Ashwath Narayanan is Proof That There’s Hope for the Future – Transcript
Kirk: Welcome to Let’s Hear It.
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Eric: So, let’s get onto the show.
Kirk: We’re back. Welcome in. Gather around, gather in, come on in, join us. It’s another episode of Let’s Hear It. Mr. Brown, good to see you. Glad we’re here. And I’m glad that everybody’s found us once again.
Eric: I’m glad to see you as well, Kirk, and I think we should just. We’re going to acknowledgment that there are a lot of things going on in the world right now. A lot of people are suffering. This is a very, very challenging time, but we are going to, like, I think a lot of people are finding themselves having to do is to compartmentalize a little bit because we’re going to talk about other things. But one of the things that I did want to mention was that a lot of folks are calling and asking what should our organization say?
How should we be? communicating about our acknowledgment of the pain and suffering that, that people are experiencing right now. And I, I will tell you that this is, there is no easy answer to this. If you have a personal experience or a personal stake, I think it is perfectly appropriate to speak, understanding that when you speak, you, people will almost invariably align you with your organization. And to take that into account, but, uh, it, it is a, this is a very, very challenging time.
Kirk: It’s this world we live in where we’re so close yet so far, the ability for all of these crazy tools to be sources of disinformation, misinformation, to add hatred, to add divisiveness. Yet what really cuts through, at least for me in the community that we serve and the way it’s being discussed is that focus on the suffering, the human suffering, what’s actually happening. And that’s what I’ve seen the best, the best communication that I’ve seen about this has come authentically from that faith, that place. And I don’t know how this feels from your world, Eric, but there is a sense of almost like hopelessness around the suffering and just the legacy that’s in play here for all parties, but then also almost a determination to see through that and to not let just permanent hatred, permanent division be the legacy for any of us, you know, around, around what we see, what we witness in the world. It’s, it’s a really, really grim, really hard time.
Eric: Well, this notion of division is very interesting and I, I keep coming back to a great friend of this, of this podcast, john powell, who would, I’m sure if we asked him, encourage us to find ways to bridge across differences. Differences will always occur. The question is how do you find bridges across them so that when, when, when really, really truly horrible things happen, you have something to rely upon, which is you, you have, you are working together across differences to co create a better future.
And that, those kinds of relationships and bonds that you create in that process allow you to withstand or, or better withstand really, really horrible times. And I just think about john, I would encourage folks to go back and listen to a conversation with him and, and think about that as well. So that we don’t find ourselves just falling into binary experiences like, uh, are happening in Washington as well, for example.
Anyway, uh, yeah, so that’s, that’s my take on this is I, I just go back to john whenever I have a question about where to move forward, he is, he is my, uh, my guiding light.
Kirk: Yeah, relentlessly finding common cause with people of all places regardless of circumstances and also recognizing this brutal truth that there is no justice here, right? We are not watching justice here. It’s really, it’s really sad. That’s really sad. I’m glad you brought that up, Eric.
All right. So we have, we have, uh, shifting to our purpose with this podcast. We have a really interesting contributor today who I think Eric is going to challenge both of us around our life choices because this is somebody who’s putting their precious time to much better use.I don’t, I don’t know where you were at when this person was at the point they’re at in their career, but I was not standing up a brand new agency. Spitting out some really creative, uh, interesting, innovative ideas. I was doing other stuff. And I, and by the way, I, I share the experience of having been a student at George Washington.
So this, this one, uh, lands close to home. Yeah. I got my master’s at George Washington. So this is, this is a great one. This is a great one.
Eric: Well, when I was 22 years old, I was making low budget horror movies. I’m not making that up. Ashwath Narayanan. If you’re listening now, you’re going to listen to the episode anyway, so it’s not like I can tell you to please make sure that you listen to the episode you’re already in.
This has been one of the most interesting conversations, not just out on this show, that I’ve ever had in my life. Ashwath is 22 years old. Yes. He is the CEO of Social Currant, which is a, a… agency that is helping nonprofits and issue organizations use social media to reach audiences more effectively.
What he’s doing is he’s using TikTok and Instagram to work with young people and influencers to drive social movements and political campaigns. And when he graduated from college, he decided, uh, am I going to get a paper route or shall I just become the CEO of my own creative agency? And he did the second thing.
It’s a great conversation. He’s so smart and so interesting. And I learned so much. I can’t wait for us to talk about it.
Kirk: The agency is Social Currant. You can find them at socialcurrant.co. Um, Ashwath, the CEO joins us on, on Let’s Hear It. Let’s listen in to Ashwath Narayanan on, on Let’s Hear It and we’ll come back.
Eric: Welcome to :Let’s Hear It. My guest today is Ashwath Narayanan, founder and CEO of Social Currant, which is an organization that helps nonprofits and issue focused organizations use social media to reach audiences more effectively. Welcome, Ashwath. Thank you so much for coming on the show.
Ashwath: So excited to be here. Thank you for having me.
Eric: So now this episode between us is a constant reminder to me of how important it is to keep learning because what you do to engage young people in particular on social issues and politics is absolutely amazing. And I have a feeling I’m going to learn a lot today. So thanks. Thanks again. I’m really looking forward to this.
Ashwath: For sure. Looking forward to it.
Eric: All right. So let’s dive right in. You graduated from George Washington University last year, and, uh, okay, I’m assuming that you didn’t take a gap decade.
Ashwath: I did not, no. I wish I had, but no. I graduated last year, started in about 2019.
