The perception of what a celebrity is and who celebrities are continues to change as the internet develops new ways for people to put themselves out there and be seen by the world. Years ago, a celebrity was most likely an actor or musician, and their prestige and recognition grew as they were featured in more movies or as they created more albums and toured the world. In many cases, these celebrities were not just people that were recognized by their fan bases, but also recognized by popular culture at large. Even if someone wasn’t listening to Madonna or Michael Jackson, they still knew who these personalities were and listened when they spoke up on social issues (remember “We Are The World”?).
As the social media landscape has developed over the past decade, so has our perception of social media celebrity. These are not people that are household names, but rather people that capitalize on specific interests in order to generate “niche” influence (niche is used lightly here because they can still reach tens of millions of people). These celebrities are not necessarily famous for their powerful singing voice or exemplary acting skills, but instead they have harnessed their unique voice in a way that attracts others like them online. Their voices and viewpoints are regularly featured across a wide spectrum of topics, including politics, pop culture, nonprofit causes, consumer products, media fandoms, and any other subject you can think of. These are the new celebrity influencers to focus on when promoting a nonprofit’s campaign and message.
Online video is impossible to ignore
Video is the unparalleled leader in harnessing the voice of social media celebrities, and it appears its importance can only grow from here. According to a recent Cisco report, there is an expectation that internet video traffic will rise from 64 percent in 2014 to over 80 percent in 2019. Platforms like YouTube, Vimeo, Vine, Instagram and Periscope generate tens of millions of views daily and have paved the way for the next generation of influencers and tastemakers. Often video creators have their own blogs or are highly active on Twitter as well, making them that much more of a prime target for a nonprofit’s outreach efforts.
Vloggers have already proven themselves as valuable assets for companies such as Snickers, Volkswagen, Pizza Hut, and Nissan. Through the engagement of popular channels like Epic Meal Time and Miss Jessica Harlow, paid advertisement videos can bridge the gap between products and audiences looking for the vlogger’s content. Below is a discussion of some nonprofits that have also successfully engaged popular YouTube channels and other video platforms, but these large-scale campaigns are less frequent than their corporate counterparts.
However, it would be no surprise to see the level of nonprofit vlogger engagement increase in the future; according to the Nonprofit Technology Network’s 2015 Digital Outlook Report, 96% of nonprofit respondents said they would maintain or increase their focus on video creation with 68% reporting they would increase video throughout 2015. Being able to supplement their existing video assets with promotion from those with a much wider audience can significantly expand their reach to drive both new funding and critical actions.
What can a vlogger influencer add to a nonprofit’s outreach communications?
The short answer is that these internet celebrities already generate generate millions of views per month, and this peer-created content is more trustworthy to their audiences than content created directly by an organization or company. With a built in audience that has confidence in the influencer, a nonprofit’s campaign can instantly be broadcast to new audiences that are ready to take action and spread the word. The ability to instantly reach hundreds of thousands of subscribers almost allows for instant “virality,” cutting down the guessing game about a video’s popularity here.
How does a video creator’s voice add to the campaign content?
The most influential video creators have shown a passion for creating content, and as a result, their online voice is typically deliberate and sincere in its messaging. Even comedic celebrities are known to use their voice for the greater good, with satire as their primary medium. Video creators make their content because they feel compelled to share their own experiences and opinions; if they are to share an organization’s message, it is because this message aligns with their beliefs.
Finding key opportunities for a nonprofit to engage with a vlogger requires both the right creator and the right message. There are many video celebrities that incorporate specific issues such as public health, bullying, international aid, and literacy into their content, and use the internet as a medium for them to share their thoughts and feelings. Like with most influencer engagement strategies, an influencer that shares a nonprofit’s message is most likely going to be their most valuable partner. Other aspects to consider when looking for the best types of influencer vloggers to engage with include their tone and approach, reach, their preferred platforms, and the target audience.
Can this really work?
One example of finding the right vlogger for the right message comes from YouTube celebrity Tyler Oakley, a well-known LGBT rights and LGBT youth advocate. In early 2015 he was able to speak to his subscriber audience in an effort to raise $500,000 for The Trevor Project, an organization that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention for LGBTQ youth. As a result of his efforts, Tyler even won a DoGooder Video Award for YouTube creators.
Many web video celebrities have taken up many other causes that are important to them and their audiences. Video gaming guru PewDiePie was able to raise more than $630,000 for Save the Children, while Internet sensation Kid President was able to promote #BookItForward, an initiative to share your favorite books with others. The comedy team Smosh was able to use their channel as a way to humorously act out being parents, while simultaneously driving over 52,000 people to their DoSomething.org campaign to deter teen pregnancy.
Building a dedicated online video community
For nonprofits online, another essential aspect of the video and social community around it is just that: community. Everyone is offered an opportunity to tell their story, and everyone has the ability to listen and engage with others. Many organizations offer a “Share your story” feature that engages a supporter and allows them to share their perspective while simultaneously uplifting the campaign. One recent example comes from Define American, who urged supporters to share what it means for them to be American in the wake of racism.
(RED) made history for the most Vine recordings in a single day by asking their supporters to share short videos with the hashtag #REDWorldRecord. This campaign was intended to raise awareness about the 32nd anniversary of the day AIDS was discovered, and urge participants to help deliver an AIDS-free generation. Both celebrity Vine users and others contributed videos.
The future of video sharing
Newer platforms such as Periscope are building dedicated fanbases and nonprofit importance as well. The app itself is free, and allows for users to sign up with their Twitter accounts and share content with pre-existing Twitter networks. Many celebrities are already using the platform as a way to communicate with their supporters in real time, and list of influential users will most likely continue to grow as the service becomes more widely adopted.
For nonprofits, there are numerous opportunities to use the platform for good. Staff and/or volunteers can share updates from the field, live events can be easily shared with others, and crowdsourced content can allow supporters to voice their thoughts directly to the organization.
As a nonprofit, the first step to building a successful vlogger engagement to campaign is to research those discussing issues related to your key issues with others. Their audience doesn’t need to be massive – often times the most dedicated audiences are between 5,000 and 100,000 subscribers. Watch their videos, follow them on Twitter, check out their Vines, and watch a live Periscope feed if they have one.
If their voice is right for promoting your message, then reach out with the request to share an important action. This could include spreading the campaign word with a specific hashtag, raising funding for those in need, or driving others to share their own videos. If the influencer also happens to be on your email list, thank them for their past support and highlight their potential value to a future campaign. The ultimate goal is to be genuine, transparent, and allow them to share their own message about how great your work is, so just be ready to relinquish some control and let them do what made them so popular in the first place!