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Following the pack - Using social proof to change behaviour

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In a nutshell

  1. Social proof is the demonstration or evidence that people have made a choice or completed a certain behaviour.
  2. Social proof is a powerful tool for normalising new behaviours and nudging people from intention into action.
  3. Our easy-to-use guide steps you through the different ways of applying social proof by breaking down the ‘social’ and the ‘proof’.

‘75% of hotel guests reused their towel after use’  

‘Endorsed by the All Blacks’  

‘Trending on social media’  

‘Team of 5 million’  

‘Celebrating 1 million public transport trips in a day’  

Humans are social by nature – we look to others to help guide our own behaviour. The above statements are all examples of social proof - the demonstration or evidence that people have made a choice or completed a certain behaviour.  

Because we tend to follow the path well-trodden, social proof can then prompt others to follow suit. Knowing that other people have already taken an action or it has been endorsed by others helps build trust and certainty. 

Social proof helps normalise new behaviours  

Social proof is valuable when we are trying to prompt first time behaviours. Showing that other people have ‘been there, done that’ helps normalise the behaviour for first-timers. This could be first time users trying out a new behaviour, using a new product or service or trying out a new brand/new provider.  

For instance, showing that the number of cyclists is growing helps convince first time cyclists to get on the bandwagon and give it a go. Showing growing rates of people opting for a plant-based diets helps prompt others to consider trying a vegetarian meal. Showing a growing customer list helps establish an organisation as trustworthy to prospective customers.  

Social proof helps prompt intention into action  

Shifting general awareness and intention into action is another area where social proof can be valuable.

Having a behaviour, product or service endorsed by others can often be the final nudge that gets people over the line. Whether that’s showing that a product is voted most popular by the customer base, having a product endorsed by a celebrity or showing the sheer volume of people taking part in a behaviour (e.g. how many people were wearing masks and doing contact tracing at the height of the pandemic) can prompt others to follow the pack.  

When using social proof we need to consider both the ‘social’ and the ‘proof’  

You don’t always need a large statistic or celebrity endorsement to harness the power of social proof. It comes down to harnessing the right social group and the right proof point. Our easy-to-use guide takes you through the different social group and proof point options you have at your disposal so you can start applying social proof to your behaviour change challenge.  

Beware of the Boomerang Effect 

There are a couple of ‘watch-outs’ to consider when using social proof and examples of when social proof has backfired. We discuss the importance of targeting the right audience with a social proof message and how you can avoid the Boomerang Effect by making sure you target the desired behaviour, not the problem behaviour. 

Sign up to download the Social Proof Guide here:

Lindsey Horne
Behavioural Insights Lead
With a background in neuroscience and applied behavioural science, Lindsey works across behaviour change projects with social and government clients. Her approach to behaviour change is holistic, from broader cultural and social change through to behavioural economics and nudges.

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