The Elements of Influential PR: Social Proof

Welcome to the fourth in a series of 6 pieces on the topic of influence and how public relations allows you to generate influence among your customers, your colleagues, and the world at large. The series is based off the work done by ASU Professor Emeritus of Psychology Robert Cialdini, whose book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, is required reading for many marketers. In his book, Cialdini posits that there are 6 methods or principles on which influence is based:

  1. Scarcity
  2. Authority
  3. Consistency
  4. Social Proof
  5. Liking
  6. Reciprocity

Today, we’ll look at social proof. Chances are you’ve heard this joke:

This is social proof: the idea that other people doing something could lead you to doing it as well, whether it’s sharing an article, jumping off a bridge, buying a product or service, etc. Social proof is entirely about earned media – think about all of the ways that other people can demonstrate their approval of a product or service. They can write product reviews, write articles, blog about something, share it on social channels, talk about it at meetings… the list is endless.

If authority is about getting mentioned by influencers and authoritative figures in order to share their authority from the top down, then social proof is about doing exactly the same process from the ground up, where mass numbers of people validate you and create a perception of proof. This informs our public relations strategy by saying that it’s not enough to just focus on the A-List (whatever that may be in your niche). You have to reach out and be known by the B-List, the C-List… all the way down to the Z-List, because influence derived from a million people on the Z-List can overwhelm or drown out a handful of mentions by the A-List.

This, by the way, is also the recipe for dealing with bad press. Get enough people who aren’t influential individually to swarm together, and you can create the perception that a professional reviewer who gave your product a negative review is in an insignificant minority. Do a good enough job of it and you might even convince the reviewer to take a second look after their original article’s comments fill up with disagreements.

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