But can you make your potential clients swoon over you?
However much we know about how our bodies work, they are still able to surprise us.
Nowhere is this statement more apt than when talking about our minds…
As an individual, you make decisions every day which you believe to be entirely your own but are in fact, subconsciously influenced by social norms. Countless research papers support this statement, but the everyday examples mentioned throughout this article will make you stop and think, ‘I do that!’
Social proof is a shining example of such a phenomenon and one that can be harnessed directly and more efficiently by therapists in their practices.
To gain a better understanding, let’s look all the way back to 1965. “An epidemic of Overbreathing Among Schoolgirls,” a paper published in the British Medical Journal documents the events.
On an otherwise ordinary Thursday in Blackburn, Lancashire, an all-girls school reported mass incidences of dizziness, fainting and even seizures; ‘they were dropping like nine-pins.’
It resulted in the hospitalisation of 85 pupils, but only 34 required an overnight stay. The rest of the school was sent home, not to return until the following Monday.
Upon the resumption of classes, an almost identical epidemic occurred, this time 54 girls were admitted to hospital. The school closed for the rest of the week.
The following Monday, another 60 girls experienced similar symptoms, but this time no one was sent home or to the hospital. And with that, just as miraculously as the faintings started, so they stopped.
Upon examination, a small number were genuinely found to have underlying pathologies which would explain their condition, most displayed only superficial symptoms. A thorough investigation found no evidence of infection from food or bacterial pathogens in the girls.
So what caused such an anomalous situation to occur? This was an example of the psychological phenomenon of ‘mass hysteria’. Notable cases have been well documented from the last 500 years, including the Salem Witch trials.
The common theme is that large groups of people present manifest symptoms despite no underlying biological cause, but which is traced back to a psychological trigger.
The day before the initial outbreak, 20 or so girls did faint at a Church event which overran, due to the late arrival of some visiting dignitaries. It seems this trigger, and the uncertainty and anxiety of the pupils around it lead to the events which later transpired.
On a related, but more practical level the ‘canned laughter’ has proven to be one of the most reliable methods of using social proof to ‘fool’ viewers.
Experiments have found that the use of canned laughter causes an audience to laugh longer and more often when the humorous material is presented and to rate the material as funnier. Also, some evidence indicates that canned laughter is most effective for poor jokes.”
Why do we find ourselves mimicking these actions? However much we like to view ourselves as individuals, studies have shown that both consciously and subconsciously it is human nature to want to conform to a group. We support and reinforce our decision-making to conform because we make an assumption that is it the correct thing to do.
It was Dr Robert Cialdini’s seminal book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, published in 1984, which actually formalised the importance of psychology from a business perspective.
He outlined 6 key principles of persuasion; reciprocity, commitment/consistency, authority, liking, scarcity and Social Proof.
Social proof is defined as;
When we conform because we believe that others’ interpretation of an ambiguous situation is more accurate than ours and will help us choose an appropriate course of action.”
Celebrity endorsement has been used as ‘social proof’ in the world of advertising for decades. We want to be like them and be seen to be similar to them.
These individuals benefit from the ‘Halo effect’, where we avoid or disregard information about them which we might find objectionable and promotes and magnifies their positive attributes.
The Case of Kate Moss is a great example. In 2004 she was caught out in a tabloid drug sting, losing most of her high profile contracts (totalling £4million p.a.). Just a couple of years later, she was back, bigger than ever and earning three times as much. The halo did not slip for very long.
However, the significant discovery has been that ‘User’ social proof, is the most effective type you can use. Not only do people make decisions to reflect the behaviour of those they perceive to be ‘informed,’ but they are also more responsive to others opinions if they are seen as ‘similar’ to themselves.
Although celebrities do resonate with people, unsurprisingly, real people resonate more.”
The marketers realised fellow customers are much more effective at being ‘relatable’.
A pioneer in this successful method has been the “Dove campaign for real beauty”. A viral success before going viral was even a thing. It perhaps reached its zenith in 2013 when its latest advert in the campaign became the most watched video advert of all time in just one month. If you watch the video, you can understand why.
User social proof is a straightforward, but potent method of harnessing this psychological phenomenon for the benefit of your practice.
The data speaks for itself. In a study carried out by Nielsen showed consumer opinions posted online,’ was either completely or somewhat trusted by 70% surveyed, second only to ‘recommendations from people I know’ (92%) in comparison to all other forms of advertising.
When was the last time you made an online purchase, visited a new restaurant or even went to the cinema without consulting some online reviews?
There is no doubt, customers overwhelmingly consult online reviews before making a purchase. According to Trustpilot, the figure is as high as 77%, and Reevooo puts the value at 88% (sometimes or always).
These figures are further backed up by a study from iPerceptions which claims that 63% of customers are more likely to make a purchase from a site which has customer reviews.
The news becomes even more encouraging when you look at the results of Brightlocal’s annual ‘Local Consumer Review Survey’ The survey (in its 7th year) is a treasure trove of information regarding first-party consumer data for small and local businesses. The headline from its study states,
84% of people trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation.”
Making it even more important to include some sort of customer review on your practice website.
The advantage to a therapy practice is that we have a lot of personal interaction with our clients and if you have done a good job they will be happy to enthuse about you and your practice.
It is exclusive because your competitors don’t have it, and it has the highest return on investment because sites like Trusted Practitioner can collate and display their comments to potential clients for just a few pounds a month. The fact that it is unique also helps the dreaded SEO (search engine optimisation) on your website.
Because user reviews are unique, original and more frequent than website text updates, they have a much greater impact on search engine results, which can help your site to score higher up the search results tables.
Of course, customer reviews and testimonials are more likely to be written in the same style as customers search terms and as such will pick up better search results because of this.
Leading edge websites like Amazon, Tripadvisor and Airbnb have perfected the review/testimonial technique by combining various ‘social ‘proof’ aspects. Firstly they utilise ‘wisdom of the crowds’ effect by aggregating reviews with a simplified ‘5-star’ scoring system. It is significant that not only does the review score need to be good, but there is a suitable number of people which support the score. Then customers can dial down into the reviews and even rate them to signpost to others which they found most helpful.
They utilise ‘wisdom of the crowds’ effect by aggregating reviews with a simplified ‘5-star’ scoring system.
Social proof has proven time and again to be a highly useful tool to improve customer trust and conversion when it comes to sales.
With service sector industry such therapy, it is even more important to harness the power of the client’s voice in your favour, your ‘product’, yourself, is highly individual and unique and social proof can give you a significant edge over your competition.
The most important thing is it’s genuine by that I mean, if your practice is not good enough, you won’t get the good reviews.
1 Cialdini, Dr. Robert – ‘Influence – The Psychology of Persuasion.’ (1984)
2 Aronson, E., Wilson, T.D., & Akert, A.M. (2005). Social Psychology (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall