Forget Hollywood! Could the Digital Stars be Rewriting Philanthropy by Marty Davis

When we think about leveraging celebrity to add power to our message, our minds naturally tend to gravitate towards the stars of the film and music industry, perhaps Jennifer Lawrence, Beyonce or Justin Timberlake.

But there is a new breed of digital social media stars who are making waves in the world of philanthropy because of their ability to mobilize an audience to dig deep into their pockets. Take Tyler Oakley, the openly gay video personality described as the ‘loudest voice on YouTube’. The power of that voice to benefit others has been demonstrated over the past two years by the enormous amount of money donated to the Trevor Project, a suicide-prevention helpline for gay youths, as a direct result of Oakley’s annual campaigns.

Using his social media presence, Oakley initially set a target of $150,000 for the Trevor Project, but donation platform Prizeo ended up receiving over $500,000 of funds. When you realize that Oakley has a YouTube subscriber base of over 6.4 million it becomes easy to understand the power he wields.

And Oakley is far from unique in his ability to tap into this rich vein of digital influence. From the puppy and toddler Instagram pictures that have led to five figure donations to a local animal cruelty centre in Santa Cruz to the successful teen pregnancy awareness campaigns supported by Smosh pair Anthony Padilla and Ian Hecox, there is clearly an emerging trend here that is only going to grow with time. The opportunities of video in particular have captured the imagination of nonprofits, with 96% reported to be either maintaining or increasing their focus on that medium over the next 12 months.

Of course, with so much online real estate and so many personalities to choose from, it can be difficult for nonprofits to decide on who to approach for support. According to Liz Teschler, Marketing Director for Smosh, one of the key success factors is ensuring the seamless alignment between the online brand and the aims of the charity in question. Rachel Peridot Katz, Senior Analyst for California’s Global Philanthropy Group adds that staying power is also important, since the here-today, gone-tomorrow nature of the Internet acts to speed up the fame cycle – particularly when talking about the rising stars of less established social media platforms. It is also important to vet individuals and groups for potentially damaging opinions that can quickly undermine or jeopardize a campaign, particularly given the instantaneous and somewhat uncontrolled nature of internet publishing.

One of the advantages of reaching out to digital stars is that they are generally far more accessible than their real world counterparts, although some do work through agents and publicists. Some personalities have managed to strike a balance between the digital and real world (perhaps by writing a book or releasing a record) and have seen huge growth in their popularity as a result.

According to Prizeo stats, over $11m in donations have passed through them as a direct result of promotion by online social media stars; this alone is food for thought when considering how to increase the impact of our philanthropy.


This article was written on behalf of Marty Davis, CEO of Legal Solutions Group.

Image Copyright: / 123RF Stock Photo

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