Eric: Okay, and so you are Gen Z, correct?
Ashwath: Yes, Gen Z.
Eric: Solidly Gen Z. Now, to my, uh, okay. I don’t want to date myself, but most folks that I know, they graduated from college, they get themselves an entry level job in the career that they’re interested in, and then they scratch and they claw and they work their way all the way to the middle in maybe a decade or sometimes two.
But that was not your trajectory, was it?
Ashwath: That was not. And I’m happy to go into a little bit of the sort of origin story, um, to share more about why we were founded and why we think reaching young people is important. Like you said, went to GW. So I originally grew up in India and I moved to DC, moved to GW for college about five years ago.
And DC being DC, I was in a lot of impact spaces, a lot of nonprofit spaces, trying to help these organizations with some Instagram stuff, TikTok reels, a lot of like social media stuff. And at the same time, it was also like always the one answering the question, how do we reach Gen Z? How do we reach young people?
Because especially at that time, there weren’t a lot of young people in these spaces, and it’s still hard to find a lot of young people in these spaces. But at that time, you know, Gen Z was much younger, it was five years ago. And so I was answering that question and a lot of times it didn’t make sense because I didn’t want to represent a whole generation, but I also wish there were more young people in these spaces making decisions.
And so I was like, okay, this has to change. So I decided I would found an agency, um, a marketing agency to bring more young people into nonprofit spaces, into impact spaces. And we would bring more young voices into the room. And so we did that, and it was going great. And we were doing a bunch of really random stuff, like Instagram, TikTok, things we were good at.
We were also experimenting with some influencer marketing and creator stuff. And at that time, this organization called Community Change reached out. And they were trying to figure out how to get content around the child tax credit onto platforms like Instagram and TikTok and into their communities and into their conversations and outside of DC and outside of traditional media.
And they also wanted to figure out how they could represent their communities in this communication. And we did our first ever creator campaign for them, founded in this belief where we help them find creators from their communities, work with them, hire them, pay them, trust them to do this work. And I’m happy to go into that campaign in more detail, but that was sort of the founding story.
It really came out of need we were seeing in the space, but also the influencer space, the creator space, the social space isn’t that old. You can’t find someone with 20 years of experience on influencer marketing because it hasn’t been there for that long. And that helps to how we were able to sort of do this more as well.
Eric: But you decided to start an agency. You didn’t, you didn’t just sign up or apply for a job at. Somebody else’s agency, what gave you the confidence that this was a good idea?
Ashwath: So I didn’t know it was a good idea, but I think at that time I started by, I didn’t have a ton to lose, which is an immense privilege in itself.
I was in class. I was trying to find internships. This opportunity came to me where someone with a podcast wanted some help doing social media work. And so I was like, instead of doing this as a freelancer, what if I just started an LLC, I googled how to do it, started the LLC, did some work for them, and then back up snowballing into referrals, I started attending events, talking to people that need consulting help, and then I helped this one person who was an HR person build a TikTok profile. I helped him grow to over 100,000 followers in a couple of months. And I was like, this really works. And so that sort of happened. It was very much me being pulled into a lot of spaces after doing a little bit, but also being open to like reaching out to people, LinkedIn, DMing them, talking at events, anything of that sort. So it was a lot of being pulled into spaces constantly.
Eric: Well, I have to applaud you because I think what you’re doing is amazing. And the fact that you are doing it in this way and deciding to start your own agency and to run it from night. Now you have what? 10 people on your team? Is that correct?
Ashwath: We got six full time, a couple part time.
Eric: A bunch of people on your team, now you have to make payroll and you have other people. Congratulations. You know, I’m far too, it’s too scary to me to have to have other people reliant on me. So good for you. Now, let’s go back. So you, you dropped this word that some folks actually won’t even know as you keep talking about creators.
And how you’re working with creators to advance ideas and to give them a voice for issues that matter. Can you talk about what a creator is and how you work with these special people?
Ashwath: For sure. So creator or influencer, people use that term sometimes interchangeably. There’s a difference. But for this conversation, let’s just call them influencers.
If I say creator, I’m referring to influencers. They’re typically folks with large ish social presences, so at least a couple thousand followers on Instagram and TikTok, and they’re reaching a couple thousand to tens of thousands of people every day. And then a lot of times they’re influencing their audience.
is around purchasing decisions, influencing their audiences around services around issues around news, whatever that is. And so people on social creating content regularly, that influence our audience to do something or what I would define as influencers. And over the last five years, or 10 years, there’s been a lot of changes in how people consume content online, you used to have cable TV, and you have a lot of well produced shows.
But then you also have the rise of why we’re YouTube and TikTok and Instagram Reels and short form video platforms where you’re consuming content in short sized bites from people on social media and these are typically influencers. Influencers are people you consume content from and that you pay attention to for decisions.
Eric: And for one reason or another, you trust them or you, you, much of the time, a lot of folks use social media so that they can chill out or watch cat videos or tick tock was started on, on dance and music and things like that. And now all of a sudden these forums seem to be changing into opportunities to have, I guess you could call them more meaningful conversations or interactions.
How is that? How do you see? The use of these tools changing, and then let’s definitely talk more about how you are using it to work on in particular, I’m fascinated by political campaigns, but also other social action opportunities.
Ashwath: For sure, so I think one also macro level trend we’re seeing in the last 10 years is there’s been, or last even 50 years, is there’s been a decline in trust in institutions.
