Finding Your Real Influencers

Photo by Chris Sgaraglino

You may recall a lot of talk about the Kony 2012 Campaign, an effort by a group called Invisible Children to raise awareness about warlord Joseph Kony. In the wake of the viral campaign, a lot of concerns were raised about how legitimate the 30-minute YouTube video was, how legitimate Invisible Children was as a group, and more. However, one small detail seemed to pass by a lot of people, and I think that’s unfortunate for NPOs.

What was that one small detail? Well, Invisible Children apparently approached “mega influencers” like Oprah in order to help spread the word about their efforts. This is a tactic that a lot of NPOs and causes use. The logic makes sense. If a person has a million followers on Twitter and they tweet about your cause, you just reached one million people. But is this tactic fool-proof?

Influencing the Right People

There are a few things I suggest NPOs consider when weighing the pros and cons of reaching out to people like Ashton Kutcher or Oprah Winfrey (or any person who has a lot of online pull):

  • Even though the number of followers may look huge, chances are good that there are a lot of spam bots in the masses. I would say that a quarter to a third of my followers are not human (or maybe inhuman). These folks are not *really* reaching a million people or 350,000 people or even a number approaching that in most cases.
  • Out of the people these influencers reach, how many really will care about your cause? In the case of the Kony 2012 campaign, the YouTube video made the cause seem more relatable, but even so, a lot of people shared the video without really learning about the situation in Uganda, which has been tragically morose for years. The more niche your cause, the more problematic this question becomes. How many followers of a big online star will really be able to understand what you are about?
  • Even if an influencer can get a lot of eyeballs on your cause, that is not a guarantee that you’ll reach your goals, whatever those may be. Particularly in the case of fundraising, an online star who is not keenly interested in your cause (or highly aware of it) may pass on your message but may not know how to entice people to support you.

How can you find YOUR influencers?

If going after the “big guns” isn’t the answer, then what is? Thankfully, the online world offers you many ways to hone your message and target it with some amount of precision. How to go about this:

  1. On Twitter, search for people related to your cause in some way. You can go to and search for terms relevant to what you are trying to do. You can also look for chats that discuss topics related to your cause. With seemingly a new chat launching every day, there aren’t too many stones left unturned in the world of Twitter chats.
  2. On Facebook, create a “cause” or a page that specifically defines your cause. You may not get a ton of “likes” but the ones that you get will be ready to engage.
  3. On Google Plus, create a circle dedicated to people who are interested in your cause and begin communicating with them about what your organization needs to reach your goals.
  4. On your blog, focus on content that makes your objectives clear. That means not just educating people, but also very succinctly stating your goals and your call-to-action.

What have you tried?

Have you tried to go after the “big guns” or have you tried to approach social media with more of a “grass roots” kind of attitude? What has worked for you and what has not? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

4 thoughts on “Finding Your Real Influencers”

  1. Avatar

    I have tried more of a grassroots approach to my Twitter accounts.u00a0 In my opinion, following people just to get them to follow you back or asking people to RT you just to get mentions is a great way to gain more followers and more mentions.u00a0 But honestly, if you want true engagement and communication with people who will WANT to share your content, then keeping a grassroots approach is best.nnThis first few followers, fans, and others can be the real champions of your brand online.u00a0 With my organization, early on, we used TweetAdder to quickly follow a ton of people, now we have a ton of followers, but it has taken me a while to dial down the REAL influencers.u00a0 nnWith @MillennialChat, I wanted to keep it very organic, and now if we have a large campaign we want to do, then I will either DM or email the influencers that I know truly want to share our content.u00a0 We have a smaller number of followers, but a greater amount of sharing of information.

    1. Avatar

      From what you said, it seems that approach #2–the one that’s organic–could be more worthwhile since the return is greater (more sharing). It’s also more targeted, meaning it’s more valuable. Thanks for sharing your experience, Willie!

    2. Avatar

      That sounds like a great approach, Willie. I think for a lot of people social media seems synonymous with “short cut.” You contact a big name, they tweet out your cause, and boom! You’re a success. The longer you stay in the online world the more you realize that this approach doesn’t usually work 🙂

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