Cognitive Bias 15 out of 25: Social-Proof Tendency

Humans are constantly having cognitive biases affect the way decisions are made. These biases cause people’s brains to distort reality, impair judgment, and cause impulse decisions. The social proof tendency is one of the most popular because of the absolute stranglehold it has on our lives. Psychologically, humans have a follow the leader mentality where action is typically taken when other people act or when they know it’s a safe decision. In the same sense, inaction will occur when other people are refusing to act. Even in times of emergency. This phenomenon is better known as social proof.

This cognitive bias relies heavily on trust. Humans are fairly skeptical in general. However, we’re less skeptical towards friends, family, acquaintances, and influencers. This happens because the trust is already established. We know that people we trust aren’t likely to take advantage of us or steer us wrong. This causes fear and doubt to lower and inspire decision making and especially impulse decisions.

Studies on Inaction

“The bystander effect is when we think, nah someone else will donate to Wikipedia.” -CJ Hernandez

There are many studies that have been conducted on social proof. One of the most interesting was this study done on social proof during emergencies. There’s this thing called the bystander effect. This is where people are less likely to take action to help a victim when other people are around. I find this absolutely fascinating. If you haven’t heard of this I recommend looking it up. You’ll be amazed.

This is caused most of the time because people think that someone else already called for help. Therefore they don’t have to do it. It also relates to the pack mentality that people have. Most people fear going against the pack or the norm and fear the repercussions for doing so. We think, “what if I call for help but am wrong?”

These studies found that people are more likely to take action when pointed out and assigned tasks. This was found when someone was performing CPR and the rate of bystanders calling an ambulance went up significantly. All they did was clearly point to a bystander and say “you, call an ambulance.” Something so simple could be the difference between action and inaction. So whenever there’s an emergency always make sure to point someone and tell them what to do.

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I see this all the time with cell phones. Have you ever been with a group of people that all were on their phone but you? When this happened, did you have the need to be on your phone too? It’s subconscious. Even if we have nothing to look at we’ll jump on our phone too because everyone else is. Look out for it and you’ll for sure see it.

Social Proof and Business

Social proof is extremely common in business and primarily in advertising. Most companies know that they can inspire trust by tapping into people’s networks. That’s why you commonly see celebrities and influential people being spokespeople for various companies, brands, and product/services. Companies pay top dollar for these influencers.

Tapping into someone’s network is the easiest way to get quick results. This happens because companies don’t have to build that trust up. It’s already established from the person at the top of the network. Some influencers have inspired their following so much that they’ll do anything that is asked of them. It’s almost creepy at times but also weirdly inspiring.

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I believe this happens for one of three reasons:

  1. Reciprocity. Some influencers have given so much value to their following that they find the need to wanting to give back. It’s called reciprocity. This is a more supportive approach. If you check out my post on reciprocity you’ll understand why it affects us so much. Plus, it’s important to make sure people aren’t using reciprocity to take advantage of you because most of the time it’s very one sided.
  2. Emulation. A lot of people think that if they emulate their influencer or celebrity that they’ll be more like that person. For example if I buy the golf set Tiger Woods uses and promotes then I’ll be a better golfer like him… right? When in reality results of this nature are extremely rare.
  3. Last one standing. No one wants to be the last one or left out. That alone is enough to get people to jump on the bandwagon. That’s why winning over innovators are so important in business. They can significantly impact the success of trends.

Learning how to effectively use social proof is imperative for any business’s success. The key is to use social proof with integrity for long term success. Most businesses should do this but you’d be surprised with how many don’t. The only thing it does is hurt them in the end.

3 Things to Watch Out for with Social Proof

Knowing how to use social proof in business can significantly increase results and sales. There are a couple of catches to social proof:

  1. Overplaying. The social proof tendency is becoming more and more overplayed. It seems like every time I turn around, there’s someone else trying to get me to join their MLM (multi-level marketing). Also, every website seems to have those cheesy pop-ups claiming someone just bought the very product you’re looking at. All these different tricks that you see on websites are just that. They are attempting to inspire impulse decision making aka impulse buys. These tricks hurt credibility and I’m always skeptical when I come across them.
  2. Losing trust. It’s also possible for influencers to lose the trust of their following when they felt they’ve been deceived. If someone is selling cheap crap or a get rich quick scheme the only thing it’ll do is hurt everyone in the long run. You may get quick sales but that following will likely never buy anything again. Not ideal for sustainability, referrals, and recurring business.
  3. Know your niche. Social proof will be more effective if you know who your target audience is. For example I shouldn’t try to sell health supplements to my following which is business or self-improvement oriented. That’s not my niche. I might get some sales because I’m sure a good amount are interested in their health; however, I’d find way more success if I was selling a book to help increase business productivity or something like that. Plus I wouldn’t feel right if the only reason I wanted a following was to try and force them to buy from me. In my book, helping change people’s lives is way more important than making a quick buck.

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Overall, social proof is used everywhere and has a stranglehold on many people’s lives. Let this post be a guideline to follow to ensure you’re using it properly in business and that you aren’t getting taken advantage by it.

This blog is a sister post from my very successful post on How Loss Aversion Dominates Your Life. If you liked this one you’ll love that one even more!

If you liked this post, check out some of my best work with the 5 Life Changing Lessons I Learned from Business or 6 Things You Must Know Before Entering a Negotiation.

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Be great,

Cody Cameron