One of social media’s powerful lessons is the impact of influencers on brand awareness. Whether it’s a van-lifer selling energy drinks or a dog groomer styling a cast of fluffy fur babies, real people using products in everyday life moves merch.

So, who exactly is an influencer? Is it anyone whose persuasive story makes you click on the knife set you didn’t actually want? Well, not exactly. The beauty of this approach is the potential for peer-to-peer connection. Gartner Marketing Glossary describes influencer marketing like this:

Influencer marketing is a type of social media marketing that involves mentions and endorsements of brands and/or products by individuals who exert influence on a particular audience due to their perceived expertise, trustworthiness, or popularity.

This strategy is tailor made for associations. Where else can you find a built-in group of potential enthusiasts? But so far, I haven’t seen many organizations taking advantage of the opportunity to turn members into solid gold brand ambassadors.

If you wonder whether it’s worthwhile to add this type of endorsement to your marcom bag of tricks, here are a few statistics to back up the idea.

  • Influencer marketing campaigns generate 11x the ROI of traditional advertising campaigns. (Oberlo, “The Ultimate Guide to Influencer Marketing.”)
  • 61% of consumers trust influencer recommendations, compared to 38% who trust brand-produced content. (SocialPubli, “The State of Influencer Marketing 2021.”)
  • Influencer marketing campaigns can increase brand awareness by up to 80%. (Hootsuite, “The State of Influencer Marketing 2022.”)
  • Influencer marketing campaigns can generate up to 20% in sales. (Bloglovin’, “The State of Influencer Marketing 2022.”)

There are multiple reasons why peer-to-peer persuasion is so effective. You can–

There are many reasons why peer-to-peer persuasion is so effective.
  • Target specific audiences and reach beyond traditional boundaries. By sharing content with their networks, the right promoters can deliver your message to groups you might not have previously considered or been able to access.
  • Increase trust and credibility. Reality trumps fiction every time. Ordinary people telling their stories have the ring of truth and authenticity.
  • Increase engagement and loyalty. A colleague opens doors faster than an outsider.  

Keep Social Platforms Lively

Scoring a thousand likes on social media is not for everyone. So, how do you identify and support the extroverts who want to attract followers and are engaging enough to keep them? A simple way to find the people who are ready to channel their inner celebrity is by making social platforms inviting and easy to access.  

No one wants to eat in an empty restaurant. And, members don’t want to hang out on social platforms that are gathering dust. A vibrant environment is a prerequisite to a more structured influencer program. Post frequently, tell a good story, and encourage your audience to comment and share. Assign someone to watch traffic and track the most enthusiastic responders.

Your organization’s online community, or the communities run by related entities, are logical places to scout for influencer talent. Popular presenters at meetings and educational events are also perfect candidates to recruit.

Target Engagers

Observation is good, but data is better. Use analytics, reports, and surveys to identify the members who participate most frequently in association initiatives and activities. Compare those results to anecdotal evidence. The numbers could reveal surprises. Perhaps that member who is all over Twitter has never attended an Annual Meeting. Or vice versa. One type of engagement isn’t necessarily better than another. Effectiveness as a spokesperson probably depends more on the ability to be likeable and persuasive, than any other skill.

Use analytics to evaluate member participation.

Directors, committee members, and volunteers of all stripes are potential promoters. Be a creative recruiter and don’t limit your choices to one demographic. Respected leaders can generate trust and confidence in your brand; whereas young professionals will give your mission a contemporary spin. Keep an eye out for passion and consider how you can tap that enthusiasm. Are there members who have special interests or skills they want to share? Give them the opportunity to be noticed.

Many professions already have practitioners intentionally setting themselves up as “experts” through the content they post. Watch for these self-promoters and identify who members are following most closely. If they are not on your site, they may be supporting the competition. It is well worth the effort to convince popular online personalities who are playing for the other team that your side has more to offer.

Establish a Relationship

You wouldn’t approach an industry partner for sponsorship without doing your homework. Asking for support to promote your brand is a similar request. The most influential people are typically the busiest, you’ll want to give them good reasons to consider this assignment.

Flattery will get you everywhere. Once you have a list of prospects, begin by studying their interests and motivations. Respond to their social posts and share their content on the association’s platforms.  When you are ready to make the ask, be prepared with—

  • An elevator speech that outlines what inspired you to choose them. Explain how you think they can advance the association’s mission and uplift the brand. Use examples that highlight what you admire about their approach or why you believe they can be influential. (“You’re respected across our community. I know that your support would make an impact.”)
  • Be prepared with examples of how they can help. (“We’d love you to do a daily Instagram post about your experience at the annual meeting.”) But be flexible. Make room for creativity and alternate approaches that fit your mutual agendas. 
  • Explain the rules. Everyone appreciates guidance. Provide direction that will make the experience positive. To avoid surprises, put your requirements in writing and be specific.
  • Identify a portfolio of benefits. Don’t look for success without an investment. It’s unrealistic to expect that members will deliver their best effort out of generosity. Determine what type of compensation you can offer. Look to your sponsorship program for ideas. You might suggest complimentary registration and accommodations for a vlogger to document their conference experiences or free membership for a year of social promotion. This is an opportunity for innovation and to create win-win experiences.

Take it Slow

There are many ways that an influencer program can unfold. This is exactly the sort of initiative that benefits from an incremental, entrepreneurial approach. Dip a toe in the water and see how it goes. Keep a close eye on platform analytics and other types of member response. Then fine tune based on the results.

Excitement is exponential. If your content catches fire, you might discover an expanding community of boosters who are happy to help you keep that enthusiasm growing.