Every person is unique, right? Well, yes and no. We can distinguish ourselves from the crowd in many ways, but we cannot escape herd behaviour completely. Whether we like it or not, we’re programmed that way.
Many decisions that we take are based on the behaviour of others. Particularly those who are similar to us.
You can make use of that fact if you are looking for attention and engagement. In this blog we’ll tell you about the power of social proof and how to approach this with actionable scriptwriting tips.
Choices, choices, choices. Life is full of them. That’s why we spend a good deal of it on auto-pilot. And much of the time that’s a good thing. Take for example the menu of a restaurant.
If you have never been to a restaurant before and are having trouble choosing from tens of options, it can help to know what others have chosen.
The dish of the day, for instance, chosen by the restaurant itself. The choice of the chef. Or the most popular dish. The last works the best, because it represents the choice of lots of people and we tend to find that more persuasive than the choice of the restaurant owner or the chef.
There has been a lot of research conducted which focuses on our behaviour as an individual and as a part of a larger group. We like to follow the choices of others, but even more so, the choices of like-minded people.
For example, this has been studied in regards to hotels. Guests were asked to not put towels straight in the wash, but to reuse them. The question was: what wording on the cards in the bedrooms would produce the best results.
When the text on the card laid emphasis on the environment, 36% of guests reuse their towels. When the text indicated that the majority of guests reuse their towels, 49% of people followed the example.
But, when the text said that the majority of guests who had previously booked this room reuse their towels, 52% of guests did likewise! Strong stuff, that social proof.
The methods that help with positive influence which we have been covering in this series of blogs, each work best under different circumstances. Social proof, for instance, is a good tactic when a situation is uncertain.
For instance, if you are introducing a new brand or a new product, that can give a feeling of uncertainty to your potential client. And unknown means unloved. You can remove that uncertainty with social proof. Make sure you have ambassadors ready.
Testimonials and reviews are very powerful, as long as they’re authentic. During the election campaign of the then unknown Obama, he could always be seen in photos surrounded by people. You never saw him on his own.
That strengthened the idea that others already supported him. If you are offering a product or service, it actually works the same way.
Use photos or videos in which your product or service is being used by multiple people. This creates the impression that your brand has already been accepted by a large group of people.
Research shows that up to 95% of people copy others and only around 5% act on their own initiative. Rather shocking no? It’s often reflected in those little things that you’re hardly paying attention to.
The canned laughter in a comedy series, which makes you more likely to laugh. The number of people that have already donated to a good cause, which gives you the urge to donate too.
The coins that the busker already has in their hat, so that it looks like others have already given something. You see, we are influenced the whole day long.
Imitation behaviour can take bizarre forms sometimes. During a public transport strike, a large group of people found themselves standing at a bus stop.
The bus stop was right next to a bank, which caused others to think that the queue was for the bank: a bank run. Consequently, startled people actually went to take their money out of the bank.
Positive and negative
Where social proof is used for a good cause, it can levy great results. There was a study in which kids who were left out at school, or were bullied, were shown videos. In them they saw children in similar situations to their own taken into the group and eventually feeling at home in it.
The kids that were being bullied or left out began to follow the example of their equivalents in the video. They grew more confident and went to school with more enthusiasm. But be careful, it can work the other way round too.
Perhaps you know the story of the cult leader Jim Jones, who back in the 70’s showed such influence over his folllowers that nearly a thousand of them committed mass suicide? Psychologists think that this was not the consequence of the cult leader’s charisma.
Rather that the group had fled to the jungle, and were uncertain as to what their next step would be. So that when the first member put an end to their life, the others quickly followed. Scary stuff, that social proof!
Because we can’t always think about every detail, or don’t want to, and because we are sometimes uncertain about our choices, we are often happy to follow the choices of others.
Preferably those who seem the most like us and with whom we can most identify. Handy to know when you’re making your next video. Or if you want to give your clients a nudge in the right direction during their customer journey.
Speaking of giving customers a nudge in the right direction, here are some tips on how to improve your script writing by using authority.
Authoritative scriptwriting tips
Your parents, your teacher, the police, the doctor; just a couple of authority figures that we have been taught to listen to.
