Influencer marketing is a hot topic these days, and for good reason. The concept is simple, rather than targeting your leads directly with outbound marketing tactics, you generate relationships with influential people in the industry. When you can get them to share your content or mention you, that is influencer marketing. Essentially, they are marketing your product to you, albeit in an indirect way.
More consumers are making buying decisions based on the advice of non-celebrity bloggers and industry influencers than ever before. This is particularly true for millennials, who make up an increasingly large portion of consumers in today’s marketplace—they will soon be the largest demographic in the market.
According to a survey by Collective Bias, 70% of millennials prefer to make purchases based on endorsements by non-celebrity bloggers. That same survey revealed that only 3% of consumers, in general, are influenced by celebrity product endorsements.
Grabbing the attention of a blogger with a significant following in your industry can pay off dividends if you nurture the relationship correctly. But how do you approach, engage, and benefit from a relationship with an industry influencer? Let’s take a look at the most effective tactics involved in excelling at influencer marketing.
Formulate a plan of attack
You don’t want to jump into shark-infested waters without a harpoon. Similarly, you don’t want to jump into influencer marketing without a solid, pre-formulated plan of attack. This involves identifying the right influencers for your industry, carefully monitoring them and waiting for the right time to make contact, then strategically nurturing a relationship with them over time. Only then can you benefit from your relationship with that influencer.
To devise your plan, ask yourself these questions:
What is my goal (i.e., what do I want to achieve from my influencer relationship)?
What do I eventually want from them?
What can I offer them in exchange that provides them with real value?
How will I reach out to them?
How and who will nurture the relationship.
With influencer marketing, it’s best to start from the desired end game and work backward from there.
Identify the right influencers
The internet is saturated with self-proclaimed experts in everything from tennis to baking. Be wary of someone who pitches you a cost-based promotional package from the start. They are likely in it to make money, and while we all are to a certain extent, their influence revolves around it.
The best way to identify the right influencers for your particular market is to do your research. Use social listening and monitoring tools to get alerts when someone mentions your brand on social media or their blog. When that happens, research that individual—their blog, their social media following, the types of topics they cover, and whether they are relevant to your audience and your goals.
It’s also important to consider the size and name recognition of your brand when identifying influencers that could help grow your business. If you are a brand-new marketing agency, it’s highly unlikely that Seth Godin (one of the world’s most influential voices in digital marketing) will form a relationship with you.
Think of it like fishing. If you’re a small business, you’re fishing with a small bait. You can’t catch a shark (Seth Godin) with small bait. But you can catch a small fish (a lesser-known influencer). Once you catch that small fish, put it on the hook and fish for something slightly larger. Your business will grow alongside the size and importance of the influencers who are promoting your brand. If you are determined and keep fishing, eventually you might have a large enough bait to catch a shark.
Engage with them on social media
There are a variety of ways to engage with influencers on social media. The best way to approach your initial engagement with them is with a humble and respectful attitude. Here are a few ways to start the conversation with an influencer on social media:
Cite them in your blog: If you cite their blog as a source in an article you write, make sure you tag them when you promote your article on social media. They may respond to say thanks, and the conversation will have begun.
Share their content on social media: Once you have identified potential influencers, keep tabs on their blogs and social channels. Any time they post something that would be beneficial to your audience, share or re-post it and tag them with a note saying: “thanks for the great content!” Again, they might respond to say thanks for the mention, and you’ll have an open conversation on your hands.
Monitor mentions of your brand: There are many social listening tools available that trawl the web for mentions of your brand name. Awario if a great option for this, as it scans both social media and the internet at large. If you get an alert that an influencer has mentioned you in their blog or on social media, that is a perfect opportunity for you to jump into the conversation and engage them.
Different influencers use different social media channels to get the word out about their blog. According to a survey by eMarketer, Facebook is the considered to be the best channel through which to engage an influencer. But each industry is different, so do your homework, use social listening to identify where they are, and go after the channels where the action is.
Nurture the relationship
Just like you don’t ask for the keys to your significant other’s house on the first date, you don’t ask for collaboration with an influencer with your first communication. It’s much more effective to nurture the relationship a little with some healthy dialogue. Offer your opinion (i.e., compliment them) on their blog or a particular piece of insight they have published. Whatever you do, keep the conversation going so it doesn’t go stale.
What you are doing is priming them up before you ask for something. It takes a lot of time and effort to get to that point. But you have to do it right if it’s going to be successful. In the end, all of your hard work will pay off.
