How to maximize influencer projects in education
In the education market, brands must exceed expectations to make an impact on educators, administrators, and most importantly, students. One tactic that can build awareness and credibility is collaborating with a trusted third party, such as a media outlet or industry thought leader. A new avenue is leveraging the voices of social media influencers. Influencers come in many flavors, and making the right choice for your campaign is the key to success.
Finding the perfect social media influencers for your campaign
Perhaps the most important part of running a campaign featuring social media influencers is who you choose to be your marketing partner. According to Shane Barker in Forbes, 73 percent of marketers struggle with this choice. We consulted five social media experts – from marketers to influencers themselves – to ask how they decide which brands, individuals or influencers to work with.
Chelsey Dequaine, social media director at Isthmus, manages social media for an alt-weekly newspaper based in our backyard. Dequaine kicked off the publication’s first-ever influencer relationships as its inaugural social media director and shared what she looks for in the search.
“People who could generate the word on Isthmus events to their followers. Ideally, they need to be active on platforms, but also genuine and authentic,” said Dequaine. “We also look for influencers whose goals and personality align well with Isthmus.”
Stacy Harbaugh, social media and community specialist at designCraft Advertising, shared a similar stance on seeking authentic influencers.
“Look for people who are your friends and who are already in your community,” said Harbaugh. “Influencers don’t need to have a big following, but need to have a big heart.”
We agree with Harbaugh on this one. The ability to build a digital community is each influencer’s secret sauce and ultimately, that’s what drives genuine engagement with your brand. Seek out people who share your business’ values, and remember, choosing the right people to connect with can make or break your education influencer campaign.
How to choose the right social media influencers for your brand
When creating an education influencer social strategy, we look for a few key characteristics in our social media influencers: passion, relatability and credibility.
Find influencers who share your brand’s passion
Approach selecting your influencers the same way you would if you were making a new friend. Look for people whose personal interests align with your own. The strongest influencer relationship will emerge from someone who sees eye-to-eye with you on most topics. An influencer who mirrors your passions can more easily (and authentically) share your brand’s message.
On this note, Harbaugh recommends assessing an influencer’s style before reaching out. Basically, take the time to get to know them first.
“Engage with people who run in the same circles and share the same mission,” said Harbaugh. She then asks marketers to consider: “How can those relationships continue evolving over time? How can you and your company drive transformation for somebody else?”
The answer is shared community engagement. When you and your social media influencers align, the engagement between their fans and your brand is natural. It flows. It simply works. And that can inspire truly transformative actions in the education world.
Seek out influencers who can relate to your target audience
You wouldn’t suggest Pepsi to a Coke crowd, so why pick an influencer who doesn’t get your target audience?
In the education market, that means making sure you are working with the right teachers, administrators and/or parents. Who fits your audience? For many brands, teachers are on the front line. Because of this, we wondered: how do I reach education influencers and teachers, at the same time?
We asked a similar question to TeacherCast’s founder, Jeff Bradbury, who mentioned teachers as a key piece to getting your message out there and your product in the hands of your ideal consumers.
“One of the biggest reasons teachers join ambassador programs is to guide the product for the classroom,” said Bradbury. “This is especially important for edtech companies who rely on teachers to make their product for students.”
It’s key to remember the end-user of your campaign and select an influencer who is most likely to resonate with them. You will grow your influence, and you’ll gain real-time feedback and insights from your target audience.
Leverage influencers who are trusted in your industry
Similarly, seek to work with an influencer who is a reliable source. Vet your candidates thoroughly. Trusted sources are often thought leaders in their specialty or experts on a given topic. Alternatively, influencers are voices others gravitate towards for verifiable insights. You can leverage their position and credibility to raise brand awareness and to build loyalty among groups who have demonstrated a tendency to follow the advice or suggestions, but only if the information is worth it.
In education, end-users include administrators, teachers and students who will ultimately benefit from your product or service. For this reason, the influencer partnership feels more tenuous. When choosing an influencer, brands must find someone who will advance their mission to better education. You want to avoid those digital users who are simply looking to try out the next big thing for free. [We will get into other traits to avoid in the next blog in this series, so stay tuned!]
What rules apply to education industry influencers?
