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22 Social Media Influencer Strategies Nonprofits Can Use

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Wondering how to increase your nonprofit’s reach on social media? Let’s face it, the social media space today is a noisy one. It’s hard to cut through the clutter. Social media influencer strategies can help without resorting to paid advertising.

In fact, these social media influencer strategies can be more powerful than ads, because they’re perceived as more authentic. Simply put, you can ask other social media users to help you spread the word about your vision and mission.

You know what they say: “Ask and you shall receive.”

Here are three complementary categories of social media influencer strategies to help you increase your reach and leverage the power of social media influencers:

  1. Partner with micro-influencers.
  2. Engage your staff as advocates.
  3. Engage your fans as ambassadors.

Partner With a Social Media Micro-Influencer

Here’s what a micro-influencer is:

Generally it’s a blogger, podcaster or user of social media who has between 1,000 and 30,000 followers. Unlike a super-influencer with hundreds of thousands of peeps, these folks tend to operate within a specific niche. People pay attention to them because they create their own content, and it’s relevant to the interests of their fans. There are micro-influencers in just about any category you can think of — from food to travel to parenting to environment to justice to arts to animal rescue to historical preservation to early childhood education to literacy to nonviolence to… you name it.

Here’s what’s great about micro-influencers:

  • They have a loyal following.
  • They tend to specialize in a particular niche, so are easy to target.
  • They are highly trusted in their area.
  • You can reach and connect with them.
  • They’re more likely to respond to you than a superstar.

Here’s what you should do, step-by-step:

  1. Brainstorm fields of interest related to your mission. Then search for these influencers online (e.g., use #mommy, #daddy, #parents, #childpoverty if you run parenting or other programs to support healthy child development; use #theater, #arts, #classicalmusic if you run a performing arts program). You can brainstorm hashtags or use a tool like hashtagify. You can also try adding ‘blogger’ to your hashtag to find folks who don’t just follow these areas, but are active leaders (e.g., #foodblogger; #mommyblogger).
  2. Once you’ve identified possibilities, narrow the field. Some will merit more of your time than others, and you’ll need to assess this. You can’t work with 100 influencers. Shoot for 5 – 10 to begin. Don’t just look at numbers of followers. Check whether someone’s content gets a lot of shares on social media. Also, consider whether the content they offer might be a worthwhile resource for your own followers.
  3. Begin to follow the targeted influencers you’ve qualified. This is how you demonstrate an interest in what they do. When you ultimately reach out to ask for a favor, they’ll undoubtedly look to see if you follow them and share their content.
  4. Notice the hashtags the people you’re following use; search on them to identify more potential influencers. You’ll find ideas that didn’t occur to you during your initial brainstorm. This is an iterative process.
  5. Begin to engage with the influencers you’ve qualified. Get to know them online. Share their content. Compliment their content. Comment on their content.
  6. After you’ve identified a promising online connection (or several), share content that will be useful to their followers. Make it easy for folks to ask questions so you can answer and establish your thought leadership. Center your messaging on what’s relevant to the community; don’t make it all about you.
  7. Reach out personally to the influencer(s) and ask if you can schedule a call to explore ways you might help each other. Let them know you’ve been following each other on social media. Reference a particular piece of content you loved and shared with your community. Ask if they ever work with nonprofits to get the word out about programs their networks might find useful. Move the relationship from virtual to real, by asking if they’d be interested in coming for a tour. Suggest content you might provide for them to share directly with their networks. Ask if they’d be willing to share something you’ve posted. When you have an important campaign, reach out to see if they’ll help you spread the word. Set clear expectations, stick to them, and follow through.
  8. Thank influencers for everything they do to help you! Compliments, praise, recognition and genuine follow-through goes a long way.

Example: San Francisco Marin Food Bank

My last full-time gig as a director of development and marketing was with the S.F-Marin Food Bank. Social media was just taking off. We had a Twitter and a Facebook account. Followers, but… not a lot of action. Social media wasn’t really helping us reach our volunteer recruitment and fundraising goals.

Then we noticed something. Two groups of bloggers were the most engaged in sharing our posts: mommy bloggers and food bloggers. We began to engage with them. What we learned was:

  • Mommy bloggers cared about keeping kids healthy. We had a number of programs that did that. Food pantries in schools. A morning snack program. Advocacy to help families access available benefits. The mommy bloggers wanted to know about these programs. Better still, they wanted to advocate for their continued existence and growth!
  • Food bloggers cared about nutritious, delicious food for all. We had a nutrition program that taught families how to make delicious, healthy meals with food pantry items. We shared recipes that included using products with which they might be unfamiliar. The food bloggers were interested, and wanted to help spread our information!

