One of my favorite Stephen Colbert lines is from the 2006 White House Correspondents Dinner:
“He believes the same thing Wednesday that he believed on Monday, no matter what happened Tuesday.”
Not only is it a great piece of writing, but it also is a nice indictment of a certain type of worldview. Evidence and continued questioning are the signposts along the path of ascent of our species, with willful ignorance its downfall.
So, as this week will contain my 100th blog post, I wanted to take a look back at some previous posts and bring new evidence to bear on them.
In December, I did a week on the principles of influence and how you can use them in direct marketing. Social proof — the idea that people tend to want to do what other people do — can be a large part of this.
But what makes for good social proof? The answer surprised me, at least.
An article in Advances in Consumer Research looked at whether we are more influenced by what other people like or what other people do.
My thought was that this is a slam dunk. We have the answer in maxim form: actions speak louder than words. But that’s not what the researchers found.
They took basic consumer goods (chewing gum, hangers, etc.) and had one person in a dyad either express her/his preference or take one of the two items. The second person would then choose an item for themselves. They were more likely to choose the same item as the first person when the person said what they like instead of taking one of the items.
The researchers then replicated this on Amazon and YouTube; when both preferences (ratings or likes) and consumption (sales or number of views) of other people were available, people were more likely to choose the item/video that related to preferences rather than consumption.
So what does this mean for us?
First thing is that a lot of us are doing social proof wrong.
And I should be the first to put my hand in the air for this.
I’ve advocated for putting the number of people that are subscribed to your newsletter on the sign-up as an inducement to sign up. But what if that read “Join the 146,233 people who enjoy our monthly newsletter” instead of “Join the 146,233 people who get our monthly newsletter”?
This also argues for more privileged places for testimonials and other forms of liking social proof. We talked about scope blindness and how people are more likely to donate to one good story than the story of several disparate people. Perhaps what we see in liking social proof is that there is also scope blindness — knowing that someone (who is like them) liked this content is enough to get them to engage as well.
Anyone out there have experiences with this type of test? I’d appreciate any insight because if you wait for me to test it, you may have to check back around my 200th post.