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Helping the RSPCA engage with online influencers

Here at NixonMcInnes we believe in equipping our clients with core digital capabilities. Whether it’s combining customer service with PR to create web relations teams, or simulating realistic on/offline crisis for a comms team, we know that the best people to utilise digital for our clients are the clients themselves.

Another area where we work closely with clients to help them skill up is the process of mapping and outreach to online influencers, and in February we did this successfully with Helen Coen, Online Community Manager at the RSPCA.

The RSPCA is a UK based charity that has been looking out for animals since 1824, and one of their current campaigns is targeted at the issue of designer dogs. ‘Born to Suffer‘ is a campaign that highlights the issue of dogs bred for looks above welfare, and our work with Helen was specifically tailored to help her create conversations with the relevant audiences for this.


Before we started to train Helen, we had to work out core campaign objectives, strategy and messaging, so myself, our NFP whizz Max and Justine and Helen from the RSPCA got together to discuss Born to Suffer and potential audiences and pitfalls. It’s key at the beginning of any mapping and outreach campaign to know why you’re doing it, and how you’ll measure success, otherwise you’re just blindly contacting people.

After a couple of hours of discussion, we had decided on messaging, tone, key audiences and the two following objectives:

1. Generate discussion around the question of what ‘KC registered’ should mean – this was a key issue as KC (Kennel Club) registration is often seen as a stamp of quality, however the RSPCA believe more could be done to encourage dog owners (both existing and potential) to think about the welfare of dogs.

2. Create relationships with key online influencers – this second objective was created to reflect Helen’s ongoing role as a community manager, and our belief at NixonMcInnes that outreach should be a logical, long term relationship between brands and relevant outside parties.

Brands that over-zealously spam bloggers whenever they need an online push are missing a huge opportunity; bloggers, forum owners and any other type of online influencer are passionate members of your audience and are therefore massively valuable. Treating them well, asking them what type of content they like and generally recognising the two-way nature of the relationship will create much more valuable partnerships.


As with any client, training is best received when it’s tailored to the culture, processes and quirks of the client. Therefore, to equip Helen with super-powered mapping and outreach skills, we invited her to spend a week in the NM offices so that we could really focus on exploring the best set of skills for her and the RSPCA, rather than simply repeat generic training.

First we covered basic mapping skills, how to use various tools to uncover interesting influencers and then how to use other tools (and a healthy amount of qualitative judgement) to decide who should make it on to the outreach list. As with any mapping, I stressed the importance of quality over quantity.

Then we moved onto the outreach itself, and for this, Helen’s background in the RSPCA press team meant that she was a natural. Online influencers are people just like journalists, and so general rules of courtesy apply, and before long Helen was starting to receive responses from influencers who were happy to help. Win.

Throughout the training, being able to work one-to-one with Helen was great as we could explore tangents as they came up; as with anything in digital it’s impossible to predict the reactions and requests of real human beings, and Helen’s flexibility and tact really paid off.

Quote from Helen:

As a press officer with a decade’s worth of experience, the world of blogger outreach remained a mysterious world I felt I didn’t know much about.
But that’s all changed thanks to Ross’ tailored, step-by-step training, and I’ve realised that although there are differences in the way bloggers work and like to be approached, the main principles are exactly the same as working with journalists.
And as I often find, I think the most important skill is being interested in people, understanding where they’re coming from and being able to make a connection that way.


Referring back to the objectives, this piece of work was (and continues to be) a great success. Helen is still collecting results in the measurement framework that we designed, but the following are great signs:

1. More than 40 relevant online influencers mapped, prioritised and contacted.
2. At least nine actions (and counting) taken on behalf of the RSPCA to raise awareness of dog welfare.
3. A huge spike in Twitter conversation around the ‘Born to suffer’ campaign following Twitter outreach.
4. Ongoing relationships with a number of bloggers.
5. Embedded mapping & outreach skills for Helen.

The last two are most exciting for me – ongoing relationships mean that Helen has a warm, receptive bunch of relevant influencers for future campaigns, and embedded skills mean that she is already being asked by others in the RSPCA for advice on mapping and outreach – training gone viral!


I find this type of training is hugely rewarding. I get to work with smart clients and learn from them, and then see the training I give provide real, tangible benefits to not just the recipient but to their colleagues and audience. I thank my colleagues Max, Beth and Anna for valuable support, Justine at the RSPCA for her input throughout, and lastly Helen for being great fun to work with.

FYI – if you are reading this and are interesting in training from one of the NixonMcInnes Mega-Trainers™, have a look at the NM Academy page.

Image used under Creative Commons license, courtesy of Flickr user bunchofpants.

This post was filed under Current work, Not for profit, Training Comments are currently closed.

One Comment

  1. This is a great case study and example of a successful engagement campaign. Especially useful for agencies in the process of helping an enterprise or non-profit do so. Users of our application tend to use the same method, with the added ability of targeting, tracking and measuring the engagement in a integrated platform.

    Posted 8th March 2012 at 10:58 pm | Permalink