We have something fun to show you: here’s NEA member and influencer Ty Cook taking us behind the scenes for the first-ever state dinner honoring America’s educators.

Ty had a front row seat as First Lady Jill Biden welcomed teachers from across the country ahead of Teacher Appreciation Week.

The event celebrated the National Teacher of the Year, the State Teachers of the Year, and all teachers who, as Dr. Biden put it, “answer the call of teaching, [which] in itself is an act of hope.”

Sitting in the press pool traditionally reserved for members of the news media were Diego, Ty, Nicholas, and Jessica — influencers and content creators we and the National Education Association (NEA) have partnered with for two years.

This is what it looks like when an organization does effective influencer work.

Setting up the pilot

A few years ago, NEA and M+R began thinking about how to use influencer content — already so successful for consumer products like makeup and vacuum cleaners — for good. As in, for teachers and students and public schools.

Careful and extensive research was done to find that the content educators were delivering on Instagram and TikTok was providing a vital resource to their students, caregivers, and fellow educators. But it was provided by largely unpaid labor. 

We helped establish the NEA member influencer program, which pays these creators what they are worth, a core value of NEA, and helps them share their crucial content both in-platform and across platforms through paid advertising.

Throughout 2022, NEA partnered with M+R to launch a pilot to partner with 5-10 union member influencers to produce organic social content on their platforms and engage educators, caregivers, and supporters on pressing issues affecting education. These videos were wildly successful and often performed as well as or better than internally created assets. 

Based on the success of this pilot, we rapidly scaled to over 100 member influencers who regularly produce content for many of NEA’s digital channels and communications strategies. 

The videos have drawn millions of organic engagements and helped build public pressure on politicians like Governor Desantis who banned AP African American Studies in Florida, or to build support for Montana State Rep. Zooey Zephyr when she was silenced for advocating for trans students.

The program has proved that not only do influencers and content creators enhance digital presence for advocacy and fundraising, they can also serve as some of the most authentic spokespeople for major events. Influencers and content creators are professional communicators, keeping large audiences engaged with their content in a large and ever-evolving algorithm in a way that is genuine to themselves and their audiences. 

Creating trusting partnerships

Four NEA member creators, Diego, Ty, Nicholas, and Jessica have an audience of millions, and regularly post NEA-partnered content about educator mental health, the power of the union, the burden of student debt, and how much — despite the daily structural challenges of being an educator — they love their students and their profession. 

The NEA and M+R worked with these members for two years and have built a deep and trusting relationship. These creators know their audiences better than anyone and can create content that speaks to their audience, NEA’s larger membership base, and supporters of public education. These NEA member creators have also been critical partners during rapid response moments such as the Supreme Court decision on Public Student Loan Forgiveness and educator strikes.

When plans for the education state dinner were announced, NEA turned to their long-standing, trusted partners — Diego, Ty, Nicholas, and Jessica — to develop content and join members of the press. At the event, these members were able to interview the national Teacher of the Year, NEA President Becky Pringle, and United States Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg.

This formal recognition of both their service as educators and their incredible communications abilities by NEA and the White House serves to further cement that content creators and influencers can be trusted and effective communicators off of social media and alongside professional journalists. 

Creator Relationships Require Investment

Creator relationships require thoughtful organization. The NEA program didn’t happen overnight. To scale an impactful influencer program, you must invest in long and meaningful relationships and pay your creators equitably. Stay tuned! There are many more success stories and lessons learned coming your way.

P.S. We included a bunch of data about influencers in Benchmarks this year — everything from the platforms they’re using to how nonprofits are using influencers for advocacy, awareness, and fundraising. If you want to chat all things influencers, reach out to Carrie (clawless@mrss.com) or Sam (sbanellis@mrss.com).  


Carrie Lawless is an Account Supervisor in M+R’s Win Campaign Strategy practice area based in Columbus, Ohio. When she’s not running influencer campaigns, you can find her defending the positives of living in the Midwest, planting native plants in her backyard, and trying to make the perfect salsa verde. 

Sam Banellis is a Senior Account Executive in M+R’s Win Campaign Strategy practice area, based in Philadelphia, PA. When she’s not working on M+R’s social media campaigns, you can most likely find her hanging out with her cat or at a concert.