People no longer trust large major institutions. There has been an increase in trust of people, increase in trust of the people around you, the people you follow on social. So I think when you’re listening, remember that. Macro trend and then I think when, when it comes to like changes in consumption patterns, I think more and more people are consuming content online from these influencers than ever before.
More and more people are making decisions based on what influencers are posting. So I think it’s important to keep that in mind too, is you have who you’re consuming content from is changing, who you’re trusting is changing and both of them together have resulted in the rise of influencers.
Eric: Classic advertising thing is that peer to peer marketing is the best kind. And it sounds like now that peer to peer marketing is, you have different ways to engage peers in marketing to their peers. And what you’re doing, this, this notion of engaging with influencers or creators directly and hiring them to promote particular political activities or other things like that, doesn’t sound like it’s a version of you used to hire a spokesperson, for example, to promote your product, how did you start working with.
These creators. Where do you find them and how do you engage them in ways that allow them to have an authentic experience as opposed to just kind of a paid pitch person?
Ashwath: For sure, and I think like I talk about this all the time, but like, influencers as a concept isn’t new. Like for decades, people have made decisions based on other people, whether that’s a neighbor, whether that’s a spokesperson in their community, and this is just an online 2023 version of that. So I think going back to our first ever campaign with community change, the campaign was really focused on highlighting the child tax credit. And what we did was essentially we thought about who would get the child tax credit. It was parents, it might be families with young kids.
And so we went on TikTok and YouTube and Instagram and started looking for parent creators. We started looking for creators that had young siblings, young nephews, young nieces, and we reached out to them and we would ask them, Hey, have you heard about digital health tax credit? Is it something that’s relevant to you?
And so we did a lot of this outreach through searching on these platforms and found about 15 creators who had either gotten it or part of families that got it. And all these creators did after that was talk about their experiences. And so the way the campaign worked is we identified the community that community change was trying to reach.
And we found people from within the community who also happened to be creators. We paid them, trusted them and hired them to talk about their experiences, their lived experience. And then we sent over 10,000 people to the White House website. So a lot of it is rooted in like. Who you’re trying to reach and trusting them to reach their communities instead of talking to them from outside, spending money on platforms like Facebook or Google that goes back to the same tech companies and said, this is an investment in their communities. But a lot of it’s also like making sure that community actually is a part of your community does have lived experience around your issue as well.
Eric: Can you talk a little bit more about that campaign? Cause it’s particularly interesting. How did they find you? How did you work together? How did you think through strategies?
What was the communication strategy that went into this type of social media change campaign?
Ashwath: So that campaign with them was like our very first one. Um, they found us through like an online forum. They reached out and that’s how we met. And we were thinking through this campaign and a lot of it was. is rooted and how we appear online, how we show up online, but also like how we reach people where they are instead of where they may not be consuming content.
So like that campaign strategy was why we decided Instagram and TikTok. It was also why we decided to invest in parent creators and younger creators because they also had audiences that was like them, look like them, looked at them for content. So a lot of it was who we want to reach. Can we find someone?
That we want to reach and just hired them instead to do this campaign and do this work. So we, we decided the platforms because that’s where their audience was. And then over the course of 4 week period, we did this campaign and based on its success, we then went on to build a larger campaign working with over 80 influencers, primarily young careers color.
Who had never done post in politics to do their first post in politics around a lived experience in partnership with community change. So it was a fun campaign. We’re still working with community change and they were our first ever in the progressive space.
Eric: So you mentioned 10,000, 10,000 visits to the white house website. What are some of the other ways that you measure success in a campaign like that?
Ashwath: That’s a good question. We think about campaign success in a few different ways. I think one of the primary ones is in the investment in the communities. So like you’re investing in creators and giving them a seat at the table in the progressive space.
And then you’re also making them more likely to do more work around issues that care about in the future. It’s again hard to measure this investment, but I think that’s important to just keep in mind. I think the second one that’s also hard to measure is the relationship that these creators have with their audience.
You’re also investing in that relationship. And so like someone might be more likely to listen to something. from a creator than like you yourself. And so I think that’s one thing. And then obviously you have the measurable things like views, shares, likes, comments, engagements, engagement rate, cost per thousand impressions that you can compare against traditional tactics.
And then the final one is you can also do persuasion. Messaging message testing as well to see if like your content actually did shift perspective on an issue area or on a question and so you can use tools like real progress to do this message testing where you can upload a creator video can also upload a TV ad and a placebo and see which ones shifts more on an issue or on a question you ask your test audience so there’s a few different ways and then obviously petition acquisitions email acquisition signatures things like that.
Eric: And before we go to the break, can you just give us some of the things that you won on one of those campaigns? Kind of give us the, the before and the after picture of how you made a difference.
Ashwath: When the campaigns with community change was featured in the New York times, obviously we’ve reached over 12 million people across their entire campaigns and like had hundreds of thousands of engagements and also had a number of creators that have never done posts in politics now start posting about it more likely through a lens of issues they care about. So I think that’s one thing. The campaign also won an Anthem Award, which is awesome. But I think the most important thing is we got to extend opportunities to creators that never did post in politics. And now they’re doing more posts or they’re engaging with even other nonprofit organizations. And I think was the biggest win for us.
Eric: Well, after the break, I want to talk more about how Other folks who are thinking about this work or maybe have or should be thinking about this work how they can go about it So we’re gonna be right back with Ashwath right after the break.
