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Although influencer marketing is not a new tactic, it is often overlooked in the public sector, particularly in nationwide federal government campaigns that require oversight of messaging and audience segmentation. Influencers can complement other paid and earned media efforts with a ground-level approach and balance the official message with a familiar voice that can drive a wave of action. 

Who Are Influencers? 

Consider your audience’s education, location, and socioeconomic status when selecting the best messenger.  

  • Celebrities, Athletes, Artists, and Other Entertainers: High-profile influencers often receive payment for their endorsements and have been used in product and brand advertising for decades, from cereal boxes to Super Bowl commercials.
  • Social Media Personalities, Digital Creators, and Community Activists: These change agents typically use digital platforms and may or may not receive payment. Since their reputation is at stake, they usually need to believe in the purpose of the campaign before agreeing to promote it. If they’re being compensated, then you can expect to receive metrics on the reach of their messaging. Keep in mind that you should disclose any paid relationship in your campaign to maintain credibility. 
  • Trusted Messengers: These local leaders, such as physicians or other medical experts who have a positive reputation in the community, are not proactive influencers in daily life but typically have a desire to educate the public about their area of knowledge. Their voices resonate with the audience based on their expertise or familiarity. Trusted messengers can provide a sense of grassroots or organic involvement in your campaign. 

When to Use Influencers 

Social marketing programs are used by the federal government to combine commercial marketing tactics—such as social media or influencer marketing — with public health messages to reach a broad audience or a particular subset, to build awareness and address attitudes and behaviors for the betterment of society.  For example, FMG is collaborating with Black physicians at local community health fairs to help increase public confidence in and uptake of COVID-19 vaccines as part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) COVID-19 Public Education Campaign.   

The use of influencers, particularly trusted messengers, is an effective approach for segmentation when your target audience has a distrust of government and/or is not likely to be reached by mainstream media such as TV or radio. Influencer marketing also works particularly well when you need to segment your messaging for a local or niche market. FMG leads the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) Mind Your Risks® campaign, which raises awareness of the risks of high blood pressure, stroke, and dementia among Black men ages 28 to 45. To engage our audience directly, FMG is partnering with Atlanta-based historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU), Morehouse College, and the Morehouse College School of Medicine, a leader among U.S. historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), to host a webinar discussion with students and alumni, followed by a radio and social media campaign in partnership with Radio One in Atlanta. The Morehouse webinar and Radio One partnerships will serve to jump start a dialogue to include digital influencers. 

Establishing Your Influencer Strategy 

Government clients often hesitate to use influencer marketing because they have concerns about losing control of digital messaging and about the public perception. However, you should consider influencers as another workstream in your campaign toolbox. As with all your other marketing tactics, you need to brainstorm and define the following: 

  • Purpose and Goals: What outcome is expected? Who are you trying to reach? Why do traditional marketing methods need to be supplemented or replaced with influencers? 
  • Approach and Focus: How will you identify which audiences to target? 
  • Structure of Collaboration: Does your budget allow for paid opportunities such as content creation, partnership, and media buys? Or do you need to rely solely on earned opportunities? 
  • Elements of Vetting: Influencers can present a brand risk to the client. Thorough vetting is essential to identify potential issues before proceeding further. FMG uses a two-tier process to vet potential influencers.  
  • Workstream Alignment: Align with and leverage other marketing tactics to ensure collaboration and cohesion across the entire campaign. 
  • Foundational Resources: Develop influencer brief templates, vetting training resources, vetting table templates, reporting templates, and other materials to support execution by influencers. 
  • Relationships: Engage social technology companies as early as possible to start forming connections with potential collaborators. 

Operationalizing Your Influencer Workstream 

If the digital influencer workstream is new to you, then you should provide evidence of how return on investment (ROI) is measured through key metrics: reach, impressions, engagement, user actions (sharing, liking, commenting, clicking). Come to an agreement with your client on which digital platforms are acceptable. Set expectations regarding content oversight. The effectiveness of digital influencers will be determined not only by channel but by the authenticity of their voice and tone.  

