When People Aren't Sure What To Do They Look For Social Validation

Jeff Berman
April 8, 2011

People are interesting creatures. If you were to ask, most people will tell you that they aren't easily influenced by others. The truth is that they are.

You may have heard about mob mentality, the phenomena of large numbers of people behaving in the same way at the same time. There have been numerous studies performed on social validation which show that people act one way when alone and differently when others validate a certain behavior.

The Smoke Experiment

In one particular study, the experimenter setup the following situation:

Subjects began to fill out questionnaires in a room to which they began to add smoke. In one condition the subject was alone. In another three naive subjects were in the room. In the final condition one naive subject and two confederates who purposely noticed and then ignored the smoke (even when the room became hazy from all the smoke).

75% of alone subjects calmly noticed the smoke and left the room to report it. But only 10% of the subjects with confederates reported it. Surprisingly, in the three naive bystander condition only 38% reported the smoke.

Most subjects had similar initial reactions. Those that didn't report it all concluded that the smoke wasn't dangerous or was part of the experiment. No one attributed their inactivity to the presence of others in the room.

How Does This Apply To Your Law Firm Web Strategy?

You always need to be cognizant of your bar's ethics rules and limitations and use reviews and testimonials while adhering to your state bar's guidelines. That being said, the power of social validation can be used to your law firm's benefit. If your legal service is socially validated, people are most likely to use it. This makes online testimonials and reviews powerful tools.

People are always looking to others to see what to do. In the case of looking for a law firm online, if they are unsure of a decision, they will look to testimonials, ratings, and reviews for signals on how to behave. With this in mind, consider the following points about how you can increase the effectiveness of your online social validation:

The larger the group (ie: more reviews), the better. The larger the group, the more people will conform. When a group grows, so does conformity to that group. While this seems intuitive, in practice many firms get just one or two reviews and feel the work is done. The point is that the persuasion of your reviews will grow as you acquire more of them.

The more people identify with the person leaving the review, the better. People will identify with others that are like themselves. Think about who your target "persona" is as a legal client. Provide information, with permission of course, about the person writing the review. The more a person reading a review can identify with the reviewer, the more that person will be influenced to change their behavior and/or opinions. Social validation is more powerful when we observe people we consider to be just like us.

Ratings and reviews from other people are more powerful than from experts. Lawyers love to post their ratings from "expert" groups such as Super Lawyers, peer reviews from Martindale Hubbell, etc. But studies have shown that reviews from people your potential clients can identify with (ie: people like themselves) are more powerful than reviews from experts. This isn't to say that you should ignore a positive trust signal or validation from a prestigious organization, but consider focusing on reviews from previous clients.

Tell a story when possible. Stories are powerful in marketing. They appeal to the emotional side of people and influence behavior.

The clearer the principle of social validation, the better. Find the best use of social validation in your legal service. Is your service used by the elite, the fastest growing, used by the most people? Is it part of a trend or specific to a certain niche? Who else uses it? Who is it the best fit for?

Jeff Berman
Jeff Berman, is co-founder of AttorneySync. "Properly marketing a law firm online is about producing relevant content that helps a prospective client understand your expertise and how you are able to help them. Finally, it’s about getting that content found by the people you are trying to help."
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