Eric: You’re listening to Let’s Hear It, a podcast about foundation and nonprofit communications hosted by Kirk Brown and Eric Brown. We are delighted to welcome our newest sponsor, the Stupski Foundation. Thank you for your support. You can find Let’s Hear It online at letshearitcast.com, on LinkedIn, and even on Instagram. If you’re enjoying the show, please rate us on Apple Podcasts so more people can find us. Thanks for listening and now, back to the show.
Eric: And welcome back. We are talking with Ashwath Narayanan. Who is the founder and CEO of Social Currant, which is an agency that’s helping nonprofits and issue organizations use social media to connect with their audiences more effectively.
This stuff is really interesting to me. I was just thinking back a couple of years ago, I ran a focus group with a bunch of high school students and I asked them, this is really before TikTok had kicked off, had really hit its stride. I asked them where they got their news and information about important events or current events.
And this may not surprise you, but it blew me away that fully 75 percent of them said Snapchat. And, and I thought to myself, here is a thing I, like, I don’t understand it. I can’t make it work. I don’t know, like I don’t get Snapchat and 75 percent of high school students, at least in this focus group, that was their primary source of news about current events.
What don’t most people know? And I would say for the listeners who work at foundations and nonprofits. who are maybe further along in their career trajectories. What do you think they don’t know about how to use social media to influence potential audiences?
Ashwath: I think more and more people know that social media is an important mechanism to inform your audience.
I think people underestimate who on social media is important to inform your audience through. People, especially on short form video platforms, they don’t… want to engage with brands as much as the brands and the nonprofits and the organizations like to believe they want to engage with people more. And so even the most successful organization accounts on TikTok, like the Washington Post, you’re following the Washington Post because it’s the Washington Post, but you’re equally following them because Dave and, you know, all their, their team is doing skits and entertaining content, but also educating their audience. So I think people underestimate the who part of social media, and you can no longer like design a nice graphic and have it do well on Instagram. You have to have a personality, a brand shine through, and I think like brands need to think through like who they’re engaging.
Um, You know their audience with and a lot of times that can be creators that can be, you know, people from their community there that can be employees staff that are good at, like, creating content. But I think it’s important to think that who, um, you’re reaching these this audience with.
Eric: When I was communications director of the Hewlett foundation, I used to think this is again, this is before social media really took off.
So we’re talking a while ago and I, I used to feel the need to control the message out of the foundation. And then pretty soon that was obviously a dumb idea because a people are engaged in social media and their personal lives, but they also reflect the organizations that they work for in many instances.
And the other thing is they’re far more interesting and intelligent and fun and creative. Communicative than one guy sitting in a desk or one woman sitting at a desk can ever be. That I think is really important. I don’t think we have fully. figured out how to use the wisdom and the creativity of our entire organization to advance it.
Now, obviously it has changed a lot, but you’re taking this even further in that you’re moving it outside the organizations completely and into the communities in which they are doing work. How do you think about To what extent do you feel like you are trying to drive message? How do you make sure that the issues and the ideas that you’re trying to advance work their way into the communities in the way that you hope they will?
Ashwath: Yeah, that’s a really good question. I think when I’m talking to organizations, I really underscore one thing, which is there’s two specific levels and two specific pillars, I would say, of expertise here. One of them is the distribution and the audience engagement, the content creation and the education and the entertainment, the value that the creator brings.
But an equally important one is the policy, the research, the facts, the messaging, the research on how to reach your audience effectively, what is persuasive, what’s not, also the organizing background that organizations have, and that is equally important when working with creators. And so like, Working with creators is not just, you know, sending this creator, um, money and then they do whatever it’s very collaborative in the sense of you’re bringing your messaging and your research in your organization’s years or decades even of work, but then you’re relying on this creator’s expertise.
And so it does come with a level of trust, but organizations do have a certain amount of control over it. what the facts are, but it’s important to let the creator control how they represent that through their experiences, through the content, through the distribution. So I think it’s both of these expertises that are important, and this doesn’t work with either, but one can’t be viewed as more valuable than the other, which, which I think some folks do, and that leads to confusion.
That leads to being too prescriptive with content that leads to asking for scripts and all of this stuff. And so I think both those pillars are important, but it’s important to stay on your side of what you know works.
Eric: Say I’m a, say I’m a foundation, a very traditional foundation, and I’m working on an issue, let’s say, women’s reproductive health, and wanting to support my grantees who are working to engage young people to understand more about their reproductive health.
So I’m just making this up straight out of the air. How would you think about putting together a campaign that would reach, and we’re talking young people, people of reproductive, early reproductive, uh, years? Talk me through how you’d think about that strategy and what you would do if you were the head of comms at the XYZ Foundation.
Ashwath: A hundred percent. So first, I would sort of start by understanding what your goals are. So if your goals are to destigmatize reproductive justice, so that’s your goal. Then I would think through like who your audience is that you’re trying to reach with that goal. So it’s Gen Z voters between 18 to 25.
Then I would think through like where these people are. So are they on TikTok? Are they on Snapchat? Are they on YouTube? Are they on Instagram? They’re most likely on there. Then I would think through like, who are the people that are reaching this audience? So think through that in a few ways. One is I would go on these platforms and I would search who is creating reproductive justice content and who’s creating content already in the space.
So that’s one base. The second is I would also look at who is not creating this content, but could be creating this content and is likely to reach. So that could be a traditional and large influencers. It could also be like people creating trending content, lifestyle content skits. And then the third one is I would try to find a community that I’m trying to reach.
