We all know that the marketing industry loves a buzzword, and the latest one seems to be ‘influencers’. But, what actually is an influencer? Is it someone with lots of social media followers – ‘digital celebrities’, for want of a better phrase? Or is it someone people trust and respect? I don’t believe that you can call yourself an influencer. You’re either influential or you’re not. It’s irrelevant how many followers someone has if they hear but don’t listen.
How can we use influence?
It’s the people that are at the core of influence, not brands. Brands work with people to become influential because people influence people. This is an important distinction to understand. Often brands want to work with influencers because it gives them access to broader or different audiences to tell their message, but this is only useful if the audience wants to listen. People aren’t naive. If they see someone influential insta-tweeting or face-blogging about a brand with #sponsored in the message or something similar, this will not inspire their audience.
A far better way to work with influencers is to share value; honestly helping someone with what they’re passionate about because you both share the same interest and common goal is far more engaging. Thinking this way isn’t easy and does require more work, but ultimately you’re building relationships with people. What you can create are better ideas for people to react to – this is where the true power of influence is realised.
Why is influencer marketing innovative for charities?
Just like most brands, charities are focused on helping those in need. However, charities are uniquely positioned to leverage influence as a core strategy for marketing, principally because their central focus is based on giving and helping others. Therefore, organisations in the non-governmental sector often have a genuine competitive advantage when deploying influencer marketing programmes.
How can charities use influencers?
To effectively leverage influencer marketing, it is important that you have a good idea of the communities relevant to your cause. The first step is to have a thorough marketing strategy, and through this, charities can map communities aligned to their marketing goals and target audiences. Each of these communities will have influential people who are respected and trusted. This is where charities have the edge. There can be an authentic and natural progression for a charity to build a relationship with an influencer. Instead of marketing teams engaging with influencers to ask for their involvement, start conversations about co-creating something together.
This is where the hard work starts. It means meeting people and truly trying to understand what they stand for and their passions. From there, the next challenge is to co-create ideas which are valuable to you, the influencer and their community. Working in this way will provide deep insight into the culture of a community – this is something that a standard industry tool can't deliver alone.
Collaboration, not reach, is the name of the game. Next time your organisation is thinking about using influencers, start with thinking about how to create shared value.
Ryan Foley is head of campaigns at Roast.
This article was originally published in the charity issue of The Drum Network magazine series. You can purchase your copy here.