Stepps (Public)

4. Public (social proof)

"...when people are free to do as they please, they usually imitate one another. We look to others for information about what is right or good to do in a given situation..."
Jonah Berger, 2013

"...the more others seem to be doing something, the more likely people are to think of that thing as right or normal and what they should be doing as well..."
Jonah Berger, 2013

Observability (public visibility)

It has a huge impact on whether products and ideas catch on.

" influence was stronger where behaviour was more observable. Observable things are also more likely to be discussed..."
Jonah Berger, 2013

Seeing someone else do something makes people more likely to do it themselves, ie people like to imitate, ie 'monkey see, monkey do'.

Making things more observable, makes them easier to imitate and will increase their popularity.

"...need to design products and initiatives that advertise themselves and create behavioural residue that sticks around even after people have bought the product or espoused the idea..."
Jonah Berger, 2013

Some successful examples of public visibility are

- colleges started 'wear jeans if you're gay' day (used as a way to raise awareness and start discussions for LGBT community)

- Lance Armstrong's Livestrong (it unites, inspires and empowers people affected by cancer, and provides free cancer support services to anyone fighting cancer). Uses the yellow wrist bands to promote its activities, ie

"...they only cost a dollar, making it easy for people to try out being part of the movement, even if they weren't sure they wanted to commit themselves. The wristbands were also easy to wear. Unlike breast cancer ribbons, which you have to pin on different pieces of clothing, Livestrong bands could be worn all the time. You could wear one all day, keep it on while sleeping, even wear it in the shower. You never had to take it off or remember where you left it..."
Jonah Berger, 2013

Also, its yellow colour played an important role with Livestrong, ie

    i) it was the colour of the race leader's jersey in the Tour de France

    ii) it is not strongly associated with either gender; making it easy for both men and women to wear

    iii) based on observability perspective, it is a colour almost never seen

    iv) it is striking, ie stands out

    v) can be seen from a distance

"...This public visibility helped make the product a huge success. Not only did Nike sell the first 5 million bands, but it did so within the first 6 months of release. Production couldn't keep up with demand. The wristbands were such a hot item that people started bidding 10 times the retail price to snag them on eBay. In the end, more than 85 million wristbands were sold..."
Jonah Berger, 2013

- the makers of Viagra coined the term 'ED' for erectile dysfunction as a way to encourage people to talk about what was once a private issue

NB: As many products, ideas, services, behaviours, etc are consumed privately, it is a challenge to get the public exposure.

Behavioural residue

" the physical traces or remnants that most actions or behaviours leave in their wake..."
Jonah Berger, 2013

"...when publicly visible, these remnants facilitate imitation and provide chances that people talk about related products or ideas..."
Jonah Berger, 2013

Examples of behavioural residue include

- reusable shopping bags (retailers like luxury goods sellers, supermarkets, restaurants, discount stores, etc) give their customers shopping bags (including advertising slogans printed on the bag) to carry their purchases home. Usually these bags are then kept and used for other purposes; this is a form of free advertising

- giveaways (like mugs, pens, T-shirts, caps, drink bottles, stress balls, ties, etc) are given away as freebies at conferences, trade fairs, etc

- posting comments, etc online (like reviews, blogs, posts, etc; 'clicking the Like button' demonstrates people supporting the product, idea or organisation and is 'spreading the word'. For example

"... ABC News found that installing these buttons boosted its Facebook traffic by 250%..."
Jonah Berger, 2013)

People often imitate those around them, in the way they dress, what they eat, etc, ie people tend to conform to what others are doing, eg people are more likely to laugh when they hear others laughing (that is why canned 'laugh tracks' are used in TV shows).

Following others' lead, also, helps to alleviate your uncertainty, ie it is assumed they probably know something you don't. This is called social proof, ie making decisions based on others' behaviour. It involves herd mentality, ie the more people following or using it, the better the product or service or idea must be.

Social influence has a big effect on behaviour.

Behaviour is public and thoughts are private. Some examples

- research has shown that most students are against binge drinking but still do it: they see their peers drinking and enjoying it. So they feel that peer pressure to join in. This is sometimes called pluralistic ignorance (refers to a situation where most people in a group privately reject a norm and incorrectly assume that others accept it; it is in part because they see others' behaviours but not their thoughts.)

- after watching a confusing presentation, there is a silence at question time as no one wants to ask a question which may reveal their confusion

Unfortunately people can't read each other's thoughts.


" has made it easier for people to organise behind a common interest or goal. By allowing people to connect quickly and easily, social media enable like-minded individuals to find one another, share information, and coordinate plans for action......These technologies are particularly useful when people either live far apart or are dealing with an issue that has delicate political or social meaning..."
Jonah Berger, 2013

Sometimes the impact can be positive or negative. On the negative side, examples include fake news, false rumours, vicious gossip, etc. Any negativity needs to be addressed quickly.

Making private go public

"...taking what was once an unobservable thoughtful behaviour and transforming it into a more observable one..."
Jonah Berger, 2013

One way to do this is to design ideas, products, etc that advertise themselves, ie

"...Every time people use the product or service they also transmit social approval that is observable..."
Jonah Berger, 2013

Companies like Abercrombie & Fitch, Nike, etc use brand names or distinctive logos and patterns on their products, ie advertising themselves. An interesting example is Apple, with its iPod, elected to use white headphones cords rather than traditional black. The white colour made it easier to see how many people were switching to iPod,  thus providing visible social proof of iPod's popularity and acceptance.

Unintended consequences

There are times when going public can have unintended, adverse consequences. Some examples

- the TV based anti-drug campaign (USA) (this was aimed at teenagers to encourage teenagers to say 'no' when offered drugs. It was ineffective as it highlighted widespread drug use by teenagers, ie

"...If you want to get people not to do something, don't tell them that lots of their peers are doing it..."
Jonah Berger, 2013)

- music industry trying to stop illegal downloads (it highlighted that only around 40% of the music was paid for; as most people were not paying, it made the 40% of people query why they should pay!!!!)

"...even in cases where most people are doing the right thing, talking about the minority who are doing the wrong thing can encourage people to give in to temptation..."
Jonah Berger, 2013

- removal of petrified wood from National Parks (Arizona, USA) (one strategy was to post signs that stated 'many past visitors have removed petrified wood from the park, changing the natural state of the petrified forest'

"...By providing social proof that others were stealing, the message had a perverse effect, almost doubling the number of people taking wood..."
Jonah Berger, 2013

Thus by changing the wording, ie focusing more on the positive impact of not taking that wood, rather than on what others were doing, stealing was reduced.

The new, improved wording was

'Please don't remove the petrified wood from the park, in order to preserve the natural state of the petrified forests'

An interesting example of making something private, go public is the November Men's Moustache Growing. Normally giving to charity is done privately. In November each year, some men grow moustaches. This starts a conversation, ie why are you growing a moustache? The answer is donating money to charity for men's health. This approach has raised hundreds of millions of dollars worldwide for men's cancer charities.  It's a very successful private initiative that has gone public.


- if something is 'built to show, its built to grow'

- 'monkey see, monkey do'

- public visibility boosts word-of-mouth

- observability encourages purchase and action

- the more public a product or service is, the more it triggers people to take action

- making private, go public


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