I would try to find a focus group of like 20 Gen Zers between the ages of 18 to 25 and then I’d send them a type form and say, Hey, can you fill out who you follow on social media generally and who you listen to? And through those like three mechanisms, you now have a list of creators that you could reach out to.
Then I would start building relationships with them. I would try to understand how much they charge, what they’re interested in, why they want to talk about it. Then I would put together maybe a budget. You could do this at the very beginning too. I put together a budget. I would then reach out to these creators they do like.
A number of videos, it could be one, it could be like two over the course of two months, whatever the campaign strategy is, I would contract these videos. You would then build out a messaging brief at the same time, thinking through the campaign, the details, the facts, but also like giving enough room to these creators to film content.
They would film, you would review, they would go live. You’d pay them and then you might want to use that to then test it in message testing, or you might want to extend it to like have a video a month from these creators. There’s so many different ways you could do this. And then you could also do it at scale for all of your organizations.
You could do this specific campaign, but like on a different issue area or things like that as well. So I know, I know that was a lot, but I think it’s understanding, like who you’re trying to reach and who is reaching them and building relationships with who is reaching them so that they can create content around your messaging.
Eric: I, you just laid out classic, excellent, high level communication strategy that you would probably spend a lot of time, most of your career trying to figure out how to do. You just laid it out right there using a tool that a lot of people don’t yet understand, and I’m saying a lot of decision makers, a lot of folks, uh, at foundations and nonprofits probably don’t fully comprehend.
And I’m just always delighted and blown away by what is out there that can help us advance our ideas that we’re not, they’re probably underusing. So one thing that I would just say as a huge plug to you, Ashwath and your work, if you’re out there and you’re, and you have an area that you’re working in, which this age group is an important audience, participants, anything, uh, you should just hire Ashwath cause he will help.
It also sounds to me, Ashwath, that you can use these types of campaigns as, as learning exercises, as much as they are as influencing exercises, so that you can get a better sense of issues that matter. among audiences that you care about and messaging networks and things like that. Sounds like you’re using this as a diagnostic tool as much as a activation tool.
Is that correct? And if so, can you kind of give us a little bit of flavor behind that too?
Ashwath: Yeah, 100%. And I also want to say, like, I think traditionally these platforms have been for young people, but we’re seeing more and more there’s a shifting demographic. So it is not just Gen Z, Gen Y, Gen X, you know, there’s so many people on these platforms.
And so like, this can be a mechanism to reach anyone in your community, but also center them in reaching the community. And that’s how I would underscore it. But on the learning piece, a hundred percent, I think there’s working with creators has such great impact, but also every step of working with creators is a different learning because when you’re, for example, if you have a theory that young people care the most about reproductive justice.
Or young people care the most about climate, and you want to apply that to a specific state, when you’re starting to reach out to creators, you can see which of the two they gravitate towards, and that itself is a learning. You can then see, like, which platforms they think are important to reach their audience.
That’s a learning. You can then see which content performs better, which messaging performs better on these social platforms. That’s a learning. You can vary taglines for different creators. You can give two creators separate messaging briefs and compare the two. So that’s another messaging learning. You can also see like if it performs better on Instagram versus TikTok versus YouTube.
That’s a learning. You can switch CTAs. So you can have someone do a petition. You can have someone do like a text shortcode, see which has more actions or conversions. Part of the importance of working with creators is you get to like test and learn a lot of things all at the same time but also when you’re thinking about running a creator campaign you should also treat it as a campaign that’s ever evolving because anyone that tomorrow something might change on social and you have to be adaptable to be able to incorporate that into your creator campaign.
Treating it as this massive learning is a helpful way to look at it because then you can inform your organic social strategy. You can inform your paid ad strategy, your comms strategy. Like there’s so many pieces that can interlink to create a work.
Eric: You talked about learning a lot. Anything that really surprised you, you went into a campaign or a project with some preconceptions about what would work and what wouldn’t work or what messages would work and what, what it wouldn’t. And then you came back and you’re like, wow, I learned a lot because I was incorrect. I learned that the facts were a lot different than I had had expected.
Ashwath: Yeah, I mean, I think this has happened a lot of times.
I think we’ve worked with over 1, 500 creators to produce like thousands of videos. And so like, I’ve been able to see what works, what doesn’t. And when a creator sends in content, I have my own assumptions about, hey, maybe like 30 seconds would work. And this one time, this creator sent in some content for a skit that was fully unrelated to the Inflation Reduction Act and then it like looped into the Inflation Reduction Act and I did not get it. I, I didn’t find it funny, like any of that. Again, I wasn’t the target audience for it. I didn’t need to find it funny, but my assumption was this wouldn’t work, the client’s assumption was it wouldn’t work.
But the creator was really like strong on it. They wanted to do it. And at the end of the day, if they think it will work, that’s the entire goal. Cause all the facts are right. All the messaging was incorporated. And so we decided to go with it and it did over a million views in 24 hours. It’s one of our best performing videos, but no one who watched the video on our team, on our client’s team, thought it would be great in terms of the performance. Like it was a good video, but we didn’t think it would work. It worked. It was very much in style with the creator. It was in style with his audience. He believed in it and he decided to go for it. And he reached more people.
And who knows if I’d edited it, we would have reached a thousand people, right? So I think even when I do this work, it’s important to come to the table with an acknowledgement that if you’re not the target audience for the video, Maybe you shouldn’t be making decisions around how they receive it. I’ve worked with so many creators and I still make that mistake, but it’s important to like, know it’s okay to make that mistake, but also not let that hold you to, and make someone’s content fit your narrative.
