Principle #4: Social Validation
Welcome to part two of the Persuasion Science Masterclass series! Let’s pick up right where part one left off.
The next principle of influence is based on our perception that other people’s decisions carry some amount of information that we can use.
The “Social Rule”: If you’re not sure what to do, see what other people are doing.
The Principle of Influence: You can gain compliance by creating perceived social consensus.
By convincing someone that many other people are saying “yes,” you then create a perception that the correct answer is to say “yes.”
One study that illustrates the power of social validation created a perceived social norm to increase compliance in a hotel (Goldstein, Cialdini, & Griskevicius, 2008). As you may know, at many hotels, you can leave your towels on the floor and the maintenance staff will pick them up and give you fresh towels for your next night staying in the hotel. Or you can hang your own towels back up, and the maintenance staff won’t wash them for you. Because of the environmental burdens imposed by constantly washing barely used towels, these researchers wanted to see how to get people to agree to reusing their towels in a hotel.
To test the role of social validation, they developed two small signs that they put in hotel bathrooms. One version of the sign appealed to environmental values, and it said: “Help save the environment. You can show you respect for nature and help save the environment by reusing your towels during your stay.”
The other version appealed to social norms, and it said: “Join your fellow guests in helping to save the environment. Almost 75% of guests who are asked to participate in our new resource savings program do help by using their towels more than once. You can join your fellow guests in this program to help save the environment by reusing your towels during your stay.’
These two messages indeed resulted in different compliance rates. In rooms with the first version of the sign, 35% of people agreed and hung their towels up to be used a second time. However, when social validation came into the equation (i.e., in rooms with the second version of the sign), 44% of people agreed and hung their towels up.
The technique associated with social validation is “social proof.” The idea is to provide “proof” that many other people have already made the critical decision. People are attuned to what other people are doing, and we generally think that what others are doing is a signal to what we should be doing as well. So, if you can create that perception, or enhance that perception, then you’re going to be all the more successful in persuasion.
Tomorrow, we’ll see how another principle of influence—liking—can boost persuasion.
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