You must also look at the rules, both written and unwritten, in the edu-influencer space. For example, in the consumer world, you may choose to work with an Instagram hairstylist, like Larisa Love. Love will try your product and then share her insights with more than 500,000 fans through posts and stories on the channel. And, while someone as big as Love will require compensation, there are tons of micro-influencers in the consumer space who will be interested in promoting your brand in exchange for the opportunity to try out the product for free. In education, however, there is a lot of red tape to cut. Take it from an educator who also works in the space as an influencer.
Claudio Zavala Jr., educator and Adobe Education Leader, is best known for sharing how-to videos for content creation in education. Zavala mentioned that he strictly works with brands that want to improve teaching and student learning.
“Make sure that a company has value instructionally, that it could be useful for schools and in particular students to help them create content and make teacher’s jobs easier,” Zavala said. “Whenever I share tools, I share them because I use them and believe they are useful. I would not share something I don’t use myself.”
As a brand seeking influencers, you’re looking for the Zavala’s of the world. Find those people who truly want to advance your message and improve the lives of students.
Invest your time in those who invest their time
Jorge Valenzuela, an educator, coach and author, operates in a similar manner. Well-known for his work coaching educators in project-based learning (PBL), computer science and the acclaimed Engineering by Design curriculum, Valenzuela always considers how an entity can enrich his work as an educator before collaborating.
“I look for how they can enhance my teaching curriculum, and their vested interest in improving education for all students,” Valenzuela said. “I consider a company a good fit when they have an educator program aimed at improving teaching and learning through what is known from the learning sciences.” In other words, he truly cares about the students at the end of the line. Again, when you’re kicking off your influencer program, you want to find the best possible representatives for your brand.
Seek out these influencers who vet your company as hard as you vet them.
Finally, seek influencers who generate real engagement
When scoping out potential influencers, it can be hard to look beyond the number of followers. Those Instagram educators with 30,000 fans are simply too tempting to pass up, right?
Wrong. To find the most impactful people for your brand, you must look beyond followers, and instead seek out a more engaged following. That said, don’t ignore the follower count completely. Influence is only valuable if there’s an audience. However, total audience count is just one piece of the pie. Brands that truly want to leverage an influencer campaign must embrace engagements, aka the comments, responses, retweets, likes, shares and reposts. Double down on influencers who are impacting their community positively and consistently.
If you’re an edtech vendor, the right influencer for you is likely an educator who uses your product. While an excited, engaged parent who can lobby for your product at PTA meetings is valuable, the teachers are truly on the front line. Educators provide a unique voice in the industry rooted in their own classroom experience. This first-hand knowledge can boost your credibility among other educators and schools. This is especially beneficial when selling at the district level because administrators want to know what teachers find beneficial for instruction and student learning.
And remember: your influencers are doing what they do because they enjoy sharing stories with their audience. Influencers enjoy the limelight, and the best ones thrive in the whirlwind that is the world of social media influencers.
Influencers want the spotlight, share it with them
One thing that all influencers have in common is a desire to have their voice heard. They have insights that others can benefit from, and they’ve found a way to reach people who are interested. This goes for influencers in any industry. For example, you may have recognized Zavala from ISTE’s Instagram Stories takeover during the 2019 conference. He said that working with ISTE was the ideal influencer experience, because it was crystal clear what was expected and required of him during the show. He had a direct line to the campaign manager when he had questions, and his content was appreciated by the team.
“There was always open communication. I never hesitated to ask questions,” Zavala said. “One of the big things I felt was that they saw me as an expert in what I do, and they valued that. Companies valuing what you have to share as an educator and creator is key.”
Valenzuela reinforces the value of using social media for spreading ideas, “especially for the many educators who are not able to attend conferences, but need immediate tools and tips for daily lessons,” he said. But, it’s important to consider that “social media messages are only as good as the audience they reach.” For this reason, many brands will promote influencer content, rather than their own. The shared value on both sides is great, and so is the spotlight.
You also can find out if an influencer desires compensation by conducting background research on their website, which will often be listed in a Media Kit or ‘Work with Me’ section. If you are unable to provide financial compensation, there are other ways to pitch your company’s value:
Swap website links
Especially effective for blog posts and social media posts, links to your partner’s website or page drives traffic to their work, boosting awareness in the process. Similarly, influencers who link back to your company generate brand visibility and guide potential prospects to your work. The various backlinks also boost your SEO.
