When facing a life or death decision, do you think the opinions of others would affect your behavior?
Social proof is a powerful phenomenon. People constantly look to the opinions of others to help them live wisely and navigate uncertainty. The behavior and preferences of your peers can shape every choice you make – from the vehicles, you drive to the candidates you vote for. But surely some of that superficiality would fade in more critical situations, right?
More than 40,000 people in the United States experience end-stage kidney failure every year, with bodies that cannot filter toxins and adequately remove waste products from their blood. These people are dependent on dialysis treatments as they wait desperately for a kidney transplant. Often more than 100,000 patients are eagerly waiting for a new organ.
Surprisingly, research shows that 97.1 percent of kidney offers are refused, and nearly 1 in 10 transplant candidates refuse a kidney in error. How could this happen? The research of MIT professor Juanjuan Zhang points to social proof. Say you are the one-hundredth person on a transplant list. If the first 99 people turned down a viable kidney, often people lower on the list conclude the organ must not be very good (“if someone else doesn’t want it, then neither do I”). They infer it is low in quality and wait for a “better offer.”
Zhang found this psychological trigger, social proof, – a follow the crowd mentality – prompts thousands of patients to turn down kidneys they should have accepted.
If Something is Built to Show, It’s Built to Grow
Do you want to sell more products, grow attendance in your community group, or get momentum for your idea?
The more public a product or service, the more it triggers people to act. Visibility boosts word-of-mouth advertising, and this informal person-to-person marketing has a significant impact on others. People rely on peers to help them decide what movies to see, which vet to use for their pet or the best software to buy. For example, recent studies show that more than half of adults under age 50 consult online reviews before making a purchase decision, and 88% of people read reviews to determine the quality of a local business.
Reviews and testimonials are powerful, but you can also build influential triggers into small things like your product packaging, stickers, and more. Social proof is stronger when behavior is more observable.
Here are just a few ways outward symbols have made personal choices more public:
- Polling places that distribute an “I voted” sticker to those who cast a ballot
- Devices that attach a mini advertisement to every email (like the classic “sent using BlackBerry” tagline)
- TV shows that used canned laugh tracks to prompt more emotional buy-in from viewers
- Bumper stickers or yard signs sharing political ideas or coffee preferences
- VIP purchases that convince participants to wear conspicuous wristbands instead of using a paper ticket
- Fitness trackers that automatically post progress to a person’s social media page
- Grocery stores that distribute beautiful branded reusable bags
Monkey See, Monkey Do
It has been said that when people are free to do what they please, they typically imitate others.
How can you build more social currency into your marketing? Whether you choose recognizable product colors to selfie photo booths at your events, make it easy for people to share your brand through social media or when they’re just “doing life” in the public square.
When something is built to show, it’s built to grow.