Influencer Vetting 
  1. Identify Your Influencers. Start with a substantial list of influencers by tapping into local agencies. Look for ones that already align with the campaign values. Depending on the nature of the topic, you are likely to eliminate influencers in the vetting process so don’t limit yourself. Some influencers may simply not be available to meet your deadlines.
  2. Leverage Social Insights. Analyze the influencers’ existing digital content for any inappropriate content, such as political, sexual, or violent content. At FMG, we employ a team of social listening analysts who conduct these reviews. 
Influencer Risk Assessment 
  1. Perform a Manual Assessment. Read the influencers’ public content on social media, as well as how they respond to comments, going back at least 6 months. Pay attention to social media profiles, key themes in online conversations, and audience sentiment. Don’t forget to watch videos and listen to podcasts as well. 
  2. Develop a Risk Profile. Use your findings to score each influencer as low, medium, or high. Then share your findings and provide recommendations to the client 

Once you have secured stakeholder approval for your influencer list, you can continue campaign planning, alignment with other workstreams, and implementation. 

Ready to get started?

FMG has extensive experience in influencer marketing, ranging from active FMG campaigns, We Can Do This, for HHS and Mind Your Risks for NINDS to our team members past work on campaigns such as Get Ahead of Sepsis and Be Antibiotics Aware for the CDC, Anchor It! for CPSC. FMG is uniquely positioned to tackle our nation’s biggest health concerns. Coupled with our 20 years of data-driven strategies, we have the relationships to quickly assemble teams with diverse expertise in marketing, communications, behavior change, technology, and program management. Get in touch with our experts.

About the author

Mariana Eberle-Blaylock, Elizabeth Goodman, Kelli Hunter

Mariana Eberle-Blaylock

Mariana serves at the multicultural outreach lead for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service (HHS) COVID-19 Public Education Campaign at Fors Marsh Group (FMG). Mariana is responsible for overseeing partnership development and implementation tasks for the campaign, including managing and coordinating the work of various agencies that target the Latino/Hispanic, African American, American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian American/Pacific Islander, and non-Hispanic White rural communities. She also oversees the implementation of outreach communications activities to support the promotion of the HHS’s We Can Do This/Juntos Sí Podemos campaign, which includes the production and dissemination of multimedia and multilingual communications products developed for partner organizations. 

Elizabeth Goodman

Elizabeth Goodman is a health communication professional with more than 20 years of experience working across sectors. She has overseen large-scale, multifaceted health communication campaigns and has orchestrated efforts across multiple firms and consultants. Her career has been dedicated to promoting causes and issues that advance social change and improve people’s lives. Ms. Goodman has worked on timely public health issues, including antibiotic resistance and sepsis, prescription opioid overdose, tobacco control and prevention, HIV/AIDS prevention in developing countries, underage drinking prevention, and reversing the childhood obesity epidemic in the United States.

Kelli Hunter

At Fors Marsh Group, Kelli applies her passion for relationship building and innovative partnerships as an influencer outreach strategist overseeing influencer workstream strategy and execution for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service (HHS) Office of the Assistant Secretary for Public Affair’s (ASPA) COVID-19 Public Education Campaign. Before joining Fors Marsh Group, Kelli worked as a senior communications specialist on the Social Marketing team at ICF Next. In Kelli’s 10 years of experience, she has worked in the health marketing sector on public health communication campaigns for both federal and private clients, including HHS, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and Morehouse School of Medicine. In her work, she has reached a variety of diverse audiences across an array of topics, from COVID-19 to HIV and opioid overdose prevention. Throughout her career, she has had the opportunity to lead and contribute to activities in many other areas, including partnership management, stakeholder and community engagement, outreach strategy, event planning, content development, and formative research. Kelli earned an MPH and BS in community health from the University of Maryland College Park.

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