The Sinister Side of Social Proofs – How To Guard Yourself Against It

Published by Klint Ciriaco on

credit: miapowterr

Some social proof tactics disgusts me. One pitch in particular goes something like this. 

“This is Annie. She made $10,000 last month. This is John. he made $17,00. If they can do it, so can you.” 

Another individual I saw just recently started his pitch like this: “Here are 5 people making millions of dollars…” 

I’m not discounting the success of the program on those individuals. After all, they may have worked hard and made some gains. 

But here’s where the sinister part comes into play. 

Let’s say a guru has about 5,000 students under his belt. But, only 10 of them made a million dollars. He then goes to the internet and shares the success stories of his 5 students. 

So what the heck happened to the other 4,595 students? 


In psychology, this is called Survival Bias. It’s when successful “specimens” are presented as the norm. It’s like looking outside through a peephole. You can see a majestic tree, but you can’t see the burnt forest. 

One example that stands out the most is Michael Jordan. Stories after stories are told about him to explain how he became the greatest basketball player of all time. Here’s the thing. There were a lot of people who trained as hard as he did and had a similar profile as his’ but didn’t become as great as him.

People in this day and age have learned to use survival bias to spread false hope at a high cost. 

So how do you protect yourself? 

By using statistics. 

It gives you the ability to see the whole terrain. For instance, if the sample size (5,000 students) is massive but the success rate (5 successful students = .02% success rate) is small, you’re betting on a questionable outcome. 

But, don’t just walk away

The beauty of being aware of the survival bias is that you tell yourself to widen your view to avoid pitfalls and even find shortcuts. 

It also doesn’t just protect you against shady salespeople. It protects yourself against YOURSELF. Yes, we unknowingly use the survival bias on ourselves. 

I’ll give you an example from my own venture. 

I wanted to become a youtuber so I studied 10-15 successful youtube channels. Most of them have the following characteristics: 

  • Over 1 million subscribers
  • About 300 videos uploaded
  • They’ve been uploading videos for 3 years. 

I had a rude awakening when Nick Nimmin shared a statistic that came from Tubebuddy.  

The stats say on average, a youtuber who has about 1M subscribers have uploaded 3,873 videos. That’s close to 4,000 videos! It means the 15 youtubers I was studying were freaking unicorns. 

So, I changed my approach and set different expectations. Instead of modeling youtubers, I decided to figure out what they did wrong and avoid their mistakes. Instead of thinking, “I’ll have a million subscribers in 3 years,” I told myself, “This is a decade long project.” 

So next time a guru uses this tactic on you or you decide to model someone, first take an outside view before taking action. 

Categories: Applications