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Influencer Marketing for Nonprofits

Elisabeth Bradley

Digital Strategy Director, Forum One

Influencer marketing is quickly becoming a key component of digital strategies in the commercial sector, but what does that mean for nonprofits? How can you leverage influencer marketing tactics to reach and engage with the people that matter most for your mission? 

Influencer marketing is a way to effectively share your organization’s brand and message with new audiences. Influencer marketing identifies a person or group who has a level of influence with the groups that matter to you — e.g., Capitol Hill, academia, the funding community — and uses digital outreach tactics to try to engage them and ultimately get them to share your message with their followers on social media. The goal is for engagement with an influencer to raise your profile and grow your audience by connecting your organization with their own networks. Influencer endorsements can also provide the ‘social proof’ that many people need before making a decision to engage with or support a new organization. 

What is influencer marketing?

When people think of influencer marketing, many people think of a blogger on Instagram promoting beauty products, but actually, influencer marketing is just, “a form of social media marketing involving endorsements from influencers, people and organizations who possess an expert level of knowledge and/or social influence in their respective fields” (Wikipedia).

Influencer marketing builds on a core principle of marketing: the importance of the messenger, in addition to the message. Humans are social animals, and they listen to people that they trust, and with whom they already have a relationship. 

This is particularly important for nonprofits, think tanks and policy organizations that do not have a mass-market audience. It may be of more value to you if 10 leaders in your field share your latest report with their friends and colleagues than if 10,000 members of the general public read it. Or, for an organization working to change a certain behavior, having members of the impacted community sharing information is much more powerful than having an organization share it directly. 

What does influencer marketing look like in the nonprofit sector?

Influencer marketing looks different in the nonprofit sector than it does in the commercial sector. Quality matters more than sheer quantity here; we want to get in front of the right people, not just more people. The executive director of a partner organization that is more established in a certain market or sector might be an effective influencer or a board member who is particularly active on Twitter. 

Typically, influencer marketing in the nonprofit sector does not take the form of formal, paid sponsorships (although those types of arrangements could have their place in an effective strategy). More often, influencer marketing will be organic outreach to target individuals, informal agreements with supporters or volunteers, or mutually-beneficial relationships between partners. These types of arrangements result in more authentic endorsements and tend to be most effective in the nonprofit sector. 

How to incorporate influencers into your strategy

To start an influencer campaign, there are six key components you will want to identify to ensure your brand and message is going to resonate with both potential influencers and your desired audience. 

  1. Define your goals. As with any marketing effort, the key to success is clearly identifying your goals and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). This is always where you should start a marketing campaign. 
  2. Identify potential influencers. You want to identify what types of influencers will best suit your needs for the organization. There are a number of different avenues you can take with this step, but first, identify which type of influencer would best fit with your organization. Start with your own network: board members, volunteers, partners, and staff can all be effective influencers. From there, look at influencers such as thought leaders, bloggers, and journalists. Social listening tools can be helpful in identifying influencers outside of your immediate circle. 
  3. Reach out. Once you have identified potential influencers that you believe can help your mission, you need to connect with them. For people you have an existing relationship with, contact them directly. For new contacts, start building your relationship with them online by liking their content, following their social accounts, and, then reaching out to them on their social handles.
  4. Discuss a partnership. Once you have connected with a potential influencer, discuss your organization’s goals and mission, and why you’re exploring this type of marketing. Explain in-depth about your organization’s objectives, the audience you are trying to reach, and why you want to work with them.  Communicate what you would like to see from them, e.g., the type of influence and promotion they could do, and how this benefits both of you. If helpful for them to better understand your goals, provide them with an overview of your marketing strategy. 
  5. Make it easy. Be sure to provide influencers with all of the collateral they’ll need to share your mission. Don’t expect them to write tweets or resize images, especially for people who aren’t digital natives. Tell them exactly what you’d like them to share, when, how often, and give them all of the copy and images they’ll need. You can package everything up into a social media kit, similar to a traditional media kit, and have it ready to go when opportunities to engage with new influencers come up. (More on social media tips for nonprofits).
  6. Track progress. Once you start working with influencers, it is important to measure your KPIs and see what is working and what is not. Track for overall audience growth and engagement as well as engagement with key audiences and even individuals. If you’re not seeing the return on investment you want, then iterate and try something new, always keeping your organization’s specific goals in mind. 

Influencer marketing isn’t right for every organization, but for those who are targeting a specific group of people, it can be a great compliment to more traditional digital marketing efforts. By engaging new and diverse messengers to spread the word about your work, you can reach and build credibility with new or hard-to-reach audiences.

—Editor: Peter Janetos

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Written By

Elisabeth Bradley

Digital Strategy Director, Forum One