Getting a list of key influencers is your industry is the easy part. There are countless “most influential” lists out there, not to mention social media rankings and other tools (such as Little Bird) to give you ranked lists of people you want to influence (as a means of getting your information in front of their followers).
But there’s nuance to engaging & influencing the influencers that most companies miss (or ignore). And the rules that have traditionally worked in the PR world for engaging journalists don’t necessarily work with influencers, bloggers and others who work from a different playbook.
Here, then, are eight recommendations for how to reach out to and engage influencers to increase your success rates moving forward.
1. Give to get
Engage with their content first before you ask for something. Read their posts, favorite and retweet their tweets, comment back on their original content. Show that you’re paying attention and engaging. It will get noticed, and the influencer is far more likely to reciprocate and help you as a result.
2. Don’t assign your PR agency to them
Influencers have egos, but that’s not the point. Journalists may be used to dealing with PR agencies, but most influencers want to hear directly from someone at the company. High-level execs is great, but community managers are just as good in most cases. Just don’t have Tiffani from the PR agency (who doesn’t know the industry and will apply the same pitch to everyone) be the face of your engagement.
3. Get to know their audience & focus areas
This doesn’t have to take a long time. Scan through their tweets, their blog, their LinkedIn profile. Find out what makes them tick. Find out how they make money. Align your approach and message to something you already know they care about.
4. Give them a good story to tell
Influencers typically either have publication channels of their own (blogs, video feeds, etc.) or are sharing information in other formats (tweets, discussion boards, etc.) with their peers. Having good information or a compelling story reinforces their position as an influencer, thought leader and forward thinker. Don’t just share information. Shape that information into a compelling story.
5. Make them look smart to their followers & readers
What new angle hasn’t been discussed or covered before? What new feature solves a problem that your audience has been struggling with for a long time? Have something controversial you want shared? Influencers love that stuff. They love to share it with their followers & readers, but they also like to feel like insiders. They like hearing things first. Even if they can’t yet share it, they’ll feel special knowing it. And they’ll pick up the phone (or read your email) more often the next time you come calling.
6. Start your asks small
Don’t ask an influencer for a 1,000 word guest blog post right away. Ask for a one-line answer to an easy question for a crowd-sourced blog post instead. Or give them a sneak preview of some research you’re releasing in a week or so, and let them blog about it or tweet a copy to help you build buzz plus give them a scoop for their readers. You can build to bigger asks (guest posts, participation on your webinar, etc.), but you need to invest in the relationship first.
7. Get face time with them at events & conferences
This can be grabbing a quick coffee, stopping by to say hi after they get off stage, or prioritizing them at the after-hours parties. Don’t linger longer than feels natural. Say hello, make a quick impression, and move on. But use the real-life face time to accelerate familiarity and trust that can be leveraged for weeks and months afterward when you’re back at your respective offices.
8. Ask for their feedback (but make it fast & easy)
Influencers want to be thought of as experts, so appreciate being asked for and giving their feedback & advice. But they don’t want sit through a 45-60 minute interview or screening to do so. Make the asks small. Send them a screen shot and ask what they think. Or have one of your product managers give them a call with a single this-or-that feature question. Great way to get their insights, give them a heads-up to something you’re thinking about, and accelerate/expand the relationship.
I asked a handful of influencers I greatly admire to throw their advice into the ring as well. Here are some of their responses:
From Neil Patel:
Keeping an email to one or two sentences may seem simple, but it is powerful. Most influencers get hit with long emails that are exhausting to read, which cause them to get not respond to emails. So if you want approach and engage with an influencer, keep your email short and to the point.
From Jon Miller:
DON’T connect to me on LinkedIn with a generic request – customize your message and tell me why I should connect.
From Jim Keenan:
Review their blog (content), promote their better bigger ideas, incorporate their “thought leadership” into your posts, incorporate their philosophies into your content, give them play in your world, develop an ongoing 30-60 day promo/pr campaign for their stuff for BEFORE you need anything from them.
From Anthony Iannarino:
First, create value before asking to claim any. If you want to engage, share the influencer’s stuff before you ask them to share yours. Then, ask for something the influencer can easily give you. If they don’t use guest posts, they aren’t going to give you a guest post slot. Ask them instead if they’d mind tweeting or sharing your content.
From Joe Pulizzi:
How about this one? Buy their blog. I think this is an incredibly underutilized strategy.