Read time: 5 minutes
It’s 1980, and you hear the mail slot clank down the hallway.
Three postcards fan out before you. A sweet deal: 13 cassettes for $1. One from your local real estate agent, advertising the house you can buy on one salary.
The third catches you off guard:
Dear Friend: Do you believe that children should have the right to sue their parents for being “forced” to attend church? Should children be eligible for minimum wage if they are being asked to do household chores? Do you believe that children should have the right to choose their own family? As incredible as they might sound, these are just a few of the new “children’s rights laws” that could become a reality under a new United Nations program if fully implemented by the Carter administration. If radical anti-family forces have their way, this UN sponsored program is likely to become an all-out assault on our traditional family structure.*
Five minutes ago, you probably weren’t thinking about the UN and their “radical anti-family forces.” But now you are. And Carter’s up for reelection next week.
That version of you — now sitting on a valuable piece of real estate — probably had their address bought by a man named Paul Weyrich, a pioneer of conservative political direct mail. Along with Richard Vigurie, they honed an analog skill every politically active organization now tries to do digitally: find your people and activate them.
Vigurie started by getting a list of top donors to Conservative House candidates (through less than legal means). It grew from there: more campaigns hired him, and his lists grew. Then interest groups followed suit. Evangelicals. “Taxpayer” groups. Gold standard advocates. He filled the coffers of innumerable candidates and committees, and saw it pay dividends in graft and electoral success.
Receptive and swayable audiences are becoming harder and harder to reach. As digital citizens break off into smaller and smaller communities — and have seen every type of marketing copy and tactic in the book — organizations and institutions need new inroads.
Enter: influencers. The postcard and the stamp from direct mail campaigns are replaced with a TikTok video and an ads budget. Influencer campaigns are the spiritual successor to the pioneering direct mail efforts, with massive potential to help movement organizations win.
- Find your people, even if they don’t know they’re “your people.” In an influencer campaign, a teacher looking for lesson planning tips might decide she does need a union after all. Someone who subscribes to watch an airport worker load bags in the cargo hold of a plane could be convinced they too need a raise.
- Enter spaces you otherwise would not have access to. Collaborating with influencers — working with them on messaging in a two-way dialogue — helps your campaign reach these audiences authentically. You’re not buying a list: you’re doing values-aligned work with creators (and, we hope, paying them for their labor).
- As you build your movement, the speed of an influencer campaign — of a trusted creator hopping on a cultural moment to marshal support for an action — is something direct mail cannot match. The similarities end here because the potential scale of the reach and impact are incomparable.
Influencer campaigns are nimble — relying on an existing infrastructure rather than building something new — and with the right investment quick to set up.
- Research: get ready to spend (even more) time on TikTok (and Instagram). Search key terms and hashtags and see whose content grabs you.
- QA: make sure they’re value-aligned. You never know who has anti-vaccine videos buried in their content libraries.
- Outreach: Some creators will be easy to reach; some might be trickier, requiring some internet sleuthing. Be ready with your pitch: what you like about their work, your mission, how they can further the good you’re trying to do in the world, and compensation. We recommend paying creators for their work, especially when asking members of a community affected by your organization’s mission.
- Relationship building: influencers are carrying on your organization’s mission. Don’t be afraid to go back to the well with creators whose content has performed well. Build relationships — especially when rapid response needs come up.
- Infrastructure: you’ll still need some: staff to manage influencer relationships, ways to track and report on metrics — essentially what your digital program already does.
(Looking for benchmarks? We’ve got some Benchmarks.)
It’s at this point I have to bring up Betteridge’s law of headlines: “Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.” Organizers, volunteers, and activists will beat back our conservative opponents.
But influencer campaigns are here, and they’re a powerful tool in your organization’s toolbox. Back in the day, the right might have been quicker to get into your mailbox. There’s no reason we should let them beat us to your notification screen.
Because if you’re not there, you can be sure our opponents are.
* This is a real quote! See https://thebaffler.com/salvos/the-long-con for more.
Matt Lurrie is an organizer, and a Managing Account Supervisor at M+R. When he’s not obsessing about the rise of the conservative movement, you can find him biking around a city en route to the next great sandwich.