I think that’s something that we come across all the time, but I think it’s a pleasant surprise when it works well.
Eric: That’s a huge rule. Something we all, again. I’ll have to remind ourselves, we are not the audience if we’re not the audience. Exactly. So, in just a few minutes that we have left, there’s a political season coming up, and Again, everyone always says the most important election of our lifetimes, but the problem is that it’s the most important election of our lifetimes, I would say.
Are you engaging in that? Are you doing straight political work? What kind of work are you doing and what kind of work do you think we all need to be doing more of?
Ashwath: Yeah. So we do a lot of political work. We do a lot of voter registration work. We do a lot of advocacy issue focused work. We don’t do a lot of candidate work.
But I think for foundations, for organizations that are listening in, creators can be a way to stand out outside of TV, outside of traditional digital. And I think if you do want to build a creator program, the time to start is now, because a lot of creators are going to them last minute, might be a little too late.
These people are reaching their audience now they’re talking about issues and you could invest in them now and then build that relationship. over the course of 2024, or five, or six, or anything. So I think starting now is really important. You can start with a few tests. You can start with local creator work, finding creators in your state, in your city.
That’s something you could start with, but it’s important to start thinking about it now, because a lot of people think about this in May, or June, or July, and that’s very close to the election. People are still consuming information now, so I think starting early is always something I’d recommend to folks that are trying to do political campaign work.
Eric: Well, the last minute or so that we have, what’s next for you and for Social Currant.
Ashwath: Yeah, so one, we were founded with the goal of helping organizations reach audiences more effectively. And we’ve been doing that as an agency for the longest time, but we’re also building out like a tech platform where any organization can sign up, they can access our entire network of creators, all contracts, payments, 1099s, all of the operational pieces are all automated in one place and the goal is to make it a little more accessible for smaller organizations to be able to work with creators without having to pay large agency fees but also like be able to run a campaign in house instead of hiring a consultant.
And so that’s the goal but also like we’re just trying to bring more resources to creators so we’re building out like a newsletter for creators, we’re building a resource library for creators, free tools for creators, and so our goal is to like figure out how we can give creators as much support as possible, and then also slowly educate more creators on progressive issues so that whenever something happens next, creators feel educated or have a place to go to get info.
So the platform, the resources, the newsletter, a lot of stuff coming down the pipeline.
Eric: Wow. It’s so exciting. I’m so impressed and grateful that you’re Using your incredible talents for good when you could probably just be using it to make a buck because I’m sure you’d make a lot. I’m inspired and I’m really grateful for your work and for taking the time to talk with us, Ashwath Narayanan.
Ashwath: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me. This is a wonderful conversation.
Eric: Well, thanks again. That’s Ashwath Narayanan, the founder and CEO of Social Currant. Check out their work. We will put lots of links to things. There’s a lot of information on the site and we will help you understand how you can use his amazing talents and creativity and just thinking about this issue to advance your organization’s work. So thanks again.
Kirk: And we’re back. So we gotta, we gotta read what the New York Times said of Social Currant. So, so they’re a creator-led platform and managed service, focusing on making a difference to the power of social media. Once described by the New York times as only recently able to buy alcohol, this Gen Z led company is on a mission to empower young people in issues we care about. So it’s everything we love. It’s working with new media. It’s new voices. It’s Gen Z, it’s young people and. And Ashwath, if you hear one thing from this podcast, keep it going. Like we’ve talked recently about the importance of doing big things and taking big swings.
This is a big swing. It’s so nuanced. It’s so cool what Ashwath is doing. And I hope, I hope nothing but the best for them, but yeah. How’d it feel, Eric, being schooled by your, uh, maybe this was a PhD level conversation from somebody who we hope will get into a PhD program if they could apply, but I’m like, look, look, let them design the curriculum. Cause Ashwath could clearly do it.
Eric: I do not think Ashwath needs to bother with any more education.
I think he is, he is going to be providing the education from, from now on, not getting any more of it.
Kirk: It’s funny. If this was sports, we’d be like Ashwath all time first round draft pick, right? Right. One of one, like, it’s just, it’s great. It’s great.
Eric: It’s just amazing. I met him at the Frank Conference earlier this year, and I said, Oh my God, I gotta, I can’t wait to have this conversation. He’s just such an incredible guy. He’s so smart. What he’s doing, blowing my mind. And so, I mean, we can break it down. When I asked him, okay, how do you figure out how to do things with a client? He goes straight through communications strategy 101, 201, Which includes all the things we know.
You figure out what your goal is, you find your audience, you come up with messages. And the testing part and the technology and the tools that he uses to know if you’re going in the right direction or not are, it is classic. But it’s also something that is not obvious and not a lot of folks actually do.
And using the technology in the way that he does, he can do. Message testing. He can do all kinds of things. He figure out what’s working, work on it more. The feedback that he’s getting is amazing. The way that he’s working with these influencers. I mean, you know, when you talk about influences these days.
Everybody rolls their eyes so hard that they almost fall over backward. And I guess it’s time for us all to realize that you have to take advantage of the opportunities that are out there and the tools that are out there. And let’s not all be so smug about Tik Tok and social media and all this other stuff, because this is how many people get their information.
