Monday, 20 June 2016

Influencer marketing and volunteer recruitment

I am a regular reader of the Buffer Blog. Produced by social media scheduling company Buffer, the blog regularly shares practical, inspiring content about social media, a key marketing tool in our 21st century world.

Social media is a topic I train and write on regularly. It’s a subject I find many people who lead and manage volunteers can be uncertain about or even afraid of. Yet, whilst it won’t completely replace more traditional ways to promote volunteering in our organisations, it is an increasingly important way to reach out to people, and not just those under the age of 30 - some of the biggest growth in social networks like Facebook is from those aged 50 and above.

So I want to share with you an excellent recent Buffer blog post by Ash Read on Influencer Marketing.

Ash starts the blog post by arguing that marketing is essentially about the spread of ideas. In volunteering terms this means we want to spread that idea that people should volunteer for a given cause or organisation. This is what Ash says [with some contextualising for volunteering from me]:

“Success in marketing often comes down to one simple concept: getting your ideas [that people should volunteer with you] to spread. Traditionally, mass-media adverting is the go-to way to spread ideas. Here’s how it works (in theory): you buy some ads, put those ads in front of your audience [potential volunteers], and that’s how your idea spreads. The problem with this approach is that we live in a time where choice is abundant and time is sparse. Consumers [potential volunteers] are spoiled for choice when it comes to what to spend their money [time in our context] on and have too little time to consume content and engage with adverts. What this means is that most advertising is just ignored.”

Just read that last line again.

Most advertising is ignored!

That means those recruitment posters and leaflets you lovingly crafted to. It means that swanky new TV or radio campaign your organisation has spent a small fortune on to get people to volunteer or donate money. They aren’t simply dismissed but ignored altogether.

So what do we do instead?

As Ash’s points out, we’re more likely to buy a product if it’s recommended by a friend than pushed at us by an advert. In volunteering parlance that’s word of mouth.

We’ve always known that word of mouth is one of the most powerful forms of volunteer recruitment. Simply put, if I have a great volunteering experience then I want to tell others about that. So I share enthusiastically with friends and family and encourage them to get involved so they can enjoy the volunteering experience too.

Social media, as Erik Qualman puts it in his book Socialnomics, is word of mouth on digital steroids. Or, another way he puts it: word of mouth to world of mouth.

Think of it like this: when I share my great volunteering experience with friends and family, that includes posting about it on social media. My friends (all around the world!) see this. Some will like or react to it. Some will share it. Either way word spreads about how great volunteering with that organisation is without the organisation doing anything other than delivering a great experience and perhaps encouraging me to tell my friends.

Now you may be sceptical about the idea that anyone - especially a stranger who might happen across my social media post via a friend who shared it - would respond to my enthusiastic posting by enquiring to volunteer at the same organisation. But why not? As Ash points out in his article, “92% of consumers trust recommendations from other people—even if they don’t know them personally—over promotional content that comes directly from brands.”

Just think for a minute about when you’ve bought something online. You probably read a review online, for example from someone on Amazon or TripAdvisor who also bought that book or CD or booked that hotel or ate at that restaurant. Did their review sway you to go ahead with your purchase or not? The answer is probably yes. Did you personally know them? The answer is probably no. So if our online buying decisions are influenced by someone we don’t know why wouldn’t someone trust my enthusiastic review of volunteering and want to get involved themselves?

Back to Ash’s blog post - what then is influencer marketing? Simply put, it’s word of mouth but focused through someone who will be an influencer to that audience. So if you want to more young people to volunteer with your organisation you find someone who has influence within this group to share your volunteer recruitment message on social media. That doesn’t have to be a member of One Direction but someone who has influence within their peer group, for example another young person. As Ash puts it, “influencers act as a mutual friend connecting your brand with your target consumers”.

Ash’s post goes on to explain more about influencer marketing in his blog post which I encourage you to read and reflect on. I’d also love to hear your thoughts about this topic and how we can apply the concepts of influencer marketing to volunteer management.

Over to you.

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