Supply organic engagement
Encourage your internal team to hit the like button and leave comments on their own posts. This is true if your team is large or small, as the organic engagement you can provide is invaluable. This is best executed when you leverage a group of influencers, who can each share messages to their own audience.
Provide a sneak peek
By giving influencers the chance to be the first to try a product or get a behind-the-scenes look into your company, you can incentivize them with exclusivity. This is especially true on social media, where the ability to deliver unique content gives influencers a way to differentiate themselves as thought leaders.
Monitor the impact of your influencer campaign
For both parties, it’s key to measure results from the collaborative project. While you don’t have to worry about an influencer’s measurements, you should monitor your campaign to gauge success in real-time. Dequaine monitors Isthmus partner projects as they progress, checking in to make sure everything is on track.
“It’s important to see if a campaign is going well. You should be able to switch directions if engagement is not coming through,” Dequaine said. “You can provide promo codes or Bitly links to make things more trackable.”
Selecting the correct metrics to analyze
To understand the impact of your campaign, conduct a social media audit of your channels before kick-off and again after the project wraps. Then compare the difference, paying close attention to which collaborative content drove traffic, conversions and overall engagement. This information will help you repurpose this content in the future on other channels.
“You can get a pretty good view of how their posts are doing just from looking at the engagement on their account,” Dequaine said. “If you are only working with 1-2 influencers, you should ask for analytics on their posts. It’s helpful in a campaign to know the engagement, click through and reach analytics.” We’d tack on that impressions and engagement rate are a pair of other metrics to consider tracking, and that adding UTM codes to campaigns is especially useful for tracking the results on landing pages.
After a campaign ends, Harbaugh looks at who clicked and what new users were introduced to the brand. “We’re all in love with engagement; anything we can do to prompt organic likes and comments. Look at the highlights, where we are getting the most engagement,” Harbaugh said. “This almost always comes down to people. What high profile individuals are engaging with this campaign? Bringing in friendly and famous people to your cause is a sign of success.”
The takeaway: influencer campaigns help improve your rank in social media algorithms. By bringing in people with clout, your brand will improve its short- and long-term visibility.
Reach out to social media influencers today
The place to begin a campaign is to research your ideal influencer candidates. At CB&A, we have a laundry list of possibilities, including bloggers and social media stars on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. However, you won’t know if someone aligns with your brand until you find them.
Don’t know where to look? Try looking at your top followers. Who else do they follow? What blogs are they retweeting or sharing on Facebook? Influencers seek out each other and promote each other. When you find a good one, turn over the stone, and you’ll likely find several engaged influencers in their immediate online community.
And of course, you want to avoid the troublemakers. In the next installment in this series: Education Influencers – What and Who to Avoid Online, we dive into the flipside of this coin, and of course, it will be full of valuable insights from our panel of experts!
We’ll leave you with this final piece of advice: now is the time to start your influencer campaign. Not tomorrow, not next week. Today. And if you need help, that’s what we’re here for – to help you grow your business, one new campaign at a time!
Like this blog? Check out these other two posts from our social media library now:
- How to Use Influencers in Your Education Marketing Strategy: Finding the right influencers for education marketing, or any niche can take time and a bit of trial and error. But with your name in front of the right audience, you’ll be amazed how quickly you gain new viewers, customers and followers.
- How to Leverage Social Media for Sales in the Education Industry: Social media is more than a way to connect with friends and family, it’s also a vehicle for companies to engage with current (and future) customers.
- Four Ways to Leverage Social Media Advertising in 2019: Changes to social media algorithms, more time spent on mobile and digital platforms, and advanced targeting capabilities have moved social media advertising from “nice to have” to a mandatory fixture of any education marketing plan.
- Spread the Message: How to Build Employee Advocacy on Social Media: An effective social media strategy recognizes the importance of employee advocacy.
- Six Easy Ways to Integrate Social Media into Your Company’s Sales Efforts: Social media is one of the most effective and affordable sales tools available, and a key asset to any education marketing strategy.
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Claudio Zavala Jr.