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!