Why do we buy? Why do we want the new iPhone? Why do we desire the new Lexus? Why do we wear high-end denim? Why do we insist on designer eyewear, like an architect? Why do we prefer Target over Walmart? Or, Amazon over Target? We do we feel obligated to go to parties or other events because others are there and since they’re there, it would be bad if we didn’t show up? Why do we perform the work we choose? Why choose one college over the other? Why do we pick one job over the other? Why do we pick a book to read? A band to listen to? A movie to watch? Which computer to buy? What apps to use?
We want what others want. Desire propagates desire.
In nearly any consumer & business decision, Social Proof is the driving force. We look to others when we aren’t sure about a decision ourselves. We seek expert opinions on what to buy; where to go; what to eat; how best to exercise; where to go for vacation; Is now the right time; which is better: X or Y? We seek confirmation to earn validation. We want what others want.
It isn’t that we are lemmings. We make hundreds of decisions each day. Decision-making is emotionally and physically taxing. Social proof acts as a series of shortcuts in our daily lives, aiding our decision-making. If people we know, like, and trust say something is good, we consider it good, too.
Think of testimonials. No one admits they buy because “some guy” says this thing is good / cool / will solve your problem. Yet, positive testimonials are a powerful marketing force to move units. Book blurbs have been on the backs of books for decades. They still print them there. Why? Because they work. If somebody I know, like, and trust says the book is good, I am far more inclined to purchase it.
The Gym Trainer creates social proof.
When we do not know how to act socially, we turn to others for cues. Preferably to those who know what they’re doing. What’s the other guy doing? Where’s he doing it? How’s he doing it? What’s the frequency? If you’re lost inside the gym and have no idea how to use certain equipment, you look to others who appear to know what they’re doing and then model them. Or, you get a trainer, someone there to give you guidance and confidence and accountability inside the gym. The trainer also provides the social cues you need to succeed within the gym domain.
One-Star reviews don’t hurt as bad as being ignored.
Think of Amazon reviews as testimonials. People love reading Amazon reviews before purchasing. They’ve become powerful as a force to drive sales. Authors seek reviews from product purchasers — even bad reviews because they strangely count. 1-star reviews don’t hurt as bad as being ignored. At least, somebody took the time to leave a review, even if it hurts the author. Even if the 1-Star review turned out to be about the reviewer than the work being reviewed. (If you’re an author, it is best to ignore 1-star reviews, or, better, don’t read your reviews at all. Put on the horse blinders.)
Foodies create social proof for new, undiscovered chefs and their restaurants.
Take restaurants. Foodies, early adopters within the food space, go crazy for new restaurants and celebrate their chefs. They drive traffic to these spaces. They blog about these spaces. They promote them until they aren’t cool any more. They’re discovered. Then, the foodies move onto the next discovery. It is similar to how music fans feel about bands “they” discovered. Once everyone else is in on the band, the early adopter music fan moves on. Like the discovered band, social proof and good marketing drive others to check out the new restaurant. This is so powerful in the restaurant industry that some people will skip the restaurant if there isn’t a line. People waiting out front to get a table is all the proof they need. If folks are willing to wait, it must be good. Right? If it is 7 PM and there’s nobody there for dinner, what does that say about the restaurant?
“I’ll have what he’s having.”
When inside the restaurant, while checking out the menu, people often do not know what to order. A strange sort of indecision settles in, stymieing them. What do they do? They look to others for cues on what to order. What are you getting? Is it good? Does it come recommended? Then, they’ll ask the waiter for recommendations. Then, they’ll take another 15 minutes before they made a decision that will be socially-proofed, likely what others at the table already ordered. Instead of making a “bad” decision of ordering something else, they take the safe route and simply get what others at the table ordered, the foodstuffs that people have approved.
See what others are doing — Don’t miss out!
Social proof drives fear of missing out. When we see that a cohort of people are all engaging in a fun activity and we’re not, this is social proof working against us. Others are doing cool things that we’re not. This is why we get the FOMO. We want to do the fun things others are doing. There is an antidote to the FOMO: have a life so cool and adventurous that you don’t have time to get this fear. You’re too busy doing your own cool & fun things.
Social proof drives network effects, which are increasingly important in today’s Tech space. So many apps — especially social apps — rely nearly 100% upon positive network effects. The more people use them, the better they get. A social network with three people on it is a lonely enterprise, not to mention a money loser. Most apps today rely upon a growing user base in order to achieve its goals: more downloads; more active users; more in-app purchases; more advertising. More users means more of everything the app company wants.