development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs
A couple of weeks ago, I attended a presentation by Robert Cialdini on sustainability research he’d conducted. Bob works mainly in the areas of influence and has published several popular books on the topic including the following (disclosure, this is an affiliate link):
In this presentation for an audience of about 40 at the American Marketing Association Summer Educator’s Conference, Bob showed how the principles of persuasion can help businesses reach their sustainability goals.
The project investigated using peer influence as a way to cut electricity usage and was conducted for a major power company. The program used cards mailed to utility customers to encourage conservation. Mailings detailed the customers electricity usage for the previous month, along with those of neighbors. Mailings also showed how the customer was doing relative to his/her neighbors. Meter readings showed customers using more electricity than neighbors cut their usage the next month. According to Cialdini:
If your neighbors are saving money, or saving energy, it means you can do it too. It’s feasible for you to change, to save, because your neighbors are doing it. People just like you are doing it
Energy savings are predictable, based on Cialdini’s principles of influence. Specifically, social proof influences behavior by showing what others are doing. If others are doing something, it must be the “right” thing to do. And, this method of influence is very strong.
In social media, we demonstrate the power of social influence all the time. For instance, showing the number of Facebook likes or Tweets about a post demonstrate how valuable visitors find that post. Michael Stelzner of Social Media Examiner, said his pageviews went up dramatically when he changed to Tweet button he was using to one displaying a more accurate count of Tweets.
Not, only does social proof work — it’s very cost effective. In Cialdini’s work, he found the mailings were more effective than other methods tried by the energy firm, such as discounts, which were much costlier than the simple postcard. By adding a little smiley face to highlight consumers able to maintain lower electric usage, he found conservation efforts sustained over the long run, rather than a slow climb back to former levels.