It turned out that when we reached out personally to these micro-influencers to ask for their help, they were more than willing to say yes. It made them look good, and it helped their constituents feel good too. We raised awareness, added followers and ultimately converted a decent number of these folks to donors. We also let these influencers know how much their help meant to us, and reported back to them on results.

Engage Staff as Nonprofit Social Media Advocates

Here’s what an employee social media advocate is:

Hidden gold! Studies show employees are more than twice as trusted as a CEO, senior executive or activist consumer. Also, their social posts generate 8X greater engagementthan posts from their employer. The average Twitter user has 707 followers; the average Facebook user has 338 friends. That means a staff of 10 socially engaged advocates has a potential average reach of 10,450. This is an opportunity you don’t want to overlook!

Here’s what’s great about employee social advocates:

  • They have their own media channels, and may be on networks your organization is not.
  • They have their own fans and followers and can extend your reach to folks who’d otherwise be unaware of your work.
  • They have greater credibility than your brand as a whole.
  • They enable you to spread the job of creating brand awareness and engagement across multiple staff.
  • They show they’re enthusiastic about your vision and mission, thereby giving you a competitive advantage over nonprofits with less embracing cultures.

Here’s what you should do, step-by-step:

  1. If you’ve not done so already, make building a culture of philanthropy a priority.
  2. Clarify your social advocacy goals. It’s not that helpful to have staff simply post randomly. You want to coordinate your efforts and be able to track progress towards desired outcomes. Here are some ideas:
    • To increase brand awareness
    • To increase social media traffic
    • To develop a presence on new platforms
    • To reach a new demographic
    • To promote a new program or service
    • To recruit volunteers
    • To sell tickets
    • To generate donations

For each goal, consider how employee social advocacy can help.

  1. Identify staff who have an interest and skill in social media. This isn’t a job for everyone. But for those who are on social media frequently, it’s an easy task (provided your employees love your organization and are more than willing to share their joy).
  2. Create a staff social media ambassador work group. Develop a job description and social media guidelines (also see here and here). Work together to create a realistic work plan. What you’ll share. When you’ll share. Where you’ll share. Who will share. Why you’ll share (i.e., clarify your desired outcome so you can measure success).
  3. Regularly convene a meeting of your work group. Monthly is reasonable, as it’s not so frequent as to be onerous and not so infrequent as to make news you might want to share stale. Depending on how much breaking news your organization has to share, you may want to meet weekly, biweekly, quarterly or something else. Brainstorm ideas. Consider your audience’s interests, not your own. Touching stories, breaking news, upcoming events, volunteer opportunities and urgent campaigns. Not the fact you hired a new staff member or renovated your website. Make it fun; serve refreshments!
  4. Make advocacy fun and easy. This is not about asking staff to write their own blog posts (of course, you can do this; just choose people who can write). Give your already busy employees consistently shareable content that’s a no-brainer to promote. Maybe it’s an inspiring video. Or a heart-wrenching story. Or a new research study with fascinating results. Or just a funny photo or inspirational quote. You can even make a game of it, creating a drawing among group members who create posts using specific hashtags.
  5. Celebrate your ambassadors publicly. Create awards to publicly recognize staff who go above and beyond. Bestow these at all-staff meetings and/or post on your intranet. Consider offering a tangible token of appreciation, such as a gift card, coveted swag, a plaque, or even a single rose.
  6. Track and evaluate your progress; adjust accordingly. Look back at the goals you established. How effectively were they met? Use analytics tools to measure success and report back to the entire team. Consider together what worked/didn’t work. Use this information in revising your plan moving forward. Here are some things you can measure:
    • Top contributors. Which advocates shared most? Which advocates generated the most engagement?
    • Organic reach. How many people saw content shared through your employee advocates?
    • Engagement. How many people clicked links, left comments and shared content from your advocates? How did this vary over different networks?
    • Traffic. How much traffic did the content shared by employee advocates drive to your website?
    • Conversion. How many folks took a desired action response as a result of content shared by your advocates?

Engage Fans as Social Media Ambassadors

Here’s what a fan social media ambassador is:

Online fans are folks who don’t work for you but are proactively connected to you in the digital space. They have, in some way, raised their hand to say “I like you, I trust you, and what you do matters to me.” They do this by simple friending and following, but the most engaged fans do more. They consume your content by clicking on links, sharing your content, making comments and participating in discussions. They may be donors, members, social media connectors or volunteers. You have the ability to reach out to them because their names are on a list. The list could be as broad as all your Facebook friends or a narrower list (e.g., one you create on Twitter of volunteers for a particular project; one that exists on Pinterest of folks who follow a specific board, one you have on LinkedIn comprised of those who connect with your corporate profile, etc.). It might also be an email list, say of donors or volunteers; you can use this list to ask folks to become social media ambassadors.

