How To Harness The Power Of Social Proof

The other day I chaperoned a field trip with my son and his fifth grade class. At one point inside the exhibit room, my group of four boys passed through a door into a space and discovered a line of their friends all waiting in line to look into a pair of binoculars. Without knowing why or what they’d see when they got their turn to peek, the boys pulled up and hurried to get their place in line. 

It was social proof in action.

What makes people gather? Usually the answer is quite simple. Other people!

Most people have one eye on what they want and the other on that other people are doing. The survival of our species depends on this social awareness. Without acceptance by our peeps, it would have been difficult to survive the ice age. People are just connected that way. If it’s interesting to you, then it’s probably interesting to me. If it serves you, or you think it’s funny or delicious, then I want to benefit from that experience, too.

Wired magazine recently published an interesting article on swarms. The natural world is full of this behavior. It turns out the impulses in birds, fish and insects reveal dynamics that could lead to breakthroughs in cancer research and automatic cars, among other fascinating future inventions. How individuals work collectively might be more important than how they work alone. This theory is just beginning to be studied by the science world, and it goes way beyond social proof. A lot of creatures can’t help themselves, let alone choose a course of action. 

Are people really that different?

The huddle of boys I was chaperoning entered a dimly lit room and found a collection of their friends (and some strangers) all waiting their turn to see something. Naturally, without even thinking about it, the guys queued up. “This must be the place.” 

Social proof gathers momentum via connections, not in a vacuum. It takes that social huddling chemistry to start a movement. For example, no one creates a viral video. A fresh new video cannot become viral until a bunch of people start clicking on it and sharing it. To set out to create a viral video is putting the cart before the horse. If you’re browsing for You Tube videos on ways to tie a scarf, you’ll probably pick the one that has over a million views over the one that has 27. Why do people follow that rule and go where so many others have been instead of chart a new course?

You want people to swarm around your content? Become part of the swarm!

To get social proof going takes hustle and personal passion; consistency and wit, good timing and good placement. (Cat pics not required.) It also requires you being social, too. When you personally interact with people, share their content, respond to their tweets and pictures, you expand your network. An engaged network makes it more likely that your content is shared as well. 

Want people to line up to see your stuff? Get in there yourself. Become part of the swarm. If you stand apart from  all the action, you’ll become invisible. Your social activity online attracts movement and interest.