Monday 17 February 2014

How to use social proof in support of KM

Product endorsement by Steven Wong (ATKR)
Product endorsement,  a photo by Steven Wong (ATKR)on Flickr.
I blogged last week about Social Proof, and what a big risk this can be within Knowledge Management due to the way it can distort conversations and discussions.

However there is one context in which Social Proof can be very useful to the Knowledge Manager, and that is when you are marketing KM within your organisation.

A really useful book for the KM Marketer, and a classic of the Persuasion Literature, is "Influence, the psychology of persuasion" by Robert Cialdini.  Cialdini talks about the tricks used by "Compliance professionals" (salesmen, politicians, TV advertisers etc, who want you to comply with their proposals). Some of the tricks are counter-intuitive (the idea that you can sell more by raising the price), some are personal (mirroring), and one of the big compliance ploys is the use of Social Proof.

You should realise that when you are introducing and promoting Knowledge Management in your organisation, you are a Compliance Professional.  Just as any used car salesman you are "promoting your wares" as part of the change management program (though KM is a far more valuable product than a used Ford), and you need to understand the ploys of persuasion in order to do your job.

Here is how you use Social Proof (which is one important factor people look for in make decisions - namely to look at what everyone else is doing or saying, and then copying them).

Social proof is most influential (says Cialdini) under two conditions
  • in times of uncertainty, and
  • under conditions of similarity (when the people to be copied are most similar to the person you want to persuade).
The uncertainty is greatest in the early stages of your Knowledge Management implementation campaign, when people are most unsure about what KM is, and whether they should get involved. That's where the social proof comes in.

The similarity will be greatest when you can show people in your own organisation, at the same sort of level, trying KM and gaining benefit. Do this as follows;
  • begin conducting trials and "proof of concept" studies of KM in-house, with your most willing advocates
  • when (if) the trial is a success, ask the advocate to tell their story on camera. 
  • record a short you-tube-style video story, along these lines - "this was my problem, I tried KM as a solution, this was the benefit I got". 
  • use these videos widely, embedded in PowerPoint, on the company Intranet, in your KM introductions etc.
You know exactly the sort of story - you see it in TV commercials all the time; the voice of the "person on the street" saying "I used to be ashamed to go out, then I tried "Miracle Acne Cream" and now I am the centre of attention". The reason the advertisers use these stories is because they work. On a deep subconscious level, people uncertain about the product will use the "person in the street" as an indication that people "just like them" get value from the product.

The difference is that the TV companies often use actors reading a script, and you will use real people telling a real story, but the principle is the same.

Use the  principle by showing people from your own company, as similar as possible to the person you want to influence, gaining value from KM.

That's how you use Social Proof.

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