Word of Mouth Marketing Fuels Nonprofit Influencer Engagement

Word of Mouth Marketing is not new, but its popularity is rapidly on the rise. Marketing is embracing content coming from grassroots messengers or “people like me”, who create and distribute content to their own like-minded social networks.

In the campaign world, we know this concept well since the best way to influence decision makers is to leverage those who influence the target (i.e. secondary targets).  It’s a similar idea, but is applied to how we share and create content. Reviews, recommendations and content have a greater impact coming from someone like ourselves, who we know and trust. It’s the difference between walking up to someone and saying, “damn I’m good” or having a friend say it.

This is word of mouth marketing. It has many names like tell-a-friend, influencer engagement, and even crowdfunding. While sharing information via word of mouth is the oldest form of marketing out there, what’s changed is how social media allows this to happen at scale and how influencers drive engagement.

What is WOMM and Why Nonprofits Should Care

Sharing information via word of mouth is the oldest form of marketing out there, and long predates the internet, television, and even radio. If someone liked a thing, they told their family and friends about it, and thus the product or service was marketed to a new audience. This type of knowledge sharing has proven to be amongst the most effective marketing for generations, and it remains critical in helping people understand if they can trust what is being promoted to them. As the saying goes, word of mouth is the original social media platform.

In the corporate sector, influencer marketing is exploding because WOMM offers validation from a trusted third party source by people who can reach targeted audiences in mass.  For nonprofits, it’s less about proving trust and more about the endorsement of “people like me”.

In order to take advantage of the trust and endorsement factor, Word of Mouth Marketing is becoming an increasingly viable way for organizations to reach a wider and more receptive audience through social media. WOMM is more than what is considered naturally occurring word of mouth – it is actively encouraging supporters to tell others in their own words about their projects, calls to action, events, and fundraising through all channels. Social media is just one of them… but a really good one!

Why WOMM is the Most Effective Type of Outreach

  • 70% of American consumers trust brand recommendations from friends and family since they are more likely to be seen as a trusted source online. Forrester Research
  • 84% of respondents in 58 countries said recommendations from friends and family are the most trustworthy source. Nielsen.
  • One word of mouth recommendation can amplify the effect of paid media by 15%. Word of Mouth Marketing Association
  • In the same WOMMA report, one offline word of mouth impression was found to drive sales for a company at least five times more than a paid media impression.


The video “Bring Your Family With You,”  drives home the power of word of mouth. The  message is that supporters should bring family and friends to vote on behalf of marriage equality, as it creates a stronger community when people act together.

3 Reasons Why Influencers Drive Word of Mouth

  1. They have reach: The beauty of WOMM is that the right influencers can escalate the reach and impact of your campaigns through social media. We’ve written on the amazing network reach of nonprofit influencers before and noted that the top 5% of your influencers reach 85% of your extended social network. Finding those influencers, who are already in your CRM, is key since they have tremendous reach and are involved with your group.
  2. Skin in the game: Often influencers are the most genuine when it comes to supporting a cause because their credibility and reputation depend on their audience also having a positive, impactful experience. This requires them to become more invested in spreading the message, thus ensuring their commitment to a specific cause, action, or event.
  3. Best return on investment: Many brands are finding much more success with influencer marketing than traditional paid media. RhythmOne found in their 2014 Influencer Marketing Benchmarks Report that on average, marketers who implemented an Influencer Marketing program in 2014 received $6.85 in earned media value for every $1.00 of paid media. This is a strong indicator that engaging influencers with content such as blogs, branded content and social media syndications can provide a significant boost to an organization’s earned media efforts.

How Word of Mouth Can Work for Nonprofits

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Nonprofits have a huge advantage because nonprofits can directly promote their values and vision. The hard sell is not to buy, but rather to help achieve your mission. Motivating people based on their values helps them better identify why they want to engage with the organization in the first place, and builds excitement for their involvement at the outset.

If we take a look at what’s working for big brands, they’re ramping up their influencer programs for brand visibility, lead generation and customer loyalty because it works. It’s not a leap to assume nonprofits can benefit similarly, leading to increased brand visibility, acquisition and list growth, and donor retention.

Engagement Has Changed. Your People Are in Charge.

Encouraging supporters to share or co-create content is implicitly trusting them to take branding into their own hands. That’s kinda scary to think of but the thing is, people are already in control. User generated content is the new mass media fueled by the reviews and recommendations of real people which is a good thing for democracy and outreach alike. Inviting deeper engagement through content creation and promotion are worth it as WOMM recommendations are gold and an extended social reach will likely result in higher conversions.

What Motivates Supporters to Share and Co-Create Content through WOMM

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According to Ogilvy 36% of people globally share content to promote a cause, including influencers. In our guide “How to Identify and Engage Influencers”, we recommend grouping influencers into three categories including VIP, Professional and Citizen, since each category has different motivations and rules of engagement so to speak.

VIP and Professional influencers are typically motivated to grow their own audience, strengthen their opinion leader status, add to their content and define their brand.

Screen Shot 2015-06-23 at 9.33.02 AMThe majority of influencers however are “citizen influencers” who are people with over 500+ social connections who are active on social media. Think nurse by day, climate activist by night.

The biggest motivating factor between professionals and citizens is that professionals write about their issues for a career as reporter, CEO, doctor, etc.

For Citizen influencers, sharing and co-creating content about the issues they care about is key. As their participation grows, an organization has the opportunity to offer new incentives and opportunities to take the message to the people that are most willing to listen – their friends, family, coworkers, and others in their life.

Being a part of something bigger and actively participating with your organization is another motivator, which is especially important for Millennials. A supporter that feels an organization can engage them with a special opportunity will be more likely to support the organization on their own. As they continue to interact with the organization through actions, events, or volunteer work, they will become well equipped to talk about the organization’s brand on their own and become ready to tell others about their participation (i.e. leadership ladder).

Whatever the reason for sharing, the bottom line is that it needs to be share-worthy. Give people something cool to share or to spark a conversation. This one might seem the most obvious, but if your actions, events, photos and videos are boring, so to will be your engagement level. A steady stream of actionable and captivating content will build even a regular participant into a dedicated champion for the cause and drive your word of mouth marketing.

There are a number of valuable resources about word of mouth marketing from WOMMA, as influencers in our guide, “How to Identify and Engage Your Influencers.” Now is the time to start thinking about how to turn quite supporters into vocal word of mouth advocates!

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