How Introverts Feel About
Results of a Survey Conducted
by Marcia Yudkin
"If everyone else jumped off the Golden
would you, too?"
Background of the Survey
"social proof" as used by copywriters
goes back to social psychologist Robert Cialdini
in his 1984 book Influence: The Psychology of
Persuasion. Based on experimental and
observational data, Cialdini put forth social
proof as one of six key elements of influence,
explaining it as people wanting to do what they
see others doing.
examples of effective social proof included a wide range
of phenomena, from TV laugh tracks, the naming
of people who just donated during a public radio
donation drive, and the salting of tip jars with
a few starter dollars up to seemingly contagious
suicides and accidents.
interpreted our apparent instinct to follow
others as a reasonable rule of thumb, on the
whole. "Usually, when a lot of people
are doing something, it is the right thing to
do," he says. On the other hand, he
found some copycat behavior highly disturbing.
Cialdini's work, marketers and copywriters have
invented a host of ways, some honest and
straightforward, some dishonest or cravenly
manipulative, to capitalize on this rule of
thumb. Social proof includes
testimonial quotes, earnings screen shots, case
studies, number of followers, "most
forwarded" lists, public (or member) rating
systems, and much more.
This trend has
accelerated with the wide usage of social media.
Many businesses chase desperately after
"likes," retweets and positive online reviews in
the belief (sometimes justified) that these
increase sales. Some online marketplaces
have built sales rank or sales numbers into
their very structure, so shoppers can
automatically see what's selling the most and
how well any particular item is doing, or find
the item with the most positive reviews.
Here social proof has an institutionalized
impact that is hard to escape.
In March 2014, Shel
Horowitz interviewed me on the topic of
marketing to introverts, and as I described
several kinds of pitches that according to my
research were a huge turnoff to introverts, Shel
exclaimed, "Introverts don't respond to social
This got me
thinking. The conventional wisdom is
that social proof works across the board and
that every marketer should use it.
However, American society takes extroverts as
the norm, and extroverts constitute the
If you go by what
works with the majority, yet your customers skew
to the introvert side of the personality
spectrum, would you be making a mistake to use
social proof in your marketing? And even
if a majority of your customers are extroverts,
matching the general population, would you be
unintentionally turning off introverts, and thus
missing out on their business, by using social
proof in your marketing?
All in all, are
introverts immune or indifferent to social
proof, hostile to it or selective in the types
of social proof they pay attention to and
respect? This is what I explored in my
March 2014 survey.
Highlights of the Survey
More than 300 self-described introverts responded to the
survey, and as I suspected, their responses
indicated a nuanced approach to marketers'
use of popularity, what others are doing and
reflected glory from others.
the one hand, 51 percent of the introvert
respondents said that if their utility company
showed them data that they were using more
electricity than comparable neighbors, they
would take a serious look at their energy
use. Another 33 percent said they'd
consider doing so. In this context,
respondents overwhelmingly felt what neighbors
were doing was relevant.
the other hand, when told that a website they'd
never seen before had 255,000 newsletter
subscribers, just 10 percent of introvert
respondents found the number of subscribers
relevant and impressive. A solid 69
percent felt the number of subscribers was
irrelevant, and 21 percent said they would not
subscribe if the website implied they should
subscribe because so many others do.
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only 7 percent of introvert respondents said
they would be more likely to buy from or hire a
consultant who had "shared the stage"
with top business or military leaders Norman
Schwarzkopf, Carly Fiorina and Richard
Branson. Clearly the consultant had
included that information in his or her bio
thinking it would have a positive impact.
Most said it would have no impact on their
buying decisions, but 11 percent said it would
make them less favorably disposed to the
the Interpretation section below for my
reflections on types of social proof and their
implications for both sellers and buyers.
Limitations of the Survey
Because I invited
only self-identified introverts to take the survey, we can't be certain how
extroverts feel on these questions. In addition,
I would be the last person to claim that the survey was constructed
or conducted with a proper claim to statistical
validity. I hope the responses are
suggestive enough for someone with greater
resources and training to do more in-depth
In addition, you
have to keep in mind that what people say they
do or like and what they actually do or how they
actually respond are two different things.
Cialdini starts his chapter on social proof with
the observation, "I don't know anyone who
likes canned laughter." Yet
"experiments have found that the use of
canned merriment causes an audience to laugh
longer and more often when humorous material is
presented and to rate the material as
"As part of a pitch for a new product,
a marketer shows a screen shot of the marketer's
earnings spiking to a new plateau after
implementing the new product. Your
32% said the
earnings screen shot would make them much or
somewhat more likely to buy the product.
This is the desired effect, of course, but it
was not the majority response.
said the earnings screen shot would have no influence
on their buying decision.
said the earnings screen shot would make them much or
somewhat less likely to buy the product.
