How to use social proof to increase training course attendance

How to use social proof to increase training attendance

In a previous post I introduced the 3-Step model that you can use to improve training attendance. In this post I’m going to delve into one very specific part of the model that helps us to “create DESIRE”: ‘Using social proof’.

Why you need to “create DESIRE” for your courses

Employees choose to attend training courses based on the results that expect to get. If they don’t know, understand or believe the results that your training courses will deliver, they are unlikely to register and even less likely to attend.

So, if you are going to improve attendance on your training courses, you’ll need to create desire in your employees. One way to do this is to ‘use social proof’.

Why you should use social proof

In a previous post, I covered why (and how) to sell the end benefit of your courses to increase training attendance. I explained why you need to make a bold claim about the results your attendees will get as a result of applying what they’ll learn.

This is powerful all on its own, but to really maximise the impact, we need to back up what we’ve said with evidence from others i.e. social proof.

For example, compare the following:

  1. “Attend the sales skills course to learn the skills needed to double your sales in 6 months”
  2. “Attend the sales skills course to learn the skills that enabled John Smith (ABC Dept) to double their sales in just 6 months”

Although #1 is strong, it is clear that #2 is even stronger.

There is a lot of psychological research that shows that when deciding what to believe and to think and do, we tend to look at what others do. You may have heard of the Asch conformity experiments that were run by Solomon Asch in the 1950s:

A participant joins a room with a group of others (seemingly participants in a study but they happen to be actors in cahoots with the experimenter).

They’re all asked to identify which of three lines they are shown is the same length as another reference line. The whole group correctly identifies the line that matches the reference line. In half the groups, this leads to a successful matching rate of >99%.

However, in the other half of the groups, after a few correct answers, the confederates / actors start incorrectly identifying the matching line.

Does the real participant go against the group, when it’s clear everyone else is wrong?

No. Many agreed with the group, reducing their success rate to 63.2%.

That’s a demonstration of quite how powerful it can be when other people around us are saying or doing something or behaving in a particular way. The power of social proof cannot be overestimated.

How to use social proof

If you’re not making it obvious that other people are registering and attending a training course then people will assume the opposite; that actually people aren’t attending or that it’s not beneficial to attend.

This isn’t about tricking people into believing something that’s not true, it’s about making visible things that are going on. For example, making it visible that of the 12 spots you’ve got available in the training course that 6 have already gone within the first few days.

Or even better, making it visible that people have got the desired results from attending the course.

Making the invisible, visible

There’s a number of ways you can use social proof to do this.

Using quotes and testimonials is one of the easiest and best ways. For example:

I attended Alexis’s webinar on how to improve training attendance. It highlighted strategies I could use immediately to get bums on seats.” Celia, L&D Manager

You can also use statistics, such as:

After attending the webinar on how to improve training attendance, attendees were asked how likely they’d be to recommend the recording to others (on a scale of 1 to 10). 80% of attendees gave the session a 9 or 10 out of 10.

Or even just numbers:

There are just 12 spaces remaining on my course to improve training attendance.

You can use these in the emails and promotional materials that you use; highlighting the number of people that have already registered or even better, highlight specific people and why they’ve registered.

For example:

“Dan registered for this course because ‘ I really want to improve my sales skills when presenting to clients, to help increase my conversion rate at the last hurdle.’”

What we can ‘prove’

When we think of social proof, there’s a 3-level hierarchy I developed to help you consider the options you have for what you will ‘prove’. The power of the influence of what you are proving at each of the levels increases as we move up the hierarchy.

The hierarchy of social proof

Level 1: Expected quality of input

This is the bottom level of the hierarchy. We are only backing up the suggestion that the course will be worthwhile based on what went into developing it, or based on other people planning to attend.

For example:

“I’m looking forward to attending the course because the presenter is an expert in sales improvement.”

Or having an expert who’s going to be delivering the course highlighting their credentials so that the people being asked to attend believe that the quality of what they’re going to learn is high.

Level 2: Perceived usefulness of the content (after people have attended it)

Once people have been on the course (or during!), get them to provide feedback about what they thought about it.

For example:

“I found it really useful and I completely expect to double my dales as a result.”

So this is generally based on feedback from people who have actually got experience of the content – and although they haven’t got results yet, they believe they will.

Level 3: Direct results

At the top of the pyramid, we provide proof of people who have attended the training and got real results. For example, someone saying:

“I’ve doubled my sales between March and June by applying the principles I learned.”

It doesn’t only have to be quotes though, statistics work too. For example:

75% of L&D managers on the L&D Accelerator say they would ‘strongly agree’ that their performance appraisal scores have improved as a result of being a member.

You can see the power that this social proof has will increase as you move up this hierarchy – but so is the difficulty of getting it. If you don’t have those results, because you’ve only been running the course a week, then you’ll need to use level two. If you’ve never run the course before then you’ll need to use level one.

Putting social proof into action

Hopefully you now realise:

  1. You should think about the different types of social proof that you can use and how powerful each is.
  2. Regardless of whether the course is run yet or not, you should be able to use social proof in some form.
  3. You need to plan how you’ll collect feedback for use as social proof in advance!

Remember, there are no excuses for not using social proof. Even if this is the first time you’ve run the course, use level one – emphasize why you and others think that the quality of the input is so high.

If you work in L&D and want to learn about how to lead your organization from ‘average’ to ‘exceptional’, consider applying to join the L&D Accelerator™. Amongst a whole load of other resources and perks, it contains content that 100% of L&D managers rate 8+ out of 10. (See? Social proof!).

About The Author

Alexis Kingsbury

Alexis is founder of the Parentpreneur Accelerator and Making Greatness Ltd. He is a serial entrepreneur, with experience creating start-ups in a variety of areas, particularly in SaaS and EdTech. He is also a lucky husband and proud dad, and now helps other 'parentpreneurs' like him to achieve their dreams of having successful businesses, making a difference in the world, and spending time with the people they love.


  • Alexis Kingsbury

    August 21, 2015

    Thanks Otilia, glad you found it useful.

  • Otilia

    August 20, 2015

    Very interesting article! Thank you so much for sharing!