When we are uncertain about a course of action, (and that happens a lot of the times) we tend to look to other people around us to guide our decisions and actions. That’s the behavioural science principle of social proof. Following are two interesting examples of social proof at work and how you could use it to influence other people.
An American infomercial for a home shopping channel changed the all-too-familiar call-to-action line at the end of the infomercial, “Operators are waiting, please call now” to “If operators are busy, please call again”. This simple change led to its sales skyrocketing. On the face of it, the change seems foolhardy. After all, the message indicates that one may have to waste their time redialing till they reach a sales representative. Yet it worked so brilliantly.
Consider the kind of mental image that’s likely to get generated when you hear “operators are waiting, please call now”: scores of bored phone representatives while they wait by their silent telephones – an image indicative of low demand and poor sales. And consider how your perception of the popularity of the product would change when you hear “if operators are busy, please call again”: operators going from phone call to phone call without a break. That made people think that if the phone lines are busy, then other people like me who are also watching this infomercial are calling too.
In an experiment conducted by Robert Cialdini, Noah Goldstein and Griskevicius, different kinds of signs were placed in hotel rooms. One of the signs asked guests to help save the environment by re-using their towels. The second one informed them that the majority of guests at the hotel recycled their towels to help save the environment. The second sign had a success rate of 26% more than the first sign. A third sign informed guests that majority of people who had previously stayed in their particular room recycled their towels to help save the environment. The third sign had a success rate of 33% more than the first sign.
Now only if hotels applied the same principle for reducing theft of towels, shampoos, bedsheets, stationary, appliances and paintings, too.
Source: Noah J. Goldstein, Robert B. Cialdini and Vladas Griskevicius – A room with a viewpoint: Using social norms to motivate environmental conservation in hotels – Journal of Consumer Research 35:472-82 (2008)