We’ve reached a turning point in communications. Social media is now a part of everyday life. But recent scandals like Cambridge Analytica have unearthed a lot we didn’t want to admit that we knew about social media such as the powerful targeted advertising tools. Moreover, these scandals have started to chip away at the relationship between brands and consumers. Many consumers do not trust brands and advertisers on these platforms. Consumers don’t even trust the platforms themselves.
This evolution has led to companies like Facebook making seismic changes in the algorithms that dictate what we see in our news feeds every day to win back their customers. It hasn’t been proved whether or not consumers are happy with those changes but it is known, for sure, that brands have been negatively impacted.
While I was at Amnesty International we had been looking for new and creative ways to continue to share our stories and campaigns amidst the tumultuous changes on social media. I am regularly looking for new authentic ways to help build trust with audiences. ne of the tools I use often is influencer marketing. This type of marketing is where a brand will engage people with large social media following to create content together.
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As the largest grassroots human rights organization, Amnesty International always has been in the business of influencer marketing. It’s really community organizing at scale, leveraging influential people to put pressure on the right policymakers to create change. Amnesty International's mega concerts and Human Rights Now! Tour with Bruce Springsteen, Bono and Sting still rings familiar for many. Celebrities are still important advocates for the work but the organization recently started experimenting with a new group of influencers whose might is mightier than their size.
Over the last couple years, Amnesty International worked with micro influencers, specifically mommy and daddy bloggers like photographer @MarinoBambinos, to offer them a framework about human rights and to persuade Americans to encourage their lawmakers to end family detention and stop practices like family separation at the U.S./Mexico border.
What are Micros?
We know from recent surveys and studies that Generations Y and Z in particular are more willing to buy products endorsed by Instagrammers and other social media influencers. There’s great potential to reach the right target audience now with brands, in partnership with influencers. According to Statista, market value of influencers on Instagram - just Instagram - is set to exceed 2.3 billion dollars in 2019.
But what actually is an influencer? Influencers are defined as someone who has established credibility in a particular market, audience, community or industry. This person has access to a large audience and can easily persuade others simply by virtue of their authenticity and reach.
Micro influencers (or Micros) are those online tastemakers with modest followings. Marketers use a variety of cut-offs on audience size. Usually, I consider anyone under 50,000 to be considered “micro”. A micro influencer might be a vegan mom like @natsplantlife, a dad blogger like @thepapaperspective or social justice activist photographer like @activistnyc.
Benefits of Micros
These influencers are a bit different since they are often reflective of the core demographics, psychographics and/or values of their following. That means these influencers are your target audience. They might be vegan moms, dad photographers, up and coming fashion Instagrammers or a LGBTQ YouTuber. They have a direct line to their audience and have developed a level of trust with their following because of that open line of communication by regularly responding to comments and DMs.
As a result, from a brand perspective, we often work with Micros because they represent our target audience for a product or campaign. By partnering with a trusted Micro, the brand signals that the audience can trust the influencer as well.
Micros offer many benefits for marketers. Here there is a smaller, niche audience so a campaign will be theoretically more targeted and potentially have a better ROI than with macros influencers who carry large followings. Often for macros, there are high impressions or reach but very little engagement. That’s because the larger accounts, especially ones set up in the early days of social media, are filled with empty followings of spambots and dead accounts.
Since Micros have small followings, sometimes marketers have to spend more time on the front end doing research and vetting. The influencers won’t be appearing in Forbes or Fast Company. They won’t often appear very high in search. It takes more time to find, curate and select Micros. Luckily there are many firms now who specialize in Micros and have databases that can help speed up the process. So if there is a sizable budget available, the search can be outsourced to a firm.
Generally speaking Micros are more affordable. Micros might only charges hundreds or thousands of dollars instead of the five, six or seven figure engagements we see with larger influencers. Sometimes, Micros are even more flexible on rates.
