5 Tips for Extending Your Social Reach with an Influencer Strategy

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Here is how to reach more than your followers.

The use of social media “influencers” is becoming firmly established in the corporate world: Brands are tapping well-connected celebrities, topical experts and other advocates to increase reach and deepen consumer engagement both organically and through paid campaigns.

For government agencies still working on developing a comprehensive social strategy, an influencer component is still the exception rather than the rule. But expect the trend to accelerate. More and more socially savvy agencies will embrace social programs that proactively tap influencers in the name of better serving constituents—whether as a key component in crisis communications, to inform and engage citizens in everyday life or as a recruitment tool.

And it doesn’t have to be a budget buster. At its most simply defined, an influencer is someone who carries influence over others. In social media, that’s someone whose voice carries authenticity and therefore trust. The right influencer is someone who can reach your target audience, build trust, and drive engagement. They will share your content and even create original, engaging content of their own. Local celebrities, thought leaders, and politicians with an established social presence are all good places to start. An influencer also might be the local blogger, a mom-and-pop local retail store or your own employees.

The relationship between a government agency and influential, engaged constituents enhances the community and carries benefits on both sides. People want to help—out of a sense of civic duty and pride in helping others. The bottom line is that nearly every internet user can now be reached via social media, which makes social a critical channel for government agencies and an influencer program an important part of your evolution as a social agency. According to Comscore, one minute out of every three spent online is devoted to social networks.  With that in mind, following are five things to consider as you develop your own influencer strategy:

Understand Your Objectives: Whether it’s getting information out quickly and accurately in a crisis, raising public awareness on health and safety issues or something uniquely important to your own operation, understanding your own objectives is one of the keys to success. For emergency response agencies such as FEMA, deep social listening is an invaluable part of crisis communications plan and influencers are an essential component. For others, awareness and information are the over-arching mission.  In Santa Monica, to minimize the spread of false information and rumor during a bomb scare at the Santa Monica Pier last year, the city’s team used social listening to find and engage with community members with large followings who were talking about the incident—dramatically increasing the reach of communications to keep citizens better informed.

Use Social Listening to Find Influencers. You can uncover influencers by monitoring trending hashtags and conversations to analyze people who have the most influence in your area. In the U.K., for example, a government agency called Innovate UK wanted to increase brand awareness and showcase its event offerings, which support science and technology innovation. Using a social listening tool, the team set up listening streams using keyword and hashtag searches—surfacing conversations about specific events so it could engage with business owners and key influencers to promote its own event marketing. The result: a 30 percent increase in engagement over their target for a flagship event.

Paid vs. Volunteer Influencers. Spending marketing dollars on a public awareness campaign can make sense if you plan carefully and your budget permits.  In Texas, the Department of Transportation this summer partnered with ‘Supernatural’ actor Jenson Ackles in a well-received campaign to raise awareness about the dangers of distracted driving. But if you’re a small agency or have a narrow goal, you don’t have to spend heavily on a paid influencer to achieve results, as the Innovate UK example shows.

Follow Best Practices. As you build an influencer program, it’s not just about sheer volume of someone’s followers. You want to find people with authentic voices and true engagement. Additionally, transparency and disclosure are important as trust in institutions declines, especially in government. In the Texas example above, the partnership was well-received. Yet in Australia, the Health Department stopped a program after a backlash over using public funds without properly vetting the Instagram influencers it partnered with.

Nurture Your Influencer Community. As your program takes shape, create and curate a list of influencers who can be tapped for specific campaigns. Invite influencers in for one-on-one meetings with key people on your own social team. Social teams in municipal and state government might invite a local blogger for a personal tour of city hall or the capital. You’ll likely find that these citizen influencers appreciate you as much as you appreciate them.

Ben Cathers is a principal solution consultant for Hootsuite.