What does a new customer do when there is no standard measurement of quality for the service they are looking into? When there is no 18 carat or 24 carat chiropractic, no rating for the quality of a personal trainer, or no five star scale on a restaurants door?
When it comes to such conundrums, most of us are like the rest of us. We look for the socials cues that tell us whether or not this place or practitioner is trustworthy. These social cues can either make or break a first impression and lead a person to conclusions as to the credibility of our offering.
Dr. Martin Harvey has made a study of the art of influence. One of the profound concepts hidden within the body of work on the issue is the social proof, and it’s a concept in which a little effort can go a long, long way. So what is the social proof and how does it apply to chiropractors? We caught up with Martin to find out.
Dr Martin Harvey became interested in the art of influence because of a simple thought: “There must be people out there who are trying to influence other peoples behavior and having more of an effect than we are.” His search for answers brought together work from the movers and shakers within psychology, economics, behavioral sciences and marketing, providing him with a wealth of information that he believes chiropractors can greatly benefit from.
One concept nestled within the influence literature is the concept of social proof. “Social proof is one of a whole lot of techniques and ideas connected around what people do when they are in a situation where they are unsure of what they should do or not do. Before people are ready to listen to your message, one of the filters they pass you through is ‘are you a credible messenger?’ Social proof is one of the things that can give or take away credibility as a messenger,” says Dr. Harvey.
“Most of our patients come from local referrals” says Harvey. “Before a new patient decides to enter your practice, they’re going to want to find out if you are credible or not.” On this front, social proof matters greatly to chiropractors. “Robert Cialdini was the guy who originally wrote about social proof. What he essentially said was that in the areas where there is no arbiter of quality, people look for cues as to the quality of your message or your skills. One of the cues is the social cue: there’s an assumption that if other people are using your service you must be doing a good job.”
This is one reason that marketers use ‘likes’ on a social media page, or product reviews and ratings on websites to emphasize credibility. They know that nearly 63% of consumers indicate they are more likely to purchase from a site if it has product ratings and reviews . But it isn’t the only way the social proof occurs.
Practical Ways to Boost Your Practice’s Social Proof
This first impression can make or break a potential patients opinion of you, and impact whether or not they view you as a credible messenger. It can even occur before they walk in to your clinic. So how can you create or improve your social proof? Here are some practical strategies Martin has put in place to improve his.
Make the most of first appointment booking times: Have you every seen an empty restaurant during dinner hour and wondered if the food was going to be terrible? Perhaps you opted to dine at a busier restaurant instead. Just like this, our waiting rooms tell a story.
“The time when it is most important is when people are forming an initial impression. Part of the way that you can create social proof in person is in the way you set up your appointment schedule – so you don’t have people who are coming in for the first time coming in to an environment where there is nobody else there. It sends a creepy, weird signal and allows the generation of a thought that you might not know what you are doing because nobody else is here.
“We often think if we are booking in new people ‘lets make sure they have plenty of time,’ and certainly, it isn’t good to make new people feel rushed. But you probably want to book them in for a time that is actually busy. A strategy that people sometimes use is to schedule them in on the end of the busy shift, so there are people there who are essentially providing social proof for your credibility as a chiropractor.”
Harness the power of language: Another strategy with social proof lies simply in how we say what we say. Many times, our passion for chiropractic can come out in a rush of information, statistics and research. While there is a place for all of that, a softer approach can be quite effective.
“If you are talking to people who are interested in chiropractic, you can use messaging that evokes social proof: things like ‘more and more people are finding that chiropractic is a way of enhancing their health’ or ‘more and more people are discovering that chiropractic is a great way of helping with headaches.’ I think we often think the best way to ascertain credibility is to use authority, so to say ‘well research says this.’ Now, that has real value, but social proof is about not just using that. Use trends as well. You can say ‘more people are moving towards non-drug approaches’ or anything that indicates that consumers are choosing something.
Use social media: In Australia, the guidelines around what we can and can’t promise in advertising can make some of us a little hesitant to jump aboard the social media train. We aren’t permitted to ask for reviews but according to Dr. Harvey (and the influence literature), this doesn’t mean we can’t use social media to impact our social proof. “Anything that asks people to like you can provide social proof. So its good to include your social media links in your email signature. That type of thing is natural now. Most chiropractic practices are driven by local referrals. Once you have people who are interested in your practice, if they see that other people who are their friends have liked you, that’s another way of providing social proof.”
He gives a caution though: “No one likes having a social media feed that is always trying to sell them something.” The modern consumer has a world of information at their fingertips. They are looking for what resonates with them. To Dr. Harvey, it’s a matter of understanding why our tribe comes to us in the first place. If it’s about health and wellness, then sharing good information on those topics provides a nice change from simply selling.
“We use things like ‘I saw this interesting TED talk on mindfulness, and these are our thoughts on it.’ Or ‘this is some information on making some healthier food choices’ or ‘how to get kids to go to sleep.’ We are a filter for useful information. Our chiropractic philosophy is a filter for which information goes out and what doesn’t. We aren’t sending out articles on how wonderful paracetamol is, but every post isn’t trying to sell something.
Err on the side of understatement: You’ve probably seen the click bait approach to marketing and rolled your eyes. ‘What she did with these ingredients, I was shocked.’ Though it has its place in reaping advertising revenue, this type of overstatement often just causes us to recoil. Dr Harvey believes that, while there is a place for them, it isn’t in communicating chiropractic.
“From my perspective, having research articles that talk about issues is great, but understate them. Research is the currency of authority. We live in a culture where the findings that are based on research automatically come with a high level of credibility. Credible people tend to use science, but they recognise that there is a language aspect to it: so using language that says ‘this suggests’ or ‘this supports’ rather than ‘this proves’ or ‘this shows’ is incredibly important.”
“If chiropractors are going to use social media and if they are going to talk specifically about benefits that people might get through chiropractic, I would suggest that in that channel, use a research article as a way of saying ‘this is news’ and use understatement in your language.”
This art of understatement could feel unnatural, and yet there is a certain power to it: “People who are overstating automatically trigger questions: why are you so keen for me to believe this? Understatement sends a message of confidence. The way to give off that air of confidence is to understate.”
These are just some practical ways to improve our social proof and increase our credibility as messengers. We look forward to presenting you with some other gems from the influence literature, and working together to communicate chiropractic the best way we can.
 Ciotti, G (2013) “7 Things You Must Understand When Leveraging Social Proof In Your Marketing Efforts,” KISSMetrics, retrieved 11 April 2016
 Hallen, E (2014), “The Science of Social Proof: the 5 Types and the Psychology Behind Why They Work,” Buffer Social, retrieved 11 April 2016