Social Proof, Do You Follow the Crowd?
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People tend to rely upon others as a cue to how they should act. Following the leads of others is the norm especially in social settings. One fundamental way that we decide what to do in a situation is we look to see what others are doing. But, how is this applied to business?
Does groupthink really play a role in our decision-making? In a door-to-door experiment in Columbia South Carolina, researchers went door-to-door soliciting donations for a charity campaign. They first displayed a long list of people’s names that had also made donations. The long list of names had little effect on whether the homeowner would donate. Next, they approached homeowners with long lists of their “neighbors” that had donated to the charity. The researchers found that the longer the list the more likely those solicited would donate as well.
Why would who was on the list, and the size of the list matter? The homeowners were simply following the law of Social Proof, they saw that a great number of their fellow neighbors had responded a certain way, and that they too should behave in the same manner. The fact that so many of their neighbors were on the list simply reinforced their decision that this was the right thing to do.
Social Proof is more effective when it traverses a horizontal plane of individuals with similar circumstances. If I wanted to sell a software program to colleges, I certainly would not use a series of testimonials from “grade school” teachers that had used the software. I would focus on getting testimonials from college professors and universities.
Social Proof can be extremely powerful, but it can backfire on you as well if not used properly. Social proof attempts to make use of peer pressure to drive human behavior. If the action that is taking place is a negative action – and is very widespread, you may not only bring attention to the action, but also push people towards adopting the negative action. It simply validates the idea that if ‘all of these people are doing it, why shouldn’t I?”
Effective use of Social Proof can produce powerful results if applied properly to your marketing. Remember not to market “down” to your customers. Approach them on the same level. A great example used to be the “Doctor commercials”. An actor, that we know is not a doctor, begins to tell us that his patients use this drug and that millions are experiencing relief from their ailment from this drug. This is selling down to the consumer, trying to use a voice of authority, which we all know is an actor. Then the drug companies got smart, they began using everyday people in every day settings with an emotional voice over. They began by having a person (or several people) talk about their lives and how they were improved by taking this certain medication. A subtle voice over would then be added “Millions are finding relief by taking (insert name of medicine here). Some of the commercials were so good, you begin to ask yourself, do I need this medication?
Another example of using social proof in advertising is male pattern hair loss. We are led to believe that male baldness is wrong, “if” we don’t do something about it.
The build up of the commercial seems to say -
Consider the egregious mistake of hair loss! How dare you! Suddenly you are unpopular, the masses stare at you, you look older and women no longer find you attractive. Millions of men are doing something about this plight by getting hair implants! Gain a new lease on life.
The commercial begins showing a gentleman going bald, getting out of the shower and looking at himself in the mirror, burning his head at the pool, being rejected by women.
But after the hair transplant
The commercial cuts away to a guy swimming and coming out of the water shaking a full head of hair. He’s suddenly having dinner with a beautiful woman. He’s become an out doors man and suddenly he is full of life and vitality. Who knows he may even try out for the part of James Bond in the next movie.
Social Proof says, “hey our peer group is doing this, they are setting the standards, I need to act this way to fit in, to feel like I am a part of the norm”. I do not feel like the above commercial is ethical as it is extremely manipulative, but it is using some of the main sales strategies for getting consumers to take action. Social Proof, addressing a fear or a pain, making that pain or fear real, and then showing you how to alleviate that fear or pain and become a part of the norm again. Not just a part of the norm, but an elite part of the norm by taking action.
I encourage you to study human interaction in groups - and though many times they are overwhelmingly annoying watch a few commercials and try to pick out the basic elements that they use to get you to take action or in other words, spend money.
Copyright 2007 FMWebschool Inc. http://www.fmwebschool.com Written by Stephen Knight