Jonathan Leger – SEO And Internet Marketing Blog Internet Marketing Blog


All Your Friends and Neighbors are Doing This — You Should, Too

A few months ago I traded in my truck for a large SUV. While we were at the dealership, the salesman (whom I've bought from before), was telling my wife and I about other people he'd sold the same model vehicle to. I found the tactic annoying.

"So what?" I thought (and discovered later that my wife had the same feeling). It didn't matter to either of us that other people had bought the same model SUV recently. We both just wrote it off as hubris on the part of the salesman.

However, I recently listened to a Freakonomics podcast that helped me understand why the salesman told us about other people who'd bought the same SUV. In that podcast, the host (Stephen Dubner) interviews a guy who conducted a social experiment involving saving energy. That experiment has a bearing on how you can better market your products and services, so pay attention! ;)

The research group went around neighborhoods in California and put one of four signs on people's doors. Each sign encouraged the homeowner to conserve energy, and gave a reason to do so. The four reasons were: 1) to help the next generation, 2) to save money on your electricity bill, 3) to save the planet, and 4) because your neighbors are already doing it. After some time passed, the group went back to the houses and measured the electricity usage against the reading they took before putting up the signs.

Can you guess which sign had the most impact? In fact, the only sign that had ANY impact at all? It was the one that said their neighbors were already conserving electricity and encouraged them to do the same.

The funny thing is that, when polled, the homeowners said that they would personally be least influenced by the "peer pressure" sign! That really helps you see the difference between how people think of themselves ("I'm not affected by the opinions and actions of people around me!") versus the reality (Um, yes you are).

That helped me to understand why the car salesman was telling me about other people who bought the car. Although in my specific case I already knew exactly what I wanted, had researched the model in advance, etc., in many cases people will walk into a dealership not knowing exactly what they want. The car salesman was taking advantage of a marketing method that would help an undecided potential customer feel better about the model the salesman thinks they should get. "If three other families bought this car this week, it must be okay."

Your initial reaction is probably the same as the homeowners who said they wouldn't be influenced by the peer pressure sign. "That wouldn't work on me!" But the reality is that, like it or not, you are a social creature. We all are. That means we're influenced by what other people do -- our friends, neighbors, even strangers we don't know at all. You may be less influenced than other people, but face it: you are influenced. If you still think you weren't, ask yourself: Why did you choose to read this blog post? Did the title have anything to do with it?

This social influence is why people tend to stick to accepted cultural norms and social niceties that are like the grease in the gears of society. If the majority react to certain situations the same way, then we all feel comfortable and know how to get along.

How does this apply to your marketing methodology? Simple: you need to make sure that your undecided buyers are aware of other people who have made the decision to buy, and how they felt about it.

That's why the classic "testimonial" works so well. People feel better when they can read the thoughts and experiences of other people before they make the purchase themselves. No matter how advanced advertising technology gets, you still see a large number of ads that consist primarily of customer testimonials. They just work.

So if you have happy customers, it behooves you to make sure that your potential customers know about them when you're pitching your product or service. It doesn't matter how many of those potential customers would claim that they're not influenced by other people's opinions. It doesn't matter how independent they think they are. They're human beings, and that makes them social creatures.

You can even take the testimonial a step further and write your sales copy as a story. I've done that many times with great success. If you can engage your audience and get them to relate to the story of another customer, really get them involved, then you're much more likely to close the sale.

This psychological influence shouldn't be abused, of course. You need to make sure that the story you tell and the testimonials you share are all true and honest. My own personal opinion is that you'll appeal to more people with testimonials that come off sounding true (because they are) than hype-filled doctored stories that are clearly fabricated anyway.

So what do you think? If you have any questions or insights, please leave a comment below. Your feedback is always welcome!

Oh, and one last note: if you found this post beneficial, please share it using one of the buttons below -- all my top readers are doing it! ;)

Related Internet Marketing Q&A

Comments (66) Trackbacks (0)
  1. I opened the email because it was from you. Had it not been from you the title would have probably made me just delete it.

    I think the older we get and the shorter our available time on earth becomes the less we care about what other people think or, are doing.

    I read reviews to see if others have had success or problems with a product that I want to buy, not that they loved it.

    However, I think it is a good marketing tactic for younger folk, so I’ll give it a try on some of my sites.

    Thanks for the post.

  2. I actually chose your email out of 21 others not because of the title, first I thought something else for sale:) (my marketing thinking was ON)
    and then I said, John Legger always delivers Quality.

