What does social proof have to do with attracting new supporters to a cause or candidate? In order to attract engagement and involvement, an organization must market itself to potential supporters. The most effective strategy requires tapping into the vast expanse of personal and social networks in an effort to maximize social proof.
SOCIAL PROOF — WHAT IS IT?
When researching a product or cause, customers look to their peers for both suggestion and affirmation. Which product is most credible, which is worthy of their attention — consumer decision is most significantly influenced by endorsements from fellow users and supporters.
In other words, social proof is the notion that the influence of a social network has a greater impact than any other aspect of a market. When we are unfamiliar with a topic or industry, we look to other people for clues about which products to purchase, which services to use, and whom to trust. In a social media context, it tends to suggest that those organizations with a higher number of followers and subscribers are more trusted within the field. The more followers, likes, shares, comments, and tweets, the higher the social proof.
Why is it so important? Use of social proof has grown impressively in the last five years, rendering it a necessity in the realm of modern marketing and outreach. Companies have incorporated social proof both quantitatively and qualitatively in efforts to enhance their social profiles and spread their respective brands.
SOCIAL PROOF WITHIN NON-PROFITS & CAMPAIGNS
Social proof can be an effective tool for non-profit organizations and political campaigns. Looking to increase your supporter ranks and donor populations? Look to social proof. Rather than selling a product, social proof can be used to increase the appeal of a cause. The same tactics used by businesses — client testimonials, social networking — can be applied to non-profit efforts.
Selling a candidate or a cause is like selling a product, but advocacy runs into a significant caveat that for-profit businesses don’t face: the ‘diffusion of responsibility effect.’ In this phenomenon, potential supporters can see high (or growing) numbers of supporters and reason that ‘if so many others are helping, my help isn’t necessary.’ To combat such a mentality, emphasize the impact of an individual within the cause, then include the number of other people taking action. Remind potential supporters that they can make a difference as an individual, while still part of a larger cause.
One of the oldest examples of social proof for political purposes was the ‘Postcard Experiment,’ which involved telling people their voter participation record would be shared with neighbors. It yielded one of the largest recorded increases in turnout of any experiment ever run. A similar principle was applied online with the 2010 Commit to Vote Challenge, which allowed voters to use Facebook to inspire friends within their networks to vote.
Certain strategies work well within the non-profit realm, such as placing an emphasis on social sharing and donations, rather than on sales. Engage potential supporters in real time: display the data of social proof (i.e. the number of supporters/donors) in real time on your landing pages. A number of petition websites, such as CREDO Mobilize, show the names of recent petition signers to add social proof to the cause. Feature stories and testimonials from those affected by the organization or the candidate. Just as client reviews reinforce trust in a business, supporter and beneficiary testimonials emphasize the legitimacy of a cause or a candidate.
Combining these focused strategies with the tips below can allow your organization to fully utilize the outreach power of social sharing and, in turn, result in viral growth and increased social proof.
TEN TIPS FOR SOCIAL PROOF
1. Keep It Positive
Negative social proof is ineffective and fails to persuade supporters to engage. Avoid negative language. Instead of saying, ‘Last year, 18 million ignored the call to action,’ reinforce that although something is wrong, lots of people are doing something about it. People respond more to the power of group influence than to general, solitary positive behavior. Place this positive social proof in the most visible places: landing pages, sharing pages, and donation pages.
2. On the Record
Include testimonials from customers and supporters, and make them highly visible. Reviews from clients can be featured on the homepage and other landing pages, repeatedly reinforcing the positive social proof. Short quotes can be great testimonials, while longer stories also have the potential to garner support. Stories, more trustworthy than statistics, connect with the experiences and beliefs of supporters. Remember: people want testimony from users, not producers.
3. Visualize Proof
Client testimonials are the most effective social proof tool, but their effectiveness grows immensely when accompanied by a high-quality, relevant image. This can range from a pertinent Creative Commons image to the photo of the testimonial provider to the logo(s) of familiar, trusted organizations associated with you. Giving a face to the endorsement makes it simultaneously more legitimate and trustworthy. Potential supporters are likely to identify with the people they see in these images and thus are more likely to join the cause. For even more effective visual proof, feature video testimonials, enhancing an emotional connection with the testimony.
4. Authority Figures
Testimonials from satisfied customers and enthusiastic supporters are good, but testimonials from influential clients and leaders are great. We judge the credibility of a person’s opinion in correlation with our overall impression of him/her. Including a testimonial from an industry expert or high-profile leader will carry more weight than one from John Doe the happy — but low-profile — customer.
5. Create Community
Our brains place more trust in those people we associate with ourselves. Just as visuals help potential supporters identify with a cause, language can suggest that this is a group of like-minded activists. Refer to current supporters as ‘their peers’ or ‘family and friends,’ asking potential supporters to join these peers in pledging support.
6. Blog, Blog, and Blog Some More
Blogging is a stellar public relations tool. An active blog shows interest, knowledge, industry involvement, and provides an opportunity for engagement with social proof. Blog posts can be shared anywhere from a homepage to social networking sites, and are an effective way to raise an organization’s profile.
7. SEO Matters
This is basic social proof. A higher search engine optimization (SEO) ranking equals more clicks, which equals more viral popularity, which in turn equals a higher level of social proof. It goes without saying that in online research, the earliest links are those that receive the highest number of clicks, which thus generate the highest number of shares, and the highest level of exposure.
8. No Proof Trumps
Low Proof Low follower counts can be harmful, as they suggest unpopularity and deny credibility. If your Facebook page is lacking in Likes, advertising the page too prominently can create negative social proof, driving away potential supporters, who may find other, more ‘worthy’ causes.
9. Don’t Fake It
Low proof might be a detriment, but fake proof is just as bad. Purchasing Twitter followers, as the Romney campaign did in 2012, can suggest unpopularity and delegitimizes the organization. Instead, work to gain real followers and strategically place links to follower pages until the count is at a more positive level.
10. Use Your People
Tapping into your network of friends, family, coworkers, connections, etc. is a superb starting point for increasing social proof, and web-based sharing provides the greatest opportunity for impact.
Image credit: Commit To Vote Challenge, BarackObama.com.