How 1 in 4 People Can Win Your Campaign

The crowd briskly walked past the New York City street corner, as if it were any other sunny day in their concrete jungle. Eventually, one person noticed someone looking up toward the sky, and pausing from their scurry, their gaze followed toward the clouds. Then another, and another.

Within moments, you couldn’t even walk by without noticing the crowds staring up; and the odds were that you were going to stop walking and stare up as well — without any idea of what you were staring at.

This was the result of one of the most famous psychology experiments from Stanley Milgram.

The conclusion was clear: it doesn’t take much to get someone to stop what they are doing to conform to those around them. What was less clear is whether there was a “tipping point” at which the majority of passers-by stopped walking and looked up.

But, that’s a street corner where you couldn’t help but notice the crowd. Society doesn’t operate that way, at large —or does it?
Consider this recent Gallup poll: 2 in 3 Americans support gay marriage. But, just a little over 20 years ago, the same poll showed that the number was flipped: 2 in 3 Americans in 1996 opposed gay marriage. Again, to borrow a phrase from Malcom Gladwell, what was the “tipping point” in this public debate?
It’s a question that was asked in various ways throughout the 20th Century — a period where we saw society change its point of view on everything from women’s right to vote to the Civil Rights movement, and from eugenics to prohibition.
How 1 in 4 People Can Win Your Campaign

The Tipping Point

So, where is that tipping point, where positions shift and the minority view causes more people “to look at the sky” and reconsider their previous position? Apparently, 25%.
In a recent experiment from the University of Pennsylvania, researchers tried to get groups to change their position on an issue by using a minority of the group to intentionally take the opposite position (in this case, it was a naming convention). The experiment found that if the “rebellion” was made up of less than 25% of the group, then they were more likely to fail; but if they were made up of 25% or more of the group, then they were more likely to succeed. Granted, the stakes were much lower in the experiment, and there was no shadow opposition group similarly trying to sway opinion the other way. However, it’s another proof point in the use of behavioral science to influence campaign strategy.

Leveraging Behavioral Science for Advocacy

Many of the campaigns we develop and execute are focused on changing behaviors or motivating audiences to action. Behavioral science is therefore integral to much of our work, and social proof has always been one of the most powerful tools in our arsenal. Studies, like the one above, send my mind racing with possibilities for those campaigns.

For example, if you had a local government siting campaign that was facing pressure, you now know you need to stack the audience with at least 25% vocal supporters. Similarly, if you’re running a social media campaign, one of the KPIs you’ll want to achieve is ownership of at least a 25% share of the voices in the conversation.

How would you leverage this new knowledge on your campaign?

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James Baril


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