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.

Here’s why:

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!

Get new articles by email

Get content marketing and analytics articles (No charge)

About Russ Henneberry

I'm Russ. I'm a content marketing and analytics professional.

I'm currently the Director of Editorial for DigitalMarketer.com but I've worked in a content marketing and analytics capacity for companies like CrazyEgg, Salesforce.com and Network Solutions. I analyze, measure and improve content and social media marketing.Connect with Russ on Twitter .


  1. Great info. I just have a question, though, if you don’t mind. While I’m not new with content marketing, because I’ve been at it for a few years for someone else, I don’t have any social proof.

    I don’t believe in lying, so that is out, and my website doesn’t even have any readers yet.

    So, how can I provide social proof? I can’t use my past clients because I still technically freelance for them, and there are privacy issues. I am trying to build my brand, stand out and find some of my own clients, but it is difficult. Any ideas?

  2. Great tips on networking! I like the idea of going to some networking events to build up a reputation versus hitting as many as you can without making yourself known. Thanks!