E 34 - Don't push the big red button - power of negative social proof

Season #3

Episode 34


Dear Bootcamp,

Every year we run health campaigns reminding people not to use emergency services for non-emergencies and we also frequently tell them not to miss their appointments as it costs loads of money and appointments are hard to come by. So if they cancel someone else use that appointment.  We are still tackling the same issues a decade later, what else can we do?

Best wishes



Bootcamp says…..


You are using a messaging strategy called ‘negative social proof’.

What is negative social proof?

Negative social proof is essentially when you use examples of the problem behaviour or your lead in your messaging with the negative message. What you want people to stop doing.

All it does is place the problem at the front of the mind and can go as far as to normalise that behaviour and in turn give permission for others to join the herd and do the very behaviour you don’t want.


Negative social proof explained in 60 seconds

Professor Robert Cialdini, Dr Noah Goldstein and Steve Martin ran a research project at the Arizona Petrified Forest testing what messages would stop the visitors from stealing pieces of petrified wood. They divided the park into three zones and posted two signs with different messages in two of the zones and left the third zone as a control group.

Sign one: Please don’t remove petrified wood from the park, in order to preserve the natural state of the Petrified Forest.

Sign two: Many past visitors have removed the petrified wood from the park, changing the natural state of the Petrified Forest.

What was the result? Did the messaging impact on behaviour?


Sign two tripled the amount stolen! 😲

The lesson?

Tell people what you WANT them to do.

Do not lead with what you do not want them to do.

3 AHA moments

  • Do you have a messaging strategy? Do you plan using a messaging strategy. Do you use negative social proof unknowingly?
  •  Use negative social proof in your strategy but not alone. It will get attention, shock and drama but will not deliver action and can seriously backfire! 
  • Focus on what you want people to do. The desired action. Reduce the noise. 



BAD LUCK, HOT ROCKS (badluckhotrocks.com)


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