A Time-Tested Marketing Trick That May Make You Feel Like A Dummy

In 1950, the short-lived comedy sitcom The Hank McCune Show introduced the American TV audience to “canned laughter.”

Most television viewers would describe “canned laughter” or “laugh tracks” as phony and obvious.  But despite the scorn of TV watchers and critics, the laugh track has been with us since its debut over 60 years ago.


Laugh tracks work.  And the principles that make laugh tracks work, can be employed to grow your business.

The Law Of Social Proof

Dr. Robert Cialdini, Regents’ Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University, has been studying “the psychology of persuasion” for decades and has published several best-selling books on the subjects of influence and persuasion.

In his breakthrough book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Cialdini introduces us to six laws of persuasion that are hard-wired into our minds as deeply as breathing, sleeping and eating.

The Law of Social Proof is simple:           

One of the ways we determine what is correct and incorrect is to find out what other people think is correct or incorrect.

With all of the decisions we have to make on a day to day minute to minute basis, gathering input from others around us is one way we can achieve efficiency in decision making.

Sir, what would you like to order for dinner? Umm… I’ll just have what he’s having

How Marketers and Salespeople Use Social Proof

Because The Law of Social Proof is such a powerful coping mechanism, it has become an instinct that leaps into action without much thought.  It’s not that we are dummies, quite the contrary, we have developed an innate wisdom that tells us we can achieve efficiency and make very good decisions just by following the crowd.

With the Law of Social Proof being present in all of us, marketers and salespeople have learned to use it to their advantage.

“Canned laughter”, while manipulative, is a marketing tactic.  When you hear others laughing, your Pavlovian response is to laugh.  And laugh tracks are just one way marketers leverage this automated response.

Here are a few effective ways to use Social Proof for your business:

  • Smart Networking – One of my golden rules of networking is “attend a few networking events, religiously instead of a bunch of networking events rarely.“  When you attend the same networking events again and again, you will begin to build a group of friends and colleagues.  Active interaction with people at networking events will create more interaction for you as newcomers will take a cue from the others in the group that are interacting with you.
  • Testimonials – Make it a standard part of your process to receive testimonials from people you have worked with.  Put these testimonials on your website and make them easy to find.  I am a fan of putting at least one relevant testimonial from a former customer on each product/service page on my site.  Use full names, titles, business names and head shots if possible for greater believability.
  • Community Building – Building a community of readers and commentators on the content that you create as a business owner is a great way to gain Social Proof.  You can use a blog or a Facebook page as an interactive space on the web.  For WordPress, using a plug-in like Gravatar, which places a head-shot picture of the commenter next to their comment and increases believability.
  • “Followers” – I am a big advocate of social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.  I also believe that the number of followers you have is not as important as the quality of the interactions you have with your followers.  That being said, having lots of “followers”, “likes” and “connections” will lead to having more followers”, “likes” and “connections” via the Law of Social Proof.
  • Build a Referral Network – Referrals are the ultimate form of Social Proof.  When someone in our network, that we trust, refers us to another —- it is extremely powerful.  I certainly don’t need to explain the value of referrals.  However, it bears mentioning that it is very possible to increase the number of referrals you are getting by concentrating on building a Referral Network.  For more on building referrals, read John Jantsch’s excellent book, The Referral Engine.

Using Your Powers For Good Or Evil

In closing of this post, it is worth stating that since the Law of Social Proof is a hard-wired and predictable response in humans, it can be exploited.  Fake or paid testimonials, automated social media followers, paying for blog comments, etc.  are just some of the ways that marketing and salespeople will use this instinctual response against you.

But stating in an email that “100′s of satisfied consumers are already using this product or service” when it is truly the case, is just smart marketing.

My question for you is where do we draw the line?  We certainly know that the majority of TV commercials are employing paid actors to give testimonials.  We know that the “laugh track” is trying to manipulate us into enjoying a sitcom more than we should.  How should we [ethically] employ this time tested marketing trick to grow our businesses?

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

Image courtesy of Anne


  1. Russ: This is a terrific reminder of what works.

  2. Hey Russ,

    I used to love listening to the laughter on the I Love Lucy Show…but I don’t think it was canned. It was real….like truth.
    In marketing as in life I will always believe it is imperative to “always tell the truth.” If the truth is that “hundreds of folks are …” though it appears canned to some, then so be it. Fake is fake and the truth will always be noted in the delivery and results. You can not “can” or fake the truth.
    Marketing in truth is not a tactic it is a winners breast plate of honor.
    Thanks for the thought.
    Jennifer Tobias

    • @Jennifer — Absolutely Jennifer — this tactic is used by marketers and salespeople to prey upon those that are unsuspecting. I think the lesson is, if you do indeed have Social Proof of your success — get it out there!

