The selling power of “social proof”

social proof in marketingI’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.

Go figure.

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.

What happened?

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:

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?”

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