Sunday, October 20, 2019

Why You Need Social Proof

Why You Need Social Proof It happened seven years ago, but Ive not forgotten the story. Famous violinist plays at public location on Stradivarius violin, barely anyone notices. A Stradivarius Violin. You think people would notice who was playing it. That wasnt the exact headline, but it could have been. The world-renowned violinist in question was Joshua Bell, and the location was the LEnfant Plaza Metro Station in Washington D.C. Bell stood, with his violin case open, and played some of the most difficult violin pieces without much reaction from anyone. As I read the 2007 article in The Washington Post about their experiment on whether people would react to Bell (whose concerts are far from free), I was frustrated. What is wrong with people? I thought. Why wouldnt people stop and listen? This isnt the first time where people have not noticed when something important was happening right in front of them. Most recently, graffiti artist Banksy set up a booth in New Yorks Central Park and sold paintings that would normally go for $31,000 for just $60. An unknown elderly man was in the booth to sell the paintings, and only three people ended up buying them. How do people miss out on recognizing a great musician or high-priced art like this?  It has to do with social proof, and context. What Is Social Proof? A few months ago, a reader had pointed out that there werent a lot of comments on our blog. You need them for social proof! he said. While I enjoy seeing comments on our blog posts, it hadnt occurred to me there was a reason to want them beyond enjoying discussion. Was he right? Was a lack of comments a bigger problem? In Robert Cialdinis article Six Principles Of Influence  (PDF), which covers techniques and qualities that people can use to convince other people to act in a certain way, social proof is number three on the list. Social proof is, quite simply, where you and I replicate the actions of those around us in the current situation, because we assume that is the correct behavior. 1. Social Proof Is A Shortcut If most people are doing something, we can rest assured that if we do the same we wont: Look stupid and stand out. Commit an unforgivable faux pas. Have to think if we should or shouldnt; the rest of the group did that thinking for us. Relying on social proof is easy in a day full of decisions to make. Are the rest of my co-workers staying late? Then I will. Did they leave early? Then I can, too. Social proof is a shortcut in the thought process. We dont have to think. The others already did (we assume). 2. Social Proof Is An Endorsement If I see a restaurant with many diners in it, I assume its a pretty good place to eat. If there is no one inside, then surely there must be something wrong with the place. I assume that other people know something that I dont know, and so I take their opinion on the restaurant–and how they vote with their feet–as the basis for my decision. When many people take part in something, it tells me that I ought to, too. I dont want to be left out (a huge fear for most people) and despite what my mother told me growing up (just because everyone is doing it doesnt mean you have to!), we are inclined to do what everyone else is doing. Social proof tells us what we out to do, because other people are doing so with apparent success and enjoyment. Social proof is using the crowd to convince others to join in.3. Social Proof Tells Me Right And Wrong Cialdini also talks about social proof in his book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, and he  suggests that [o]ne means we use to determine what is correct is to find out what other people think is correctWe view a behavior as more correct in a given situation to the degree that we see others performing it (116). Remember, one of the reasons people share content on social media is to ask for help in understanding how they should feel about it. We take cues on how to think about something by observing how others think about it. Social proof is similar; what others do tells me whether something is right or wrong. Social proof lets us off the hook when it comes to what seems right and wrong. We go along with the crowd, who has decided that for us. From the 1963 film Lord of the Flies. Criterion Collection. Allowing social proof to determine right and wrong is not necessarily a good thing. Consider examples of crowds or businesses (or children,   la Lord of the Flies) going off the rails and down the path of terrible ethics and actions. At the conclusion, we wonder how they could have veered so far off the path when all along they were using social proof as their guideline for what was acceptable. When the group around you has lower standards for what is right and wrong, it wont be long before you will, too. 4. Social Proof Works Best With Peers Its not necessarily any old crowd that can get us to do something. Sure, well take a strangers word for it when it comes to online reviews or whether or not theyre eating at a restaurant, but even then we put much more weight on the word of our peers. If five people ate at a restaurant? Interesting. If five friends did? Im sold. We listen to people on the same level as ourselves. Influence is often best exerted horizontally rather than vertically. – Robert B. Cialdini According to Cialdini, science