How campaigns are working with creators & influencers
Paid partnerships on Instagram and TikTok are growing in politics and advocacy. Here’s how they work
Welcome to Campaigner, a newsletter Q&A series highlighting the tactics behind political campaigns and the players pushing the buttons. Produced in collaboration with Arena &.
Increasingly, campaigns and political groups are working with creators and influencers on platforms like Instagram and TikTok to get their messages out. It’s a relatively new tactic in the political space, and sponsored influencer content no doubt will play a major role in next year’s elections.
In this environment, a bunch of influencer-creator engagement firms and platforms have emerged to connect political types with influential creators for paid collaborations. For this month’s Campaigner, we spoke with Ashwath Narayanan of Social Currant to understand the landscape of how campaigns and nonprofits are beginning to partner with creators.
Kyle Tharp, Campaigner: A bunch of campaigns and organizations have started working with firms and platforms like yours that connect them with creators and influencers. Why don’t you start out by telling us about Social Currant and how you work with campaigns and organizations?
Ashwath Narayanan: We're an agency plus platform that helps impact organizations, nonprofits, campaigns, and causes reach audiences more effectively through partnerships with Tiktok, Instagram, Youtube, Linkedin, and Twitter creators. We were founded two years ago as an agency focused on helping organizations reach young people more effectively. A lot of times I found that young people weren't making decisions about how to reach young people, and it didn't make sense to me, so that's why I founded Social Currant. I figured that I would hire more young people, we would build this agency, and we would pay our way through college and work with cool people doing cool stuff.
Creators are where people consume their information. Creators are who people listen to, and so we really started thinking about how organizations can work with creators to reach audiences more effectively - whether it's a petition, whether it's narrative change, or whether it's fundraising. That's what we do now. We’re also building technology to make the operational parts of the creator work like contracts, payments, 1099s, as well as a place to track everything easier.
Kyle Tharp, Campaigner: I think the first time I heard about advocacy groups and campaigns really engaging with groups like yours to meet creators and influencers was during the 2020 presidential election. What have been some of your favorite examples of organizations or campaigns partnering with creators in this kind of way?
Ashwath Narayanan: We’ve seen a lot of examples - for instance, on a few occasions, the White House has gotten a bunch of creators into the White House to film content and explainers and different things, and that’s a really cool example to see creators engage with the administration around issues like education.
One of my favorite campaigns we ran was with a creator named Chris who’s a full-time caregiver on Tiktok. He creates content taking care of his grandma, and we partnered with an organization to create “get out the vote” content with him, and so it just incidentally turns out his grandma was a poll watcher when she was young. He was able to share that story and talked about what voting means to him. We reached over a million people around getting out the vote with his content.
Kyle Tharp, Campaigner: Social media platforms are constantly changing, particularly for political campaigns and the unique ways that they have to engage on the platforms. We've seen a pivot even just from 2020 into vertical video. I'm really curious about how political campaigns are starting to focus less on building their own brand and instead rely more on different messengers, influencers, and creators to share content. That seems to me to be the future of politics. I was wondering if you agree with that and how you think this kind of distributed creator-influencer focus in politics is going to play out over the next couple of years.
Ashwath Narayanan: I 100% agree with that. I think over the last 3-4 years, we've seen a shift in social platforms, especially with the emergence of short-form video, where the emphasis is less on organizations and more on people, on creators.
That has a large role to play in how politics will evolve to focus on people as messengers, not on brands and institutions, and I think that's 100% where we see the future. There's going to be a focus on finding trusted creators/messengers. And also with the uncertainty of social media platforms, I think it's also a better bet to bet on people and creators who may have a presence on different platforms.
Working with trusted messengers isn't necessarily new to politics. If you’re organizing on the ground, you're already working with trusted messengers to reach communities. I think the influencer world is basically just taking those tactics and trying to apply it to a digital world and trying to communicate online in a similar way.
I also think it will shift more power into the hands of people again. Right now, in politics and brand marketing, a lot of the focus is on platforms themselves - so a majority of marketing dollars are going into Facebook, Tiktok ad buys versus independent creators. The more we see investment in creators and messengers, the more we'll see actual people getting paid instead of these huge platforms again and again.
Kyle Tharp: Do you think the consumption of content from creators online is a generational thing? Are younger voters and younger Americans more interested in getting their news and information (particularly political news and information) from creators online or are there similar efforts happening among older audiences?
Ashwath Narayanan: Part of it is related to the platforms. Obviously, younger generations are more interested in spending time online on Tiktok and Instagram, but over the last two years, we've honestly seen a shift towards reaching wider audiences. I think Tiktok started off as exclusively the Gen Z platform, and now you have all sorts of audiences there.
Kyle Tharp, Campaigner: On the political side of things, platforms are always changing policies around political advertising, sponsored content, and political content. Whether they're actually distributing political content, rules around disclosures of paid partnerships, etc. Has it been tough for you and other organizations like yours to navigate those different rules?
Ashwath Narayanan: 100%. We're often talking to legal counsel and looking at any guidelines promoted by Tiktok or the platforms themselves, but the hard part is not a lot is said about the influencer piece of it. There are guidelines by the FTC around influencer sponsorship – you know, disclosures – but the FEC doesn't have any, and we're not selling products. And so the FTC – obviously we follow all of their disclosures – but we need the FEC to talk about what needs to be disclosed and how.
We try to disclose every partnership in any way we can by using the paid partnership label on the platforms, or by using hashtags like #ad, #sponsored or #partner. But, the hard part is understanding whether someone sharing their own lived experience is political or not. Tiktok says in paid sponsorships you can't talk about political content, but if we're asking someone to share their story, is that political or not? That's a whole different challenge, and so we're constantly navigating what the platforms are saying.
Kyle Tharp, Campaigner: What do you think creators wished political types knew about working with them? And likewise, what are some different pitfalls that you see in this kind of relationship?
Ashwath Narayanan: First of all, a lot of influencers don't know they can get paid to talk about political issues they care about. From the get-go, many of them always think they have to create content for another makeup brand or another fashion brand. Building that awareness among creators is a challenge.
On the campaign side, there's this expectation that the process is the same as running an ad. You just turn on a button and go. But in this relationship, you're working with people. You can't come three days before an action or deadline and try to reach a million people by just turning on a button. You need people to film their own content - but people take holidays, they go out of the office, all of that stuff. I think there's an expectation that it's very comparable to ads - it’s not.
The final thing is that people underestimate how important the process is when working with creators. If you're working with a hundred creators, you have to be on top of a lot of different things and so you need to build capacity internally. You need to build the process internally before you try to do it because if you get it wrong, you’re probably going to end up ruining a relationship with a creator or you know someone that has a couple hundred thousand followers or 1,000,000 followers - and that's not probably the best thing for you.
Kyle Tharp, Campaigner: Is working with creators something that’s only accessible to large nonprofits and large campaigns or is it something that you're seeing happen with smaller groups nowadays?
Ashwath Narayanan: I think right now a lot of the ways you can access creators is through large agencies or by doing a lot of upfront emailing and things like that. We're trying to build a platform where we give access to a database of creators so that anyone can come in and sign in, and they don't need to process everything from legal through finance, in a bunch of different places. It shouldn't be cost-prohibitive.
That’s it for Campaigner this week! If you enjoyed reading this issue, give it a share on the socials!
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Good morning everyone I hope everyone is feeling blessed today I am last night I was studying on my Arena Academy that I joined on the 25th and 27th for campaign organizing & learning more how to campaign with my teammates.