Here’s what’s great about fan social media ambassadors:

  • They can extend your reach to folks who’d otherwise be unaware of your work by extending access to their own networks of fans and followers.
  • They have greater credibility than you or your staff as they’re not being paid.
  • They can form a deeper relationship with you through their advocacy, becoming more loyal through this interaction.
  • They can establish relationships with like-minded people, thereby cementing their sense of identification with your vision, mission and values.
  • They can interact with your nonprofit brand and even co-create it, helping you to remain relevant.

Here’s what you should do, step-by-step:

  1. Determine your social media ambassador program goals. These will range from general awareness to more specific objectives such as those outlined for staff advocates. Whatever goals you select, be sure to also consider how you’ll measure progress towards these goals and incorporate evaluation strategies in your plan.
  2. Develop a written plan and framework for your social media ambassador program.
  3. Recruit your social media ambassador team. Look for fans who are actively engaging with you, for example:
    • They open your emails; they share your emails with their friends, family and colleagues.
    • They click through and open your e-newsletter and/or blog posts; they share content with their networks.
    • They like, comment on, and share your social media content.
    • They’ve fundraised on your behalf using P2P tools.
    • They’ve asked friends to make tribute gifts in honor or memory of their friends and family.

Determine your likely most passionate fans by cross-referencing the list of folks who friend, follow and share with current donors, event attendees and volunteers. Send them a formal invitation to join your team. Be sure to make them feel special! Julia Campbell of Marketing for the Modern Nonprofit has created a free downloadable Nonprofit Guide to Recruiting and Coordinating Social Media Ambassadors.

  1. Engage with your social media ambassador team. Treat them like you’d treat any other committee. Give them a job description, materials they can use (e.g., prepared tweets, compelling photos to share on Facebook, links to YouTube videos) and lots of cheerleading and support. Who can resist sharing a compelling photo and story like these?

social media influencer strategies

social media influencer strategies

  1. Give ambassadors fun, simple assignments. For example, you might ask fans to take selfies wearing your organization’s swag, and share them using a specific hashtag. Be sure to collect these and give a shout out to your fans, perhaps as part of a #FanFriday feature. See some examples of selfie campaigns here and here. Or if you have a challenge grant or urgent campaign, ask fans to participate.
  2. Make sharing your content easy. Include share buttons everywhere, including your emails.
  3. Give frequent progress updates; celebrate successes. Let your ambassadors know the results of their outreach. Ask them for their feedback to show how much you value them. Make them feel like the heroes they are!

Example: The Rainforest Site

The Rainforest Site has sponsors who’ve agreed to help subsidize their work whenever someone clicks on their online link. This gives ambassadors something tangible to share with their networks. It’s an easy ask that makes people feel good.

Here’s another tweet from the Rainforest Site folks that just begs to be opened because it’s so tantalizing and unusual.  Ambassadors can feel good sharing this, because it’s bound to arouse curiosity. Bonus: when folks click the link it takes them directly to the organization’s blog which has a complete array of share icons – so friends of fans may now share with their networks as well.

Leverage the Power of Social Proof 

When you ask others to spread your message you leverage the power of ‘social proof.’ This is one of Robert Cialdini’s top six magical powers of persuasion. It’s the principle at play in review sites like Yelp. When other folks praise you it’s more credible than when you praise yourself.

Your job is to find the people who care about your work and who have influence over others. Of course, your own staff fit that bill. As do your own fans, followers, volunteers and donors. And when it comes to influencers outside your current community, today it’s not just television pundits or journalists who wield the magic power or persuasion. It’s often bloggers, power Twitter users, people on YouTube or Instagram and so forth. Within particular social media communities, these people have fame and influence similar to big-name celebrities. And they aren’t a pie in the sky target for you. You can find them. You can reach out to them. You can connect with them!

Stop using the excuse that you can’t create awareness online because of limited capacity and staff resources. It’s time to build a plan to leverage the significant resources you already have: staff, donors, volunteers, fans, followers and others who’ve demonstrated they care about what you do. Empower these folks to become your champions, thereby leveraging the power of their individual social networks.

Heed the advice above, and you should see a big engagement boost! Just be sure to incorporate social media influencer strategies to convert engagement into other desired actions. Bottom line: You ultimately don’t just want likes, follows and clicks. You want email addresses, signers for your petition, ticket buyers, volunteers, donations and whatever else you need to further your vision and mission.

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  • Shane McEvoy

    Yes excellent post Claire, there's a lot of great information here to help anyone starting an influencer campaign. Utilising the resources of staff and raving fans is a clever one which I'm sure some businesses will have overlooked.
  • Jason Chmura

    Very well-thought and through. Thank you for sharing this. I will definitely be passing this along.
  • Holly Bodner

    Terrific article, thank you! First time I've seen employee social media advocacy addressed for nonprofits. Also loved the step-by-step instructions and examples provided.
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