    Thanks for the tip

  3. Hey John

    Interesting post, I feel this way when buying something or knowing who has used this product or service before.

    We unconsciously don’t think about, but I think Social Proof especially with Facebook has a solid recommendation around friends opinions and following that your friends are doing this, so should you

    Great read John


    • It depends WHO is doing it! E.g. from an IMer’s point of view “Everybody is using this blog network now”, would be put me off using such a service. But is someone “in the know” was, I would be more inclined to take a look.

  4. Thanks for posting this, and mentioning that study. I love the research that has been coming out in recent years on these topics; showing how most people actually act counter to what they say they would do in a given situation. Reminds me of books like Predictably Irrational and Freakonomics.

  5. Its all about keeping up with the Jones : an extremely natural human reaction. Deep down we all hate being outdone by people within the same social circle (who aren”t necessarily family).

    “Showing your numbers” as a way quantifying your social proof can also be somewhat dangerous if they aren’t big enough and if they don’t carry enough clout. I agree that you need to follow it up with the qualitative approach of real human testimonials.

    And yes the email subject got my attention…but I was disappointed that you don’t actually tell us what kind of SUV it was :)

  6. Hey Jonathan,

    I just loved the headline and of course wanted to know what trick it was, because that is what I thought and also it sparked curiousness a bit.

    For sure can use this one in my marketing.

  7. This is very true. My mother recently brought a kindle (through my link of course) and now all the family, friends and her work colleges want one.

    World eccomomics would not continue if greed and arogance was not a factor.

    I will be testing this out. Nice post dude!

  8. I don’t care what my boring herd-mentality neighbors are doing. I like to do my own thing, without regard for their approval. If they all buy an SUV in the local dealership, I will buy a Kawasaki online. As they congest the roads on the commute to work after the school run, I blast past them on the bike.

  9. One more reason why reviews are very popular and attract more buyers, but only works if there is a good product to sell.

    Not sure if true or not, but people always doubt the “x number of people liked this” or “bought this” unless there is a way to make it look genuine.

    • This is precisely what I’m talking about in the post. It may seem like common sense that “people always doubt” that kind of thing, but the numbers show that most people don’t doubt — it does influence them.

  10. Jonathon… I too, opened your email because it was from you. But the title is interesting and I will try it! Thanks.

  11. Like it or not, keeping up with the Jones is a powerful marketing and sales technique.

  12. One of the reasons I hate dealing with auto dealers is because their sales tactics are so damn obvious. Like in your situation, I would have seen that as a pressure tactic and an obvious use of social proof to convince you that you should also own that vehicle.

    Instead of telling you about those other owners, the guy could have done the same thing more subtly by doing this for instance: Suppose he made a point to take a photo of every new purchase when the person shows up to get their car or maybe just do it immediately after the contract has been signed. Just have the person stand next to his new car and smile. Then he could tack those photos up in his office/cubicle where every new prospect could see them. Then instead of saying that so and so bought one of those, he could just point at the picture and make some comment about it. Like “Jim Johnson told me that this truck had the perfect towing package for hauling his boat and camper to the lake” or “Donna Jones” has four kids who are all little soccer players.

    That way the guy would accomplish the same thing without making it so dang obvious what he is trying to do.

  13. I read all emails from the persons I subscribe to their lists. If I don’t like their emails I unsubscribe. That’s the only reason I opened your email.

    In the book “subliminal seduction” that I read in the 70s they explain an advertising fact that the author explain the way you explained your trick.

    The more stupid an ad looks, or the more stupid the actor in the ad looks like, the more customers think “I am not stupid enough to fall for that… because I am more clever than this guy/gal/advertiser is”

    The end result is that the same people who react this way are the best buyers for the product in this ad.

  14. Great post. Just like Justine, I don’t leave comment often but I just had to commend you on this post. Thanks for sharing.

  15. Hi Jon,

    I delete hundreds of junk emails that have interesting subject lines without opening them. The reason yours wasn’t one of them is not because of the subject line you used, it’s because of who you are. But I accept that we are ‘social creatures’ and are influenced to some extent by tactics such as these. Of course these tactics can also ‘backfire’. You arrived at the dealership ready to buy and were annoyed by the car salesman’s tactics! Some people in similar circumstances would walk out and go elsewhere to make their purchase.

    Best regards, Nick

  16. Nice post. I need to apply some of this in both 121 discussions for closing deals and see how I can improve my website.

