Mental Models: Social Proof

PEOPLE WILL CONFORM TO THE ACTIONS OF OTHERS UNDER THE ASSUMPTION THAT THOSE ACTIONS ARE REFLECTIVE OF THE CORRECT BEHAVIOR.

How might this apply to great teams and cultures?

Two other things about social proof that are worth noting: It is more powerful when people are in ambiguous or uncertain circumstances; and, a person’s perceived peers exert stronger social proof.Imagine you are a new hire in your organization. You are naturally uncertain in your new work environment. You are going to look at your peers to see how to behave. If your new peers are following the company rules in a certain way, you will do the same. You won’t be able to help yourself because of the powerful social proof around you. A toxic culture is when there is a disconnect between the stated rules and the actual behaviors of the employees.

How might this apply to great products?

To put people at ease or to guide a decision, find creative ways to show social activity. This can be in the form of stats (liked-by, number-of-views, comments), positive reviews and testimonials, or visibility into the actions or outcomes of other users’ behaviors. On a larger scale, we allow others to innovate while we maintain the status quo.For example, policy makers and media understand how their policies and the report of these policies give "social proof" to legitimize or delegitimize certain ideas.

Consider

Think about how ideas or strategies are legitimized or delegitimized in your group or organization. Are you strategic in the way you on-board and place new hires? Do you consider what specific behaviors you want to emphasize when devising the composition of your work teams? Do your employees have input in the design and development of your product guidelines and procedures (hint: Google “IKEA Effect”). Fighting social proof and human nature with management cliches is not an effective strategy.

See Also

Positive Mimicry, Status Quo Bias, Competition, Shaping, Authority, Autonomy, Reputation, Status

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In the whirl of our day-to-day interactions, it’s all too easy to forget the nuances that distinguish great teams, great cultures, and great products/services.

Mental Model Flash Cards bring together insights from psychology into an easy reference and brainstorming tool. Each card describes one insight into human behavior and suggests ways to apply this to your teams as well as the design of your products and services.