WOW Word-Of-the-Week #374: Social Proof

October 5, 2011 by · Comments Off on WOW Word-Of-the-Week #374: Social Proof 

Social Proof – the assumption that an action is more correct if others are doing it.

Are you aware of the actions and behavior of people around you in a social situation? Do you have a tendency to follow what others are doing if you are not sure? Do you influence those around you by taking the lead and setting the example?

This is the third of six WOW’s from the book “INFLUENCE: The Psychology of Persuasion” by Robert B. Cialdina, Ph.D. These WOW’s will hopefully help you influence your customers, guests, clients or members to increase sales and repeat business, as well as, how to not be swayed by someone trying to sell you something you may not want.

“One means we use to determine what is correct is to find out what other people think is  correct. The principle applies especially to the way we decide what constitutes correct behavior. We view a behavior as more correct in a given situation to the degree that we see others performing it. Whether the question is what to do with an empty popcorn box in a movie theater, how fast to drive on a certain stretch of highway or how to eat the chicken at a dinner party, the actions of those around us will be important in defining the answer.”

“The tendency to see an action as more appropriate when others are doing it normally works quite well.  As a rule, we will make fewer mistakes by acting in accord with social evidence than contrary to it. Usually, when a lot of people are doing something, it is the right thing to do. This feature of the principle of social proof is simultaneously its major strength and its major weakness.”

“Our tendency to assume that an action is more correct if others are doing it is exploited in a variety of settings. Bartenders often ‘salt’ their tip jars with a few dollar bills at the beginning of their shift to simulate tips left by prior customers and thereby give the impression that tipping with folding money is proper barroom behavior. Church ushers  sometimes salt collections baskets for the same reason and with the same positive effect on proceeds.”

“Advertisers love to inform us when a product is the ‘fastest-growing’ or ‘largest-selling’ because they don’t have to convince us directly that the product is good, they need only say that many others think so, which seems proof enough. Charity telethons spend inordinate amounts of time listing those who have pledged. Hip night clubs have long waiting lines while the club is empty inside. What is the message being sent? You want to be part of the group!”

This week’s focus is on social proof. Both how you are affected and influenced by others, as well as, how you influence your customers, guests, clients or members. Have you ever picked an entree because the server suggested it and said, “It’s our most popular dish?” Have you ever sold a product by saying it is our “#1 seller?”  Have you ever assumed that if a lot of people are doing something, they must know something you don’t? Have you ever stood in a line only to discover another line with no waiting?

Reader Responses

“Whatever others are doing is an indicator of what is acceptable “social behavior.” I have been of the mind that since I know what to do, I don’t need the social proof approval to know that it is right or wrong. There have been times when I have walked down a street in Chicago where a few pieces of newspaper are strewn on a sidewalk and passersby continue to walk on it. I have picked up the papers and place them in the garbage. Because that is the right thing to do, regardless of what everyone else did. As I said to my companion at the time, we all live in this city, we should contribute to helping keep it clean. Frankly, I did not care what anyone else thought or did; I did what I thought was right. For those who aren’t sure as to what to do, it would probably behoove those people to look around for social proof. Great word, Susan. Have a great week.” – “Warrior” Joe