  3. Russ, Great article. As a counselor, I am glad you remind people to use this mind manipulation technique authentically. I believe what goes around comes around, if you are tricking people, it will eventually hurt yourself and your business. Have a great day….can you hear the laughter in the background?….feeling happy now? :)

    • @Karen Walker — I think most that are using this tactic in a manipulative manner are building a business on a weak foundation. Building REAL social proof takes time and comes with a real investment in others — and it is difficult to fake.

  4. Great article, Russ…filled with credible information that is clear and easy to put into practice. Thanks for the snowy day pick me up!

    • @Deb — Thanks so much for stopping by my site! Social Proof is something that I always knew (subconsciously) existed. But until I really started to concentrate on it, I had no idea just how prevalent it was in our society. It is literally everywhere!

  5. Great advice — loved the idea of focusing on selected networking events rather than spreading yourself too thin!

    • @Mac — Yes, when we build rapport with people at a networking event —- it leads to more rapport with other members. When we spread ourselves too thing and we are always the newcomer, we aren’t taking full advantage of the Law of Social Proof.

  6. Being in a business where my “product” is based on honesty and integrity, it only makes sense that my marketing should follow the same principles. Thanks for the reminder.

    • @Jan Roberg — Absolutely Jan. We have to remember to resist the temptation to use these laws of influence in dishonest ways because as tiny business owners, our reputation is all that we have! Thanks for stopping by!

  7. Great idea Russ. You made me think of some the treatments we recommend to pet owners and how I could be
    marketing even better. I’ve been busy since the MVMA lecture with your ideas. Thanks

    • @Dwight Amstutz — Thanks for stopping by Dwight! It was great meeting you at the MVMA conference. Veterinary Clinics like yours can take advantage of Social Proof in many ways but none better than getting Testimonials it seems to me.

  8. Russ, three things.

    1. I pretty much agree with the smart networking rule, but also have found that by not attending other events your tribe begins to stifle. Attending other events on occasion can help build that tribe and reach out to new avenues/people.

    2. I’ve always found testimonials to be tricky. When I first started doing affiliate marketing, adding testimonials was a ‘given’ – but they were fake. I made them up. So it always makes me wonder nowadays how many of them are real or not. I think in order to keep it ethical, you shouldn’t make them up (duh). And if you do put testimonials on your site, link to the person that left it. That way, if someone wants to, they can follow up and verify what is said as true.

    3. As stated above, I think there is a line to draw when making statements and ‘creating’ social proof. Where is that line, though? I dunno. How do we quantify it? I sure don’t know.

    • @St Louis SEO — great stuff Will.
      1. I agree 100%, I have changed up my networking events as well but always decide whether this is going to be a group that I want to attend regularly and, if not, I don’t go at all.
      2. Great point. In fact, I don’t know what the latest is on this but I know the FCC was cracking down on these “fake testimonial” blogs a while back. It seems like it would be nearly impossible to police.
      3. I don’t know either but I think true social proof is something worth going through the trouble of gathering and displaying on and off-line.

      Thanks for the awesome feedback!

  9. I’ll have whatever Gretchen is having…

  10. Robert Gatesh says:

    1. I pretty much agree with the smart networking rule, but also have found that by not attending other events your tribe begins to stifle. Attending other events on occasion can help build that tribe and reach out to new avenues/people.

    I find that the first few minutes of networking is doing a “warm-up”–saying hi to those you know. It’s the, “Yup, I’m still hear.” Kind of like the dog marking his territory. Then move on to unfamiliar faces to see what’s new on the menu!

    Trying new networking events keeps you in fresh markets, the old ones give you the credibility of longevity!

  11. It’s a great article and being honest online is important because you may meet the person face to face someday.

    • @Matt Letich — Absolutely Matt, and it probably doesn’t matter if you meet them face to face or not, your reputation can be smeared over the web just as easily as it can be face to face.

  12. The Law of Social Proof teeters on the edge of exploitation. The subconscious divide of right or wrong is all about choices. You will reap what you sow.

  13. @ruby wilhite — You are right about that Ruby! But it doesn’t have to be exploitative. When you have true Social Proof, make sure you broadcast it, just don’t forget the operative word —- true.

  14. “Social Proof” applies to retailers as well. Ever driven by a store and saw a lot of activity in front of a store or in a parking lot? The more activity people see at your store, the more convinced everyone is that they should be there too! Obviously this is something you can help create by doing something special to create interest from others. We all feel a lot better going somewhere where we feel others are going. Think about being in a strange town and looking for a place to eat. You basically avoid those places where there doesn’t seem to be a car in the parking lot. Activity and action around a store or restaurant = instant social proof ( at least to some degree)! Good article!

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