    Keep it up


  17. Love this post Jon! I have been learning about website optimization to get my site converting better and this info will be very helpful. I wasn’t thinking about leaving a comment but then I scrolled down and saw the other great comments and thought, “ah well what the heck”, social influence at work.


  18. Jon,
    I know that perhaps I may be a bit different, but the main reason that I read your post was this” This is from JON LEGER,” and that is why I read the information.
    You see, your brand is (to me) one of the best.
    Regards Harry (Sydney, Australia).

  19. Great post Jon,

    I’m also noticing that a testimonial under an email sign up form can increase response rates. We all want to be in the exclusive club!



  20. great one Jon. Up untill you mentioned the subject line, in my head I was like “yeah, that WILL NOT work on me, I really dont care what other people around me are buying” but then I realized that the only reason I did not delete your email with the 20 others was exactly this. It said “your friends and neighbours are doing this” and I though this is definitely something promotional but I still went on opened the email.

    The bit about testimonial is true too… Of all the inquiries I get from the forums about my content writing service, almost all of them talk about how eagerly they want to try my service “looking at the testimonials”… not the price, not the samples iv put up, not even the deals im offering but the testimonials. Of course all the other things contribute to why a customer would choose you but I think social proof is the biggest factor.


  21. So very true. When we’ve done split test promotions on email campaigns, we’ve seen dramatic uptick when using a headline such as ‘Join the x number of people who receive this’. It’s an effective tactic. Same with Twitter. High follower numbers lead to more people following you as the 3rd party proof that you are ‘worth’ following is a sub concious decision based on how many people are already following.

  22. Yeah have to agree. I noticed something like this with an iPad. Overheard some people in PC World (UK computer shop) and they first dismissed the whole usefulness of the tablet. Once their friends said they had one they started to play with it more. Didn’t hang around much but sure enough they paid for a few things at the end and one of the boxes said iPad on it!

  23. A great post! I had long ago thought about this kind of “peer pressure” influence but can’t find a good and simple way to explain the psychology behind it in my own blog. As always Jonathan, you always amaze me with your style of writing, simple, precise and clear.

    Just for the added info, this “peer pressure” influence appear everywhere in our life, while we are watching Youtube videos, while we are in the food court deciding what to eat and even in those motivation kind of seminar like Anthony Robbin.

    This psychological influence can be a double edge sword too as in if everyone is doing the wrong things, we will be influence too to make the wrong choices. So it works both ways. So like the saying goes “choose your friends wisely”. :)

    James Tan

  24. RE “Why did you open this email? Did the title have anything to do
    with it?”

    Actually, quite honestly NO. if I had of read the title I probably would have just deleted it straight away as it looks right spammy. I only opened it because I’ve read one or two decent things from you in the past (you are one of the few online marketers who’s list I haven’t unsubscribed from). But that title still looked really really spammy…..first thing I look at with emails though is the sender filed, if I know them I open them – only if I don’t know them do I bother flicking my eyes across to the title…….there, a tiny little (one person) slice of market research for you.

  25. Whenever I want to buy something these days, I research it on Amazon. The feedback there has been invaluable and has been a great influence on whether I buy something. I always go to the 1 star feedback first, mainly because if there is a BIG downside, I won’t even bother looking at the positive testimonials.

  26. You can see rise in people employing rich snippets/customer reviews. CTR increases, and conversions will follow. Having worked as a carsalesman for 10 years I can confirm people always buy what they see others driving, as Jonathan says we are ultimately social creatures despite pleading that we like to be individual!

  27. There are several pressure points to cause people to act. Most people would act to do something which will cause them to ‘feel better about themselves’ (save the planet) than to get paid for the same action.

    People are social (most of us..) and like a wildebeest herd crossing the river will follow the rest, to be part of what others do.. Most customers have no way to judge what is best for them, and reading that others found it OK, is for many the only way to get reassured.

    • You might think that “people would act to do something which will cause them to ‘feel better about themselves’” — but that’s not what the research showed. People didn’t respond to the message asking them to do something that would make them feel better, they responded to the message telling them their neighbors were doing it.

  28. Indeed Jonathan, the “Smiths”and the “Browns” have dominated the “reinforcement” scene in sales for “centuries”! When I coached potential sales people I devoted a complete “module” to the AIDA principle, using a “traffic lights” analogy and. I taught that once a prospect was thru the “I” lights, “social proof” was one of the stronger influences to negotiate the “D” set!

