Throughout the 20th and early 21st centuries, “influencer” advertising generally stuck to a tried-and-true formula: Hire a famous celebrity to personally endorse a product and highlight that endorsement as part of the promotion. It could also look like hiring recognizable experts, like doctors or chefs.
These ads came primarily from the brands, not the influencers — and influencers were primarily talent picked by gatekeepers, not self-made stars. That’s what’s changed in the last decade: Influencers can now directly build and engage huge audiences of their own through social media.
That brings us to my first core piece of advice for engaging with influencers:
Trust influencers to know their audience and what appeals to them.
Influencers are constantly bombarded with rigid requests for social media posts, Instagram Stories, and multi-minute video intros that come across as forced and inauthentic — because they are. These kinds of scripts consistently convert users at far lower rates than content that centers the voice of the influencer, feeling authentic and genuine.
Liza Koshy, a co-chair with Michelle Obama’s When We All Vote, is a standout at authentic partnerships — one to watch and one to follow. Even influencer-savvy brands like Apple and Beats, who count Kendrick Lamar and The Rock among their ambassadors, say that their videos featuring Liza get four times as many clicks as those featuring other celebrities. Indeed, Liza’s video partnering with Apple was one of her earliest brand collabs — a video that’s legitimately hilarious, still holds up, and offers outstanding rewatch value.
In politics, Liza’s partnership with When We All Vote does the exact same thing. Examples like her Vote by Mail FAQs and Myth vs. Fact: Vote-by-Mail Edition videos work by appealing to her audience as authentic Liza videos—because they are. When We All Vote probably isn’t going to crack a joke about vote-by-mail being done in the same place you shower — but Liza would, and does! It’s true to her, it comes from her, and that’s why it works.
Influencers don’t need to have millions of subscribers to be impactful, either.
Hannah, who goes by Smokey Glow on YouTube, had less than 250K subscribers at the time of our partnership (now more than 364K!) and drew nearly 1,000 people to When We All Vote’s Voter Resources Hub in just a few weeks. Our team didn’t even give her a script, just a link to add to her video descriptions and incorporate into her videos, which she was already ending with a reminder for her fans to register to vote.
Instead of drafting and enforcing a strict video script, consider outlining 5-10 bullet points of core concepts and messages for influencers to emphasize — in their own words.
Prioritize creating content for their platforms, not yours.
Hosting a takeover on your campaign or organization’s own accounts can be tempting. But it rarely has the same impact as content on the influencer’s own platforms — since that content, unlike yours, is guaranteed to reach a new audience through a voice they already trust.
To ensure influencers sound like themselves while staying on message, consider designing social media toolkits with sample language across major platforms, potentially including cover photos and profile photo frames. I recommend making these as easy to use as possible — and emphasizing the absolute must-haves to include for folks who decide to get especially creative with their content. Like with any great article, write with the likelihood of skimming in mind.
Still, a takeover may make sense — if showing your audience the breadth of your support is important, or if amplifying the influencer’s voice through your platforms is the top priority.
For the “Bright Minded” interview Elizabeth Warren filmed with Miley Cyrus, for example, the livestream and first posts went to Miley’s platforms, only then followed by Elizabeth Warren’s posts.
But the goal of her work with Angie Kearse and Emerald Garner was to uplift both women’s stories, not spread the senator’s own message by reaching Angie and Emerald’s people. Both Angie and Emerald took over the senator’s campaign Instagram, and both joined Elizabeth Warren for a livestream conversation through the campaign social platforms. You could even say Sen. Warren was the influencer here, not the other way around.
Influencer platforms can support influencer discovery — but won’t do the hard work for you.
Influencer tools can’t do everything for you, even those that claim they can — and you shouldn’t want them to. There’s no magic button for suddenly getting a bunch of influencers to say nice things about your campaign or organization.
Many campaigns have a political director (if not a few) who manages important political relationships and communications with them. Political directors can be crucial — and influencer campaigns require that same kind of thoughtful, personal, and effective relationship management.
Plus, some influencers may even come to you. You can periodically monitor sign-ups and donations, even cross-referencing new names with public “influencer” databases like verified accounts on Twitter and/or pages on Wikipedia.
Remember, anyone can be an influencer.
In this year’s Webby Awards, the winners for Best Influencer were a Washington Post journalist on TikTok and a video game character, with nominees also including a doll, a news program, and a travel blogger who uses a wheelchair.
My favorite aspect of this space is that it’s constantly changing. If you’ve built a significant following around a specific topic with consistent enthusiasm, engagement, and trust in what you have to say, you might be an influencer, too!
But also remember, not everyone should (or will) be an influencer for you.
Even though anyone can be an influencer, not everyone should be an influencer for you — or will want to be.
For a campaign focused on engaging young voters on an issue like climate change, partnering with an online star in her early 20s to create content for her TikTok might be perfect. For a campaign focused on lowering the age of eligibility for Medicare or Social Security, though? I might start with other options.
Far from every influencer will be a good fit for your campaign. Be prepared to walk away — and remember, you aren’t the only one who can do that. Like a job interview, be prepared to hear “no” or hear nothing at all.
Anastasia Golovashkina is a Senior Director at Trilogy Interactive driving and executing social media strategies for progressive candidates up and down the ballot—and the startups and nonprofits that help elect them, turn out voters, and make our world a better place. Before rejoining Trilogy, she served as Social Media Director for Elizabeth Warren’s 2020 presidential campaign.