People with the knowledge, experience and insight upon which we rely. We do it en masse and we do it with pleasure. That’s why it’s handy to know the ins and outs of how you can work authority into your script.
Some scriptwriting tips on using authority for your next script:
Adam and Eve
The phenomenon of authority is definitely nothing new. The oldest and biggest religious authority in the world is probably God.
In the Old Testament Abraham listens willingly to the demands of God even when he asks him to stick a knife in the heart of his own son. Adam and Eve let themselves be sent out of paradise without protest.
It’s baked deep into our culture that we gladly listen to someone with proven leadership qualities. We have learned that it yields structure, productivity and progress; and we prefer that to anarchy.
Let’s take a little look at how we can apply that authority principle when developing content.
Signs of authority
If you want to use authority, you need to know what signals belong to it and how we react to them. The uniform of officials is a good example. But even the difference between a man in a T shirt and jeans, as opposed to a man in a suit, is enormous.
Research suggests that people follow a jay-walking man’s behaviour quicker if he is wearing a suit than when he is in leisure wear. Have a good think then about what the people in your productions need to wear.
If you have someone in a video telling the audience something, it helps if they have a title which we attach values to. So, choose a real expert, someone we can look up to. Or at least think long and hard about how you introduce that person.
´Looking up to´ can be taken pretty literally in this context actually. Did you know that we generally estimate a professor to be taller than a student? Research shows the estimated height difference is 6cm, while in reality the professor may actually be shorter than the student.
The seeming authority of bigger cars can have an influence on our behaviour too. Researchers found drivers honk the horn 50% more often at small cars who take too long topass a green light, than at larger cars.
Most of the time we are completely unaware of these effects but you, as a script writer, can make good use of them.
Perhaps you are familiar with the famous 1963 experiment into authority conducted by Professor Stanley Milgram when he was at Yale University?
As a professor in a white lab coat he gave study participants the task of delivering electric shocks to a student whenever the student gave the wrong answer to a question.
With every incorrect answer the student received a more painful shock, until they demanded and begged for it to stop, before hopelessly banging on the door. Two thirds of study participants ignored this and continued to deliver the dangerous shocks.
Fortunately the students were in on the act. The research suggested how slave-like we are when it comes to following authority. Of course, we probably knew that already, from the rise of Nazism in Germany decades before.
In content it can be a bit less shocking! But, never underestimate the power of a professor, or someone else, in a lab coat!
The opposite of an authoritarian is someone who relativises. But if you combine these things, you get an even more powerful effect.
How does that work? A person in a position of authority who is very self-confident and exhibits expertise, can make us doubt them at a certain point. It sounds too good to be true that this person knows so much and is never wrong.
That’s why their story becomes stronger as soon as vulnerability or failure is included. The evidence for this can be found, for example, in businesses who took responsibility for their failings in their annual reporting, a year later they were found to be worth more than those businesses you didn´t.
So, in addition to authority do play with humanising and relativising. It makes your story far more convincing.
Authority and reciprocity
Relativising in combination with authority works well then. And the same goes for combining multiple principles from this Positive Influence series. Restaurants are a great place to test them out.
Good catering staff often know precisely how to get their clients in just the right mood to order more and give a generous tip. In one study a waiter was so ´honest´ in telling his guests about particular dishes on the menu – that they weren’t so good today as normal, because of problems in the supply chain – that they felt pretty much obliged to do something good in return; he had after all given them a heads up about a potentially bad choice.
Ordering the expensive wine was an easy choice then, as was leaving a large tip. In your story, to combine authority with freely giving something of value away, whether that is something physical or good advice. In that way you trigger the instinct to reciprocity and you can steer that in your desired direction.
In short then, following authority is part of human nature, and you had better take account of it when you want to tell a story.
Are you, or do you know, an expert who can talk with true authority? If so don’t be shy of deploying that knowledge. Look too at which authority signals you can include in your script to give its power of persuasion a boost.
Try to build in a bit of relativising in as well, for example in the form of self-deprecation or humour. And give your viewer, listener or reader something which makes them want to do something in return. Good luck!
Want to learn more scriptwriting tips? Download our ebook with Ebook: tips on writing persuasive voice over scripts.