Digital Strategies: Engaging Influencers, Creating Champions

I’m deviating a bit from my website strategy series to bring you a post that was originally published on NetSquared. I wrote it with Roshani Kothari, my co-coordinator of NetSquared DC.

Nonprofits often struggle with creating effective content and engagement* strategies. It’s not enough to just share stories about your impact, but how do you mobilize and engage people who are passionate about issues you’re working on? NetSquared DC organized a panel discussion at the innovative co-working space, 1776, on Engagement Strategy: Empowering Champions* and Influencers* on November 3, 2015, to delve into this question.

The panelists included:

NetSquared DC
NetSquared DC Engagement Strategies Panelists Maddie Grant, Andrew Nachison and Dale Pfeifer (left to right).

Here are some of the key points shared during the discussion, plus a couple of our own thoughts.

1. Put People at the Forefront of Your Stories

Your audience will respond to stories that immediately grab their attention. For example, a story that begins with a big emo­tional impact will leave the reader ask­ing ques­tions and want­ing more infor­ma­tion. It will keep them reading, and that’s what you want!

One of the best ways to do this is to tell the story from someone who has been impacted by your work. Interview people who are your influencers and champions, and find out why. Create meaningful relationships with both of these groups. Write their stories exceptionally well (hire someone for this if you need to; great stories told well are priceless). Share their stories with your audience.

2. Break Through the Noise

As a society, we are drowning in stories, so you have to break through the noise out there. Besides producing great content, and writing about your champions and influencers, we have a couple of other tips that can also make a big difference.

In terms of the length of stories, keep it brief or go in-depth. Your stories can be told different ways across multiple mediums. Blogs will be longer pieces, while Facebook posts much shorter. Tell the same story in multiple ways.

  • Break up the story with headings, sub-headings and bullets, so it’s easy to scan.
  • When possible, integrate video, audio, and images to create multimedia stories.
  • Remember that most content is consumed and discarded, and so use content as a teaching moment, and a way to engage and involve your audience in your work.
  • Don’t forget that great stories stay with you. There’s NPR’s Serial or Chicago Public Media’s This American Life and Radiolab. Also here’s Heather’s blog series on The Power of Written Storytelling, which points out many of the ways these kinds of stories are so unforgettable.

3. Offer a Call to Action

Give readers an action they can take after reading your content. When it’s engaging, your readers want to know what they can do to help. It doesn’t have to be a big donate button. It can link to another piece of the story, a petition, or you can offer the option to send a pre-populated tweet. Whatever you choose, the link should go to your website or social media channels. Check out this article on How to Craft a Strong Call to Action on Social Media in GoodWorld’s Social Giving School.

4. Make Sharing Your Content Easy

Not only should your audience be able to share your content with the click of a button, they should also be able to add their own comments to what they share. And it should be obvious when they share the content where it came from. Brand it and test it. If you’re using out-of-the-box online tools, change the code if you have to. Or, find a new tool.

Ultimately, you want your audience’s friends to also share the content. Once someone in your audience shares it, you have a better chance of getting their friend to share it. People trust and react to something shared by people they know (because it already has an endorsement from someone they trust), rather than something shared by an organization.

5. Create and Keep Champions (or Super Fans)

Think of a team, group, community, or organization that you’re really passionate about. What makes you so engaged with them?

If you’re having trouble thinking of something, just think of your favorite sports team or band and how excited you are to go and cheer like crazy for them. What makes you so excited at an event or on social media?

That is how you want people to feel about your organization — to be a cheering, raging and super expressive fan. However, there seems to be a disconnect between how we feel about engagement individually (like a team or band) and then how we communicate it as an organization (likely from a media office). But it has to be a two-way relationship.

What can you do to create and keep super fans?

  • The Skim has an ambassador program. It invites its super fans to join a private Facebook group, with useful information and a facilitated discussion Members can get to know each other, which is rewarding because they can create value for each other.
  • REI is showing everyone what a great company it is by giving its employees Black Friday off and encouraging them to go outside. What better way to make a statement about how much REI values the outdoors and its employees. Panelist Andrew Nachison pointed out that it’s not a typical retail store. It’s a cooperative that pays its members a dividend annually.
  • World Domination Summit is known as the place to go if you’re an entrepreneur. It has created a tribe for people building a meaningful business.
  • PowerFull Fitness is a fitness boot camp run by Laura Waller for moms and kids out of northern Virginia. She has done an amazing job of creating a niche community in a private Facebook group page. She posts challenges, free popup classes, badges of pride, games, recipes, and polls asking what her audience wants. She has created a community around making fitness fun and also a little bit crazy.

6. Connect with Millennials

We talked about millennials, admitting that there are actual problems with the term, millennial (or those referred to as Generation Y, or those born between 1980 and 2000). But in general, many millennials want things to be easily accessible on their phones. They tend to have strong values and believe deeply in a cause. Hence, a call to action is critical for this group. And giving them a way to have their voice heard and make a difference is essential.

7. Engage Offline

Even though we’re spending a huge amount of time talking about connecting with champions and influencers online, don’t forget word of mouth marketing. It can be even more powerful, and, depending on what your organization does, it can be what makes the difference between success and failure. Even entrepreneurs that run their business almost solely online offer plenty of webinars. They want to be able to connect with you.

Ideally, however, you’ll be talking about your organization with your audience in many ways — rallies, meetings, focus groups, or ambassador programs. You can’t beat that in-person connection. People remember how you make them feel though, so be authentic and enthusiastic.

8. Focus on the End Goal

Don’t get lost in the numbers. Determine your ultimate goal and focus on that. Your ultimate goal isn’t the number of likes, retweets, or email subscribers you have. Instead, there’s a meaning behind those numbers. Figure out what actually happens after you send out an email, and evaluate your approach based on that. And remember, it’s quality over quantity. An email list with 1,000 subscribers, but only 20 who regularly read it is worth a lot less than an email list of 500 if 100 of them always read it.

9. Prioritize Mobile and Responsive

Responsive websites and emails are important, but what’s more important is that you look at how your audience is visiting your website. Are they really visiting through a mobile device, or are you just listening to everyone else talk about how everyone is on mobile? Look at the analytics and see for yourself. And if that is where your audience is coming from, configure your website and emails with this in mind. Also, consider whether you should create a text messaging list or a mobile app, depending on how you want people to engage with your organization.

10. Measure, Segment, and Tailor Your Messages

Use Google Analytics, email list analytics, and social media measurement tools to understand where you are getting the most traction and interest. As much as possible, segment your list and tailor your messages to what people care about the most. For example, you can find out what topics interest people when they are registering for your email list.

You can also segment your list based on how people connected with your organization. Did they attend a workshop? Did they make a donation? Did they sign a petition? You can also use tools like to get a better understanding of how your supporters are using hashtags that relate to your organizations’ work.



  • Engagement — Generally, we’re referring to involving supporters through an interactive two-way strategy.
  • Champions (or super fans) — Fans of your organization that are huge supporters or customers.
  • Influencers — People who are thought leaders for specific issue areas and tend to have a large following on social media.

Share Your Tips and Questions
We invite you to share your own digital strategy tips and questions.

  • What’s worked really well in terms of engaging influencers and champions?
  • What has been challenging?
  • What tools do you use to track and measure your success?

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