The Immense Power of Social Proof
Social proof has an instrumental effect on people’s decision making and their interpretation of the world. It is easily one of the most important ways that people make decisions.
Social proof is the concept that people conform to the actions of others under the assumption that those actions are the correct behavior in a given circumstance.
Social proof is embedded into human nature. In our tribal days, when war between competing tribes was common, food was more scarce, and infectious diseases plagued humans, following what the pack did increased our chances of survival. This is still the case in today’s age, but modern life has diverged in many ways since man’s most primitive days. Therefore, social proof is not always as immediately essential to survival as it once was, but will always have major implications for how people act.
If you have a strong understanding of social proof, you can greater understand both your own mind and the inner workings of others’. It also helps you understand concepts such as charisma, persuasion, marketing, and negotiation more much thoroughly.
Social Proof is Often a Sign of Success
People prefer to listen to, hang around, and buy products from successful people.
Success and fame in at least one discipline typically amount to having a large, palpable following. Fame leads to more fame as word of mouth spreads and as more people see that a product or person is popular. A person or product’s success are often determined by the number of people that follow the person or use the product.
Similarly, people often determine that if a person or product has a lot of people using it then there must be a good reason for it. This is often correct. However, one should be wary of only using this rationale to determine whether or not to buy or do something. More on this later.
Social proof is particularly important to women. Men who get a lot of women naturally have attractive women around them. Women instinctively know this, and it triggers a competitive instinct in them. If there are no women around a man, he must be undesirable, right? If the man leverages the competition around him effectively, it makes it much easier for the man to have sex with the girl he wants the most. PUAs teach these types of techniques to their disciples for a reason; women are the ultimate herd followers.
An understanding of social proof is important to maximize your charisma as well. When people see you open and friendly with others, they are much more likely to speak openly with you. This is especially true if they are friendly with the people you are interacting with. They will be even more likely to speak to you if you demonstrate value through one method or another. Remember this when you seek to “game” a room with your charisma for your personal benefit.
Social Proof is Demonstrated Everywhere
Let’s look at an MMA fighter. An MMA fighter isn’t going to have a large fan base if he sucks, unless he is known for something other than MMA. He gains a larger following as he grows in success and as he becomes more famous. His following from being an MMA fighter can be a huge asset. He can use his following to leverage another undertaking, especially if he engages in a business related practice, and ultimately increase his fanbase even further. This is why you see famous celebrities get tons of attention when they decide to take up other causes.
Web traffic, Youtube subscriptions, social media followers, and so forth are driven largely by social proof. We live in an age where one can immediately look at someone’s Youtube or social media account and get a general idea of how popular they are. People are more likely to follow something that is popular already. Therefore, people that have large followings are in a position to get even larger followings; it is a snowball effect, especially when they leverage their followings properly. Popularity breeds popularity.
People look at a Youtube channel’s total number of subscribers as an indicator of whether or not they should subscribe. Top rated comments on articles are often a matter of who posts something useful first. Eventually, people see it as the first comment with a lot of upvotes, and it can give the comment a bit of a halo effect.
Marketers absolutely know the power of social proof. On the campaign trail, Donald Trump constantly pointed to anecdotal evidence and social proof to highlight his success. Phrases such as “every poll says that I’m winning” and “we had tremendous crowds” consistently came out of his mouth. As a millionaire turned multi-billionaire, Trump knows the power of social proof in marketing, and he uses it incredibly effectively.
Any business or product that has won an award is going to proudly display that award because it gives you the perception of others liking the product. If something is in demand, marketers and salesmen will make a point of it to pedestalize the product they are selling. Of course, they can also say this if something is not in demand to manipulate your perception on the quality and popularity of the product.
Social proof is also important to job interviewees. Interviewees are wise to leverage any available social proof in the favor. Most people understand that getting a job at “the best” companies is all about who you know. If two equally skilled candidates are interviewing for a position, the person who gets the job the overwhelming majority of the time will be the one with the most connections within the company.
Social Proof Can Manipulate and Mislead
Watch this video and observe how the crowd is tricked into thinking that Barack Obama is walking through the streets of NYC. Nevermind the fact that Obama would never be surrounded by people wearing shirts that say “security,” and that he would never walk through a crowd in that manner for security reasons. People in the crowd may see those discrepancies, but the sheer amount of people cheering for Obama overrules most of their doubts. Of course, with video editing and the added music, it’s certainly possible that they edited out doubts of members of the crowd, but the stunt tricked enough people to make a convincing video.
Blindly following the crowd is often very foolish. You must be very cautious of “group thinking” a decision. You should always analyze people’s reasons for making a group decision, and you must be aware of the flaws of thinking by the people who made the decision. See people and events for what they are, not how they are clouded by those around them.
Be Aware of How Social Proof Influences You And Others
Again, be very wary of following the in-crowd. Often times, people’s decisions are only based off of what the crowd is doing. If you see a large group of people all doing the same thing, ask yourself why this is happening. Are they doing it because everyone else is doing it, or are they doing it because it’s the smartest thing to do? Sometimes it’s both, but usually, it’s only because of the former.
When you hear about a person with a great reputation, don’t just blindly follow the opinion of others. Figure out what he does so well to make him popular. Maybe there’s something to be distrustful of or to learn from. Don’t ignore that person’s personality flaws — everyone has them. You must form your own opinions; don’t just get your opinions from others.
Be aware of how marketers use social proof to influence you. A wait list at a country club, a night club that limits entry to get in, and an order limit due to “high demand” are all examples of this. Companies that mention how many customers they’ve served or that point to 5-star reviews are also examples of using social proof to market. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, but be aware of how it is done to influence your opinion on the brand. Learn from these techniques if you seek to start your own business.
Sometimes people put out great information but they don’t have a strong following yet. They may have a lot of talent, but social proof may not be on their side (yet). This may be because their marketing skills suck, or because they haven’t been around long enough. Be sure to look at someone’s overall talent level when you evaluate whether or not you will follow them or buy their product. If you have an eye for talent, you can potentially get a great deal on labor and other products someone might be selling.
Understand how social proof affects you and others, and leverage it to your advantage. As always, knowing how the world works allows to you be much more pragmatic and resourceful in manipulating it to your will. Identify when social proof is being used to influence your decision and react from a more reasoned viewpoint. In the meantime, practice using social proof to manipulate other’s decisions and perceptions to your advantage.