Breaking News

How to Get People to Do the “Right” Thing

How to Get People to Do the “Right” Thing

What swayed more people to get out and vote for Obama? The same method that could motivate more people to buy from you. This approach is already nudging more:

o Hikers to stay on marked trails.

o Hotel guests to use fewer towels.

o Homeowners to reduce their energy usage.

(By giving you these examples I was using the method to sway you into thinking this must be a helpful method if it is being used in such diverse ways.)

To spur more supporters to vote, the Obama campaign brought behavioral scientists on board to craft the message that was repeated in the final days: “A record turnout is expected.” They were evoking social proof.

Simply put, social proof means we are more likely to do what we think many others are doing. Robert Cialdini described this effect in his popular book Influence as have others including Cass Sunstein (now working for Obama) and Richard Thaler in Nudge.

Similarly an anti-littering campaign is wildly successful because it evoked our collective pride, with a slogan, “Don’t Mess with Texas.”

The effect of social proof is strongest in times of uncertainty (individuals are unsure and/or the situation is ambiguous) or similarity (we are most likely to follow people who are like us).

You see variations of the social proof effect every day:

o You choose the busy restaurant rather than the near empty one. You’re attracted to the crowded booths at the fair or tradeshow.

o After a murder/suicide is heavily reported, head-on car collisions and airplane crashes immediately go up.

o Fewer people now smoke in the U.S. as it became uncool to do so except in clusters where it’s still popular.

o For twenty minutes a day, kids who were afraid of dogs were set in front of a boy playing happily with a dog. After only four days, 67 percent of them climbed in a playpen with a dog and played with him. Shy kids can be helped too.

o If several people around you are overweight you are more likely to gain pounds.

o Bartenders sometimes “salt” the tip jar to get patrons to drop in money.

o Desperate women invade the men’s restroom at a Springsteen concert – after the first one or two bravely entered.

Brain imaging shows that when we think we’re out of step with our peers, the part of our brain that registers pain shifts into overdrive according to Cialdini. The herd instinct is strong.

Social proof happens when one business attracts more customer because , unlike competitors, it displays testimonials. When you see this woman looking at one of the two men, you presume he is more attractive and important than the other man, simply because of where she is looking. So display your product near non-competing and popular products or other objects.

Using social proof in small, even inexpensive ways has a huge effect. For example, Positive Energy, a firm where Cialdini is the chief scientist, is evoking social proof to get homeowners to voluntarily reduce their use of energy. Along with their utility bill they get a note either praising them, “with a row of smiley faces (You’ve used 58 percent less electricity than your neighbors this month!) or damning them with none (You used 39 per cent more electricity than your neighbors in the past 12 months, and it cost you $741 extra).”

That caused a 2 percent decrease in energy usage when it was tried in Sacramento with just 35,000 homes. That’s the same as taking 700 homes off the grid. Next social proof move? Reducing water consumption.

Such neighborly or peer pressure – especially with consequences – is a potent way to change behavior as stickK is demonstrating.

Conformity, competition – even shame are powerful motivators when social proof is evoked. An Oregon county’s public campaign to get homeowners to weatherize their homes at little cost got little response, for example. Yet when churches, citizen groups and Girl Scouts were recruited for a door-to-door drive, 85% of the county enrolled. (What credible partners can you involve in a social proof-based campaign?)

If you want people to buy from you, provide as many ways and places (web site, brochure, conversation, articles, etc.) for them to hear or read about those who already have. This kind of social proof evokes the power of Previous Precedent. The more your customers or the customers’ situations or reasons for buying remind prospective buyers of themselves and their situation the stronger their impulse to buy. Parents of Girl Scouts, for example were most struck by the need to weatherize their homes.

What worthy organization can benefit from aligning with your business to evoke social proof?

That’s how firefighters in Toluma got a badly-needed but expensive piece of equipment, a deluge gun, without asking their cash-strapped city council for a single dime. Business was slow all over their town. The firefighters were getting nowhere when they asked for donations from business owners experiencing a weak economy.

They approached the manager of the locally-owned MyPizzaria for a donation. Instead the manager devised a way to evoke social proof to attract donations – for their mutual benefit. “Here’s what I can do. We can pick a Wednesday, say four weeks from today to declare as “Save a Local Life. Eat Firefighting Pizza at MyPizzeria” day. It is usually a slow night. I clear $500 or so. On that day, after we sell $500 worth, every dollar after that I’ll split 80/20 with you – your cause gets 80%. So if you inspire enough people to buy a pizza on that day, you can raise more money than you just asked me for.”

The firefighters loved the challenge – and had down time to jump into it. They had banners, signs and announcements printed for free by the local copy shop with a bright red “donated by” credit line. They asked local supermarkets and gas stations to display them. After the first signs appeared, the local association of realtors decided this was a popular campaign (social proof). As avid, adept networkers, the Realtors offered to help spread the word.

At commute times two fire engines, plastered with a banners, had waving firefighters and realtors on the busiest street. Then the growing army of volunteers visited offices complexes, even those with signs that read “No soliciting.” (Who’s going to kick out fire fighters?) Now more backers visited apartment complexes, video rental outlets and schools. They put flyers and signs everywhere. Once people heard about their community cause, handing out flyers was like giving away candy. The local radio station, newspaper and several bloggers covered the unfolding story.

When the Wednesday finally came around, the place was packed with a lively crowd. Some were served at tables in the parking lot, thus attracting passersby (another sign of social proof at work). They made enough money to get the Deluge Gun. Most importantly it was fun and a win for all participants. Done right, social proof-based campaigns can attract a crowd so more gets done with less work on everyone’s part.

Plus such social proof-based partnering enables all parties to use their best talents and resources. Acting together for their mutual benefit generates deeper, more diverse friendships. Because they experienced the leveraging power of partnering participants are more likely to want to work together again.