Robert R. Cialdini, PH.D., in his classic book, Influence, shares the cartoon below to illustrate the strength of social proof. Even the Angels our persuaded by it!
Social Proof, coined by Cialdini in his 1984 bestselling book, is a psychological and social phenomenon where people copy the actions of others in an attempt to behave similarly in a given situation.
Here's a little story of social proof and how it affected me.
I was on a short flight with Southwest Airlines, the airline notorious for their unusually good customer service.
Shortly after take-off, the flight attendant got on the PA system and said something like this: "Attention ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, please take a moment and kick off your shoes. Let me know if you have a hole in your socks. We all have special talents. Mine happens to be fast knitting. If you have a hole in your socks, ping me and I'll stitch that hole up for you before we get to our destination."
I sure didn't expect to hear that from our flight attendant! And she was not kidding. I expected the typical, standard, "white lights lead to the red lights" mindless, mechanical, blah, blah, blah, that we hear on every commercial flight.
It made me chuckle and I could hear others laugh as well. But I didn't bother looking at my socks... until I witnessed others actually looking at theirs (social proof). It seemed too silly at first to kick my shoes off until I saw others doing it.
Bravo to Southwest Airlines for not being humor impaired like most other airlines. Kudos to the flight attendant who used her talent to engage in a memorable way with her passengers. (She actually stitched someone's sock before we landed!) And lesson learned about the power of social proof, something I look for everywhere, from company cultures to festivals and celebrations where I live. The implications, both positive and negative, are fascinating. It's easy to be pulled and influenced by the crowd. As the cartoon illustration above suggests, nothing draws a crowd like a crowd.