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The topic of influencers usually focuses on tools more than strategies. Klout, for instance, is not a strategy, it’s a tool that tends to dominate any discussion of influencer discovery and outreach. In this post, let’s talk about strategies that work.

Relationships are at the heart of any effective influencer strategy. People like engaging with people they know and like. Relationships take time, effort and trust.

And relationships of this kind can be just like other human relationships— active or passive, close or distant, substantive or superficial, straightforward or messy, fair or lopsided. I’ve talked to a lot of influencers about what’s important to them, and how they like to be approached. The following are the essential elements to any relationship-based influencer strategy.

1. Focus on mutual value

Before social even existed, marketers and PR pros were building long-term relationships with influencers based on the exchange of different forms of value. There are a few types of value that influencers tend to be interested in besides free stuff. Offering exclusivity in the form of advance review of research, data, and quotes can work well. Access, too, is valuable—can you connect them with people they want to interview or talk to? What type of value you can offer really depends what your company does and your resources, but the best influencer programs I’ve seen are the ones that offer some kind of value that only that company can provide—and not free products.

2. Practice relevance and restraint

That’s right, restraint. Nothing ruins a good thing with an influencer like the tendency to send them everything. Put the itchy trigger finger away and focus on approaching the right people for what you’re promoting. It’s quality over quantity when it comes to influencers, and tailored approaches will get you better results. Take a sentence or two to let them know why they, specifically, are getting the note:

“You’ve blogged about this theme a lot this year, so…”

“Last time we talked, you mentioned that…”

3. Forget automation

Relationships cannot be automated. The people you really want to reach should get personal communications that feel (and are) genuinely human. Some of the best interactions are unplanned or serendipitous. You may run into someone at a conference and say hi. Or something unexpected might come up that you’d love an influencer’s perspective on. This is the type of engagement that people remember. Every time you interact with someone in a different context, you’re adding layers to their perception of you. Which of these is stronger?

“That guy that emailed me.”

Or…

“That guy that retweeted me yesterday, comments on my blog, and emailed me to ask what I thought of [XYZ trend or industry news].”

4. Trust your instincts, too

From time to time, your instincts and anecdotal evidence will suggest that someone is a relevant influencer, but you haven’t seen them in any top 50 lists and the tools you use aren’t giving you the same message. Go for it anyway. Algorithmic results—especially in the influencer discovery space—only hint at influence, but they fall far short of telling the whole story. Offline influence, for example, doesn’t factor into their results. That’s a big gap in knowledge that can only be filled by talking and listening to the people you want to influence.

5. Choose the right indicators

I attended an event where it was pretty clear that the organizers had a list of attendees ranked by Twitter followers or Klout score. Those in the top X percentile were given free mobile phones by the sponsor (a phone manufacturer). Most of these people—myself included—don’t blog, tweet, or really care that much about phones. But there were people at the party that night that actually did blog about gadgets and mobile—and many of them didn’t get the giveaway. Putting aside the fact that giving people free stuff is not a relationship strategy, it’s the perfect example of choosing the wrong indicator of influence. Here are a few indicators that would have been infinitely better than raw score or following:

  • The percentage of their updates or blog posts that have anything to do with the mobile space
  • The reception this content receives
  • The number of links to their blog from established influencers in the mobile space

But since these indicators are more difficult to analyze, most companies will turn to single, arbitrary indicators that are easy to quantify—but have little to do with actual topic influence.

Relationships still win

If influencer relationship building is done right, people don’t feel like they’re “targets” on a list. You’ll know it’s working when the exchanges get less formal, friendlier, and more sincere. Both parties will start to see the value the relationship is creating, and it will evolve into something even better.

  • http://TheSocialSideDoor.com/ Ian Greenleigh

    Glad to inspire :-)

  • http://www.inkjet-uk.co.uk/ Reeha@inkjet

    Interesting post and beyond my expectations. have to search more about that for better idea. 

  • http://TheSocialSideDoor.com/ Ian Greenleigh

    Absolutely. Our customers are doing a great job at recognizing top contributors and brand advocates in meaningful ways. 

  • http://twitter.com/mthompson55 Matt Thompson

    I love the article and 100% agree, but it really is a sad state of affairs for human kind when articles like this need to be written. For the first three points, this article is about being human not a marketer. And it is even sadder when you think that people in the line of communications need training on being human and decency. 

    One question I do have is how this is applying to Bazaarvoice products and clients? Are customers doing a good job of recognizing people that write a ton of great reviews on their site, or share a story, and providing value? Just curious.

  • http://TheSocialSideDoor.com/ Ian Greenleigh

    Yes, but I’d say that the mutual value in those relationships does relatively little for either party. Also, relationships can start there and evolve to something better. 

  • http://twitter.com/jimdeitzel Jim Deitzel

    I mostly agree. However some people want to be targets. And in those cases, the relationship has a mutual and understood agreement. 

  • http://TheSocialSideDoor.com/ Ian Greenleigh

    Speaking of influencers! Thanks, CC. Now you should share the heck out of it so everyone knows how not to pitch you…

  • http://www.cc-chapman.com/ C.C. Chapman

    THANK YOU for writing this!!! I couldn’t agree more across the board! 

  • http://TheSocialSideDoor.com/ Ian Greenleigh

    Thanks, Taylor. Everyone gets those, and everyone does the same thing you do. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/Taylor4484 Taylor McCaslin

    Fantastic article! It’s refreshing to see that not everyone has forgotten about personalized communication. I received an email last week with the greeting “Dear [Title] [Last Name]”, an automated email blast gone wrong. I will say it did not take long to find the unsubscribe from emails button!