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The Destructive Influence of Imaginary Peers -

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Which peers influence us the most? The ones that aren't real.

Here's the key passage on social norming:

It seems that almost anything you would want to nag people about can be more effectively done by instead telling them how much everyone else is doing the right thing. If you want young people to vote, don’t tell them how many people aren’t voting.  Tell them how many are.   Safe sex, anyone?  Hand washing?  School attendance?

Why does this work? How could it possibly affect my behavior to know that other guests in a hotel re-use their towels?

Cialdini says that when we don’t know what to do, we look around to see what our peers are doing. From that we learn what is appropriate, and what is practical.

With traditional approaches to behavior change, an outsider comes in, warns you of the dire consequences of your behavior and tells you what to do differently.  That often just makes people defensive.

With social norming, you don’t tell anybody what to do.  You just tell them what people like them are doing. It’s a bit like the positive deviance approach I wrote about in February:  your focus is on spreading the word about what a community is doing right.

One of the most important keys to making social norming work is salience. “We can only hold one thing in consciousness at a time – and it is that thing that drives behavior,” said Cialdini, who is writing his next book about the topic.

Success is more likely if the social norming message hits people just when they are about to make that behavioral decision.

Lesson for marketing:

Hit someone with the message that everyone else is doing this, when that someone is about to make that particular behavioral decision.

Any idea if Cialdini has a new book coming out anytime soon?

Also worth reading is the HBR article, "98% of HBR Readers Love This Article":

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