Social Signals and Psychological Warfare
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The purpose of Psychological Warfare is to manipulate the behavior of the enemy or of the local nationals in an effort to save lives on the battlefield. This can include convincing enemy soldiers that they need to desert and return home reducing their forces. It can also include convincing local nationals to report insurgent activities.
In this type of an environment, people are often resistant toward complying with our war effort. This is where creativity comes in through the use of carefully strategized persuasion techniques. Of the nearly two dozen listed in the field manual, I’ve included one specific technique. After I introduce it, I’ll explain what social proof and social signals are, how this persuasion technique relates directly to social proof, and how you can start putting this technique to work for your online marketing.
Plain Folks or Common Man: This persuasion technique attempts to convince your audience that your position is actually the same as theirs. This technique is designed to win their confidence by conveying that many of their peers have already adopted your message.
Example: I often see McDonald’s commercials (and others) where a person eating a burger or holding their product is wearing a hard hat on their break at a construction site, sitting in a cubicle at an office, or sitting and eating at home. They’re attempting to make it look like McDonald’s is the go-to restaurant for regular, average folks.
In war, we employ this technique using photos of local nationals or hiring local celebrities like sports stars, prominent religious leaders, or political leaders to present the message.
So what is social proof?
Social proof is a psychological phenomenon where people assume the actions of others in an attempt to reflect correct behavior. Often people will conform to those around them assuming that the behavior of the group is correct even before or despite any logic or reasoning.
As Robert Cialdini so eloquently stated it, “The greater the number of people who find any idea correct, the more the idea will be correct.” In Cialdini’s book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, he totes the concept of social proof as one of the six core principles for effective persuasion. He aptly labels it as a weapon of influence, and an incredibly powerful weapon it is.
- He cites studies that prove that comedy television shows receive more laughter and longer laughter with the use of canned laughter embedded into the show.
- He cites studies where children terrified of dogs overcome their fear in as few as four days by watching other children pet and play with a dog for 20 minutes a day. In this study, when multiple children, rather than only one, were seen petting a dog, the effect was even more profound.
- Facebook has found this to be true and constantly attempts to bombard you with advertisements bragging about which of your connections have already liked a product or business page.
- Yelp derives much of its user base from the concept that people simply want to read reviews and know what others think about businesses and their quality of service.
- Merchants on eBay all but beg for positive feedback because they understand the power of this simple principle.
In reality there are three notable aspects to social proof that can expand the way it triggers reactions in the brain.
- We have a natural tendency to accept the ideas and the behavior of the people we observe.
- The tendency to adopt ideas and behavior grows stronger when the person we observe is a person we respect or like.
- The tendency to adopt ideas and behavior grows even stronger when the quantity of people partaking in it is increased.
So what are social signals?
In a recent article What are Social Signals and Why Do They Matter?, Dustin W. Stout presented an incredibly clear and concise introduction to this psychologically charged topic. He defines social signals as:
A social signal is visible activity or actions taken by other people on a given subject. An easy way that translates to websites or blogs are social share buttons. – Dustin W. Stout
In our example above from Cialdini’s book, we saw two groups of children. One group was terrified of dogs. The other group enjoyed dogs and petted and played with them. The children in the group that enjoyed dogs were sending a social signal with their actions to those who were afraid. The silent but powerful signal was clearly communicating that dogs are friendly and wonderful to play with, and the terrified group heard it loud and clear. Message received.
So how do I use social signals?
By now, you’ve hopefully made the connection between social proof and our common man or plain folks persuasion technique. Also, as you’ve already seen, Yelp, Facebook, eBay, and many other websites have already found ways to implement this principle into their business model. You’ve probably also started thinking about ways to make this work for your own ventures, and that’s the key.
There are an untold number of applications of this principle, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll simply make a case for social media. When people land on your website for the first time, people usually decide within 1 – 4 seconds whether or not you are a credible source worthy of their attention. It’s common practice to place social sharing icons at the top of articles.
These will either serve to add to your credibility or take from it through the use of this powerful principle called social proof. By actively engaging on social media and connecting and engaging with others, these numbers will rise. Then those finding your site through organic search will be given additional mental incentive to stay. So go ahead and pull the trigger in the minds of your viewers.
Also, as a side note, there is much discussion about the possibility of Google moving toward a search algorithm that places higher priority on social signals versus old-fashioned back links. With all this evidence, it’s time to get out there and get social.
Group Discussion & Take Away
- How can you apply this psychological principle to your business, your branding, or your marketing?
- What thoughts and ideas do you have about this topic that I may not have covered?
- What examples of social proof and social signals have you seen in the wild?
- Can you think of a time when social proof played a part in the way you thought or behaved? Perhaps peer pressure as a teenager?
Okay. Now it’s your turn. How are you going to take action.