What Robert Cialdini dubbed “social proof” is a powerful way to attract involvement or another kind of support. When we think we’re out of step with our peers, “the part of our brain that registers pain shifts into overdrive,” according to Cialdini. Our herd instinct is strong.
The effect of this is strongest in situations of uncertainty such as when individuals are unsure and/or the situation is ambiguous) or in situations of similarity where we are most likely to follow people who are like us).
Here are some examples:
• You choose the busy restaurant rather than the nearby empty one. You’re attracted to the crowded booths at the fair or tradeshow.
• After a murder/suicide is heavily reported, head-on car collisions and airplane crashes immediately go up.
• Fewer people now smoke in the United States, as it became uncool to do so except in clusters where it’s still popular.
• For twenty minutes a day, kids who were afraid of dogs were set in front of a boy playing happily with a dog. After only four days, 67 percent of them climbed into a playpen with a dog and played with him. Shy kids can be helped too.
• If several people around you are overweight, you are more likely to gain pounds.
• Bartenders sometimes “salt” the tip jar to get patrons to drop in money.
• Desperate women invade the men’s restroom at a Springsteen concert – only after the first one or two bravely entered.
• One business attracts more customers because, unlike competitors, it displays testimonials.
When you see a woman looking at one of two men, you presume he is more attractive and important than the other man, simply because of where she is looking.
Tip: Display your product near complementary, non-competing and popular products or other objects.
Evoke the Power of Previous Precedent
If you want people to buy from you, provide as many ways and places (website, brochures, conversations, articles, etc.) for them to hear or read about those who already have. This kind of social proof evokes the power of previous precedent – many others have already bought or done this, so it must be a smart choice for me too. The more your customers or the customers’ situations or reasons for buying remind prospective buyers of themselves and their situation, the stronger their impulse to buy. Parents of Girl Scouts, for example, were most struck by the need to weatherize their homes.
Tip: In a very visible, time-specific and face-to-face way, align your business with a worthy organization that matters to those in your market.
That’s how firefighters in Toluma once acquired a badly needed but expensive piece of equipment – a deluge gun – without asking their cash-strapped city council for a single dime. Business was slow all over their town. The firefighters were getting nowhere when they asked for donations from business owners experiencing a weak economy.
They approached the manager of the locally owned My Pizzaria for a donation. Instead, the manager devised a way to evoke social proof to attract donations for their mutual benefit: “Here’s what I can do. We can pick a Wednesday, say four weeks from today, to declare as “Save a Local Life. Eat Firefighting Pizza at MyPizzeria day – It is usually a slow night. I clear $500 or so. On that day, after we sell $500 worth, every dollar after that I’ll split 80/20 with you – your cause gets 80%. So if you inspire enough people to buy a pizza on that day, you can raise more money than you just asked me for.”
The firefighters loved the challenge – and had down time to jump into it. They had banners, signs and announcements printed for free by the local copy shop with a bright red “donated by” credit line. They asked local supermarkets and gas stations to display them. After the first signs appeared, the local association of realtors decided this was a popular campaign (social proof). As avid, adept networkers, the Realtors offered to help spread the word.
At commute times, two fire engines, plastered with banners, had waving firefighters and realtors on the busiest street. Then the growing army of volunteers visited office complexes, even those with signs that read “No soliciting.” (Who’s going to kick out firefighters?) Now more backers visited apartment complexes, video rental outlets and schools. They put flyers and signs everywhere. Once people heard about their community cause, handing out flyers was like giving away candy. The local radio station, newspaper and several bloggers covered the unfolding story.
When the Wednesday finally came around, the place was packed with a lively crowd. Some were served at tables in the parking lot, thus attracting passersby (another sign of social proof at work). They made enough money to get the deluge gun. Most importantly, it was fun and a win for all participants. Done right, social-proof-based campaigns can attract a crowd so more gets done with less work on everyone’s part.
Plus such social-proof-based partnering enables all parties to use their best talents and resources. Acting together for their mutual benefit generates deeper, more diverse friendships. Because they experienced the leveraging power of partnering, participants are more likely to want to work together again.