Take two nightclubs. From the outside, both are nondescript, windowless structures. One has a loud and vibrant crowd outside, a long line of people eager to get inside. The other club looks empty; no one is in sight, except for a very bored bouncer.

Which place piques your interest? Where would you rather spend your Saturday night? The answer is obvious—and it's why some clubs intentionally slow down their entrance rates to keep the lines longer outside.

That is "social proof" at work. It's a powerful psychological phenomenon that extends well beyond nightclub lines. It shapes how standing ovations form at live events. It makes restaurants seat you at the window table first. It's the motivation behind laugh tracks in sitcoms.

And although that canned laughter isn't fooling anyone, research has found that a show with a laugh track has higher "perceived funniness" than the same show without the laugh track.

Robert Cialdini's book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion made social proof famous. According to the theory, an action is considered more appropriate when we see others doing it.

In short, our thoughts and behavior patterns are shaped by the opinions and actions of others—and that force is even stronger when those opinions and actions are of people we know and respect.

The important lesson for social marketers is that the same behavioral force can be applied to your business and social-media presence. When social proof works with you, it helps keep visitors on your Web page and improves conversion rates on your landing page (encouraging clicks, likes, and subscriptions).

After all, no matter what you sell or promote, Internet marketing is all about persuasion. And social proof is one of the most persuasive tools around.

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Dan Martell is a cofounder of Flowtown, a social media marketing platform. He also advises and helps launch startups and small businesses by using metrics-driven marketing tactics. Follow Dan on Twitter or email him at questions@flowtown.com.