Many comments for
this question showed a high degree of
skepticism. "I usually assume that
this type of marketing is a lie" was a
representative comment. "Hype!"
was another. Others pointed out how easily
such graphs can be faked.
association. "An expert's bio says the
expert has shared the stage with General Norman
Schwarzkopf, Former HP CEO Carly Fiorina and
Virgin Founder Richard Branson. Your
7% said they'd
be more likely to buy the expert's book or
hire the expert.
82% said this
information would have no impact on their
11% said they'd
be less likely to buy the expert's book or
hire the expert.
expression that came up a lot in the comments
was "name dropping." One person
noted sarcastically, "This guy likes to be
on stage with big shots. Good for
I was surprised
by the number of respondents who wrote that they
weren't sure what "shared the stage"
meant, exactly, or why it was supposed to be
impressive. Said several, "Who
cares?" Speakers, take note!
coverage. "You're searching
for a financial services advisor and come across
a local expert who's been quoted in the Wall
Street Journal, CNBC, Huffington Post and
Money Magazine. As a result..."
1% said the
media coverage would convince them to hire the
39% said the
media coverage would make them lean toward
hiring the person.
37% said the
media coverage would have no influence.
23% said the
media coverage would get them leaning against
hiring the expert or would convince them not
Reasons given for
negative responses to the media coverage
indicated that it wasn't a reaction to the media
coverage per se, but rather that certain
assumptions were operating: "With all
that fancy-schmancy media coverage I probably
wouldn't be able to afford him, so I'd tend to
look for someone else" or "Because of
all the buzz, I'd worry I couldn't reach the
person if I had a question" or "They
might be more hype than substance, and I'd want
Steady Eddie for a financial
consultant." (These responses hint at
a definite niche for advisors who are competent "nobodies"!)
Quite a number of
people rightly pointed out that self-promotion
success doesn't necessarily prove financial
competence. However, hardly anyone
expressed scorn for this publicity-savvy expert.
"The home page of a website you've never
visited before invites you to 'Join the 255,000
subscribers who eagerly open our newsletter
every Wednesday.' What do you do?"
Less than 1%
would sign up, convinced by the number of
9% would lean
toward signing up, influenced by the number of
69% said the
number of subscribers would be irrelevant to
them when it came to signing up or not.
21% would not
subscribe, finding the implication that they'd
subscribe because others do offensive.
majority of the introvert respondents did not
find this popularity pitch persuasive.
remarked, however, "The idea that the suggestion to
join 255,000 subscribers could be offensive is
beyond laughable." Yet more than one
in five checked off exactly that option!
#2. "While you are shopping on a
website containing many items of interest to
you, you see a link promising to take you to
another page listing 'Our Most Popular
Products.' Do you click on that link?"
Online Course for Introverts
probably or definitely click to see the site's
most popular products.
probably or definitely not click to see the
site's most popular products.
this popularity pitch a good deal more
acceptable than the previous one. A
typical note said, "It's a nice feature to
have, even if it wouldn't make me want to buy
those products." Another common
remark was, "I'd be curious to see what's
most popular. It helps me stay informed on
In the comments,
not one person declared this tactic
offensive. I think that's because the
invitation to click left it to the visitor to
decide whether or not the popularity was
relevant to them. Those who didn't want to
see the most popular products said things like,
"I'm interested in what I'm interested in,
not what's popular."
"The same day, three different people you
follow praise a new book to the skies in their
blogs or tweets. Your response?"
83% would be
somewhat or very interested in checking out
the new book.
10% said they'd
be unmoved by the recommendations.
7% would be
somewhat or very much NOT interested in
checking out the new book because of the
Here we're not
talking about popularity but about
influence. Several respondents thought the
close timing might indicate a marketing campaign
and incentives behind the recommendations, which
they felt might negate the value of
the praise. Many said it depended on the
topic of the book or on who the recommenders
were and why they were following them. One
wrote, "I like to listen to others'
opinions if I know where they are coming from,
but of course I still make my own choices."
With the scenario
in this question, introverts were much more
willing to check out the products than with
actions. "Your utility company
sends you a chart showing that you using more
electricity than your neighbors with comparably
sized properties. This prompts you
51% said they'd
take a serious look at their energy use.
33% said they'd
consider taking a look at their energy use.
