Larissa Schuermyer

Influencer programs are one of the fastest growing marketing channels across industries. Over 94% of marketers using influencer programs believe they are an effective tactic, and their demand is only growing. Whether it’s curating products or information, influencers have large, engaged social audiences and the power to meaningfully impact consumption decisions. So how can this same model be leveraged for social impact organizations?

Impact Measurement for social organizations is vastly different than that of consumer brands, and consequently so are their influencer programs. Ultimately, an organization’s impact is measured by its ability to demonstrate behavioral or attitudinal change. Therefore, in order for influencer programs to be successful in this space, they must reach the change-makers. Social Impact influencer programs are less about reaching the masses, and more about reaching individuals with real-life impact. These real-life influencers may be policy makers, researchers, or other industry leaders who can change perceptions and even impact policies.

For social impact organizations, a successful influencer campaign is dependent on three key factors: carefully defined programmatic objectives, a well-defined audience, and precise influencer evaluation.

Well-Defined Programmatic Objectives

For consumer-facing brands, the influencer objectives are clear – increase brand awareness, develop trust with consumers, and of course, drive sales. But when an organization’s goal is to initiate change, an influencer’s role becomes less clear. The key is understanding the organization’s current programmatic objectives. What are the issues they care about most? Are any of these issues in a critical phase? What are the short and long-term goals for each initiative?

Understanding programmatic objectives will help determine if the goal of the influencer program is to influence the masses, or influence an influencer. Campaigns may have one or both goals, but influencers cannot be effectively targeted and evaluated without making this distinction.


Influencers must not only align with the organization’s objectives, but must also have some level of expertise in that space to be credible advocates. By clearly defining their programmatic objectives, organizations are able to accurately target influencers who can change perception of an issue and move audiences or other influencers towards the organizational goals.

Traditionally, demographics, brand alignment, authenticity, and audience size are essential influencer evaluation criteria. While these criteria are important for social impact organizations, audience size plays a less important role – rather, network is key. If building credibility and inspiring change are key measures of success, influencers with access to a small group of real-world niche influencers are far more important to an organization. Getting these key influencers to take an early action as simple as reading an article or attending an event will encourage greater advocacy down the line.

For example, if the target issue is HIV, a researcher who specializes in that topic may serve as an influencer. Their followers, although small in number, may be exactly who the organization is trying to reach, and they trust content shared by that influencer. These niche audiences require careful selection and personalized messaging from the organization.

Influencer Evaluation and Identification

Influencer evaluation and identification for social impact organizations must be precise and take into account both quantitative and qualitative criteria. A deep expertise or interest in the campaign topic is needed, and evaluation criteria must be updated regularly. Evaluation criteria may include job titles, engagement with past initiatives, areas of expertise, organization affiliation, and geographic location.

Three Ideas for You

  1. Define Your Objectives
    Social impact organizations must clearly define their programmatic objectives to build a niche but impactful influencer list.
  2. Define Your Audience
    To successfully leverage influencers, organizations must be sure to have a well-defined target audience. Then, influencers can be picked accordingly.
  3. Define Your Criteria and Evaluate
    Influencer evaluation for social impact organizations does not always follow the same evaluation criteria as the public sector. Evaluation must be precise in order to make an impact.

Larissa Schuermyer