Given a choice, your prospective customers are less likely to succumb to paid media and more likely to heed the recommendation of someone they trust. This can be a friend, family member, or someone with “authority” whom they follow on their various social media networks. Building a relationship with these influencers, also known as “thought leaders” or “social influencers,” might be the smartest marketing and brand-building action you can take for your small business.
Here are tips on identifying these key influencers and engaging with them to build an ongoing relationship that will, in turn, offer value to their communities of followers.
1. Identify Influencers and “High-level Networkers”
The logical starting point in your influencer marketing campaign is identifying individuals with a high Klout score and a track record of actively promoting products and services they believe in. These may include current happy customers, says Mike Merrill, former director of marketing for ReachLocal, who pointedly discourages chasing after A-list influencers. He says to focus instead on what Technorati founder David Sifry calls the “magic middle” — bloggers with between 20 and 1,000 inbound links who are more accessible, easier to contact, and passionate about their interests.
Many prominent search engines gauge social media influence. Social media strategist Kristina Cisneros suggests “reverse-engineering” the process. Individuals with high-ranking Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) could be just the people you’re looking for. For example, if you’re seeking social media influencers in the restaurant business, type in “restaurant blogs” on Google and focus on the sites showing up on the first page. Pick a high-ranking blogger, check their Klout score and social profiles, and see if they’re someone you want to further engage.
Sites like BuzzSumo and Little Bird help users locate influencers in most topic areas and the types of content an influencer chooses to share. It’s a far more efficient method for seeking out influencers than traipsing through the web in the hopes of finding the right people.
Other key influencers to explore include what social media strategist Starr Hall calls “high-level networkers.” They can be industry experts, members of the media, or decision-makers within a specialized field. Don’t be daunted by the prospect of contacting high-level networkers with thousands (or even tens of thousands) of followers. Making connections is one of the reasons they became influencers in the first place.
2. Begin a Campaign of Engagement
Remember to reach out to influencers in a spirit of engagement, not exploitation. If you make it all about you and how wonderful your business is, the relationship will go nowhere.
The first action you take can be as simple as inviting an influencer to join your social network. Starr Hall encourages interacting with influencers in Twitter chats, actively participating in the discussion, and providing insights of value. This helps get their attention and may result in them choosing to follow you.
Other ways to engage these online movers and shakers:
- Share the content they produce and tag them in your article or blog post
- Ask them to contribute a guest post on your small business blog
- Invite them to participate in a webinar or online roundtable discussion
Business journalists are a tougher breed to engage. As Matt Heinz, founder of Heinz Marketing, notes, they’re looking for a good story, something that reinforces their status as a thought leader and progressive thinker. If you do reach out to them, Heinz suggests packaging your information into a compelling narrative, addressing a problem your target audience has struggled with. Better yet, come up with a controversial take on a topic you know inside and out. Influencers greatly enjoy stories that spark interest and discussions among their followers.
3. Acknowledge the Contributions Influencers Make to Your Brand
According to Britt Michaelian, founder of the podcast Mass Amplify, many bloggers and “emerging influencers” work with businesses in exchange for discounts, gift cards, sample products, invitations to special events, etc. (Note: This approach is not appropriate with business journalists. Stay focused on offering them a fresh take on an industry topic.)
Always acknowledge the influencer in your own content and encourage people in your network to follow these individuals as well. An effective influencer marketing campaign requires time and effort and results won’t happen overnight. But the credibility your brand acquires by association with thought leaders and industry experts is precisely the authentic element so many of today’s jaded and advertising-saturated consumers are looking for.