Social Proof – relax, just follow my lead
For the next couple of weeks we’re going to be presenting a series of articles on Cialdini’s Six Principles of Persuasion as they relate to marketing, with a dash of the social science behind them. This week, we’re following the crowd and looking at social proof.
Social proof – or informational social influence, if you’re feeling extravagant – is what we rely on to figure out what to do in unfamiliar situations. In other words, do what everyone else is doing, and you should be fine. There are hundreds of social psychology experiments which demonstrate the tendency for people to go along with the group in unfamiliar situations or when they lack enough information to make a decision themselves. The most well-known are Asch’s conformity experiments, in which naive participants were placed into groups of confederates and asked to answer a question about the length of a line compared to other lines. When everyone else in the group stated an obviously wrong answer, a third of participants would agree with the group anyway. When there was no pressure to conform, less than 1% of participants gave a wrong answer. The two most common reasons that participants gave for conforming were that they thought the rest of the group knew something that they didn’t (i.e. they were better informed), or that they didn’t want to look silly in front of the rest of the group.
Although this sort of ‘herd mentality’ is often looked down upon, and ‘just following the crowd’ is considered weak or stupid, pretty much everyone is susceptible to some kind of social proof influence. The use of canned laughter in a comedy show really does make it seem funnier, salting a tip jar really does increase the amount in tips received, and a large amount of positive reviews on a product in an online store really does make it more likely that someone will buy that product. Deep down inside, we either don’t want to be seen as deviant or odd, we feel we need social permission to act in certain ways, or we believe the group is just better informed than we are.
Social proof has been used a long time in marketing, but is on the increase now due to the prevalence of social media and our increased access to everyone else’s opinions which we can use to inform our own. An entire industry has grown up around increasing social proof on social media – simply buying followers and likes. A social media account with 10,000 followers is more trustworthy than one with 500, after all. Another commonly used form of social proof marketing is invoking FOMO, or fear of missing out. Simply emphasise just how many other people are using your service/buying your product, and the FOMO will encourage your audience to join in just to see what all the fuss is about.
One more way of using social proof for marketing is by utilising popular social media influencers. These are essentially like celebrity endorsements, and constitute a form of social proof as long as the influencer is well-liked by audiences, as they are trusted sources of information.
This takes us into the next blog post, so check back next week to see how authority figures are used in marketing to persuade audiences of the authenticity of products and services.