LET’S SAY YOU AND I WERE going to go out tonight for a meal. We’re in an area we’ve never been to before and we stumble across two restaurants next to each other in the same street.
They serve very similar food. Pretty similar menus. And the pricing is about the same too. Both look clean, inviting, and have scores of 5 on the hygiene sticker thing that restaurants have on display.
We can’t make our mind up which one to eat with. So we peer through the windows.
One of the restaurants doesn’t have any customers. Lots of empty tables and anxious looking waiters.
The other is full. Every seat taken. They can offer us a table, but it’ll be a 10-minute wait.
Which restaurant would you choose?
Most people would go for the full restaurant. Because at a psychological level, something is screaming at us that the empty restaurant is “not safe”. That the reason most people are eating at the full restaurant is because they know something we don’t.
This is social proof in action. In the absence of prior cognitive knowledge about the business we are buying from, we turn to a very basic emotional reaction and follow the crowd.
This applies as much to your practice as it does to restaurants. Smart restaurant owners know that empty restaurants are harder to fill than busy ones. So they put the first customers of the night into the window.
It’s the same reason why bouncers maintain queues outside nightclubs, even if the clubs aren’t full. If you have to queue to get into something, it seems more popular than the club you can just walk straight into.
Most people are heavily affected by social proof, or lack of it. Yet they don’t acknowledge it. You’ll often hear people say “are others really affected by testimonials, because I’m not”. And yet they are.
It’s a tiny number of truly unique people who are not affected by social proof. The majority of us are, because at a psychological level we are driven to conform. We want to be led, so we look to others to help guide our behaviour.
If you’ve ever felt uncomfortable in a social situation because you are wearing the wrong clothes for the occasion, this is social proof in action. Same if you catch yourself mirroring someone else’s body language.
It’s the core, basic programming in our brain. This programming is ancient, yet it still guides our behaviour every day.
Research shows that people who experience the same emotions are likely to gain mutual trust, connection and understanding. Two people who turn up to the same event in the wrong clothes will bond over the experience. They will also begin to match facial expressions and body language. In other words, they will subconsciously mirror each other.
For your practice, there are three ways to gather and display social proof.
1. Case Studies
An in-depth way to look at something big you want to sell, that they haven’t bought before. This could be in the form of booklets you give to clients, or videos on your website.
Really, a case study is just a formal way of telling a great story. Stories elicit powerful emotional responses. And when you consider people make most purchase decisions emotionally rather than cognitively, that’s a very good thing.
There is a clear format for a great case study:
- Set the context: What is this about? Who is affected?
- Demonstrate relevance: People are more likely to be influenced by something they perceive is relevant to them.
- Lay out the problem: Get into detail about how this is affecting this person.
- Poke the pain: Demonstrate how the problem is making this person’s life harder.
- Present the answer: The specific service you provide.
- Show a happy outcome: All the issues they faced when you laid out the problem have now been fixed. And they are happier as a direct result. Hooray! You made their life better.
A direct quote from a satisfied client, directly endorsing you. You have to guide clients to give you the most powerful testimonials by asking them the right questions.
“We’re always looking for more clients like you. I know it helps potential clients feel comfortable using our practice when they see others have had positive experiences working with us. Would you mind answering three quick questions for me please? It’ll take about two minutes.
- What was your biggest fear when considering using us? Did it come true? And if not, what happened instead
- What specifically was your favourite part of your experience with the practice? And why?
- If you were to recommend us to your best friend, what would you say?”
This is a third-party overview of the experience. Google reviews, Facebook reviews, even VetHelpDirect, can all influence people.
All social proof is affected by the three Ts.
The t with target client will affect whether the social proof is perceived as relevant or not. Never forget that people are most heavily influenced by people like themselves. You might need different pools of social proof to influence different groups of people.
Next is levels of trust. The more trustworthy you are perceived to be, the greater influence your social proof will have. And finally there is timeliness. A testimonial from 1997 has less effect on a client than something from a couple of years ago. Reviews in particular need to be gathered almost continually, as Google and Facebook date them. Reviews from even two years ago are less effective than those gathered in recent months.