That seems logical. If the new restaurant downtown is packed, it must be good. If everybody I know follows the NFL, I probably do too. If the parking lot at work is full of SUVs, I’m likely to have one as well. 

Yet, if I eat at that new restaurant, is it because I want to support the downtown area? Because I like Mediterranean cuisine? Because everybody in my workplace has been and I haven’t?

In Invisible Influence, The Hidden Forces That Shape Behavior, Jonah Berger posits that many consumer decisions are shaped not by the individual, but by social influence on the individual. One experiment highlights a website offering free music downloads. With a twist. The music was by bands few people had ever heard of and there were no well-known songs. Participants could listen and download for free. Over 14,000 people participated. Song order was shuffled to eliminate bias. But, in addition to the song title and name of the band, some website visitors were given information on numbers of downloads while others weren’t. Simply providing popularity information had a big impact on the number of downloads for each song. The popular songs became even more popular and the less popular songs got less popular.

An experiment in San Marcos CA tried to determine what appeal was most effective in getting people to reduce energy consumption. The researchers tested:

  1. saving money
  2. an environmental appeal
  3. conservation approach
  4. the neighborhood approach (here’s what your neighbors are doing)

They measured the impact on actual energy usage, and the ad campaign made very little impact, except for the group who had received the social message. This strategy — providing utility customers (hey, that’s all of us!) with more digestible information on our energy bills and using the social nudge strategy, helped Alex Laskey and Dan Yates build a company. Opower is credited with saving 6 terawatt-hours of energy. That’s about equivalent to all of the power all the homes in Alaska and Hawaii consume in an entire year. Oh, and Laskey and Yates sold Opower to Oracle for $532 million a couple of months ago.

Does a social strategy make sense for your brand? Well, if you go to Philadelphia, do you have to go to either Pat’s or Geno’s for a Philly cheesesteak, or will one from a place you never heard of a block or two away be just as good or even better? If it’s a Facebook moment, you’re probably going to Geno’s or Pat’s.

Take good care of your current customers. They are the gateway to making your brand popular.