It is said that actions speak louder than words and when it comes to social proof, noticing actual behaviour can be more powerful than we sometimes care to admit. As humans, we are built to adapt, to mimic actions and behaviour, to live according to an unspoken set of rules.
At first glance, it might seem like social proof is based on verbal communication - expressing through voice or text that we like, enjoy or recommend something. But the influence and impact of social proof goes deeper than that. As non-verbal communication preceded the birth of language, so too does behaviour translate into social proof before actual words do.
Take a moment and think about the very act of voting in an election: there’s a good reason behind making your vote anonymous. Even seeing a stranger next to you voting for a certain person is something that can influence your decision or at least raise questions and insecurities.
But how could witnessing this stranger voting be any different to the countless campaign posters, flyers and election coverage you’ve been inundated with up until that point?
Persuasion Vs Influence
There are key differences between the active and passive effects on your thoughts or behaviour that we will refer to here as persuasion and influence.
Persuasion is a very active phenomenon – a purposeful effort made by one party to change the position, thinking or opinion of another. A legal trial, a debate with your partner about your next vacation destination, or election campaigns – these are facts and opinions deliberately presented to sway your thinking. Influence on the other hand, can be far more passive. Whilst the anonymous voter next to you may not be intentionally swaying your opinion like a campaign tries to, their passive position reflects the authenticity of their opinion. They clearly are doing what they think is best for them with no regard for trying to convince you.
This genuine and non-evangelical position means we regard their position as more authentic – a real opinion based on merit and true appreciation of the topic at hand. Their actions speak louder than words – a sort of ‘tacit endorsement’. The result, quite simply, is we are naturally inclined to think “if they think it’s good enough for them, then it’s good enough for me”
Tacit Endorsement – how it can help hoteliers
There are many ways to observe and analyse the tacit endorsement phenomenon, but let’s focus on a simple but relevant example: let’s say you are in the process of considering various hotels for your future stay in Barcelona. You randomly sign into your Facebook account and your feed shows you that your college friend, also an avid traveler, just liked the Facebook profile of a hotel in Barcelona. Maybe one that was not even on your consideration list until now. You don’t actually connect and talk to your friend, but you know, by his act of liking a Facebook page, that he likes that hotel. He probably stayed in it, so you go to the next phase. You check out the hotel’s page and you see your friend’s Facebook check-in there, so you know that his opinion is justified - he booked and enjoyed a stay at that hotel. You also notice that he left a 5 star review.
So not only did your friend consider that hotel for his vacation, but he actually stayed there and enjoyed the experience. These are all facts that you get to know without talking to him. His actions speak for themselves.
Knowing that you share many common interests with you college friend and that he is someone similar to you, you trust his opinion. So you now have an indirect personal recommendation not from a stranger from the online world, but from someone that you know. Chances are that you will seriously consider that hotel for your own vacation and probably even follow up with a booking. This is exactly what tactic endorsement looks like and what kind of power the “word-of-closed-mouth” truly holds.
Whilst this is certainly a more ‘qualitative’ example, savvy hoteliers can leverage the quantity of tacit endorsement to their advantage too. Knowing that 10 of your friends liked a local restaurant might make you want to check it out as well. But the number of individuals that support a brand has a deep impact on a potential consumer regardless of whether they personally know any of them.
Many businesses, particularly successful hotels, are making good use of social proof and its implications. One of the most common strategies is to selectively highlight their number of visitors, 5 star ratings or quotes pulled directly from guest feedback. For whilst this is simply quantifying anonymous customer interactions, the cumulative effect of this data is persuasive social proof – tacit endorsements with authentic influence.
Written in collaboration with TrustYou