Everybody’s Doing It…Why Aren’t You?

One of my favorite books is Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini.  It not only explains the psychology of why people say “yes,” but gives concrete advice on how to apply these principles to your company, cause or candidate.

I was thinking about Cialdini when I read about Red’s Eats, a seafood shack in Wiscasset, Maine.  In many ways, there’s nothing unusual about Red’s.  It’s a roadside shack that sells lobster rolls, fried clams and other summertime staples.  Having spent many summers in Maine, I can attest to the ubiquity of these establishments.

But Red’s is different.  As reported in The New York Times this summer, every day people line up and wait to order, sometimes for an hour or more.  Traffic has become so congested by the popularity’s of Red’s that the Wiscasset town council is considering building a bypass that avoids that stretch of Route 1.

What makes it different?  I’m hard pressed to believe the lobster roll is that much better than anywhere else.  Instead, what I think is going on here is an example of Cialdini’s principle of “social proof.”  By that, Cialdini means that “we view behavior as more correct in a given situation to the degree that we see others performing it.”  In other words, the actions of those around us influence how we act.

Because of its proximity to Route 1, even a small amount of customers can back up traffic on the highway.  And delayed drivers are sure to take notice of that.  “Look at the line of people waiting to eat at Red’s,” you can imagine someone saying, “they must have some great food.  Let’s try it.”

And what develops is a self-fulfilling prophecy.  The more people that see the lines, the more they want to experience it.  And the more people that experience it, the greater the lines become. Of course, it helps if you also have good food and service, which Red’s undoubtedly possesses in no small degree.

You can see evidence of “social proof” in The New York Times article.  According to Patrick McMenemy of Saco, Me., he can’t help stopping at Red’s every time he passes through Wiscasset.  “You figure if the lines are that long,” he said, “it has to be good.”

How can you use “social proof” to get your customers and members to say “yes” to your requests?  When I send an action alert, for example, I like to highlight how other advocates have already responded to my requests.  My thinking is that if someone sees a peer or a colleague taking action, they’ll be more likely to act as well.

Cialdini offers many other examples of “social proof” in Influence, which has been called the “most important” book for marketers in the last ten years and sold more than 1.5 million copies.  And if that’s not enough “social proof” for you to read his book, I don’t know what is.


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