For nonprofits, social media is an advertising platform — not an organic communications device. That means that there’s a wider range of options for advertising on social media beyond on-platform ad campaigns. This includes influencer marketing. Influencer partnerships can allow organizations to connect with their target audience through the use of popular, relevant public figures for a value that can be comparable to publicity coverage or the high-priced celebrity endorsements of yesteryear.
People look to online influencers as tastemakers that help them make informed decisions about which brands, causes, and products they should be interested in and support. By aligning with the trusted influencers of your target audience whose values match your mission, your organization can tap into their network and communities. This can drive increased reach and conversions for your goals.
What’s an influencer?
An influencer is a prominent figure online (usually social media but also potentially on a blog). They’ve acquired a dedicated, highly-engaged audience. Their followers trust their recommendations and are interested in their daily activities, the products they buy, the causes they support — you get the point. Where influencers differ from celebrity endorsements is that influencers (who aren’t always celebrities in the traditional sense) are the ones to create and share original content that resonates well with your brand and their audience. An example of nonprofit influencers in action is model Halima Aden’s support of UNICEF.
How can influencers benefit nonprofits?
We hear you. Influencer endorsements make sense for water bottles, backpacks, meal delivery kits, and vacations to Tulum. But is there a reasonable overlap between influencers and social impact or nonprofits?
Fan excitement around influencers can be leveraged for good causes. Prizeo, for instance, works with celebrity partners who create original content to support giveaways that support charities — such as Lin-Manuel Miranda fundraising on behalf of Planned Parenthood, or Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz raising money for the AO1 Foundation. It could also be simpler: If you work with children in some way, finding a popular mommy blogger with a large following could lead to meeting more followers who would be empathetic and supportive of your work. Here are 3 reasons to use a social media influencer for your organization:
Just like spokespeople add legitimacy and relevance to a brand, influencers can help signal to people in your audience that your cause is important or interesting from a resource they already trust. This is especially helpful for an organization or product that is new or doesn’t yet have a direct line to the audience they’d like to reach through a source trusted by that audience.
Some influencers are built for driving press – these are often the A and B list celebrities that media outlets rely on to drive clicks to their site. If getting press for your organization is an important metric of success, choosing a press-worthy personality can be a great way to attach your organization to the celebrity brand and use them to spread your message and brand name. However, while they might drive traffic and eyeballs, but they don’t always drive the best conversions.
This is the holy grail of influencer usage: leveraging an influencer with an engaged audience that overlaps with your target audience. Often, this is what social online influencers are used for, which is why you’ll see influencers with their own YouTube cooking channels doing sponsored posts for cooking brands, and so on. Online influencers with an engaged core of followers offer a great opportunity to drive traffic to your organization and hit some of your engagement KPIs.
Identifying the Right Influencers
When considering an influencer, it’s best to work backwards from your goals for working with the influencer to drive your outreach plan. A few key questions to help drive your strategy:
What is your goal with the influencer? Are you trying to reach an audience that already has its own core group? What do you need that group to do?
Consider what you need an influencer’s audience for, and how you might leverage that influencer’s star-power with that group to encourage that action. You’ll want your influencer ask to be as compelling, concrete, clear, and specific as possible.
What influencers have a following that overlaps with your target audience?
This is especially important for audience activation. First and foremost, you want to make sure that what you’re hoping the influencer will share is something that is relevant and appealing to them and their followers. Consider the influencers brand and follower base before approaching them and be able to demonstrate how your shared communities overlap.
What can you offer the influencer?
If you are working with an influencer, especially pro bono, they will often be looking to get something in return for working with you. Ideally, you reach out to influencers that you know care about the cause your organization represents. Maybe they already have a deeply vested personal interest in your specific cause, such as having a parent who is diagnosed with lung cancer if you are a lung cancer organization. Or maybe your organization reaches a broad target audience that the influencer is looking to reach or engage with as well, such as growing their follower base in New York if you’re a local organization. The more the relationship can be two-sided instead of one-sided, the better chance you’ll have of locking and engaging with an influencer. The more credible the influencer, the more discerning they’ll be when selecting potential partners.
The 4 Types of Influencers
1. Top-Tier Influencers
Top-tier influencers are typically public figures who have extremely high reach, somewhere between 100k to 1m+ across all social platforms. These influencers are notable, well-known, and usually have spent years building up a highly engaged audience. Influencers of this stature normally do not work for free and typically have experience working with bigger brands who have larger budgets. Because of this, they will likely ask for a lot of money, but the return on the investment could be exponential.
2. Middle-Tier Influencers
Power Middle influencers usually have moderate reach, somewhere between 20 to 100k followers across social media. They are more likely to have flexible fees — or none at all — as they’re still building their audience and brand, or work with a niche audience. Marketers are starting to notice the potential with these influencers and grow with them as their brand and audiences expand.
