The price of fame: Working with celebrities on your campaign

The price of fame: Working with celebrities on your campaign

(With special guest Kate Fried of Food and Water Watch.)

Often in a campaign planning session, I hear people lament: “If we could just get celebrities involved…” It’s understandable. We live in a celebrity-driven culture that generates a sense of access to famous people through social media channels. This has the potential to be a virtuous circle: greater engagement with their fans makes it easier to bring issues to celebrities’ attention, and makes it easier to find out when they take action. Like any strategy, your mileage may vary, and outreach to celebrities should definitely not take priority over your non-profit’s core constituents. Unless of course, you’re the Screen Actors’ Guild.

Let’s say you DO get celebrities on board. What then? Our current non-profit client Environmental Action, together with our friends and previous client at Food & Water Watch, recently got to work with a whole red carpet’s worth of celebs on a video catchily titled, “What The Frack!” Which you can see here:

Great, isn’t it? Of course the work isn’t done when the video wraps. Here’s some ideas of what you can do to make your celebrity-driven campaign dazzle for your non-profit.

1) Figure out who’s who, in life, and on social media. We non-profit and campaign online organizers are not always the most pop-culturally savvy types, so many of us (me included) will need a quick primer on who’s appearing in the video and why they’re famous: A star of a hit TV show endorsing your fracking campaign is great. Miami Dolphins lineman Richie Incognito endorsing your anti-bullying campaign – not so great (for example). Then some research is in order to figure out who’s who on social media. We recommend finding somebody affiliated with your project who is familiar with pop culture to sit down with the video, and make a list of everyone who appears in it. Then, you can research that list on Twitter, Facebook, and other channels add everyones Twitter handle, FB page and a count of their number of followers to the list.

In doing so, you may learn that Twitter followings are not always equal to other measures of fame. Quick guess, no looking, who has more Twitter followers — Glee actor Darren Chriss, or singer Lance Bass? With 1,582,662 followers, Chriss dominates on Twitter. If you don’t watch the show Glee, you may not be familiar with Chriss, but his young fan base is definitely on the site. It’s not surprising therefore, that when we started promoting the videos on Twitter, Chriss’s fans on the site were among the most engaged.

The lesson here is clear: the larger a celebrity’s Twitter following, the more eyes will see a post tagged with that person, and the more opportunities you have to amplify your message. As always with social media, what you really need is people who are actively engaged, both in terms of the celeb themselves and their fans. Here’s an example:

2)  Make a plan to push the word out. In this case we had several different versions of the video. Which one would we highlight? (In our case, the national video, as state groups had their particular state version covered.) Which celebrities will you mention in the tweets? Who will you tweet directly at? What hashtags are relevant to these celebrities? In our case, the show #Scandal has both a highly active Twitter community as well as politically engaged fans (it’s a show about yes, scandals in the White House and Washington, D.C.). So we made sure to include a tweet using the show’s own main hashtag, as well as the Twitter handle of Darby Stanchfield, an actress on the show who just happened to appear in one of our videos.

Social media has pervaded pop culture and entertainment marketing so thoroughly, that hashtags referenced in an episode of a television show often show up on Twitter in real life. The drama Nashville, for instance, originated the tag #LaylaandWill to promote a fauxmance between two of its lead characters. Not long after, that same hashtag came into play among fans on Twitter to discuss this latest plot development. Because actress and Nashville star Hayden Panettiere appeared in our videos, we saw an opportunity to capitalize on an already hot conversation, leveraging it to draw attention to our advocacy cause.

3) What media can you get to cover your campaign? The celebrity angle means lots of extra coverage opportunities, but you’ll want to make sure to include friendly outlets to make sure your non-profit’s core message doesn’t get lost. Here’s a great writeup from the blog Ecowatch, for example. Think beyond your regular stable of political reporters and use this as an opportunity to engage reporters who cover celebrities and popular culture. You don’t have to be a regular reader of US Weekly to make this happen. Remember that pop culturally savvy person who helped you make the list of people in your video? Ask them to recommend a few websites or publications to reach out to. A quick Google search of the celebrity’s names would also work.

4) Don’t forget Facebook. Celebrity campaigns are a rare example of when it may be easier to reach people on Twitter, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to engage people on the world’s biggest social network too. To that end, you may want to test sharing the video directly, or using photo stills to get the word out, and if so, which ones.
 A word of warning: if your celebrity is female, your post is more likely than usual to generate sexist or just-plain-inappropriate comments. So stay on top of your comments and hide any that seem skeevy. In the posts below, the one featuring a female celebrity Hayden Panettiere got more post clicks and likes, but the post featuring a male celebrity Wilmer Valderrama was shared more and reached more people. So be equal opportunity if possible!

5) Now is the time to experiment! If you ever wanted to try using Instagram, this is probably the campaign to do it on. Instagram is a visual medium that naturally lends itself well to video and photography-based advocacy campaigns. It also attracts a lot of young users, so it’s an excellent opportunity to connect with the fans of whoever is featured in your project. This tactic mirrors perfectly mirrors the common adage that you should go to where the conversation already exists. If you have a presence on Pinterest, it would also be worthwhile to pin a few photo stills from your videos.

6) Above all, remember to engage with your celebrities directly. Encourage them to post to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and then share their posts. This will allow them to participate in the process, while simultaneously thanking them for their involvement. After all, everyone loves a good retweet. And they will hopefully love the chance to give back and help a good non-profit spread the word about the cause.

Want help harnessing celebrity power successfully for your campaign or non-profit? Contact PowerThru today!