Humans are social beings, and therefore our decisions are highly dependent on those around us. This includes our willingness to cooperate, conform, and change as a result of social pressure or following the lead of those we like or admire.

Principles & Strategies

Make engaging in the desired behavior observable

  • Publicly broadcast who has and has not engaged in the desired behavior
  • Provide a way for people to show they are doing the desired behavior

Make desired behavior the perceived norm

  • Share that people are currently doing the desired behavior
  • Highlight the possibility of social sanctions for doing the undesired behavior
  • Create conversation around beliefs and expectations for the desired behavior
  • Leverage credible and trusted messengers doing the desired behavior
  • Promote cases of success with the desired behavior
  • Facilitate peer or community exchanges for observing the desired behavior

Eliminate excuses for not engaging in the behavior

  • Encourage public commitments or pledges to drive desired behavior
  • Provide visible indicators that signal support for the desired behavior (e.g., badges, pins, hats, boat painting)


When highlighting descriptive norms (what behaviors people are doing), be sure that they clearly demonstrate desired behavior, as it can be counterproductive to highlight what people are not doing or that only a few people are doing the desired behavior. Also, while celebrities may seem like great and highly visible messengers, they tend to work best when they are trusted sources for the behavior, not just leaders of a trend.

Community members pledge to uphold fishing regulations. Photo Credit: AG Sano

American utility platform Opower’s Home Energy Report is a real world case of social influences successfully leveraged for behavior change at the household level.