The Background: As we repeatedly point out on this blog, you have to be good at persuasion if you want to be good at PR.

The Find: It’s not news that popularity breeds popularity and people follow the herd, but social psychology research points out that this principle, known as “social proof,” can radically improve results and is often underutilized.

The Source: Tips on polishing your persuasion skills from, ‘Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to be Persuasive’ - by Noah J. Goldstein, Steve J. Martin, Robert B. Cialdini.

The Takeaway: What’s social proof? It’s the psychological term for looking for confirmation from the crowd when you’re unsure whether to act. When I was a student my friends and I would start lines outside of closed doors and see how many people would join the lines. Often we’d get 20+ joining our queue. Why? Social proof.

Business leaders can harness the same principle. A classic example is a recent program written by Colleen Szot that shattered a nearly twenty-year sales record for a home-shopping channel. Szot simply replaced the classic call to action– “Operators are waiting, please call now”– with “If operators are busy, please call again.” Rather than imagining bored operators filing their nails, home shoppers pictured phones ringing off the hook. The implicit message: others must be buying, so should you.

The researchers behind Yes! set out to see if this principle could work for hotels too. Along with the usual environmental message and images of crystal clear water and rolling green fields on the cards asking patrons to reuse towels, the researchers placed a message indicating that the majority of guests already chose to reuse their towels. Guests whose cards subtly employed the principle of social proof were 26% more likely to recycle their towels than those who saw only the basic environmental protection message. That’s a big improvement at no additional cost to the hotel.

The Question: Are there unused opportunities to put the principle of social proof to work in PR?

And the Obvious Answer: Of course there are. Suggesting to one media that your story has already got a good reception from other media may well be useful.

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