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Why influencers are getting charitable

Last week author and motivational speaker Simon Sinek made a big misstep. He managed to insult an entire generation – labelling millennials entitled, narcissistic and lazy in one fell swoop.

Victoria Luck, managing director, Buzzoole UK

Of course, these kinds of accusations are nothing new. While it’s true that today’s young people have grown up alongside social media, this doesn’t mean they’ve lost touch with the real world. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Social media savvy is helping young people achieve exactly the impact they want to see in the world.

Take Zoella, is arguably the UK’s most famous influencer. Real name Zoe Sugg, Zoella came to prominence as a YouTuber partly through her openness around her difficulties with anxiety. Her videos hit home with viewers, garnered significant engagement and as a result, helped stoke the flames of the national debate around mental health. Posts such as Dealing with Panic Attacks & Anxiety and Anxiety Q&A have views well into the millions and in their wake, Zoella was named mental health charity Mind’s first Digital Ambassador. Her work with charities continues and in 2016, she teamed up with frequent collaborator Alfie Deyes to support children’s charity Rays of Sunshine.

When we carried out our own research on influencers’ attitudes to charities, even we were surprised to learn that almost one in three influencers regularly support charities on their channels. But the evidence is clear – and like Zoella’s confessional posts, it’s the more personal content that tends to strike the strongest chord with followers. Scarlett London, a fashion, lifestyle and travel blogger on who has posted about living with IBS, experienced a spike in engagement with these posts. When we spoke to her about her charitable activities, she said this “personal tie” is particularly powerful: “when you’re able to offer up your own story, it connects with people.”

Bloggers like Scarlett London are classified as long tail influencers: those with smaller, more niche audiences, but much higher engagement rates than big-name celebrities. They might broadcast to fewer people overall, but their output is more likely to reach people who will listen. So there’s no shortage of untapped potential for charities looking to boost their message – all they have to do is find the influencers who already have a stake in their cause.

In many ways influencer marketing and charitable causes are a perfect fit. The majority of charities operate on a shoestring, so they are constantly on the hunt for cost-effective ways to raise awareness. In comparison with traditional marketing channels influencer marketing requires far less resource. What’s more, crowdfunding campaigns and JustGiving pages, which have grown in popularity in recent years, do have their drawbacks for charities. The owner of a funding page has to wait until they reach their funding goal before they can access any donations, and if they don’t reach their target they frequently get nothing at all.

Influencer marketing on the other hand, gives charities the opportunity to reach entirely new audiences organically, without the aggressive social media badgering involved in fundraising pages. Just think, Alfie Deyes and Zoella’s work with Rays of Sunshine went out to a combined audience of over 11 million – far more than the charity’s roughly 36,000 Twitter followers. As the influencer marketing industry continues to evolve, incorporating more sophisticated ROI metrics, results can be measured in concrete, financial terms as opposed to simple audience reach.

But as with any new entrant to the marketing mix, influencer marketing isn’t without its growing pains. Industry standards have had to mature fast as regulators crack down on influencers who don't disclose sponsorship. Lack of disclosure is particularly pertinent to influencers who work with charities, as Made In Chelsea star Binky Felstead discovered when she drew criticism for accepting £3,000 to front a campaign for Barnardo's.

When it comes to charities, there’s a sense that most influencers will only get involved if the cause is personally relevant, potentially teaming up with an organisation pro bono. But in any case, moving into 2017 influencers will have to be entirely transparent about whether their work with charities was paid for. Ultimately, the power of this kind of content lies in its authenticity. A lack of disclosure, especially when associated with an emotive cause, can generate serious damage to both charities’ and influencers’ reputations.

As influencer marketing has grown up, especially in this past year, the industry has truly emerged as a force to be reckoned with. It has demonstrated too that young people are more charitably-minded than older generations give them credit for. Social influencers aren’t just challenging perceptions, they’re creating an entirely new way of supporting causes.

Victoria Luck is the managing director of influencer marketing platform Buzzoole UK.

Victoria has spent her career at the forefront of media sales and marketing. She headed up the international advertising division at Hearst Magazines and more recently, ran international sales at advertising tech business InSkin Media. She has also held senior positions at Publicitas and Iceberg Media in Dubai.

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