    Nice to say “G’Day” to you Jonathan. Best Wishes from Aus …Doug …

  29. I opened the mail primarily because it was from Jon Leger but the title intrigued me as well. I believe I can write a novel about such topics because of a kind of mentality that is common in my area. When you enter into a street, the smallest house is at the beginning but the houses become bigger and bigger as you proceed. Why? Because the next guy wants to build a house bigger than his neighbor’s.

    Further more, if a person acquires any stuff and displays it to his neighbors the next few days will see everybody getting the same stuff.

    I have often seen salesmen offering their products first to the most influential person in each street at times even at reduced rates. Then the avalanche of sales start after that.

    Now I can see that people around the world are similar with very little differences in their behaviors.

    Great post Jon.

  30. Jon…
    I see reference to Robert Cialdini’s “Influence” book in your readers’ comments and your comment that it was Cialdini who did the study you referenced.

    For those who haven’t read it (do so, fast) he recounts a study by a hotel asking guests to reuse their towels rather than grab new ones each time they showered. All the pleas for the environment and the planet and cost savings went largely unheeded… the one that worked cited the fact that previous guests had reused their towels.

    Interesting eh? It seems to be largely about the psychology of human beings not wanting to be left out of something.

  31. RUFUS, is Smart Pricing killing your AdSense earnings?
    Monday, March 6, 2006 4:01 AM
    From: “AdSense Gold”

    Hi Jona,
    Notice the date in the email heading above.
    This is how long I’ve been on your list.
    At one time I was subscribed to closed to 300
    emails. I realized it was not working, so I cut most
    of them. Your’s was not in the cut & never have been.
    The reason being is because I find you to be someone
    that I can trust & depend on for a no fluff or B.S. email.
    Also not a lot of promoting junk. So when I get an email
    from you, the headline does not matter. As soon as I see
    Jonathan Leger that’s enough for me. I know it has to be
    good. Maybe not always for me but good none the less.
    In short it’s your name that cause me to open your email.
    Not the head lines. An old Subscriber

  32. Nice post, Jonathan. It really makes you stop and think about how our minds work. I guess I opened the e-mail BOTH because it was from you, and to find out what my neighbors are up to – lol

    Anyway, very interesting discoveries with the signs. I agree – testimonials work.

    Thanks for sharing!

  33. Nice, i like the market, way to market sure is much important. But there is one question… Are you always ready to follow people around you andto be a part of the crowd, without thinking. Act take decision about your self, follow the progres put a little bit mind in all you are doing. Make me sad thinking that i’m part of the crowd. And some times…. Do you think i’m not social. And i think all that is a question of mentality. The biggest advertising agency “think a little” made different advertising in different countries. Because of peoples habits and different way to influence the people. If some kindof advertising work well in USA don’t work in the same way in Italy.
    Thanks nice story really liked and shared on social.

  34. Agreed. It’s one of the most powerful argument to decide people or to confort them in their buying. Personaly i use it everyday, i insist on the feed back about the experience. The best things as we have good activities that we just need to repeat the real testimonial of the precedent buyers. No need to lie, no need to extra positive, just telling the truth and it works!

  35. This is just an unfortunately consequence of the way the human brain is wired. I’m into skepticism, critical thinking and science in general and I have my own websites in health niches.

    Skeptics are constantly frustrated by this. People just find an honest user experience from someone they can related so compelling. And no amount of actual, real and reliable data is enough to budge that. In the face of that emotional connection we make to the person telling the story it just doesn’t compute that personal experience is very unreliable way to know anything.

    Anyway, might as well accept the human nature and work with it :)

  36. Hi Jonathan,
    Great article! But I couldn’t share it but I tried.


  37. We have to remember this as we can often overlook it. This has being happening for 1000 years hasn’t changed.

    How many times have you asked someone next to you what do they think about x?
    If you were on your own and had to make a decission you would most likely do it.
    But when you are in the company of others, you would ask someone.

    We are always looking for that tiny bit of social proof.

    Social proof can help overcome procrastination.

  38. Thanks Jon, interesting post as always which as it happens is primarily why I opened it. A know, like and trust thing. But the title was intriuging. I think it is an endless sense of annoyance to most of us that we are as easily influenced as we are. Often the ones easiest to influence are the ones that believe they are immune, because that often makes them less aware.

    Maybe you should have ended the article “if you found this post beneficial, please share it using one of the buttons below; all my other top subscibers are!” :-)


  39. Sorry to disappoint. I didn’t even look at the subject line. I opened and read because it was from you. I get peppered from most others that I am on lists for, sometimes daily. When you send something, it ALWAYS has value. No need to look at your subject lines.

