One of the most powerful ways nonprofits can harness social media is through influencer marketing—enlisting people with social capital to join a campaign that raises awareness or inspires action for your cause.
Creating ambassador campaigns was the subject of “Social Influencers for the Social Good,” a panel discussion at the Social Media Week Chicago conference. The event was part of a conference track for nonprofit organizations, designed by The Chicago Community Trust.
Karyn Brianne Lee, co-founder & vice present of The Red Pump Project, profiled the #RocktheRedPump campaign to raise awareness of the impact of HIV/AIDS on women and girls. What began as a hashtag has since expanded into a nonprofit organization, through the momentum of more than 2,500 bloggers taking part since 2009.
Eva Penar of The Chicago Community Trust shared lessons from the ambassador campaign for On the Table, an initiative that unites local residents on one day for thousands of mealtime conversations about community. Penar was joined by Jeff McCarter of Free Spirit Media, who participates as an ambassador.
Moderator Venita Griffin of Jasculca Terman shared lessons from #itsabouttimeMBC, their campaign to share stories and facts about metastatic breast cancer.
A common theme from the success stories was enlisting the right people. That doesn’t just mean the most powerful bloggers or the most popular Twitter personalities—though they’re great allies too. It means finding people who can see the benefit in taking part, who catch the spirit of your campaign.
“Everyone feels like, ‘I’m part of this thing,’” explained Lee. “We all want to feel like we’re part of something.”
McCarter echoed the need for an authentic emotional appeal: “What is the opportunity? What is the feeling? That’s what will make people or communities say yes.”
Panelists also addressed the risk of “influencer fatigue” as a successful campaign continues. For On the Table, the theme of the event evolves slightly from year to year, challenging ambassadors to think from a fresh perspective. For the Red Pump Project, unique badges are designed for participating bloggers each year, offering an extra spark of inspiration to collect them all.
Building Your Campaign
Thinking about launching an issue awareness campaign? Here are the top lessons from the panelists:
- Define who your campaign needs to reach. Understanding that audience’s social media habits, their values and motivations will help identify the best platforms, and the best messengers, to reach them.
- A great network includes two types of ambassadors. Influencers with a wide network of followers will spread your message farther. But in addition, seek out people who are already passionate about your cause. Even if their reach is small, their authentic commitment inspires participation and momentum. And as Griffin explained, “The influencer has to believe that it’s their own—or else their audience won’t believe it.”
- Twitter lists don’t get as much buzz as they used to—but they’re a valuable tool. While you’re in the early planning stages, research people talking about your issue and begin building relationships.
- Make clear and specific requests. What actions do you want your ambassadors to take? The Red Pump Project provides weekly prompts to its ambassadors: post a photo of yourself, share these surprising statistics about HIV. Giving your ambassadors good tools makes participation feel easier.
- Leave room for your ambassadors to customize and make the message their own. For the On the Table campaign, one ambassador used her dinner to benefit a local film archive she supports—guests were encouraged to watch one of two films in advance, giving them a common ground for discussion. Infusing her passion made the event feel authentically hers and ensured that the relationship benefited the ambassador as much as the Trust.
- Look for synergies. Tie your campaign to a national awareness day; find a company or brand doing charitable work in your sector; team up with related nonprofits. Finding allies can boost your credibility and amplify your message.
- Be thankful. Ambassadors’ work powers your campaign, so look for ways to show appreciation. Share your ambassadors’ news through your social channels; spotlight their successes. And above all, Penar advised, “Say thank you—and mean it.”