What is Social Proof
Social proof is one of the shortcuts we use to find out what action is correct or best or to find out what other people are doing. For example, if you’ve ever read reviews before making a purchase on amazon, you were likely influenced by the comments of others and so were using social proof to help you decide on your purchase. Social proof is also often at play when we decide what action or behaviour is most appropriate. We may look around and decide that others are not politely queuing to get onto the tube train so we don’t need to do so, or we may notice that others are driving at a particular speed on a road or being very quiet on a train and this can be a powerful influence on what we decide to do. Usually, when we do something that many other people are doing, we feel safer in the knowledge that it’s the right thing to do.
Using social proof to influence – phobias
Psychologist Albert Bandura demonstrated just how effective the principle of social proof could be by using it to help cure children of a phobia of dogs. In one study, young children were chosen as subjects because they were terrified of dogs, they watched another small child play with a dog for twenty minutes a day. After only four days, 67% of the subjects were willing to climb into a playpen with a dog and pet it. When these children’s fear levels were tested again one month later, the improvement had not changed and the children were still happy to play with the dogs.
Can social proof influence from a distance?
Importantly, a second study which sought to address children’s fear of dogs just showed video clips of other children playing with dogs. The video clips resulted in the same reduction of fear, it was not necessary for the children with the phobia to see a live demonstration. The study also found that the most effective video clips were those which showed lots of other children playing with dogs. The principle of social proof worked best when the proof was provided by lots of people as opposed to just a few.
Examples of social proof in action
- Websites that invite us to review and endorse products online. If you’ve ever taken a look at a hotel or restaurant’s reviews on Trip Advisor before taking the plunge and booking a reservation, then you’ll know just how influential bad reviews can be, social proof at it’s most powerful!
- If you’ve ever glanced at the number of twitter followers someone has and decided, yep, 200,000 followers must be onto something good or nope, 20 followers can’t be worth joining, you’ve employed social proof to make your decision.
- Unpaid celebrity endorsements can be a great source of social proof. Mark Zuckerberg posted a Facebook update, showing a ‘like’ for iDevice’s iGrill (a wireless thermometer and app), the result? iGrill’s website was inundated with thousands of hits and crashed.
Used well, social proof can be a powerful tool for influence.
To find out more, hear Cialdini talk about this weapon of influence: