Apple’s iPhone and Social Proof

Unless you didn’t get near any media outlet last week, you probably saw or heard about the thousands of people who stood in line for Apple’s new iPhone. Many major media outlets had reporters on scene, including the NYTimes, BBC, and LA Times.

Apple fan enters store

Apple has recorded all of this in the iPhone gallery pages on Apple.com. The gallery shows long lines of both happy and exhausted Apple fans, some staying over night to get a chance to purchase the long-awaited iPhone. They also show banks of reporters with huge camera lenses trying to get a perfect shot of the action. And then they show the relief and happiness of the moment of purchase. These people are true fans, and the gallery depicts them as conquering heroes. One almost gets the feeling of religious fervor when looking at all these images.

Unless you didn’t get near any media outlet last week, you probably saw or heard about the thousands of people who stood in line for Apple’s new iPhone. Many major media outlets had reporters on scene, including the NYTimes, BBC, and LA Times.

Apple fan enters store

Apple has recorded all of this in the iPhone gallery pages on Apple.com. The gallery shows long lines of both happy and exhausted Apple fans, some staying over night to get a chance to purchase the long-awaited iPhone. They also show banks of reporters with huge camera lenses trying to get a perfect shot of the action. And then they show the relief and happiness of the moment of purchase. These people are true fans, and the gallery depicts them as conquering heroes. One almost gets the feeling of religious fervor when looking at all these images.

Furthermore, the blogging world was abuzz with the iPhone. Not only were bloggers writing about the iPhone every day, but some enterprising folks took videos of their experience. Some even showed the event in real-time.

This is social proof at its finest. Social proof is the idea that in situations where we don’t know what course of action to take (should we buy the iPhone?) we tend to watch and rely on the behavior of others to determine our own. When we see hundreds of people in line for something we assume they must be in line for something worth being in line for. The overall effect is that we start thinking the iPhone must be worth it.

This isn’t a new phenomenon…it’s as old as they get. But what is surprising about the iPhone launch is how Apple is using it to its advantage. Apple knew they had tons of iPhones in stock. They knew that you didn’t have to wait in line for days to get one. But they also knew the power of how that waiting in line would affect those who weren’t, and so they were there to record the whole thing. Now, that excitement is part of their site design…right in the gallery.

We can design for social proof in many ways. Amazon shows its most popular items sold. Techmeme shows the most talked about blog entries. The NYTimes shows the most-emailed articles. All of these features don’t explicitly tell us to buy or do the same as others. But that’s the effect they’re having. When we see so many people going out of their way to do something that we may have been wondering about, it surely makes us more likely to do it ourselves.

So the question is: How can you leverage social proof in your design? Is there an event or activity that your readers/customers/fans are doing that you could record or show to others?

Apple has done an amazing job of leveraging social proof, both in the build up to the launch as well as in the recording and sharing of it. It may not be part of the design of the product itself, but it sure is part of the iPhone experience.

Published: July 2nd, 2007

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