16% said they'd
toss away the mailing and do nothing.
care what others are doing? In this
question, there may be a rational basis for
knowing what's up with the Joneses. If the
Joneses consume less electricity and have a
comparably sized property, maybe I could also
use less - and save money too. My husband
and I receive
a mailing like this every so often from Hawaii
Energy, comparing the electricity usage for our
Maui condo to neighbors', and I actually find it
clarified that they would pay attention to the
mailing not because of peer pressure or a desire
to compete with the neighbors but out of care
for the environment, and because the chart
indicated they could probably do more to
help. A few people said they found it
invasive or inappropriate for the energy company
to be giving out this information. One
wrote, "Those charts are
obnoxious." Another wrote, "I'd
dislike the utility company for trying to
chastise me by implication."
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figures. On this question, I
intended to ask whether or not you would sign up
for an on-demand online course that so far had
next to no signups, in contrast to
others that had hundreds or thousands of
students. However, I could
tell from the comments that I didn't state this
question clearly. Many people were
answering with a classroom-like course in mind,
where a low-enrollment class could feel rather
dreary and where it might risk
be brave enough to eat at the restaurant with an
empty parking lot or to buy the book that looked
from the ratings like only one or two people had
purchased it, ever? Alas, I don't have
good data on this issue because I messed up
in asking about it.
A majority of
those responding to my poorly worded
question did say they would probably or definitely
take the course regardless of the student count,
if they were interested in it. Sentiments expressed by
several of the commentors
included: "I'm not afraid of being an
early adopter," "I'm most interested
in the subject, not the student count," and
"Reviews would influence me more than the
Interpretation from Marcia Yudkin
convinced me that it's too simplistic to say
that introverts are indifferent to or hostile to
social proof being used by marketers.
Rather, I would classify forms of social proof
on a continuum from sheer cheerleading on the
basis of popularity at one end to rationales
that have logical grounding at the other end:
Bandwagon Appeals <- - - - ->
Social proof falling on the left side of the
continuum does a better job of enticing
extroverts than introverts, while social proof
falling on the right side of the above continuum
has higher odds of swaying introverts.
Bandwagon appeals explicitly refer to
something's popularity in an attempt to get more
people climbing on board. When such
pitches offer nothing but the numbers or rank
and either enthusiasm or fear-mongering, then
this is a big turnoff for introverts. This
includes fervent references to endorsements by
authority figures. For example:
"9,000 Coaches Can't Be Wrong!"
"Read the #1 Best-selling Career Book - or
"Get the Gadget That Oprah is Raving
"Who Wouldn't Want the #1
"You Can't Ignore Someone With 107,522
Remember what I
said at the start about extroverts being in the
majority in the US? That's why lines like
those above may test well, overall. If all
you care about is influence over the majority,
bandwagon appeals may win the day for you.
But if you aim to earn the loyalty of introverts
as well as extroverts, the above are treacherous
minus the emotion do not usually persuade
introverts, but they don't necessarily offend
them, either, as we saw in the scenario where a
site invites visitors to check out its most
Introverts don't mind appeals to public or
expert opinion as long as they believe the
opinions are most likely genuine, from people
like themselves or those they respect and
there's some credible connection between opinion
and reality. Ditto for information on the
neighbors. It also helps if these appeals
have a low-key tone rather than in the
equivalent of bright colors and all-capital
letters. For example:
A national poll of car mechanics indicating a
preference for a certain brand of tools.
A factual summary of 1- to 5-star user reviews
where readers can drill down and read what the
users actually wrote.
Customer stories that describe exactly how a
product or service solved their problem.
Expert endorsements giving the reasons for the
Also relatively innocuous and possibly helpful
where introverts are concerned, I believe, are
social-proof tactics like:
Number of people who shared an article or blog
List of media mentions achieved by a company or
Roll call of client companies.
Written or video testimonials from customers as
long as these are not merely emotive ("Love
Selected Respondent Comments on Social Proof in
lemmings, even we introverts. We just don't want
to be on stage in the spotlight as 'Top
social proof has some validity, but in many
areas it is overused and tends to look scammy."
proof is an important way to cut through the
'noise' of the overload of information sent my
"I am much
more likely to pay attention to social proof if
I respect the source and am interested in
steer clear of implying that people would be
more likely to do something because it's
popular. No one wants to be assumed to be
a mindless robot. But so long as your
social proof remains centered just in expressing
other people's satisfaction, you'll be
social proof may be persuasitve for more social,
outgoing people, and perhaps introverts are more
influenced by facts, figures, features and
I resist it when it's pitched to me that
'everyone' is doing it."
proof influences me to do more research, not
necessarily to purchase."
"I would be
embarrassed putting the implication before
potential customers that they were herd
social proof is powerful because of competition
and the logic that if many are using something
it must be for a reason."
social proof has little effect on me, I need to
use it in my marketing because it is relevant to
proof isn't a factor for everyone. At best
it has a mild effect on people accustomed to
making their own decisions."
I want to fit in, but it helps me feel safer
buying something, feeling it's likely something
I'll be glad I purchased."
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