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6 Ways to Influence and Persuade with Social Proof

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

social proofSocial proof is a principle of influence and persuasion that can be highly effective in healthcare marketing. People want validation that they are making the right choice or proper decision and the actions of others like themselves is compelling guidance. Here's how it works and ways to use it.

There was an interesting item about the compelling power of social proof in FastCompany recently, written by an Australian bloke, Ruslan Kogan. [The Secret Power Behind Why We Pick Crowded Restaurants Over Empty Ones]

Part of his post is a story about selling remote-control helicopters in a busy shopping center during the run-up to Christmas. With only 30 days to sell literally a ton of these amazing toys, his initial efforts were a bust:

“Even though I had an awesome product that would make a perfect Christmas gift for a crazy price, there was close to no interest in it. I sold two or three helicopters a day for the first few days. I was screwed. I had about 10,000 of them to sell.”

His turnaround occurred almost by accident when a teenage cousin and friends started playing with the helicopters at his shopping center stall. (Kids and toys...what a combination.)

“All of a sudden, there was a stampede of people around my stall. I was making sales left, right, and center. When my cousin and his mates went back to school, the crowd of people disappeared. I called my cousin that evening and offered him $50 a day to come down with his mates and play with the helicopters. My cousin and his mates came every lunchtime and spent their entire weekends at the stall. I ended up selling all the helicopters by December 10.”

It was the power of social proof—people learning from others is a form of collective validation.  People will do those things they see others like themselves doing because it’s an implied testimonial.

In healthcare, prospective patients and caregivers are guided by knowing what others have decided or are doing when faced with questions or uncertainty. Patient referrals and word-of-mouth are often delivered one-to-one or in-person. But the greater power is online. The popularity of various social media platforms, such as Facebook, is due in part to social proof.

Over 70 percent of Internet users say they looked online for health information within the past year, with the most commonly researched topics being specific diseases or conditions; treatments or procedures; and doctors or other health professionals. About 26 percent of Internet users have read or watched someone else’s experience about health or medical issues in the last 12 months. [Pew Internet: Health]

Healthcare marketing and social proof…

Among the many ways to harness social proof online is first to be mindful of the technique. On one hand, it’s easily overlooked. But it’s also fairly easy to apply the validation of others to your Internet presence. Here are several idea starters. Your situation may require adaptation, and some ideas can be applied to your website, blog, social pages or used in conjunction with related colleagues or organizations. Be flexible and demonstrate social proof using:

  • Testimonials and endorsements: Mindful, of course, of professional restrictions and confidentiality issues, the positive comments of satisfied customers can be collected and circulated in many ways. In addition to posting on your website, blog and Facebook page, video comments can be used in the office, at community events and via newsletters.
  • Active social media engagement: Experienced communicators understand that the value of social media tools is in its ability to provide a voice of the customer and to engage the audience in a multi-faceted conversation. In short, social media is highway, but in order to travel, you need the fuel of fans, followers, Likes, visitor comments, recommendations, sharing, forwarding, re-tweets, etc. And the greater the positive activity, the greater the social proof.
  • Display the score with social media counters: Website pages, individual blog posts and other public-facing pages can display activity counters. In addition to the marketing data reports, these counters provide evidence to the visitor that others have been to the same page. It’s also a reminder to share or comment.
social activity counters

activity counter examples

  • Present photographic evidence: Employ pictures of real people and activities that are involved with or using your products/services. These can range form informal or candid “snapshots” (with permission of course), to documented case studies and presentations. SlideShare and Pinterest are two visually-driven platforms.
  • Take pride in your history: Explain your background, business past and community roots as an indication of your strength and stability. Perhaps include number of people served, products sold, or family generations participating.
  • Refer to awards, recognitions and leadership: With an appropriate dash of modesty, inform the universe of professional recognitions, community and civic awards or leadership activities, as well as media quotes or spotlights.

These are only a few of the many ways that social proof can be applied effectively. Although it’s around us constantly—we are all influenced by it daily—its place and useful power in healthcare marketing is often neglected.

For more about using social proof, see: Testimonials: The Rules of Effective Social Proof in Healthcare Marketing and Why Your Excellent Clinical Skills Alone Will Not Win Out in Physician Marketing.

Stewart Gandolf, MBA


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