    • I agree, I thought exactly the same. The subject didn’t bring my attention. It was the sender.

      Anyway, I agree at some points with the article, mainly the mentions to the social being part of the human being, hence the success of Social networks but, in general, I feel a similar skepticism as Seppo.

      Yes, I use to search for well founded comments before making a decision which a rarely find, btw.

      Of course that learning from other’s is how human kind evolves but there are many few testimonials (specially at sales letters) worth the read.

      Some weeks ago, the developer of a WordPress Theme told me that I was the first of more that 60.000 of their customers who mentioned a particular feature (custom post types) and I ask, Is that bad? I don’t think so.

      Be unique, my friend ;-)

      All the best,

  40. This makes me think about Groupon immediately. Apart from the scarcity technique (only xx minutes left, etc…), it shows how many people bought the deal. When I saw thousands of people bought into that, my impulse to buy the deal is even stronger as it justifies that it is absolutely a fantastic deal, lol…

    As you mentioned, testimonial works the best in a sales letter, especially in a forum marketplace.


    • Nice example Ming. If you ever visit the WarriorForum, a lot of the top-selling WSO’s proclaim how many people have bought the product — that’s because it works!

  41. Wow, this one really made me think. Especially the part about people saying this tactic wouldn’t work but the proof showing that it did. But I wonder if testimonials are enough, or do you really need to explicitly tell people? Interesting….

    • All it took was a sign on the door to influence people’s energy conservation habits, so it doesn’t take much. I’ve found testimonials to be a powerful way to increase conversion rates with my own products.

  42. My favorite book is Influence and I am happy that you took the time to share the power of stories and social proof. Some of the MOST POWERFUL strategies in the world. Keep rocking the blog posts. I don’t always comment but I thought I would finally share my gratitude!

  43. lol I have to be honest.. You Got me on this one Jonathan, I promise myself that I would not open any emails anymore, and here I em commenting on your Blog post.

    But that is the pure truth. nice one.

  44. I think the effectiveness of testimonials depend a little on who the target audience is. I have no doubt they are very effective, although a lot less so if you are targeting a cynical IM crowd. :-)

    • My own experience has been quite the opposite Peter. Even with the cynical IM crowd, for my software I use a standard sales layout: 1) A video demo, 2) A list of the benfits, 3) tons and tons of actual user testimonials.

      I didn’t used to put the testimonials on the page. I thought the video and list of benefits would be enough. But a couple of years ago I tried adding the testimonials — wow what a difference in conversions! You forget that many of your potential customers, even in IM, are still getting their feet wet. So they haven’t had time to become cynics yet! In addition, if you’re a honest and ethical marketer and the potential customer knows about you, the testimonials on your sales page will be more likely to influence them even if they are generally cynics.

      • Great peer pressure post, Jon. When it comes to testimonials, I am just not sure what we are allowed to use these days. Any tips on that?

  45. Jonathan, FYI, I open and read and go to your post on every email you send no matter what the title. Because when you talk, I listen. LOL

    I was about to post on my solar energy blog about the demographics of people who are building their own solar panels. It’s very interesting. And I thought my readers would be interested also. But I wasn’t thinking in terms of social proof. OR maybe I am? I was originally thinking that maybe some people would think that “if they can do it, then I can do it.” Because they are not sure of their abilities.

    Interesting study regarding the signs.

    Thanks for another interesting post.

    Take care,
    Donna :)

  46. Yes, Jon I agree that ‘peer pressure’ influences many people and I learned some things from this blog post!

    Although, if I am to be truthfully I should tell you that I opened the email and clicked on the link because you (Jonathan Leger) sent it!

    Many others will open your email, for the same reason that I did! ~ Therefore, you must have’ a lot of influence on a lot’ of people!

  47. Hey Jon – nice post. I think your email subject just influenced my next email blast. After all, all my subscribers neighbors are doing too!

  48. I can attest to this. I’m the marketer for a company that writes business books and when our new book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0, got an endorsement from the Dalai Lama it went bananas. Knowing that someone you know and respect likes a product is invaluable in marketing.

  49. I agree with this. Social proof has become really strong nowadays. No wonder Facebook has more than 900 million users!

  50. Nice post – not shocking – but you’re so right, something we would not often think about. I don’t leave comments often – this was worth the effort for the share.

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