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Netflix analysed: 2 ways to apply Social Proof

Netflix analysed: 2 ways to apply social proof

Think you watch enough Netflix as it is? Netflix could increase your binge-watching behaviour by applying only a few simple Brain & Behaviour tricks.

Feel left out?

Ever wondered where your friend at work got all her facts about mother nature? Have you always been impressed by her knowledge, but have been reluctant to ask how she got so smart? You occasionally hear her talk about documentaries, but you never remember the names. What if you could go through her favourite documentary list on Netflix and watch them too, so you don’t feel like a noob?

Alternatively, have you ever been at home browsing through your personal Netflix recommendations list, feeling that bit of doubt. Finding nothing but new chick flicks, all similar to Gossip Girl or Vampire Diaries? Hearing a tiny voice in your head whispering; “this new show is going to be a gigantic waste of your time”. What if you could see immediately that your best friend has already seen, and loved it? So why is there no feature allowing you to find out what your friends are watching on Netflix?

Why not?

In 2006 Netflix announced the Netflix Prize, a machine learning and data mining competition for movie rating prediction. They offered $1 million to whoever could improve the accuracy of their existing system, called Cinematch, by 10%. They conducted this competition to find new ways to improve the recommendation lists. These lists they provide to their members are a vital part of their business. They were willing to spend a lot of money to improve their movie rating prediction. But, why not do it an easy way and listen to dr Robert Cialdini’s well-known principles of influence to do so?

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Social proof

People are prone to imitate others. The actions of other people provide us intel into any given situation. Be it fashion, food, or movies, we learn from the majority of people in certain circumstances. We call this phenomenon Social Proof. Social Proof is a crucial principle of persuasion used to simplify our decision making. In his bestseller book Influence, Robert Cialdini describes social proof as “the tendency to see an action as more appropriate when others are doing it.” The author claims Social Proof is more powerful when we’re uncertain what to do. Or in this case, what to watch.

The people we like

It is undeniable that people (subconsciously) seek approval of their friends and people we like in general. We value the opinion of people that are most like us. The recommendation of people that are just like us persuade you into watching the same movies on Netflix. Besides the approval from our friends, we’d also like the support of experts. Or, our favourite celebrities.

The people we want to be like

We find the opinion of experts important. Due to a cognitive bias called the halo effect, we think the experts exert authority. The same reasons apply to the influence of celebrities. We look up to them and want to be like them. And thus, we want to watch what they watch. Therefore, we are more easily persuaded by celebrities and experts.

Six types of Social Proof

There are six different types of Social Proof Netflix should look into to make your binge-watching experience more enjoyable. Searching for social proof can be defined as seeking approval from your social environment for your behaviour. If others approve your choice of movies and series, it must be okay to watch five episodes in a row.

Your friends

Most people subconsciously like things that people that resemble them, like as well. We value the opinions of the people that are most like us. Besides, we like being liked. We always seek the approval of our friends.

The experts

This type of social proof works because of a bias called the halo effect. Usually positively correlated, like viewing someone who is attractive as likely to be successful. The experts also appear to be authorities on the subject. We are likely to immediately trust authorities and value their opinion.


We trust the world of people with massive influence, such as celebrities, because we look up to them, as well as we want to resemble them. You want to have the shampoo Doutzen Kroes uses, drink the coffee George Clooney recommends, and watch the movies Angelina Jolie watches.

The masses

When a lot of people behave in a certain way, it must be correct and appropriate. Related to this type of social proof is FOMO (the fear of missing out).

People like you

This type of social proof is effective when you compare your list of favourites with users that have similar lists. You can make further recommendations of other movies and series, based on these lists.

Other users

Having another Netflix-user give positive feedback on a show or movie works better than when Netflix states the positive feedback itself.

Fear of missing out

Would it not be great to stop feeling left out and reluctant to ask your friends what is “hip and happening” in movieland at the moment? To be able to peek into their digital movie library instead? When you see all your friends and colleagues are watching Riverdale, but you are not sure if it is something for you as well, there is a big chance you will start watching it anyhow. You don’t want to be that guy who has no idea who Fred is. Let alone what happened to him.

Besides Social Proof, another is another essential social psychological phenomenon influencing our behaviours and feelings. It is called the fear of missing out, FOMO for short. It is social anxiety characterised by “a desire to stay continually connected with what others are doing”. Netflix could eliminate a big part of this negative emotion by showing you exactly what you need to be watching to not miss out on anything.

What Netflix should change

For some reason, Netflix has not incorporated two of the most crucial psychological principles that could make our Netflix experience more enjoyable and useful. Our suggestion would be to incorporate at least one of the principles we have discussed in this article to improve everyone’s Netflix experience. Find shows your friends are watching so you don’t feel left out. Your best friend has a new favourite show? Big chance you are going to like it as well. These tips could potentially save everyone much time! And so, more time for watching!

Ian MacCorquodale

Ian MacCorquodale

After studying Brain & Cognition at the University of Amsterdam I knew I wanted to try to make neuroscientific findings applicable in some way. This idea led me to Neurofied. Marketing is an art. A creative pursuit based on assumptions. I add the science of how our brain and psychology works. We (humans) know a lot about our brain but we don’t apply it to get better results. That’s what I do. Mostly in three areas: websites, online marketing, and education through workshops. With the rise of research areas like Consumer neuroscience, Neuromarketing, Behavioural economics and Artificial intelligence, it is a great time to be alive :)

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