You want to make it big in the music business and your friend Justin Timberlake tells his fans and friends they should check you out. Or you’re trying to spread the word about your cause and lucky you, Oprah’s going to throw some love your way on her radio show.
And now for business… You have a new company, product or service and you just happen to know your high-profile contacts such as Richard Branson and Bill Gates will take a look and possibly put a word in for you in a blog post.
Perhaps connections like these are a bit too good to be true. Even still, with a little work and some smart outreach communications, you can identify influential people in your field, connect with them and benefit from the relationship.
This is the age of new media, right? There are generally fewer degrees of separation. Great ideas can emerge faster. Big thinkers can find a way onto the radar of business leaders.
It’s called influencer marketing.
I’d like to help you understand what it is and how to make it serve your goals.
Influencer Marketing is…
- Targeting people your prospects trust for information.
- Engaging people who guide the important conversations in your niche.
- Creating kinships with people whose endorsement will forward your marketing objectives.
The people I refer to are influencers. The marketing tactic that goes to work when you get influencer marketing working is word-of-mouth, the most powerful kind of marketing in any era, market or media. The process isn’t exactly magic, but its effect could indeed be magical.
The process is essentially relationship building.
An influencer might be a celebrity, business leader, teacher or author. The influencer’s audience might be large or small.
How do you build relationships with someone who sways opinion?
The key is reciprocity. This powerful principle of persuasion has been taught countless times as a key to building influence. Influencer marketing essentially amounts to building influence with influential people.
Using reciprocity to gain influence.
In an article from Mind Tools, “The Influence Model,” the author breaks down the Cohen-Bradford Influence Model (originally published in the 2005 book, “Influence Without Authority”) into six steps:
- Assume all are potential allies.
- Clarify your goals and priorities.
- Diagnose the world of the other person.
- Identify relevant “currencies,” theirs and yours.
- Deal with relationships.
- Influence through give and take.
In the infographic I created below (in collaboration with Placester), Velocity Partners co-founder Doug Kessler states the concept oh-so-simply as it relates to using influencer marketing in your content marketing.
“If you want an influencer to be a shiny cog in your content distribution machine, be one of the hardest-working cogs in theirs.”
Best friends: influencer marketing and content marketing.
“Creating remarkable content is the first step to an effective strategy but if nobody actually interacts with your content it’s a lost effort. Finding the key influencers that will amplify content is the next step. This is where content marketing and influencer marketing become best friends in modern marketing.”
(From “Why Influencers are Essential to Content Marketing Success” by Arthur Hilhorst on Onalytica.)
The key to succeeding with influencer marketing with your online efforts is to concentrate on content. Traackr VP Evy Wilkins wrote in “The Ultimate Guide to Content Marketing & Influencer Strategy, “content is the currency of influence.”
Evy teaches aligning your influencer and content strategies guides the process. She emphasizes (1) active listening, (2) collaborating with influencers to produce content, and (3) tactics for getting started and maintaining momentum. I’ll be using this construct to guide the tips that follow.
Listen closely and actively.
Perhaps the largest challenge in influencer marketing is understanding how to create a content strategy that aligns with your objectives. I answer questions along this line daily. The answer, at large, traces to uncovering the subject matter and media “plays” that will best resonate with your audience. Let’s get into the specifics.
Tune into your audience.
The influencers you want in your camp are, of course, accomplished content marketers. Their approach to content will help determine yours. The key is “listening,” which in the world of content marketing, really means reading (of course you may also be “playing” and “viewing” media assets that showcase multimedia).
Rather than setting out to consume everything, focus on what influencers are creating and how the content is received. You’re bound to see which topics create the most conversation and sharing. You may identify gaps your content can fill and the questions you’ll address with your content. Ultimately, the sometimes overwhelming task of editorial planning, will come together far more easily when you commit to observing real-world engagement.
Plan your content.
By auditing who’s doing what and what is and isn’t working, you’ll have the insights you need to create a content plan that includes your topics and influencer targets.
Your research should help set a content creation agenda of sorts, which may be a 30 to 90 day editorial calendar. I caution you to not plan further in advance or be too rigid in your approach because it’s important to be nimble and responsive to remain on top of emerging trends.
Don’t torture yourself with content planning. Assemble your team, toss out the conclusions you’ve drawn from your research (listening) and commit to getting busy on what now feels like the smartest plays. You’re marketing in the digital age, so remember, everything is an experiment. The good news is the results come back fast.
The strategies discussed thus far are perpetual ones. Keep listening. Keep auditing. Keep adjusting.
Use your influencers as your content thermometers. Track their work with social media tools, feeds and Google Alerts. You’ll get a feel for what’s coming, what’s hot and what’s not.
If an influencer you’ve identified is addressing a topic repeatedly with consistently good results, don’t make the mistake of concluding the topic’s taken. Bring your point of view to bear.
Join the conversation.
While executing your content plan is all-important, responding in real-time is crucial too. Speak up in these ways:
- Express your opinion in response to an opinion piece.