But with that flexibility often comes less experience. Where a formal influencer has an infrastructure set up to be an influencer, Micros often times lack that sophistication. They don’t have agents, publicists, managers or other types of gatekeepers. It’s important to have everything in writing via email correspondences along with a contract with a clear scope of the engagement. Treat Micros like any other influencer or celebrity to ensure they live up to their promises and to protect your brand from any incidents. We know the FTC has an eye on influencer marketing so what’s to stop them from levying a fine for a major brand even if the influencer is small? A violation like lack of disclosure for sponsored content is still a violation no matter how many audience members potentially see it.
Designing a Micro Campaign
The most important work for any influencer marketing starts with understanding how the work fits into the larger organizational work so that one can determine how influencer marketing will support that campaign. Are you trying to sell a new product? Generate leads for your company? Maybe its increase brand awareness in a certain market. You’ll need to think about your theory of change and make sure that whichever influencer you work with and the program you design can actually help you achieve your objectives.
For example, if your ultimate goal is driving clicks to a product item on a website, you’ll want to think about a campaign where we are create the least amount of friction for that user experience. You might pick something on Youtube, like sponsoring a video, rather than partnering with an Instagram in that scenario since we know that Instagram doesn’t allow for URLs on posts.
Once you have refined your goals and objectives against your theory of change, you’ll start to review your target audience so that you can develop an audience persona to match to your Micros. What type of demographics and psychographics can you identify for your audience? Do you know about what they like to watch, read and listen to?
It’s important to have a clear picture of who is your target audience. Influencer marketing campaigns can be expensive so the more thorough your audience profile, the better the chance you’ll have of controlling your costs and meeting your objectives. Write a list of demographics, psychographics and interests that make up the campaign audience to get started. It’s important to have more than just demographics since influencer selection is really about understanding the needs, wants and behaviors of your audience.
Then the research begins. Do some initial research reading through online trending topics and hashtags to find the top influencers in those spaces. Creating Twitter lists will help keep track of influencers and thought leaders to work with in the future. Attending events in real life (IRL) allows you to get to know these influencers personally which helps move projects along faster since you’ll have a rapport with them. You can bring in your online audience or focus groups to solicit recommendations and poll on favorites. No matter how you do outreach, it’s critically important to do a through background check on them by reading articles they’ve written and stories about them.
The influencer world is quite big. You might want to consider hiring a firm or a consultant to handle the research and outreach for you. Some firms can run the whole program, including content and strategy, as well. If you need to do it on your own, you can develop a checklist or matrix of requirements to help narrow the playing field of perspectives.
Here’s a checklist of considerations you might use for an influencer.
- Are they authentic?
- Do they post actively and often?
- Do they have a connection to your cause brand or industry?
- Are they aligned with your target audience?
- Are they articulate?
- Are they philanthropic or care about an issue?
If you can answer yes to most of these, add them to the list. No matter what client or product that I am working on, I still prefer to work with influencers who care about something. They could be passionate about encouraging children to be healthy eaters or making the world more beautiful through art and photography. If they have a moral compass, it mitigates some of the risk of having problems down the road.
Outreach is the hardest part. It’s vital to be very diligent in corresponding with potential influencers. I recommend funneling all our correspondences through one team member to project manage the program and to manage the relationship.
Alongside your short term campaign ask, make sure you create a long term plan for every influencer you engage. You don’t want to ask someone to participate in a program once and then disappear on him/her. The most effective programs are ones where the influencer can engage over and over, during an extended period of time so that they can perform ongoing advocacy on behalf of the brand.
For campaign design, marketers should always collaborate with influencers instead of dictate what the campaign will look like. Influencers know their audience best so defer to the experts. It’s helpful to provide them with resources like access to the merchandise, background documents, one sheets or infographics.
