Why is influencer marketing an important tool for NGOs and nonprofits?
We consult on the bigger picture for the NGOs because sometimes they are not the fast track of new, innovative content or innovative mechanisms [for digital marketing], and they don’t have the money to spend that big companies have. We have to put it into perspective for them. We try to learn from the big players in the market and see what we can adapt to the NGOs to make sure they are up-to-date on new digital marketing techniques. Nowadays, we combine cross-channel marketing to enable them to stick to established methods like mailings or one-to-one marketing because, to be honest, the donation sector is pretty old. If you talk about young target groups in the NGO world, they are 35 to 50 years old, and the main target groups are often 60 or older. They won’t be around forever, so NGOs have to make room for those 35 and younger targets. That is where we consult on how to reach and develop them to become donors in the future. Content creator marketing ticks a lot of boxes in this sense.
What have been your initial learnings from leveraging influence for NGOs?
There are opportunities in outsourcing content production, because for NGOs this is always a huge cost point. Content creators are a great expert source because they know how to use the platforms, they know how to create content. Plus, they know their community and the expectations of their audiences. It saves the NGOs time and money because they don’t need an agency for a glossy campaign, and they get content that is trendy and state-of-the-art because the influencer has a vested interest in making content that works. It’s their face on it, after all.
Another very big opportunity is that people want to talk to people and not to faceless brands. The content creator is a great way to do that, and can really persuade people to get engaged with a topic. Having a face that delivers the messages is very important.
The other huge opportunity is new target groups, not only the younger target groups but also different bubbles; on social media everybody is in their own bubble, you don’t really leave it and you see a lot of the same content. But when you follow a creator who suddenly talks about supporting a child’s rights organization, it takes the NGO out of its bubble and offers new ways to reach other people. If the influencer posts something for us in their community, then it’s a whole new crowd because often they are not followers of the NGO.
Paid ads with content creators also work well. We leave them the creative space to make the video how they want; we just say, this is the message we want to tell, tell it in your own words, but please use this link, this piece of information, or this fact. We use the video for paid campaigns that are distributed to new audiences and it works very well. A creator ad campaign we did on Instagram for [international blood cancer and bone marrow foundation DKMS] delivered 200% more conversions than the glossy campaign made by an agency.
And what about the challenges?
One of the biggest challenges is that you have to take risks because you can’t control the messaging as tightly as you can when it’s you delivering the message. You have to be OK with having some wiggle room, or some room for error because the influencer is not an expert on the NGO, even though they receive a briefing upfront. They are just a spokesperson, but are not really deep into the topic. It might happen that they get some facts wrong, or use different wording to the NGO. It can be a bit hard to convince the NGOs to try [influencer marketing] because they are a bit scared that their brand might be damaged.
To counter that, we established some brand safety rules that we first agree to with the content creator. Kolsquare helps a lot with researching influencers, checking brand fit and seeing their other partnerships; it helps us to know if they agree with the core values of the NGO. We also use contracts in which the creator agrees with the core values and states they will do one post containing the message.
Another challenge is acquisition because NGOs normally don’t have a huge money pot. It takes time to find influencers that fit because we can’t throw money at them. We try to work with small amounts (€500 or less) because then we can hold them accountable to really doing it and to doing it right. But it’s nothing compared to the amounts that big brands would pay for partnerships with content creators.
Are NGOs still hesitant to take budget from traditional marketing campaigns to spend on influencer marketing?
Content creator marketing is not very high up in their budget priorities. They have other things that work better like classic emailing campaigns that generate more donations. Content creator campaigns are often stronger in awareness KPIs than conversion KPIs. It depends on the goals of the organization, and also very much on their internal mindset. Some are very open to the idea of content creator marketing and they try it in various campaigns, but some still hesitate; they’re a bit scared because it’s new and they don’t know yet if it fits for them. The bigger the need is for new, younger target groups, the more open they are to the idea of trying it.
Are there some platforms that are more suited to influencer marketing for NGOs? Facebook, for example, which has an older audience?
Facebook and Instagram work well for donations. We’ve also tried TikTok which works great for awareness, but not at all for donations. It depends on the product. It’s not always about donations. On TikTok, for example, we promoted a podcast that the NGO hosts which is specific content for younger people. TikTok was the perfect fit for this.
One channel we use a lot is Twitch which is a great place to really engage with the community. The Twitch community is used to using the chat to talk to the streamer, they are much more connected. Often you have more room because they stream for six hours and they talk about your NGO for five minutes; it’s very hard to get someone to talk about you for five minutes on Instagram.
Twitch in France has a very engaged fundraising community, is that also the case in Germany? Do you think Twitchers are more likely to get involved for a good cause?
It’s a great pool of people. We’ve worked with at least 75 Twitch streamers who’ve supported good causes. They are definitely open to it. There are some big fundraising events in Germany — not as big as the ZEvent in France which is huge — but there are some that are big.
Right now we mainly collaborate on individual streams rather than events because it’s very expensive to pay the location costs and get everybody in one place. We leave the streamers as much room as possible; we say this is our message, please spread it ideally this week, but use the slot you prefer. The goal is to have as many interactions as possible so if you say your best streaming slot is Wednesday at 10pm, that’s fine because we trust you, you know your audience best. We try to not squeeze them into our idea, but use their knowledge of their communities.
Going back to the risk you spoke of, can you elaborate on your selection criteria when choosing influencers for an NGO campaign?
We do a short screening first, which looks at the feed in general and maybe do a quick Google search to check if there are some bad headlines, etc. If the NGO agrees to work with them or if it’s a candidate that might fit, then we do a deeper screening. [Our subsidiary] The eSports Company is very knowledgeable about the Twitch world, they can easily say if the person is very left or right, controversial or not. That’s a big advantage because it would be a lot of work otherwise if you didn’t know anybody.
Of course, the more new contacts we get, the more we have to check. Apart from the content, one great way to check if they’re a good fit is the money aspect because we don’t pay them much. If we offer to pay a small amount and they have a million followers, that’s not at all a normal amount they would receive. If they don’t agree with our values or our messages, they’re not going to agree to spread them for this amount. For us, it’s a kind of control mechanism to see if they have an internal motivation to do it.
Is influencer marketing for NGOs essentially the same as for classic, branded marketing campaigns?
It is in the sense that content creator campaigns are measured on KPIs but I would add that another benefit is that you get insight or feedback from different target groups or different communities. On content creator campaigns people may use the comments section more, or influencers will give you feedback on the community response. That’s maybe something you wouldn’t know from a poster campaign or a glossy campaign. You get more qualitative insights.
Looking ahead, how do you see influencer marketing for NGOs and nonprofits developing? Do you think the space will get more crowded?
It might get more crowded. The gaming bubble, for example, is very specific and at the beginning we did it with one NGO. Now we’re working with five or six in this particular field because it’s a very interesting target group for them. Our goal is to build more long term relationships with the creators and to activate them more than once, because it’s very costly to activate new people all the time. Activating them regularly builds trust. It’s important to check which organizations they already have [on their roster]; for example, if they worked with Unicef last week, maybe now is not the right time to address them. So it does get more crowded and I think it’s important that you build your relationships now, so you become a love brand for them and they really internalize your cause.