- Offer select pieces of your content that are relevant to the conversation.
- Facilitate connections and new relationships amongst influencers and audience members.
- Say “thank you.”
How might you do the above?
- Comment in blog comment threads.
- Respond via social media.
- Create new content in response to what you’ve seen start a conversation.
- Write targeted and personal emails.
- Write reviews where applicable (such as a book review on Amazon).
- Bring the discussion to special interest groups such as LinkedIn Groups or Google+ communities.
These types of activities will not go unnoticed by your influencers. They’re influential because they’re forever aware of the sentiments of the people they influence.
Collaborative content creation is the ultimate influencer marketing play.
I’m often accused of being influential in the content marketing space. Why? I’ve created content for and with marketing influencers.
The infographic below is a perfect example. While the majority of people quoted in the graphic know me because of past meetings, exchanges and content creation projects, the ones who did not now do. I included them in a piece of content that positioned each person alongside the very best, and then, went viral. The popularity this infographic, of course, had a lot to do with the featured marketers promoting the work to their large and engaged networks.
The idea above—creating content for and with marketing influencers—can be done is so many ways. My infographic example is a good one. Here are several more:
- Include their content in yours. Embed their tweets, Pins, G+ posts, etc. Quote influencers in your post. Showcase their media such as SlideShares, YouTube videos and infographics.
- Interview them. Do a video interview, podcast, written interview, roundup post or all of the above. Don’t be bashful about asking. You may not get 100 percent participation (influencers are busy), but you’ll be surprised by the outcome. Almost everyone I ask for interviews accepts and I accept most requests I receive. Influencers enjoy being interviewed and value opportunities to find new audiences (even if they are small).
- Create roundups. The infographic presented here is a roundup (I rounded up 22 quotes). However, your roundups need not require the participation of influencers. You can simply write about several in one piece. For example, I created “26 Helpful Emails I Get, Open and Read (and You Should Too).” It became one of my most popular posts in 2013.
I identified the seven marketing leaders included in the presentation above by reading their books and blogs, meeting them at conferences and/or building relationships via social. Their participation made this SlideShare deck great and their endorsements helped make it popular.
As a result of creating the “Hall of Shame,” I came to know many more influential marketers in these peoples’ social circles. New opportunities followed including guest blogging opportunities at Copyblogger, Convince and Convert, Content Marketing Institute, Social Media Examiner and more.
Heidi Cohen, who is featured in the presentation, is a big practitioner of creating roundup content. As a result of including Heidi in my presentation, I am often featured in Heidi’s great roundups.
Takeaway: influencer marketing isn’t just reciprocal; it’s contagious.
- Base stories on your influencers. I heard Mr. X speak and… I read Mrs. Y’s great book and… I tried Group Z’s ideas and… That’s influential stuff.
- Return all favors. When you’re practicing influencer marketing, your turn will come. You’ll be asked to be included or featured in your influencers’ content. Be 100 percent available and generous.
Consider also, driving the process. Reach out to your influential friends when you’re confident you have something of value. Some examples of things I do (or hope to):
- Offer your infographics and presentations.
- Invite them to your webinars.
- Deliver research you’ve conducted. Check out this powerful example of content marketing superstar Andy Crestodina doing precisely this. Andy included me in his survey, asked me to answer a question related to it, gave me early access to the research and tagged me often in his social shares.
Meaningful momentum-maintenance tips.
Here are some tips for maintaining the momentum of the content marketing tasks critical to your influencer marketing program.
Create an idea file.
Use WordPress, a spreadsheet, a planning calendar or any tool you prefer to record ideas. After creating them, let ‘em stew. They may or may not look compelling when you return. That’s okay. If they do, you’ll be glad you captured them.
Again, influencer marketing is largely reciprocal and your deeds will mostly be rewarded. When they’re not, don’t take it personally. Move on. If you’re in an attractive and lucrative space, you’ll score plenty of meaningful relationships by putting in the effort.
It can’t be overstated how reciprocal influencer marketing is, so “do unto others.” Understand how you can be most helpful and get on it.
Make it easy.
Key tip here. If you want the cooperation of a busy leader in your field, offer every conceivable option when asking for something… We can have a call, chat, email… You can point me to a resource. Don’t be difficult or needy.
I’ve deliberately stayed away from metrics and analysis to keep the length of this post under control, but do establish a measurement system—formal or otherwise—to help you ascertain whether your efforts are being rewarded or not.
Your first round-up, book review or interview may not deliver you from zero to well-known, but you need to be realistic and patient. When roadblocks occur, try other avenues. If you have the chops to pitch your guest blogging services, fallback to this strategy often.
Influential people in your industry, especially the content creators, are forever in-tune with social media. Don’t forget this. Forward their cause.
Influencer Marketing Infographic
Questions? Comments? They are all welcome. I’m here for you. And if you’ve gathered the tips I’ve offered today, you’re here for me too.
Let’s get reciprocal.