Social Proof

How many of you guys have testimonials displayed in your surgery?

What about on your website?

And in your marketing literature?

I would hope that most (if not all) answered yes to that question… testimonials are part of a phenomenon that’s called ‘social proof’, and there is a rule for social proof that states:

people follow the most common course of action

Goldstein, Martin & Cialdini 2007 “50 Secrets from the science of persuasion” Profile Books, London, ISBN 9781846680168, p18

Now this is a phenomenon that can be exploited and used to our marketing advantage, if our customers are aware of the number of people we have helped then it becomes easier to sell our products and services.

For example, a communication that says “Over 200 people this year alone have benefited from our Invisalign “Invisible orthodontics” program” is much more powerful than “Our Invisilign Orthodontic program can help you”.

Do you see what I mean?

Beware of negative social proof
The law of social proof says that people follow the most common course of action right… cool, glad you’ve got it… BUT if we inadvertantly tell our customers that the majority of people do the opposite to the activity we are trying to promote, then guess what.. our marketing is back firing… BIG TIME.

Here’s the example Goldstein et al cite in their excellent book.

The Petrified Forest National Park in the USA were having a problem with visitors stealing little bits of the petrified forest, and bit by bit the National Park was being eroded away by visitors.

So they decided to put up a sign which read:

“Many past visitors have removed wood from the park, changing the natural state of the Petrified Forest”

This is negative social proof as it is saying that MANY visitors have stolen, making it look like the most common course of action.

Goldstein et al decided to run an experiment an monitor the amount of wood removed with different signs… I won’t bore you with the details, but they marked pieces of wood and recorded the amount taken by visitors when they were shown different signs. To monitor the effect of different signs they used another sign which read:

“Please don’t remove petrified wood from the park”

The first sign with the negative social proof resulted in 7.92% of visitors removing wood, the second sign with no social proof resulted in 2.92% of visitors removing wood. They showed people follow the most common course of action EVEN IF THAT ACTION IS NEGATIVE!

So how does this relate to dentistry?

Well, how many times have you quoted research to your patient with negative social proof similar to “research has shown that 75% of patients don’t floss, this results in a a higher carious rate” – this is negative social proof.

You may have been trying to tell the patient to floss, but you have told them that 75% of patients don’t… so you have actually told them the most common course of action is NOT to floss… so you have done the complete opposite!

Marketing messages with negative social proof will convince the reader to follow the most common course of action, so what should you do now?

  1. Take a look round your surgery, look at the posters on the wall… is there negative social proof that is harming your marketing
  2. Think about what you say to patients, are you using negative social proof to tell them to do the opposite of what you intend?
  3. Look at you current marketing literature, is all social proof positive? If not reword it to be so

So have you got any examples you are willing to share with the readers of this blog? Go on, be brave and comment!

I look forward to hearing your own experiences, cheers for now.

Stay sharp,


For more advice and help on dental marketing please visit my website
This entry was posted in dental surgery, marketing, social proof on by .

About Mark Oborn

Mark is the only person in Digital Dental Marketing to have a Masters Degree in Business (MBA) majoring in marketing & creativity plus have run a dental laboratory for 14 years and been working in dentistry for 23 years as a dental technician. He's also a Master Practitioner of the communication modelling system, Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) as well as being a Master Practitioner of Hypnosis and a Master NLP Coach. Mark understands business, dentistry and communication making him the logical choice to help with your digital dental marketing.

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