So one day you’re out Christmas shopping at the local Target or Walmart and you are looking for a present to give to your half cousin’s stepson who is 6 years old. The last time you saw your half cousin was 2 years ago and she wasn’t married and there was no stepson at the time, so bottom line is… you have absolutely no clue what he likes or is into and are at a major loss as to where to even start.
Ok, so the first thing you think of is “6 years old = TOY!” Off to the toy section you go. Standing in the store’s toy department you are faced with hundreds of choices: games, blocks, cars, trucks, swords, Nerf guns, Super Hero stuff.
All of a sudden you feel like you’re in one of those movie scenes where the whole room just starts spinning and swirling around you in a blur and out of control.
Once your surroundings stop the imagined spinning, you feel utter frustration and are just about to throw in the towel and just get the kid a gift card, when out of the corner of your eye you see a bright and colorful display of those cool new toy thingamabobs you saw on TV the other night with that famous whatshisface guy singing and dancing with a bunch of kids, playing with these doohickies.
Bingo! You grab one out of the display, throw it in your shopping basket, and off you go to find a DVD for Aunt Bedelia.
Ok, so why did you decide to pick that particular toy for your half cousin’s stepson? What just happened?
You just experienced social proof. Social proof is a psychological phenomenon where people accept that the actions of others imply correct behavior for any given situation.
In this gift finding scenario you decided on that particular toy because you recognized that celebrity on the display and remembered the TV commercial, so you made the assumption that the funny thingamabob was the option to take.
You thought to yourself, “Well if he endorses it and all those kids that were singing and dancing in the commercial have that much fun when they play with it, then little 6 year old Tiberius will too.
Using a famous TV or movie star or athlete to endorse a product is one of the methods of social proof used in advertising, and as you can see, it’s very powerful and it works.
Examples of Social Proof
Here’s another scenario. Have you ever walked into a social situation not familiar to you? Where you don’t know quite how to act or what to do? You look around at the surroundings and people and adapt yourself and your actions to the goings on around you, don’t you?
Think about it. Why do we tend to do this? Because we are social creatures. When we see others, particularly large groups of others doing something, we are likely to come to the conclusion that we should be doing it too.
Here are some other examples of social proof I’m sure you will identify with:
· When bartenders start their shifts, the tip jar is usually empty. Most will throw some of their own money into the jar (also called ‘salting the tip jar’). Why? Because it will stimulate the customers to give more tips.
· Well-known TV evangelists will plant people in the audience to run up to the altar to pray or yell out cheers of happiness or praise. This will cause others to participate also.
· Social proof is all about following the crowd, so it’s no surprise that bloggers, and Facebook and Twitter users started picking up on the value of promoting the number of subscribers/fans/followers they have. The more you have the better.
Psychological Studies on Social Proof
Here are two documented studies that are classic examples of the power of social proofing:
The staring study:
In 1969 researchers Stanley Milgram, Leonard Bickman, and Lawrence Berkowitz chose a busy street corner in Manhattan, NY and had someone just stand there. They also told him not to do anything except stare at one area on a very tall building. Then the researchers watched and recorded how many people either stopped and looked up to stare along with the original man on the corner or looked up as they walked by him.
The data that was collected was very interesting. When just one person was looking up at the building, only 20% that walked by looked up too or looked up as they passed by. But when a group of people of at least five, were staring up at the building, the percentage went from 20% to 80%!
The dog study:
In 1967 Albert Bandura, Joan E. Grusec, and Frances L. Menlove used the theory of social proof in treating young children who were very frightened of dogs. They had a group of children watch one boy play contentedly and gleefully with a dog for twenty minutes every day. After the fourth day, 67% of the children in the group that observed this boy and the dog playing climbed into a pen and played with a dog also.
A Powerful Phenomenon
As you can see from these examples, social proof is powerful and effective stuff. And it’s everywhere you look. Now the next time you’re out and about you’ll be able to spot all the things that social proof makes people do!
Can any of you think of an example of social proof you’ve fallen for?