I spent an hour with a friend and behavioral science/behavioral investor author yesterday recording a podcast. I’ll alert you when/if it goes live.

We talked about a lot of things – one of which was using social proof as a behavioral nudge. I wrote about it a few days back – suggesting social proof is one of the most underutilized social psychology techniques. And I stand by that.

My friend mentioned a very important point that I failed to bring up in my original post. There is the “anti-nudge” side of social proof. As powerful as social proof is when done correctly, and done well, using the technique incorrectly can have disastrous impact on your outcomes.

When you tell your sales force that “only 30% of sales reps have hit their goal” you might think you’re firing up the troops, but in reality you’re telling them that not hitting goal is what most people are doing and therefore it’s okay. You’ve given them permission to not work as hard because everyone is in the same boat – nothing abnormal about being below the standard. I’m like everyone else!

Social proof can signal that everyone is doing well – or that everyone is doing poorly.

Be careful with your signals.

Always position social proof in the direction you want people to behave. Talk about how 100% of salespeople who are on target have completed formal account plans or have had at least two conversations with clients. Those statements communicate that “successful” people are doing these specific things and if you want to be successful you should do them too.

Social proof is a blessing and a curse. Understanding the technique is key to applying it well.

And for the record, 100% of clients with good program designs include my recommendations.

You heard it here first.