Email Persuasion Series Part 3: Social Proof

By: Jack Reamer |
 April 27, 2015 |

The T.V. series Friends was a blockbuster hit. (Of course, Parks and Rec is better.)


Friends had 10 seasons between 1994 – 2004 and was nominated for 62 Primetime Emmy Awards. And each of the 6 actors were the highest paid actors in television – making 1 million dollars per episode.


But one thing about that show made me scratch my head and wonder… Why did they add that annoying ‘fake audience laughter’ to each joke?



Answer: Friends with no laugh track can be kinda creepy.



Truth is, the “canned laughter” made the show funnier. Bet I don’t know a single person who enjoys listening to pre-recorded laughs every 7 seconds during a show. Now, the director of this hit show must know what he’s doing. So then why add the fake audience laughs if people are so strongly opposed to them? Because it works.


Experiments have found that the use of canned laughter causes a (real) audience to laugh longer and more often. Especially during poor jokes.


The real question is why do we laugh more at comedy material when laugh tracks are added to the background – even when we know it’s fake laughter? The answer is social proof because “how we determine what is correct is to find out what other people think is correct.”


Why? Because when a lot of people are doing something, it’s usually the right thing to do.


Here’s Caildini’s explanation on why the social proof from canned laughter makes us laugh at lame jokes:


We have become so accustomed to taking the humorous reactions of others as evidence of what deserves laughter that we, too, can be made to respond to the sound and not to the substance of the real thing.


Other examples of social proof:

“Dressing a guitar case” when you’re busking on the street. Putting your own dollars gives people the impression that tipping the musician is right thing to do.



Evengelical preachers are know to “seed” their audience “ringers” who are rehearsed to come forward at a specified time to give witness and donations. Arizona State University research team infiltrated the Billy Graham organization and talked to 6 thousand people who had instructions on when to come forward at varying intervals to create the impression of a spontaneous mass outpouring.



Advertisers using this “as seen on TV” sticker use social proof too. It gives us a mental shortcut, “if it’s good enough to be sold on T.V. it must be a good product.”


How to “super charge” your social proof


Similarity can “super charge” your social proof. To get more persuasion each time you use social proof, make those in the social proof example similar to your audience/ideal customers. For example, tell a unique case study to different segments so  each group of target customers sees how you helped someone like them.


Why? People are more motivated by people who are similar to them. There was a “dropped wallet” study where someone attached a note to a lost wallet that made it clear that the wallet had been lost. The letter was addressed the man who lost his wallet and that the first finder was on the way to return the wallet to his address. (It even had the envelope attached to it.)


33% retuned the wallets when the person was dissimilar 70% returned it when they were similar!


How you can use social proof to improve your email marketing:


1) Add testimonials and case studies in your email campaigns


Make sure you segment each case study to different audience members for maximum effectiveness. If you have 2 major groups of target customers give each group a unique case study. For example, I help both e-commerce and B2B marketers make send more profitable emails. So I’d send my e-commerce leads a case study where I helped an e-commerce marketer and I’d send the B2B marketers a specific case study with a B2B company.


Hint: Write your email case-studies so that they provide value to each reader WHILE building your social proof/credibility. How? Talk about their struggles that your case study clients share with your readers and how they solved them. You should offer 1-2 key takeaways even in your case study emails.


2) Tell your audience how many subscribers you have to increase your opt-in rate:


Here’s how Scott Dinsmore at uses social proof to increase subscriber opt-ins: “Join over 100,000 people from 182 countries”


Email Opt-in Social Proof


What if you don’t have hundreds (or thousands) of subscribers? Don’t use social proof to increase opt-ins.


Rand Fishkin covers how a lack of social proof can decrease conversions as people assume that your company either:


  • Isn’t trustworthy
  • Is too new to place their faith in
  • Isn’t being used by anyone because it sucks
  • If you’re lacking in social proof at the moment, go for the “clean and uncluttered” look. People won’t hold it against you


3) Mention big brands that you’ve worked with on your opt-in page and case studies


Here’s how Scott Dinsmore uses big brands he’s worked with:


social proof
 does the same thing here:


opt-in social proof


4) Tell stories


According to psychologists Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons (authors of The Invisible Gorilla), stories are more persuasive and trustworthy than statistics because individual examples lodge in our minds, but statistics and averages do not.


And your email campaign is the perfect place to tell your brand’s story. You can have it delivered to your lead’s inbox. You can break it down into short, value-added emails. So don’t send more than 10 emails without telling your audience who you are (and why they should buy from you) in a story.


Here’s quicksprout’s guide to telling your brand’s story here.


Seth Godin teaches you how to tell a great story here.