Once the campaign and content is designed, KPIs can be determined based on your goals and objectives. At this point, it might make sense to tweak those goals a bit too based on what you learned about the chosen influencer, their audience tendencies and the final content. Use a variety of KPIs and consider how to capture qualitative feedback so that it can help you illustrate the success of the campaign.
Case Study: #TheBerksKids
In the United States, Americans are facing a concerted, coordinated effort by the Trump administration to strip protections for people seeking asylum in the United States. In 2018, two pieces of that work, family separation and detention, had risen to international attention.
Berks family detention center was the first “family detention center” in the United States. It’s one of three detention centers were children can be housed. These are essentially “baby jails” where children who are seeking asylum are learning to walk and talk in prison while they wait for the long legal process. We had case work on a number of families who were held their for over two years. By exposing the horrors at Berks, we wanted to increase the public’s understanding of family detention, build champions opposing the practice, and stall any effort to expand family detention.
In terms of objectives, we looked at increasing video views on explainer content so that we knew people were learning more, garnering impressions to see how far the issue was spreading and driving an increase of petition signatures on the Amnesty USA website so that we could deliver those petitions to the target
Based on intel from campaigners and advocacy experts, we knew that moms and dads could play an important role in state politics. Through PTAs, faith groups and universities, we could pull the levers we needed to put political pressure on local politicians to take action. We also knew that they were sympathetic to issues like family detention and separation because they can directly relate to making impossible choices to protect your children. So we made up an audience persona of a young, Christian mom as our target for this campaign.
Based on our target audience, we decided to engage mom and dad bloggers. We brought on Clever Girls Collective, a mommy blogger company who created campaigns like #BatKid for Make a Wish Foundation. They also work with a number of corporate clients. Most of the mom bloggers we engaged with wrote about topics like recipes, do-it-yourself (DIY) crafts and parenting tips. Some had experience writing about nonprofit causes or campaigns while others did not. We even were able to pick a few bloggers that lived geographically close to the family detention center, located in Pennsylvania, USA.
First, we asked them to write a blog post after reading up on the campaign and the family detention facility in Berks County. We shared with them background information, a petition, a video and other materials to review. They also received talking points to draw from in their post. Although these were sponsored posts, we were not involved in the editorial process and only did light editing for accuracy on the issue or clarification on our research findings.
In the second phase, we asked a group of mommy bloggers to just share our explainer video about #TheBerksKids with recommended pre-written social media copy. All content was clearly sponsored by Amnesty International, in line with regulations.
In the third phase, we flew one mommy blogger, @MarinoBambinos, out to meet a family she helped free and recorded five fundraising videos for lead generation ads for Facebook that lived on our brand channels. We also used these assets across our family detention campaign on social media.
The last flight of our campaign actually was a bit unplanned. When the news of families being separated at the U.S./Mexico border came to our attention, we very quickly mobilized a campaign calling on Members of Congress to end the practice of family separation and reunite the children with their families. Less than a few hours later, we had 35 mommy bloggers sharing our graphic and call line on social media.
Over the course of our partnership with Clever Girls Collective, our results were 3-5x the impressions we paid for. And thanks to the help of our agency, we know the majority of those impressions were concentrated to the greater Pennsylvania area since we used tools like Facebook ads to push that content into the news feeds of our target audience.
Our videos on our brand channels also had promising results. We were fortunately able to use them for both fundraising and advocacy campaigns. On our advocacy posts, the Berks videos scored higher than our weekly average in categories for metrics including:
Total video views
- viewers who watched passed 30 seconds
- viewers who completed over 95% of the video.
At Amnesty, we used influencer marketing as a way to influence key stakeholders but you could also use them to grow your audience, drives sales and garner donations. But the concept of influencer marketing is event more simple than that. We are just mimicking word of mouth. Using Micros in influencer marketing is really our way, as marketers, to be able to replicate the experience of peer to peer communication. Micro influencers feel just like a friend to your target audience. That allows marketers to help build trust between the audience and our brand which then in turn improves both brand reputation and results.
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