supports what most sales professionals already know: Testimonials from satisfied customers work best when the satisfied customer and the prospective customer share similar circumstances. Well follow along with the crowd best if it is our crowd. The Herd Mentality Of Social Proof Painting of a buffalo jump by Alfred Jacob Miller, from Wikipedia. Social proof, as a reality of how groups of people act, is a bit disturbing. Near the farm where I grew up in northeast North Dakota, an elderly man collected rocks and other interesting finds hed come across on his land. I went to interview him for the newspaper that I was working for at the time, and spent several hours looking and listening to a fascinating history as seen through the eyes of geology. The best rock he saved for last. It was huge, and was outside in his flowerbed. Its surface was rough, except for one side which was polished smooth and shone in the sun. I found this near the buffalo jump, he said, gesturing to the rock as we stood in front of it. Theres a small one nearby. A buffalo jump? I asked. I wasnt sure what he meant. The Native Americans would drive a herd of buffalo over a cliff or into a ravine, he explained. The buffalo would tumble over the edge and be rendered immobile. They could then kill them easily. It was much more efficient. He described the buffalo jump hed found on his property, a ravine littered with bones that would frequently surface at spring thaw or with even mildly ambitious prodding around. He pointed to the rock, with its strangely smooth side. There were several of these rocks, lined up to the edge like the lines on the highway. These rocks helped them guide the buffalo to the correct area, and they were worn smooth from the animals rubbing against them. What does a buffalo jump have to do with social proof? We are the same as the buffalo, in a sense. We make decisions based on assumptions from the social cues around us rather than thinking. Im sure you believe you are above having a herd mentality, and that you make decisions based on careful thought, but the truth is that most of us dont. More often than not were functioning on default, i.e. not consciously deciding. We are letting other factors tell us how to decide, rather than thinking things through. The buffalo herd ran right off a cliff. Individually, they might not have, but as a large group in which all of the rest of the animals were doing it, they did, too.  In other words, we follow crowds, and to the extremes. Why didnt people notice the violinist, or realize the art on the street was worth so much? Because no one else did. The musician and the art werent in the proper context (concert hall, gallery). No one made the connection. Even those who did think something worthwhile was happening convinced themselves they were wrong because  no one else  was reacting. Its the bizarre  bystander effect, where the more people there are around, the less likely youll get help if you need it. Everyone can see theres something happening, but no one takes action until someone takes action which is a catch 22. How Do I Use Social Proof? As a content marketer, you need to know how to use your content to get people to act in a particular way. You need to find a way to tap into something that prompts them to listen to you, and using social proof is a way to do that without extensive work and effort. If you can get a few, you can get many, many more. You dont have to individually target all 100 people in a group. Just get 20, and the other 80 will follow. According to writer Aileen Lee, there are five kinds of social proof: Expert: Approval from credible experts. Celebrity: Approval from people we admire. User: Approval from people like me, doing what Im doing. Crowds: All of those people cant be wrong! Friends: Approval from those I trust. Each of these five types fits into the idea of how we listen to our peers. 1. Find The Right Spokesperson If you are trying to convince a group of teenagers that they shouldnt skateboard on your propertys concrete barriers, good luck. They probably wont listen. Youd be better off finding another teenage skateboarder that they respect to do the convincing. We listen to those we perceive as being on our same level. What is the audience you are trying to reach? Who is it made of? For , our audience includes people who use WordPress blogs, are serious about content marketing, and make heavy use of social media (or people who want to be like that). Finding regular people who are doing exactly that are more convincing as a spokesperson than all the slickest PR we might possibly generate, or having Huge Gigantic Corporation say I use . Its why we retweet comments on Twitter from users who are excited about , or why we share testimonials with photos and links.  Were showing our audience that others, just like you, use and love . Find a spokesperson who has the same experiences and speaks the same language as your audience. 2. Capitalize On The Identity Your Audience Wants I am certainly not close friends with celebrities, but I might  identify  with them or something they represent. There is no other reason for me to listen to a famous person who is otherwise wholly removed from my life, other than I am attributing a quality or identity to them that I want, also.

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