Andrea Learned

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Put Your Social Impact Budget Where Your Influencers Are

“Scale” is a word we hear a lot in the social and environmental action worlds these days. As in: how can I scale impact with my tiny nonprofit budget? If you want my opinion (so much more of that to come): zero in on just one tight list of key influencers. Then, commit all of your intention and budget around strategically engaging with them.

In a world of so much noise, the answer lies not in trying to figure out how to stand out from the firehose of messages on every social platform. The answer lies in knowing how to approach your task with much more intention. Step back and refine. Narrow the crowd you engage with. Then, work from that place and develop relationships with that small, influential base.

Where “influencer relations” in a consumer-facing industry is mainly about celebrities, influencers in the organizational leadership world are likely NOT mainstream celebrities. Instead, they are the big thinkers in your very specific field. They might be members of the media, academics or wizened former CEOs and non-profit executive directors.

In my opinion (here I go again…), influencer relations in this realm demands a hard to come by, long-term organizational commitment, AND, it involves super targeted storytelling across only the channels that matter. While this tends to include digital media relations tactics, there’s much more to it than converting traditional press outreach to Twitter.

Still, I’ve been surprised by how many organizations use their precious time and more precious budget toward “checking the boxes” of the same-old communications approach. They convince themselves that the deeper strategy will come later. Perhaps they’ll find some extra resources for just such an “initiative” around their one big annual event. Hmmm.

Disrupt (Those Assumptions)

Unchecked, communications approaches can easily get off-track, diluting the intended message and weakening the brand or cause. There’s a tendency to keep adding influencers to the list, rather than continually culling. Or, without a serious thought as to why, there’s an franticness around trying to develop the latest bright, shiny content.

A better approach is to simply start smart. Develop engagement slowly and strategically. Who you follow and what they share will tell you exactly the sorts of content you should be creating and which events to attend, among so many other insights.

Part of my intake process with new clients includes these questions: Who would be engaging with your tweets, in a dream world? If you took the your annual communications budget and started with a blank sheet of paper, what would change? How would you re-start your strategy now?

In the case of most nonprofits or foundations, investing in the influencer relationship development is the absolute key. Developing fewer connections allows for greater capacity (and, time and budget) to build much more productive conversations. From this place lies the power to scale the impact of your dreams.

Insights From Philanthropy

With budgets so stretched and staffing so lean, why are we NOT truly focusing on quality over quantity? That disruption of thinking changes everything in a communications strategy.

Along those lines, new Hewlett Foundation sponsored research (conducted by Harder+Company and Edge Research) caught my eye. The findings cite the influencer power in peer-to-peer validation and note the potential in becoming a curator of information. What I’ve seen in my own work is that those two things are exactly what a fine-tuned influencer relations strategy can do.

Note the Twitter number, in particular, in this quote from the Hewlett Foundation piece:

“Among those who do seek knowledge about philanthropic practice from social media, more than half (58%) cited Twitter, followed by Facebook (35%) and LinkedIn (25%). Social media may become a more important channel in the future for foundation audiences.”

I’d expect that the number “among those who do seek knowledge” from social media is only going to increase, wouldn’t you? Whether nonprofit or private sector leadership, those future leaders and funders will soon all be digital natives. Twitter is where I predict those conversations will continue to take place and build momentum.

On “Loving Up”

And yes, people, influencer relations takes work and time. You’ll need to pay close attention at the Twitter listening post, identify your list of influencers and continually cull it. But, this is where your context will emerge and where you’ll see patterns in the industry conversations that matter. This is where you’ll discover the best clues about how to engage with, and become, a key influencer in your unique sphere.

In my (studied) opinion, “loving up” your key topic and contributors is the crux of a smart, sustainable, long term, strategy. Stalker-ish as it may sound, it is not. SO FEW in the nonprofit world, specifically, have committed to this sort of love-driven approach (for lack of time/money/B2B engagement understanding). Thus, there is all the more opportunity in being THE organization to curate a stream can immediately and become a leading resource (as per that Hewlett Foundation study).

Quiet Power. Social Capital.

As it is for so many of the best things in life, patience is a virtue. The greatest rewards come when you build solid foundations of “love” in your networks. Connections I’ve long since made with New York Times writers and NPR reporters, for example, may have originally had no immediately obvious through line. But, building on long-term influencer relations groundwork in that way means I now have plenty of social capital to leverage for clients. Quiet power.

Worth a note: This practice is not likely to deliver overnight gratification. Instead, influencer relations can guide a more purposeful, cause-focused, sustainable play. It is proactive, not reactive.

Now’s the time to create YOUR map, identify the most effective path from influencer-to-influencer (which may not be a straight line), and navigate the change or impact you seek.

If you are not yet persuaded, ponder this: there is no way to waste time in this effort. Whatever you can do, in simply listening, “loving up” peers, or developing an informative feed, it all contributes to your leadership impact archive. The reward for time spent comes both in the ways you can leverage that as present day social capital and in the longer-term foundation of trust you build.

Do you need just one more opinion from me? Here it is: If you are leading an organization or guiding an urgent cause today, it is time to revisit your use of Twitter. Influencer relations strategy, with a digital emphasis, creates a foundation network with just the leaders you need on your side.

Where are you going to put your social impact budget now?

First published on Medium, March 3, 2017

Photo credit: Eli DeFaria via UnSplash