There was a news story going around recently about a young man in England who got his restaurant to the #1 spot on TripAdvisor for London (out of over 18,000) in six months. All using the power of social proof.

What makes this feat extra impressive - and relevant for our purposes - is that his restaurant ("The Shed at Dulwich") didn't exist. It was entirely fake. The fraudster got the idea from his part-time job of writing fake reviews for restaurants on TripAdvisor. So he made up a restaurant, staged some great-looking photos of food (which was also faked), and got friends to write fake reviews of the restaurant. It got to the point where people were calling him for reservations, sending him gifts, roaming the streets looking for the restaurant--anything just to secure a spot at London's hottest dining establishment.

If only these powers could be used for good, right? The good news is, they can. You can use (the honest and ethical version of) this exact technique to attract people to your cause and get them to donate!

What Is Social Proof and Why Is It so Powerful?

Social proof is any one of a myriad ways to create or reinforce a feeling of trust in something or someone, from one person or entity to another. In other words, it's getting people to tell their story about your cause, to make others believe in you.

Social proof comes in many forms, including:
  • Positive reviews (testimonials) from:
    • Beneficiaries who have benefited from your work
    • Current donors who believe in your cause and the efficacy of your organization to make an impact
  • Endorsements by other organizations, including:
    • Media outlets: News stories indicate a level of exposure, vetting , and public interest.
    • Foundations: A grant is validation of your work by an organization whose purpose is to evaluate nonprofits like yours to determine whether their funds will be effective in your hands.
  • Direct or public sharing
    • Emails from current supporters to their friends - this is a direct, personal endorsement
    • Social media posts from supporters - while less of a personal appeal, sharing something on social media does indicate a level of support (or, at the least, interest) in your work.

Why Social Proof Works

Social proof works on an evolutionary impulse level. Before literacy was the norm and Wikipedia gave free knowledge to all, people couldn't learn first-hand about the benefits or perils of eating something they'd never tried before. Those who ignored the results of someone else trying it and getting sick tended not to live long and reproduce as much as those who trusted the experience of others.

While literacy and Wikipedia have made learning about the dangers of eating something much easier to uncover, society today also has endless options of things to consume or spend their money on. Why choose your organization over a similar one, or another cause entirely? The paradox of choice can lead people to ignore your plea in favor or something with greater guarantee of bringing them happiness - whether that's a different nonprofit, or a consumer good they need or crave. That 's where social proof - cues from trusted sources or similar individuals - can make all the difference.

Putting it into Practice

There are many different places to incorporate social proof in your online strategy - from your homepage to program and donation pages, to your social media and email campaigns. How you gather the best social proof for your organization is up to you.

BORIS KIEVSKY is a storyteller and entrepreneur who is happy to combine his passions for technology, storytelling, and making a positive difference in the world. He is the founder of Speed of Like - a boutique digital agency that works with small businesses and nonprofits, helping them increase their impact locally and globally through digital tools including websites, social media, email, advertising and crowdfunding. Focusing on the power of technology to boost impact, Boris founded, a platform for teaching nonprofits how to effectively achieve and expand their missions by using the right online tools and strategies, without over-stretching their resources.

About the Author(s)

Boris Kievsky Founder Speed of Like

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