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Social Media for Social Change – Kelly Ann Collins Talks Marketing, Communications, and Influencer Culture

Kelly Ann Collins

Kelly Ann Collins is a WVU alumnus and has also completed programs at MIT and Cornell. She started her career as a reporter, and then editor. As a journalist, Kelly Ann made the move from print to digital when she helped launch Then, she ventured off into the land of tech PR during the dotcom boom (and crash). During that time she met tech giants and co-founded a VC platform.

Later, she took the skills gained from her endeavors to help launch and grow 50 editorial and social products at AOL co-founder Steve Case’s Revolution. Then, in 2008, she founded a pop politics blog with a focus on the 2012 presidential election that gained 3 million readers in one year. Now, she’s using her knowledge at Vult Lab to create social tools, launch initiatives, and startups, and build robust communities for her clients. Kelly Ann and her team members have been working within the USA (and beyond) on projects involving brands you know and love—including Easter Seals, OZY, Conservation International, Starbucks, Results for Development, HP, Adobe, Disneynature, Jamba Juice, Prince William's Royal Foundation, the Washington Capitals, The Washington Times, and more.

Michael Lynch: What is cause marketing?

Kelly Collins: Cause marketing is pretty simple actually. Instead of advertising or marketing to sell something like a product, you're out there marketing and spreading awareness for a cause. So, cause marketing is nonprofits or corporations. Some  people think, "Oh, it's nonprofit only," but it can also be brand or a big company.

Kelly Ann Collins

ML: Why is social media such an important media for cause marketing?

KC: Social media is great because you can make one-on-one connection with your customers or people following your cause. Cause marketing actually started back in the 80s, and American Express actually coined that phrase when they ran a campaign to help raise funds to help rebuild and restore the Statue of Liberty. Back then it was more like TV ads and things like that, but now, where you think social media, everyone's there, so it's a great platform to connect with people one-on-one and appeal to them emotionally.

ML: What do you think are some of the issues that nonprofits are facing today when it comes to digital marketing and cause marketing?

KC: Well, here's a huge issue. If you're a nonprofit that's been around for a long, long time, you're probably running into a problem because most of your supporters have been writing big checks and sending them through the mail. That's not happening now because millennials, Generation Z, they just don't donate that way. They want to connect with the brand. They want to know what's happening. They want to see where their money is going, and there are stats out there and studies that say if brick and mortar style nonprofits don't make a change and convert to digital and start engaging with their followers and building a community around their brand and their causes, that they could actually disappear by 2025, which is not too far away.

ML: What exactly is the difference between a micro influencer and a macro influencer?

KC: They're actually four types of influencers that brands are looking at right now. There's the macros, the micros, the megas and the nanos. When you start with a mega influencer, that's going to be someone huge like Ellen or Oprah, a household name. They have tons of followers, but they're not always going to be the best choice for you. There are also macro influencers, they're just a notch down from the megas, and they have between 100,000 and one million followers, so they would be a little better, more targeted. These are mostly people who are bloggers. The micros are when you get down to the 1,000 to 100,000 range, and then even have nano influencers. So, if you don't have a lot of funds I would always go with someone like a nano or a micro because these types of influencers are way more targeted. The micro influencers and the nano influencers, these are going to be people who are maybe activists or wellness experts or someone in their community that's respected and you actually get higher engagement from these types of influencers, versus just having Oprah blast something out on Twitter for you. A micro influencer is going to be someone who is really focused on a specific area. It could be an industry expert. So the smaller influencers, their audiences are way more targeted than the big ones. If you think about it, it's like Oprah versus a subject matter expert. The subject matter experts, they are going to get you more traction. I found if you're very targeted with your influencers and with your content and with your ads, you're going to get way better results than just trying to throw in that out.

ML: What tools might I want to use to really evaluate what a good influencer might be?

KC: I usually just start in the actual platforms. You can easily look and see who your top engaged fans are. Buffer has a new tool called Buffer Analyze, and it will show you who your top influencers are. Another thing you can do is, if you have a Facebook page, it will also show you who some of your top engagers are, and sometimes you might want to start with someone who's just creating a lot of noise on your platform first.

ML: What can a corporation or a nonprofit do to have a long-lasting social good impact on social media and to ensure their campaign is not just forgotten?

KC: I always look at everything as long-term, so even if you have a campaign that's short-term, say you need to raise $10,000 or $1 million, and you don't want to just go and do that, you want to think long-term, you want to think ongoing drumbeat. You want to go lifelong relationship with your followers, with your fans, and have a lot of fun creative campaigns and things to keep your audience engaged. So, if you are a nonprofit or a brand, it could be a contest, it could be art for rebranding, have people submit logo ideas, you know. So the key here is to engage, and engage and engage and engage.

ML: Do you find that one platform works better for social cause marketing than another platform?

KC: We've had success everywhere, so it just depends on who you are targeting, it depends on the campaign. I am an ambassador for an organization that's working to eliminate single-use plastics, and they're called Lonely Whale and they have a younger audience, so Instagram is really great for them. If you have an older audience, Facebook is really great, although, a lot of people who are a little bit older, not millennials, you know, Gen Z or my age are everywhere too, Twitter is also great for activism. It really just depends on who you're targeting. The younger audiences tend to be on Snapchat and Instagram.

Explore WVU's graduate programs in marketing communications!

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