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Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Persuasion Power of Social Proof

In my previous post, "The Art of Persuasion", we have gained an understanding of the importance of persuasion.

In this post, we look at harnessing the power of social proof in increasing the effectiveness of your persuasion.

Firstly, what is "Social Proof"? Wikipedia states that social proof is is a psychological phenomenon that occurs in ambiguous social situations when people are unable to determine the appropriate mode of behavior.

It means that in many common situations such as shopping at a supermarket, driving in a traffic jam or browsing at a public library, people will pick up social cues on the appropriate response based on the actions of others.

This phenomenon assumes that surrounding people possess more knowledge about the situation, and will deem the behavior of others as appropriate or better informed.

Social influence in general can lead to conformity of large groups of individuals in either correct or mistaken choices, a phenomenon sometimes referred to as herd behavior.

Many different examples of social proof exist. For example:

Certain nightclubs and bars employ social proof in an effective manner in order to increase the popularity of their venues.

By deliberately reducing the rate of entry, this artificially causes the line to be longer, thus customers might perceive this long line as a positive signal of the place's desirability. This might be the case while in fact the venue might be mediocre and nowhere near its full capacity.

Similarly, television shows and theaters use social proof to increase the effectiveness of their offerings.

Television shows increase the perceived "funniness" of a show by merely playing canned laughter at key "funny" moments.

Theaters similarly sometimes use audience members, specially planted within the audience who are instructed to give ovations at pre-arranged times. Such ovations might be perceived by non-expert audience members as signals of the performance's quality.

Now that we have established the existence and validity of social proof, how can we use social proof to improve the persuasiveness of our arguments? To learn how the large organizations use this, let us look at a few examples.

When you pass by a nearby McDonalds, you might notice a sign stating "Billions and billions served" The local KFC advertisement at my area states that "Millions of taste buds can't be wrong". These advertisements use the power of social proof to persuade others to take a desired course of action.

There is little doubt that other people's behavior is a powerful source of social influence. Do take advance of the persuasive power of the herd. It costs very little to apply, and all it takes is to change a few words in your advertisement, speech or argument.


Tomas said...

Your post is well written indeed, but any statements would be worthless in case we wouldn't put them into the practice of the daily living, isn't it?
Thus I questioned myself...

The advertisement "Millions of taste buds can't be wrong" catches the eye, yet don't warm the heart.
The power of social proof is the unquestioned indeed, yet its fruits are the poignant. While the simple "Hi!' of the unknown passerby gifts the wish to live, the knowledge of what is what seeds just fear to loose the already obtained riches.

Paul Maurice Martin said...

I never thought of it that way, but "social proof" is a good way to conceptualize this phenomenon.