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By Trevor Campbell on 09/02/17 | How we behave

Social proof is the idea that people respond to how others behave. Because we believe the actions of groups in particular are generally correct, it’s one of the most powerful ways to convince someone to favour you. No matter what your business is, social proof should always be in your communication mix.

First off, it’s not you chattering about how good is your service or product – social proof adds crucial third-party credibility to what you offer. If enough people use a service, or recommend it (especially friends), it must be worth exploring.

Social proof (what psychologists also call ‘informational social influence’) is another mental shortcut to help us navigate our days without having to think too much. If there is a queue around the block for burritos, doesn’t that make you peckish for one? Or if a book in a genre you like has 4.5 stars on Amazon, don’t you want to curl up with it?

Practical ways you can use social proof

(Aside from asking friends to line up outside your new pulled-chicken-and-sourdough pop-up…)

Testimonials and case studies – never underestimate the power of others enthusing about your product or service. Direct marketing specialists have been using this tactic for years. With good reason – it works.

Awards – whether from an industry body or voted by the public, awards are a great rubber stamp of assurance to put on your website or marketing materials. Even if some of them can be bought :-)

Voices and faces of authority – whether a dentist advocates a toothpaste, or a super-investor endorses a commodity fund, a nod from an expert is hard to beat. They don’t even have to be real authorities for this to work (eg, someone wearing a doctor’s coat is immediately more trustworthy).

Trade association or quality kudos – just the logo of a respected trade body, or a quality mark, associates you with a trusted organisation.

Celebrity power – if you can afford it (and because it combines with the psychological force of likeability) it’s easy to see why celebrities are used to plug everything from satellite TV to coffee to cruise ships.

There are downsides: social proof explains the rise of cults and sects, may act as a catalyst in riots and can contribute to herd behaviour when shares are sold off without logic. So you should always question the actions of others if you don’t want to fall victim to some of its more mindless interference.

But social proof in some form is essential if you want to put out a message with an independent vote of approval. Just ask your friends.