The people around us influence our behaviour. We tend to behave in ways that align with these perceived or real social norms.

Berkowitz, A. (2003) An Overview of the Social Norms Approach.


Background

Social norms drive the rules of our behaviour. We infer them from the people around us. If someone in our immediate environment or wider social group does something or holds a belief, so do we.

Social norms can be learnt. For startups launching new products and new features, the behaviour of early adopters shape the norms of how people use your technology.

Before Airbnb, Lyft and Rover, even the thought of inviting strangers into our homes, our cars and to our pets would put shivers down our spine. Yet, they have changed how people trust each other. Kick-starting the sharing economy and a whole host of boundless sharing with strangers.

The golden rule of social norms, don’t tell people when they are doing something good, but it is against the social norm. It causes a boomerang effect. People change their behaviour, in favour of the norm and towards the unwanted behaviour.

Nearly half of all American colleges and universities have used social norms in their anti-drinking campaigns1. Highlighting the percentage of consumption on campus. It only served to tell students how much they can drink before reaching the excessive drinkers of their social group. Increasing the amount drank by students who previously drank a little2.

How Might We

  • How might we discover the social norms of the different people that use our product?
  • How might we match our product to people’s social norms?
  • How might we highlight social norms in our design?
  • How might we craft the behaviour of early adopters of our product?
  • How might we avoid highlighting social norms that cause people to do unwanted behaviours?
  • How might we introduce a new social norm to benefit people?
  • How might we use a social norm from another similar group of people?

Use with HEART

  • Adoption: increase uptake by identifying the existing social norms. Use them to align your message and campaigns to make your product more persuasive.
  • Retention: build a community around a product or technology helps to establish norms within your group of fans. Norms of usage and behaviour can maintain retention.
  • Engagement: how your product’s community interacts will impact your engagement. Try and create the norms early on to affect how people use your product.

Keep reading

Watch: Barry Schwartz's 2005 TED talk, The Paradox of Choice.

Read article: Tanz, J. How Airbnb And Lyft Finally Got Americans To Trust Each Other

Read paper: Berkowitz, A.  An overview of the social norms approach. in Changing the culture of college drinking: A Socially Situated Health Communication Campaign.


References:

  • 1. Wechsler, H., Nelson, T., Lee, J.E., Seiberg, M., Lewis, C., & Keeling, R. (2003). Perception and reality: A national evaluation of social norms marketing interventions to reduce college students’ heavy alcohol use. Quarterly Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 64, 484–494.
  • 2. Berkowitz, A,. (2004). An overview of the social norms approach. in Changing the culture of college drinking: A Socially Situated Health Communication Campaign.