Micro-influencers have relatively low reach with audiences of 10k or less. Social media is full of micro-influencers, and these often have very engaged audiences (think quality over quantity). Micro-influencers also exude a level of relatability and accessibility that resonate with consumers and can be used to the benefit of nonprofits.
A superfan or super-user are people within your network that organically want to promote your content. In this case, you’d treat them similarly to other influencers. Provide them with a brand guide/messaging guide and promotional materials (graphics, video, post copy, etc.) and have them share on your behalf.
How to Find Influencers
Identifying the perfect influencers to work with doesn’t have to be difficult. Start by laying out the goal of the program. Think about the type of impact you want to leave on social media. Once the overarching goal and needs of the program have been assessed you can then begin to think about the “face” of the program. Are you trying to reach more women or men? What demographics does your cause focus on? Which values are important to your organization? What is the aesthetic you’re looking for? From there you can begin to search for the perfect influencers.
From there, here are a few specific methods for locating influencers:
1. Email lists
You may have influencers scattered throughout your email lists so that would be the best place to start. These would be people who are already aligned with your cause and would be more inclined to share content for you.
2. Google search
If you have a very specific audience you’re targeting, say mommy bloggers, a Google Search can go a long way. While this is a more primitive and time-consuming method, it works.
3. Social media (duh)
Scan through Instagram or Twitter hashtags related to your cause or demographics you want to reach. If you happen to land on an influencer worth exploring, use the Suggestions feature (the arrow next to the follow button) to find pages with similar content. Also look at who follows you or likes your pages. See if there’s anyone (verified or unverified) that fits what you’re looking for.
4. Influencer tools
These aren’t the cheapest options, and many are poorly reviewed — by influencers. Traackr has been the most successful (and practical) thus far. You can search influencers based on profile terms such as name, title, city, affiliation, or bio terms, as well as Twitter profile names. There are also general filters for location, language, gender, platforms (social media, YouTube, and RSS), reach, relevance, and resonance. The bonus feature of this tool is that you can search based on content.
How to Build Relationships with Influencers
Engaging with influencers online is like baking a cookie. While there are many different ways to bake a cookie, there are some staple ingredients you need to make it a good cookie. There’s no one way to reach out to influencers, and many require their own distinct approach. However, there are a few ingredients you should keep in mind when reaching out:
Do your research
Prior to reaching out, take a couple days to review their content and interact with their work. Share their posts, leave comments and likes. This will aid in relationship building. When reaching out, each email should have a few personalized lines to show that your organization is a fan of theirs and that you’ve been following them for some time. Influencers like to feel special so avoid a one fits all type of approach.
Build a relationship
It’s very important that you initially build a relationship with influencers versus approaching this transactionally. Most influencers like to align with organizations that offer long term possibilities that can be mutually beneficial.
Be clear about the ask
Be very clear about what you want them to do. Keep in mind, you want to start out with a small ask that will require little work on their part. As you build the relationship, you can ask for more complex tasks but in the beginning keep it easy and simple. That said, also give them some liberty to create or adapt content to fit their voice or aesthetic.
Don’t mention compensation up front
Especially if you don’t have a budget to pay them. Send them the ask and address compensation when/if they ask about it (they WILL ask). Keep in mind blogging/social media is a business for them. If you have no budget to pay them, make sure the ask is simple, requires little to no leg work from them, or will be beneficial to them in some way.
If your initial campaign was a positive experience that ended successfully, let them know you’ll keep them in mind for future campaigns. Check in with them occasionally, see what they’re doing and if there’s a way your organization can help. This way the relationship is mutually beneficial — and they may even work pro bono in the future.
Influencers are often short on time, so any ask of the influencer should start small and be limited to no more than one hour or two of their time. As the relationship progresses, so can the asks, but all relationships should start with a small and easy ask. Especially if you are working on a pro bono basis, an influencer’s already limited time is that much more of a consideration.
When formulating the ask for the influencer, consider the following:
What can you build with the influencer that addresses what they care about, but that takes minimal work from them?
If you do your homework up front and can build an ask that makes the promotion feel more like a partnership, the better chance you’ll have at getting influencer engagement. But, you should be able to develop the majority of the materials without the influencer and bring them in at key points so it can be an easy cut and paste, while still making them feel included and having ownership in the process.
What will get you the most impact with the least amount of time?
Again, you have to assume you have, at most, 2 hours of the influencer’s time. So, what can the influencer provide to you that will best drive towards your goal? Consider what they are going to have the most vested interest in doing and make it easy for them to do that thing.
Package your asks
If your goal is press and you have decided to do a photo-op with an influencer, but also want them to post that photo using a particular hashtag, make sure those asks are already written out and agreed upon before the shoot. You won’t have many opportunities for asks, so getting approvals up front is key.