Michael Bublé and Candid Camera: How social proof works

Ed. note: In honor of my 10th anniversary in business, I am reposting some of the posts from my Sage Enviro blog to make it easier for people to find them.

I went to see Michael Bublé in concert Saturday night. He’s a crooner, like a young Frank Sinatra. He and his band were playing in Key Arena:  an intimate setting, with only 12,000 other people.

We all know the accepted behaviors at concerts. We sit in our seats, clap when each song is over, sing along when the performer invites us and file out after the concert. We are using social proof: referring to others to find out the correct behavior.

Social proof is powerful stuff. Just for fun, take a look at how Candid Camera used social proof to change “correct” behavior in an elevator.

Social proof is important in encouraging positive environmental behaviors. People are more likely to recycle, take the bus or buy an energy-efficient car if they see friends, neighbors, coworkers or family doing the same.

Modeling is an effective way to use social proof to change behavior. Robert Cialdini’s classic book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion describes one researcher who used modeling to help young children who were terrified of dogs. After only four days of watching another child play happily with a dog for 20 minutes, two-thirds of the children were willing to climb into a playpen with a dog and pet it while everyone else left the room. When tested again one month later, the children were even more willing to interact with dogs.

Modeling doesn’t have to be in person. A film of a child playing with a dog had the same effect. The most effective clips showed a variety of children playing with their dogs.

If you would like to change someone’s behavior, it’s worth finding ways to model it. Don’t depend on written messages. A few ideas: Read more>

  • Gardening: Post a video on line of someone properly pruning or planting a tree and connect from your web site. You don’t need fancy production values.
  • Recycling: Engage volunteers to show their neighbors how to sort out which types of plastics are recyclable.
  • Composting: Include demonstrations in workshops or do an on-line webinar.

By the way, the concert was great. Michael Bublé is an inspired performer.