The Power of Social Proof

The best way to get this point across is to show you the results… after all, that’s how social proof works…

You know those signs that encourage you to reuse your towel in your motel room?

What wording do you think would lead to a 26% increase in guests reusing towels?

“Most people reuse their towel at least once during their stay.”

Adding this line to the sign increases towel reuse by over a quarter.

The principle of Social Proof, or consensus, is fascinating with respect to how much it influences our behaviour. What tests have proven is just how much of our behaviour is dictated by what we perceive everybody else is doing.

68% of us are in the 'middle masses' which means we are imitators in most of what we do. We look to others for guidance, especially when we are uncertain about something. We ask, "What do others think about this? What do others feel? What do others do?" Then we act accordingly.

Have you seen those infomercials on TV where they try to sell us home fitness equipment and similar product lines? They try to build a compelling case for each product, don’t they? Well, would you think with all that over-selling, changing just three words could have a dramatic impact on the uptake of one of these products?

An infomercial creative writer called Colleen Szot who holds the record for the most successful information campaigns found out just how powerfully the law of Social Proof works. She changed this line: “Operators are waiting, please call now...” - any ideas what to?

“If operators are busy, please call again.”

This three-word change dramatically impacted the sales of this product. One line conjures up an image of people sitting around waiting for the phone to ring, the other implies a busy, therefore popular offering.

You’ll need to bear in mind the law of Social Proof works best under two conditions:

Uncertainty and Similarity

  1. Social Proof will have the greatest effect when your prospect is uncertain about your offer, your product, your company, or some aspect of your message.
  1. Social Proof works best when your prospect sees similar others using the product or service. They should be able to say, "Yes, those people are like me, and they are using it. So I'm the type of person who would use it, too."

A sign in a National Forest Park in Arizona attempting to deter people from stealing, which said: “Your heritage is being vandalised every day by theft losses of petrified wood of 14 tons a year, mostly a small piece at a time," actually proved to increase the instances of theft. In a test conducted at the forest, marked pieces of petrified wood were placed along the pathways.  Interestingly, more theft occurred when this sign appeared compared to no signs at all (7.92% vs 2.92 %.)

The moment you tell people what most other people are doing, you are influencing them to do the same - irrespective of whether the action is positive or negative.

When Google marketed their Places page offer, as opposed to saying '7% of businesses have now done this', they focussed on saying 'over 10,000 businesses a week are performing this upgrade'. It’s the same truth, just a far more compelling way to present it.

Never use the minority as an example in your marketing

In another experiment, 300 California households permitted to have their weekly electricity usage recorded. Participants were then told how they compared to the average, whether they were higher or lower than the average user. 

So how do you think that affected the higher users? They reduced usage by 5.7% on average. And what about those good Samaritans that were consuming less electricity? Well, they increased their consumption by a massive 8.6%.

Psychologists call this the 'magnetic middle': as much as nobody likes being labelled as average, the majority of us are working to achieve just that.

People just want to be like everybody else.

So how can you apply this?

  • Tout the numbers of products sold. Tout the product's popularity. Tout the most popular, biggest seller, hottest demand stock items or lines.
  • In your adverts or on your website, relay case histories of some of your best customers or clients. Studies show that tangible case histories can be more effective than impressive statistics.
  • Cite information on your market leadership.
  • Cite mentions in the media. For example ‘As seen on TV’ or, 'Featured in House & Garden magazine.'

Remember, around 68% of us are in the middle masses: we don’t like being the first to do something, so tell us we are simply doing something everybody has done, and we’ll feel safe...