Social media influencers can be involved in campaigns in many ways. Recent examples of outreach campaigns in space show us three different types – or levels – of involvement, each requiring different types of social media users. Let me briefly explain these three influencer campaign types:
The primary objective of a fan-based influencer campaign is to use your existing network of online fans as a relay for your corporate marketing or outreach message. These fans may or may not have a large following, but they are identified as users who follow your brand and engage with your messages, by replying to your posts, participating in your online contests and mentioning your brand accounts in their own messaging. These users feel a strong personal connection to your brand values and will be happy to share these when asked. The successful #NASASocial events are a great example of a fan-based campaign.
It is interesting to note that these social media users may not see themselves as fans until they are identified as such. In a presentation by the then NASA social media manager Stephanie Schierholz (source) she quotes the Director of PR-firm Burson-Marsteller (now Burson Coh & Wolfe): “You may not have a spaceship, but your company has a fan base. They won’t think of themselves as fans until they’re in a room with like-minded people. They won’t think of themselves as members of a community until YOU bring them together.”
A campaign using your fans does not require you to pay them directly, but you can feed your fans with information and engagement in order to turn them into ambassadors. Organising events like #NASASocial, #ESAtweetup and more recently the ESA #Sentinerds gatherings require you to spend some budget on organising the actual events, but do not require you to invest in transport, accommodation or other costs for your fans.
The next level up is a campaign involving your key brand ambassadors. This group of online followers are on the top of the list of your brand fans, by audience size and engagement with your brand. These people will frequently share your company messages to a relatively large audience. These do not have to be millions of followers but will be a relatively large audience in relation to the size of your specific niche. In that sense, the posts of these ambassadors represent real value to your organisation, measured in advertising value equivalent (AVE). Investing in these ambassadors can direct much of that value into your outreach campaigns, bringing in measurable ROI.
Because of this measurable ROI, you may want to invest some of your marketing and outreach budget in these ambassadors. A good example of this was the #MeetESO campaign by the European Southern Observatory in 2016 and 2019. They invited two groups of about 8 people to visit the ESO facilities in Chile for about a week, for which they covered all local transport, accommodation and other costs, but no international flights and no further fees. We will look at this example later in this paper.
The third level is what most marketers will consider true influencer marketing. Here the influencer is paid for his or her promotional work, on top of full coverage of expenses related to the campaign. This is very common in commercial B2C marketing for fashion, beauty products and travel. In these cases they often involve highly-paid celebrity influencers to promote products, services or destinations.
There are very few – if any – examples of this in space outreach, obviously because marketing budgets in space are much smaller in comparison to commercial consumer markets. Nevertheless, some more modest-scale examples have been showing up recently. In 2019 the European Commission organised #OperationSharkbait, which involved a specially selected social media micro-influencer as the star in a promotional campaign around the new SAR (Search and Rescue) functionality of the Galileo satellite network. No fees were paid to anyone here, but most of the costs were covered.
Another example of contracting selected social media influencers comes from the IAF, that contracted five female space and STEM influencers for the #IAFExplorers campaign, in an effort to attract a new, young, mostly female audience to IAF activities. These five people have been invited to attend the #GLEX2021 conference in Russia and report about this to their respective international audiences on different social media platforms, in exchange for an all-expenses-paid visit to Russia to attend the event.
Even though there are no examples of fashion, beauty or travel influencer-style contracted campaigns in the space industry yet, this is an interesting area for marketeers to explore. There are good lessons learned from those other industries, including many about how NOT to run these influencer campaigns. When contracting the right influencer for your campaign, results can be surprisingly good.