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"Kim, just wanted to say thanks for a fantastically informative site."

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People follow the lead of others they respect

By Kim Harrison,

Consultant, Author and Principal of

1. The principle of social proof. People follow the lead of similar others.

The application: use peer power whenever it’s available.

People rely heavily on others around them for cues on how to think, feel and act. Experiments have confirmed this intuitive characteristic.

For instance, if people become aware that friends and neighbors have given to charity (through having a list of names displayed to them), they are more likely to give as well. The longer the donor list, the more likely they are to donate. This is a form of social evidence about how they should respond. If the list comprised the names of strangers, they would not respond as readily.

The lesson for you is that persuasion can be extremely effective when it comes from peers. The science supports what most sales professionals already know: Testimonials from satisfied customers work best when the satisfied customer and the prospective customer share similar circumstances.

The same psychology applies in the workplace. If you need to sell the benefits of a corporate initiative to your staff and find a group of cynical employees is resisting, rather than trying to convince them yourself, ask a veteran who supports the initiative to speak up for it at a team meeting. That person is more likely to sway the recalcitrant group than more words from you. Another way of looking at this: influence is often best exerted horizontally rather than vertically.

Public relations practitioners are familiar with this powerful principle under another name: third party endorsement. This principle demonstrates that it is more effective to have someone respected by your target audience say good things about you or your product than from you saying the same things yourself.

Here’s how you can seek an endorsement or testimonial

What can you say to people to get them to provide you with a powerful testimonial? Here’s how: be specific about what you want them to do. Ask them to answer these three questions and you will get golden responses:

  1. What were your perceptions of our organization/service/product before you knew more about us/used our product, and were you reluctant in any way to become involved or use our product?

  2. How did you feel as a result of your involvement with us/purchasing our product?

  3. What specific benefits did you get from this?

Confirm with them that they are happy for relevant comments to be quoted from their feedback to use in testimonials.

Think of ways you could use this principle for yourself in internal or external communication. Unleash people power by showing the responses of others and their successes through contact with your organization or by using your product.  

The principle of social proof or consensus is articulated by Robert Cialdini, Professor of Psychology at Arizona State University, in his book Influence: Science and Practice, published by Allyn & Bacon, 2001.

This article is one of a series on core PR skills by Kim Harrison, consultant, author and Principal of


About the Author

Kim Harrison is a recognized authority in the public relations field. His website,, provides a wealth of informative articles and resources on public relations techniques and management.


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