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Using Social Proof to Win Friends and Influence People

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

A group of animated 3D stick figures following the leader holding a large red arrowWhether we know it or not—and whether we like it or not—nearly everyone is influenced by the human phenomenon of “social proof.” The term was coined long before the Internet arrived on your desktop and popularized social media.

We can all thank psychology Professor Robert Cialdini for the label—he didn’t invent social proof, it seems we’ve been doing it forever. Students of marketing and advertising also recognize the term from Dr. Cialdini’s book on persuasion and marketing, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. [1984; revised edition 2006]

Social proof, the all-knowing Wikipedia tells us, is “also known as informational social influence, … a psychological phenomenon where people assume the actions of others in an attempt to reflect correct behavior for a given situation.”

A common illustration would be (simply):

  • If I am uncertain about [something], it is important to see what others think…
  • If other people are doing [something], I should do it also…
  • If others are avoiding [something], then I should avoid it too…

OR

  • “I’ll have what she’s having…”
  • “People who bought this also bought…”
  • “These are our best selling…”

McDonalds must have lost count, but the old signs previously tallied hamburgers in the BILLIONS SERVED.

The Internet and social media interactions are one of the most active playgrounds of social proof, a principle of influence that relies on our sense of safety in numbers. As an engine of influence, it helps propel marketing messages from “word-of-mouth” to hard-sell TV ads.

Previously, we wrote about Six Ways to Influence and Persuade with Social Proof in healthcare marketing, especially through online advertising, social media and your Internet presence. These included:

  • Testimonials and endorsements
  • Active social media engagement
  • Display of social media counters
  • Photographic evidence; real people and activities
  • Pride in your history
  • Awards and recognitions

Here are some additional idea starters to help inspire ways to demonstrate and leverage social proof. Take note, of course, that these suggestions may require adaptation to your situation and not all will fit everyone:

  • Connect with online reviews or ratings
  • Highlight the number of people who are using your service
  • Invite user videos of case examples/success stories/testimonials
  • Point to media exposure; “as seen on…”
  • Provide social media connection
  • Publish a calendar of public appearances or events
  • Publish case studies related to demonstrations of success
  • Recognize third-party experts or authoritative voices
  • Show certifications, organizational or industry credentials
  • Welcome user comments and feedback on blogs

What can you add to this list? We welcome your suggestions and any examples of how you’re using social proof. And for more on this topic, see our previous post, Using the Six Principles of Persuasion in Healthcare Marketing.

Stewart Gandolf, MBA

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