Influencers for Public Affairs? You bet!
by Michelle “Mischa” Sindyukov
“Influencer marketing” in many public affairs and even some communication circles is considered to be a dirty statement. When people think of influencers, they usually picture a beautiful, blonde Caucasian woman talking about essential oils or detoxes. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. The influencer space is full of diversity – different backgrounds, races, opinions, and passions – and they can be your public affairs advocates. Hear me out.
Influencers are trusted, popular specialists in their circles, eager to create content. If you want people to get behind a cause, it doesn’t always take a person with a Ph.D. to persuade them to take action. When 84% of millennials don’t trust traditional advertising, there’s a need to find alternative ways to influence young people. Celebrity engagements don’t always work – celebrities can be aligned with too many different causes and often seem too distant. Influencers, on the other hand, are trusted by their followers. The truth is that the public affairs space tends to ignore influencers, but influencers can be a great help in achieving your goals. When certain organizations do use influencers, their goals do have a higher success rate – just look at the environmental movement’s #FridaysForFuture. So, how can you use influencers for public affairs? Here are some strategies:
Amplifying authentic voices for your cause
Whatever your cause may be, from advocating against gun violence to creating jobs in America, influencers can help you with your storytelling. Instead of only employing a Capitol Hill strategy to tell Members of Congress about the impact of, say, factories closing, you can broaden the scope of a public affairs campaign with influencer engagement. For example, an authentic story shared by an influencer who has actually lost a job and has had to move their family to another state is a lot more emotionally impactful than just reading data. This information shared by the influencer could sway the way their followers (aka constituents) think. As a result, you could activate constituents and have them call Members of Congress to advocate for your desired outcome.
There are many different types of creators on social media, and many different categories. For something like this you could use mid-level influencers that have a loyal following. One of the coolest things is that their main focus can actually be unrelated to your cause, such as the outdoors, or putting together cars, or something totally different, and even though only a small part of their channel would show a more authentic side aligned with your issue, their followers will trust that the author is being honest.
Getting petitions signed
One of the great successes of online petition platforms is that anyone can advocate for lasting change by signing petitions and sharing them with their social networks online. Organizations seeking to get more signatories on online petitions should consider partnering with influencers.
Picture this, your company is trying to increase the use of solar panels. Instead of only pushing targeted ads at people to buy more panels, you could implement a public affairs strategy advocating tax breaks for using the panels and additional taxes for nonrenewable energy use. You could create an online petition calling on Congress to increase tax breaks for solar use and partner with influencers who are passionate about this cause. These influencers could create compelling videos on YouTube and TikTok, post photos on their Instagram feed, and ask people to sign the petition in their bios. This way your message is getting across to more people and you’re driving more individuals to the petition.
There are many niche issues for which it can be hard to find spokespeople. In this situation, you could partner with a public affairs agency to identify experts or work on your own to identify influencers who have actually experienced whatever challenge it is you’re trying to address. You can then use that influencer to give interviews, post videos, and work as essentially a spokesperson for your campaign or cause. This will make your campaign seem more personable, and if your issue is the biggest issue that the influencer is passionately involved in, it can have a big impact with their followers.
In the public affairs space, there is a lot of jargon – “stakeholders,” “leverage” “grasstops,” “synergy,” “walk-back,” “deep expertise,” and other terms that mean a lot to public affairs professionals but don’t mean as much to the public. It’s not unusual to witness these terms making it outside the D.C. bubble into regular ads or messaging. In a world where K Street is just a name of a street, these mistakes can be detrimental to your campaign.
An advantage of working with influencers is that they can help test your campaign messages with the actual influencers in focus group environments (or just asking for feedback) or with their followers. Understanding which messaging works and doesn’t work with your supporters across the country can save you a lot of money and help persuade potential advocates and eventually lawmakers.
Changing a policy can be very expensive and sometimes what raises the most resistance to the policy change is lawmakers thinking that their constituents don’t care about your issue. Prove them wrong by implementing a grassroots strategy that includes authentic influencers with genuine audiences who are engaged and ready to take action.
Michelle “Mischa” Sindyukov is a senior consultant in APCO Worldwide’s Advocacy and Campaigns practice in Washington, D.C. She specializes in influencer engagements, campaigns, international new business, events and corporate communications for global corporations. Her clients include Fortune 500 companies, law firms, and multinationals in the food, retail and commodities spaces. Mischa assists clients across several regions, including Latin America, the Middle East and Europe. Previously, Mischa was on APCO’s Global Marketing team, where she helped lead internal communications and create programming for 700+ employees across 30+ offices around the world.