.)
- Warn customers about limited product due to demand. (Popularity plus scarcity, another principle we’ll discuss.)
- Announce the speed of your sales due to demand. (Adds urgency.)
- Say how long your product or service has been a best-seller. (Says popularity and quality.)
- Cite information on your market leadership. (Being first or tops in your market is unbeatable.)
- Indicate the seasonal demand of your product or service. (Encourages early orders.)
- Show important or well-known people using your product or service. (Invokes the “halo” effect, adding the good feeling people have toward the celebrity to your offer.)
- Display a seal of approval by a rating organization. (Puts an official stamp on public approval.)
- Cite favorable reviews. (Third-party information is always powerful.)
- Cite mentions in the media. (Newsworthy products and services are more trusted.)
- Associate your product or service with respected magazines: “As seen in XYZ Magazine.” (A very public approval of your product or service.)
- Associate your product or service with respected media: “As seen on TV.” (Ditto.)
You don’t have to memorize a list like this. Just remember to ask yourself, “What is the most tangible and relevant way to show how my product or service is popular?”