Sunday, 18 December 2011

Social proofing in networking

The Cold Call
Imagine this. You’re at home, reading this book with a cup of tea. Suddenly the phone rings RRING RRINNG, breaking your concentration. You grimace and mentally weigh up the odds of it being someone legitimate. “Argh better take it” you think. You pick up the phone. On the other end of the phone is a man with an Indian accent. “Oh no! What does he want?”. You write him off instantly – he’s just another telemarketer. He says something about lower internet bills but you don’t even listen to what he has to say. As soon as he stops speaking, you make an excuse and hang up the phone exasperatedly.

Warming up a sale
Now let’s compare that to another scenario. You’re having coffee with your friend and start complaining about your internet provider. “The damn company is so unresponsive. My modem is broken but they won’t help. They actually charge money to answer my calls. What terrible customer service!”
Your friend smiles sympathetically. “Maybe you’d be interested in the provider I’ve been using for the last six months. They’re really great. I haven’t had any problems with my service at all and they’re much cheaper than the last company I was with.”
You lean in “ooh. That sounds good. What’s the name of the company? I’ll give them a call.”
When you ring up, you speak to a man with an Indian accent who very politely and professionally registers you as a new customer.

What was the difference here? 
In the first scenario, the cold call, you flat out rejected the poor guy. You had a preconception of who he was and what he wanted and you refused to find out more. That’s not an indictment against you by the way. I find cold callers pretty annoying most of the time.
In the second example, one of your friends recommended the same company. Rather than rejecting the cold call, you proactively called the company up because of social proof. In these modern times of unlimited choices, decision making is a very long process. If you were to analyse every internet provider out there, researching customer reviews and value for money, it would take hours or even days. Some people are willing to do this. However, the majority of people will take a shortcut: seeking out the recommendations of their friends.

People buy based on social proof
Rather than relying on hard evidence, social proof is often sufficient to help you make a decision. It all comes down to credibility of sources. If someone you trust recommends a product or service, you’re far more likely to take their advice than if a stranger on the site recommends something. A single recommendation from a trusted friend is probably worth more in your eyes than 100 reviews on an internet review site. You don’t necessarily trust these people’s opinions because you don’t know them.

The danger of social proofing
Social proofing is a cognitive bias. Most of the time it helps you make better decisions. Other times you may make a worse decision. You see, just because you trust your friend, it doesn’t mean they’re an expert in the area. So when a friend recommends something, be aware that you’re likely to view their recommendation in a much more positive light than you would if they were a stranger. Be slightly critical about their recommendation. How much research did they do? Are there recommendations usually solid?

Social proof in networking
You can use social proof in your favour when networking. Essentially the objective of networking is to get inside the trust circle of highly respected people. If someone who is well respected in their community recommends your work, then you’ll suddenly have job offers and customers throwing themselves at you.
The question then is, how do you become respected? A big part of respectability is likeability. If someone likes you, then they’re more likely to trust you. The other part of respectability is trustworthiness. If you’re honest, if you do good things for the community, if you’re reliable, then people are more likely to trust your recommendation.

How to use this information
To me, it's pretty clear: you want as much social proof for your personal brand and your company as possible. That raises the question: how can you get social proof for yourself? 

I believe the answer is reciprocity. You get what you give out. So make a commitment to recommend other people, whenever you sense an opportunity. If you're at a networking event and someone has an obvious need and you know someone who could fill that need, connect them up.

An immediate action step is to give other people recommendations on LinkedIn.

How will you use this information? How will you take advantage of social proofing?

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