Consider what you can provide them
Before reaching out directly to propose a collaboration of some sort, you need to define what exactly you can offer them. You need to be able to offer them value for their collaboration, otherwise, why would they care in the first place?
Does your social listening tool catch them mentioning your brand? Perhaps offer them the chance to connect directly with your audience by writing a guest blog post with backlinks to their own site. Or, simply offer to write guest blogs for their site; if you can prove to them that your posts will add value to their site, they are likely to consider publishing free content that you will write for them.
Another effective tactic is to invite them to be interviewed on a podcast that you host. This is essentially free advertising for them. It gives them the floor to talk about whatever they want, in the context of being interviewed as an expert in their space. This will win you some serious points and likely earn you something from them in return, such as them sharing the podcast with their network, thus expanding the reach of your brand.
There are many ways to offer value to influencers; it’s up to you to determine which approach is appropriate for the particular influencer and the context.
Listen before you ask
Pay close attention to your influencer and what they write about. Ask yourself questions like:
What do they truly care about?
Where do their interests and passions lie?
What kind of content do they produce?
How do they engage their own audience?
On which social channels are they the most active?
The more you know about your influencer, the better equipped you will be to approach them with a request for collaboration. Build influencer profiles and include every piece of information you know about them. Do they have an affinity for pet fish? Perhaps you can nonchalantly mention your fish tank in your pre-ask conversation with them—anything to establish a rapport. Armed with so much insight into who they are, you will be more likely to convince them to collaborate.
Know when and how to make an ask
After you have nurtured a relationship with your influencer, it’s time to make an official ask. In other words, it’s time to approach them with a suggestion for collaboration. If you do this too soon, you’ll likely be ignored. If you wait too long and let the relationship go stale, they may have lost interest. The best time to reach out for the ask is after a few back and forth exchanges via social media or email. The dialogue needs to have evolved to the point of being casual; if it still feels stiff and formal, it’s not time yet. That is the when.
Through your research, by this time you should be intimately aware of what your influencer cares about—what their passion is. When you do reach out with an ask, it’s imperative that you position it in a way that shows them you care about the same things. Think about how you could work together to address a common issue around that interest of theirs. And be sure to start with something small—don’t shoot for the moon on the first try. Once collaboration begins, it can grow naturally from there. Don’t force it. That is the how.
Broadcast the results of your efforts
Boom! You have finally found an influencer who wants to collaborate with you. You have co-authored a blog, published a post on their blog, or published an article of theirs on yours (to name a few examples). Now comes the time for you to reap your due rewards (i.e., increased traffic and engagement due to exposure to your influencer’s networks).
How you share and promote the fruits of your labor depend on what kind of fruit it is. If you decided to swing for the fence and co-produce a large piece of content with them, you should plaster it everywhere you can think of: social media, your website, even a press release if the product of your work is newsworthy.
Be sure to always tag them in any social media post that remotely involves them and your work together. If you are working with them to produce high-quality content, their readership will start to catch on, and you will start to see their followers following you. That is the entire point of influencer marketing—to grab the attention of their following and bring their attention to your brand.
Anyone can pay an influencer to guest post blogs on their sites. As mentioned above, anyone who starts the conversation by pitching their services for cash is:
Probably not a great influencer with a genuine concern for your interest area; and
Likely has a following that is so mixed and varied that paying them to promote your content won’t reach the right audience anyway.
That’s why this article has focused on collaborative exchanges, rather than buying influence. You want to find genuine thought leaders in your space and approach them delicately and slowly. And always from a place of respect. After all, they are authorities in their space and should be treated as such.
Do your homework and learn everything you can about them, who they are, and where their interests lie. That will show that you respect them when you finally do connect, as it will be obvious you’ve done your research. Think about how you can offer them real value in exchange for collaboration. Then formulate your ask based on all your research.
According to an infographic by Influencer MarketingHub, influencer marketing is the fastest growing form of online customer acquisition, followed by organic search. The trend is plain to see. If you are not currently engaging in influencer marketing, today is the best time to start.
Rohit Prasanna brings in about 15 years of digital marketing experience and has been an advisor to software start-ups in the mobile and SaaS areas. Before getting into startups, Rohit worked in various marketing, and product management roles at Unisys, Dell, and IBM. Specialties: Digital marketing, building and growing companies, marketing, business development, M&A.