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Following the herd

When we're uncertain on how to behave, we look to others for guidance. For the fourth principle from our Powers of Persuasion eBook, we take a look at how you can use social proof in your communications to influence a person when they are making a decision.

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Following the herd

When we’re making a decision, whether it be for your website or in everyday life, we often look to what others are doing for validation or ‘social proof’. If you’re signing up for a demo because you notice that a tool solved the exact problem you have that a similar company was having, that’s social proof! For the fourth principle of the Powers of Persuasion series, we take a look at why you should consider using social proof in your own communications..

The research

The concept is simple when we're uncertain on how to behave, we look to others for guidance. Think of it as 'following the herd'. Research into social proof, like Robert Cialdini’s book on Influence, shows that the behaviour of others influences us far more than we may be aware of.

Professor Cialdini actually ran a test using different messages for towel use in hotels. In the results of his test, the message incorporating social proof had 25% better results than all the others. The winning message was: "almost 75% of other guests help by using their towels more than once." Interestingly, he also found that if he added the words "of other guests that stayed in this room", it had even more impact!

Along with numerous psychological studies, there's market research to back up social proof. The 2015 report from Nielsen shows that, despite million dollar advertising budgets, the most powerful form of advertising is still word-of-mouth. In the same study, 83% of people said they trust word-of-mouth recommendations more than any other form of advertising!

Social proof in practice

Now that you're aware of social proof, we guarantee that you'll spot it everywhere particularly if you're a regular online shopper!

To see it at work, let's return to an online marketplace that has been doing this from the very beginning Amazon.

Let's say we wanted to buy a book. If we already know the book we want then we can see these things:

Customers who bought this also bought | Editorial reviews | Customer reviews | Stars.  

If we’re just browsing in general, then the list gets longer:

New York Times Best Sellers | Non fiction best sellers | Most wished for | Most gifted.

What are some everyday examples of social proof working that you can think of? Have you ever thought about why canned laughter is used on sitcoms? It’s the same reason   they’re giving the herd some guidance!

Leading the herd to water

By now, you'll be thinking of ways to incorporate social proof onto your website. Here's a few ideas to get you started!

1. Testimonials—while you might not be selling a product you can still share other people’s stories.

2. Social sharing enable social sharing on your website or blog articles to show people what the ‘herd’ is doing.

3. Celebrity/influencer use a well known person or other influencer to help spread your message.

4. Certificates if you have any certifications or badges, display these on your website to build trust and recognition amongst the herd!

5. Real time stats display the number of people that have taken a desired action.

6. Case studies a simple and powerful way of showing social proof. Collect examples or stories of exemplary behaviour.

7. Club/membership depending on your work, create a way for people to connect with others like an online forum or community. This is a powerful way to engage with the herd!

8. Most popular consider social proof in your website navigation and design. You could show your 'most popular’ pages or blog articles.

Does it work with negative behaviour?

If you are trying to change negative behaviour like littering or breaking speed limits, be careful! The powerful concept of social proof can also work in reverse. The unintended message delivery to your audience may just be "if everyone is doing it, then it's okay for me too."

If you are looking for more ways to influence your audience, download the Powers of Persuasion eBook today!

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About the author
Claire Hodds

With qualifications in marketing, communications and journalism, Claire has more than 10 years experience across a range of industries. She is passionate about continuous improvement and applying insights from behavioural economics to marketing strategies.

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