Kirk: And that’s the zag here that I got. Is this notion of being a creator led platform? So Ashwath and his colleagues are starting from this place of valuing creators and trying to be in relationship with creators. That for me was what jumped out is so unique and interesting and frankly, refreshing about what he’s talking about, because you’re right.
This is basically Strategic communications with the overlay being Tik Tok, Instagram, any places where these creator influencer spaces grow up, as opposed to, let’s say the New York times. And 50 years ago, you could have had this exact same conversation about trying to build relationships with the editors and writers within the New York times or any paper of record, not nodding back to one of our recent episodes, but this is the shift, right?
This is the shift saying, you know, actually this space that we’re in now. And I love to ask what’s referred to space repeatedly. He’s very. You know, sensitive to this notion of spaces, the spaces we occupy and who’s in them. And Ashwath is saying, actually, the entryway into these spaces is to actually value creators.
And I can build an entire concept around that. And I got to say, that is a unique, that is an awesome insight.
Eric: It’s amazing. And you know, back in the day, we all tried to control the message, control the message, control the message. And then you would make sure that the message was controlled. And in this instance, you can’t control diddly squat.
All you can do is build relationships. And if you can believe that folks, that they mean what they say, and that they’re interested in the issues that you are working with them on, you gotta let them free. And as he said, oh, there was this one thing that they were gonna do. And everyone thought it was a dog.
Like, oh man, this is, this stinks. And it went down and got a million whatevers. In, in, in, in, whatever, in eight seconds. And, and that’s, that’s how you learn and you have to let go. And we’re still, I think, trying to get over that fact that we cannot control. And that’s if you can tap into the creativity of your people, then you can go a long way.
Kirk: And so real humility here too, because I loved how Ashla talked about the kinds of influencer creator communities that they target. And the threshold is really a thousand people. If you, if you’ve got a thousand people in your community, okay, now we’re going to start talking to you. Again, when you’re thinking about hits or impressions or whatever, in the terms of millions or billions or whatever, however, we think about this, a small community of people engaging is so powerful.
We know it time and time again, in terms of all of our social advocacy strategies. And I feel like in a way, this, this brings this concept back home. And I loved how he talked about, we have declining trust in institutions, but growing trust in people. And that. Insight, that insight that we can work with these platforms to build trust with people and then extend our messages.
Again, Ashwath, go for it. That’s a great, that’s a great, a great insight.
Eric: Well, yeah, it’s human nature. I mean, peer to peer marketing has been going on since Org told Blog not to go around there because the saber toothed tiger would eat him and, you know, we get information from people who we trust.
And the fact is that those big institutions, we don’t trust them so much. We don’t have our Walter Cronkite or whomever who would tell us what to think and It’s very difficult and it’s challenging and that’s why disinformation and misinformation and all these other things is so spectacularly scary because people trust things they shouldn’t trust and That’s a problem and the forces of evil know that and they’re trying to drive a wedge there The question is how can we counteract that with legitimate deep connections with people?
And even with people we haven’t met. I mean, that’s what these creators, influencers are. People who are at some, some remove, but whom for one reason or another. We listen to what they say.
Kirk: Well, that’s a breath of fresh air, too, isn’t it? I mean, for the creators themselves, this is one of the interesting feedback loops you get.
Our work is actually really interesting. I mean, these creators wouldn’t be carrying this stuff forward if they didn’t get the meaning and the value behind it. And here you’ve got this creator who’s building this identity online. We know how difficult that is. Now somebody comes forward and they’re not just coming with a request.
And this is the other thing built into Ashwath and the Social Currant model. They come with resources. They say, what is your budget? How can we support what you’re doing as a creator? Let’s get aligned on this content. And now we create this new purpose oriented work. This creator learns about probably through the process.
And then who knows, maybe later they just pick this up as one of the issues they talk about because it’s so compelling. Like, like that’s, I love that part of that. And it feels really analogous to back in the day. You would train journalists to cover issues in a certain way. And once you did the message guide and the media training and all that, then you would kind of hope it would go into the world and blossom.
Eric: Well, this is. This is the root of narrative change, isn’t it? Like, this is a place where it can happen. Not only that, but they’re doing this in 15 second increments, and they’re testing all the way, so they know if they’re on the wrong track. And then, you know, you spend half a million dollars and kiss these journalists on their head and send them out into the world.
Who knows what you get. So how do we help?
Kirk: There’s things that strike me. It’s like in, there’s some really interesting ways that Social Currant is looking to kind of cut out what I would say is the middle step in the process.
So we’ll talk about that in a second. Cause I think that lends to the efficiency, but how. How would you advise a foundation to take this seriously and say, yes, I’m ready to invest in this? Because again, we’ve had this conversation repeatedly in the podcast. What does it feel like to come in and with to that pitch meetings for the first time and say, Hey, I’m going to spin up 10 creators on your tax credit issue and that’s going to generate millions of people or hundreds of thousands or whatever the goal is of people that register for your get out the vote or whatever those processes are going to be.
How would you encourage foundations to view this so they could value it appropriately and get behind it?
Eric: Ooh, I’m glad you asked that question, because I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I mean, for starters, one thing I would say is, there is probably no issue that you are working on, whoever you are out there listening, that Ashwath and his cohort of whatever they are, 18 to 30 year olds, are not an important constituency for.
And my guess is, and I don’t want to cast aspersions on anybody, my guess is you don’t, you, whoever you are out there who care about this issue, don’t know nearly enough about that audience, and you probably don’t have a very good handle on how to connect with them. Again, we’re all learning. And everything is new.
And my guess is that Ashwath and folks like him, I mean, he can’t do everything for everybody, can teach you a whole lot about how to engage and activate those audiences using technology that foundation person. Don’t know that well, or maybe don’t use in your daily life, but that’s kind of the point that you can learn so much about how people are using these other tools to engage people in good conversations, excellent messaging that’s well tested, that’s kind of become battle tested, that will help you get closer to achieving what it is you’re trying to achieve and, and that kind of tool that has so much feedback and so much experimentation in it.
Feels like absolute gold. And my guess is that is dramatically underutilized.
Kirk: Well, and it’s, it’s, there’s some efficiencies too, right? Because I was thinking about that process of what are your goals? What are the audiences? Who are they? Who are the people reaching those audiences? Okay. Who’s creating content, right?
You find the content creators that are actually naturally aligning with these audiences. Once upon a time, that process would have required a focus group process, like a multi state nuance, dynamic focus group. Hey, who are the people? Where are these people? What do they care about?
Eric: Airplanes and M& M’s. Again, we are the two guys in the balcony on the Muppets. That’s exactly right.
Kirk: And one way mirrors, you know, you’re sitting back there with bad pizza, you know, having this conversation. And now that process of actually curating who those creators are, who those influencers are, actually, I think in some really important ways, takes the place of that pulling of that research process.
So I love that part. That feels really efficient. But then this other part that Ashwa talked about at the end, building this community of creators. And having thousands of creators that are actually connected to the Social Currant network and the tools and resources they’re rolling out so that curators can actually be engaged with different campaigns in a very efficient way and actually reduce some of the front end costs.
Because, you know, this research and discovery work of identifying these influence, like when I was talks about this and the impact of the success, it sounds so clear. So simple, so straightforward, this is not, it’s really difficult work to do, but once you’ve built those relationships, why not value them over time?
And actually, why not? Why not have this almost become like a gig work economy, if you will, for creators around social purpose and social change, you know, so they’re connected to this community that Social Currant is, is building up. And we’re deploying foundation resources into this community of influencers so that we can actually create an echo chamber, more positive messages out there.
It’s just, again, what a, what a, what an insight.
Eric: Yeah, I totally agree. And the other thing is that for folks who are going out there and maybe it’s their first time, or they’re not that experienced in doing the social work, social change work. They’re influencers in other ways and it’s kind of exciting and I guess a little, almost a little narcotic that you get out there and you’re doing social change work and people are, are listening and you’re learning from them.
You feel like you’re doing something good. Now all of a sudden we are kind of helping to train a new generation of people who are out there to do good things, uh, rather than just, you know, whatever, buy this. And that’s kind of exciting too. And I, I would love to. I’d just love to see those kinds of conversations and hear what people feel like when they get into this work.
And the other thing that I would say again about Ashwath is that if he wanted to, he could have been a billionaire by the age of 22 and one month. Uh, and he’s instead, he’s doing this. I hope he’s making a living. I know he has some out of six people on staff. He has, he’s responsible for payrolls. Yeah.
Good for him. That’s crazy. I could never do that. But the idea that he is doing this instead of using his incredible talents for evil It is something that allows me to sleep at night.
Kirk: Ashwath, it’s going to be a long career. It’s going to be a productive career. It’s going to be a successful career. We encourage you.
We applaud you. We welcome you. We encourage you to keep going. And, and Eric, I somehow don’t feel totally awful about myself after this conversation, though. Somehow I feel like I could.
Eric: That’s so cute.
Kirk: Well, cause Ashwath, he’s like doing great work again. He totally is operating, the North Star there is operating at a great, a great level of impact.
It’s really cool to hear about.
Eric: He’s a beacon of hope. It’s true.
Kirk: Well, that’s great. So Eric, what’s our send off?
Eric: Well, that was Ashwath Narayanan. Thank you so much for what you do. Thanks folks for listening. And another thing, let me just throw in another plug. Thank you for listening. Please tell a friend, if everyone got one more person to listen, we would double our audience.
That’s how it works. And, uh, go to Apple Podcasts and rate us, rate us wherever it helps people find the show. Oh, one more thing before we go out. I want to thank our newest sponsor, which is the Conrad Prebys Foundation. Wow. And I want you to check out their, their podcast, which is led by our pal, Grant Oliphant, Stop and Talk.
Grant is the interviewer and very few foundation CEOs would do such a thing and he’s way better interview than I’ll ever be. So stop and talk with the Conrad Prebys Foundation. Thanks so much to them for, for sponsoring the show. Thanks to you all for listening. Uh, this is a joy and, uh, we hope you’re having fun and let us know, drop us a line and you know. We’ll see you next time.
Kirk: That’s awesome. We’ll see you next time. And Let’s Hear It.
Kirk: Okay, everybody. That’s it for this episode. Please let us know if you have any thoughts about what you heard today or people we should have on this show, and that definitely includes yourself. And we’d like to thank…
Eric: Our indefatigable producer, Harper Brown.
Kirk: John Allee, the tuneful and inspiring composer of our theme music, our sponsor, the Lumina Foundation.
Kirk: And please check out Lumina’s terrific podcast, Today’s Students, Tomorrow’s Talent, and you can find that at luminafoundation.org.
Eric: We certainly thank today’s guest, and of course, all of you.
Kirk: And most importantly, thank you, Mr. Brown.
Eric: Oh, no, no, no, no. Thank you, Mr. Brown.
Kirk: Okay, everybody, till next time.