Added On: Sunday, November 04, 2007

Understanding Social Proof

There are all sorts of ways to persuade people of things. You can use rational argument, flashy gimmicks or emotional pulls. One of the most powerful is the use of social proof.

Robert Cialdini wrote about this in his book "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion". He says that it's a way of getting past people's logic in order to convince them of something.

The general idea is that people are persuaded by what others appear to like. For example, if a group of people all like a particular person, others will also be influenced to like that person. Any kind of logical analysis of the person's strengths goes out the door. Simply because he's popular, he's liked.

Marketers understand this concept implicitly. That's why, as soon as something develops social proof, you'll hear them shouting it from the rooftops. "America's number one movie," they'll say. Or "We're the biggest supermarket chain in Britain".

They feel that simply persuading you others like their product will be enough to persuade you to also like it. And it works.

Few forces are more powerful on the human mind. We all look around us to see what others perceive as having quality. And then we find ourselves feeling the same way.

Social proof is the hidden power behind the saying: "Famous for being famous".

So how can you use this phenomenon to help you? The answer is to build some social proof for your own interests.

If you want to be popular, convincing one or two people to like you can be enough to get started. Then, adding each new person to your group becomes easier. They'll see that you already have loyal friends, and this will convince them that you are probably somebody worth being around.

If you have a product you want to promote, put a lot of effort into getting a few early adopters. Once you can show that some people like your product, it will be easier to persuade new people to like it too.

I use this method quite successfully on my resume. In the early days of my career, it was hard to get a job simply because I didn't have much experience. Now, I've worked for some of the biggest companies in the world. Just having those names on my resume is enough to persuade people I'm worth considering for a job. They think: "Boy, all these other famous companies liked this guy, he must be good".

Social proof seems like an obvious and simple concept. And it is. But don't underestimate its power. When you need to convince people of something, come up with ways of backing up your arguments with social proof.


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