What hotel towels can tell you about business

Promoting the majority view (social proof) can have tremendous results in getting the response you want.

Most of us are familiar with the cards placed in bathrooms asking guests to reuse the towels and pointing out the environmental benefits of doing so. These cards are a pretty good example of persuasion in action. Research shows that about 40 per cent of guests do reuse their towels at least once and if a guest stays for more than four nights that figure rises to 75 per cent. Social scientist Robert Cialdini wanted to know if there was a way to persuade even more guests to reuse their towels and experimented by changing the words on the cards to read: ‘The majority of guests who stay in our hotel reuse their towels’. Towel reuse instantly rose by a further 26 per cent. But why should such a dramatic improvement occur for what was, on the face of it, just a simple change of words?

The answer lies in something psychologists call social proof. When people are told what others like them are doing there is a tendency to follow the crowd and do it too. If you have ever joined a queue and not really been sure if it’s the right one, or joined the crowd around the street performer, you are experiencing the persuasive power of social proof.

People will often deny that the behaviour of others around them influences their own but study after study shows this is simply not the case and for that reason it can be a very effective business tool. 


You can learn more in Robert Cialdini's book: Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.