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A small business owner’s guide to building relationships with influencers

By Will Stevens - September 22, 2017

If you’re running an online business the chances are you’re engaged in a constant effort to attract more customers to your website.

Maybe you’re already well established and have at least one tried and test method of attracting customers, such as pay per click advertising (PPC), but want to find more. Or perhaps you’ve just launched your business and are seeking out as many marketing techniques as possible.

Whatever your position, it’s never too early (or late) to start building relationships with influencers. In this guide we’ll take you through the basics from why influencers matter, to how you can team up with them.

But, first things first…

What are influencers?

Influencers are people who already have the attention of the audience you’re trying to reach with your product or service.

They might be journalists who cover the sector or area you operate in, or they could be bloggers, or even just people with large social media followings.

If they can connect you with the people you’re trying to reach, then they fall under the term influencer.

Obviously this is a fairly broad definition, but don’t worry. We’re going to look at ways you can pinpoint the right people and get them to help you.

But before you can start identifying influencers you want to reach, you first need to understand your target audience.

How can I understand my target audience and why does it matter?

When you’re running a business, there can be a temptation to pretend that your product or service is suitable for everyone, and use that as an excuse to take a scattershot approach to marketing/promoting your business.

However, the truth is that whatever kind of business you run, they’ll be a well-defined group (or groups) who want to do business with you.

It’s part of your job as a business owner to understand the kinds of people who make up these groups, and what makes them tick.

This can seem like an impossible task – after all, isn’t everyone different? How can you possibly be expected to get inside the head of everyone who might want to do business with you?

But that’s not the aim here – the aim is to build up a broad understanding of your potential customers. The way to do this is through developing customer personas.

Personas are a kind of marketing caricature, they allow you to build up a generalise profile of each type of potential customer you might expect to do business with so you can get a good overview of how you should be targeting your marketing efforts.

Now, we haven’t got enough space to go in depth on marketing personas here, but we do have a guide to creating marketing personas which we highly advise you to follow.

Remember, these personas will help you with all your marketing, not just influencer marketing.

Once you’ve developed your personas, you can use them to start to understand the kinds of influencers you should be targeting.

What should I look for in a potential influencer, and how can I understand their needs?

Imagine you could pick between having your business website tweeted by someone with 50,000 followers or 5,000 followers, which would you choose?

The natural reaction for most people would be to go for the account with the highest number of followers – after all, it means your site will get a wider reach, right?

Well, maybe. But as we’ve already hinted at in this article, more isn’t always better. If the account with 5,000 followers focuses on a subject that’s of great interest to your potential customers, it’s likely to do you more good than an account with 50,000 followers that isn’t aligned with your customers’ interests.

So how can you go about finding these high-quality influencers? Well, you’ve already completed the first step by developing your marketing personas. In fact, in doing so you may have already uncovered some potential influencers – for example, if you concluded that your potential customers are likely to read a certain publication, then anyone who writes for that publication is an influencer you should be interested in.

Likewise, if your target customers live in a certain area, then writers for any publication such as a local newspaper that specifically covers that area are influencers.

These kinds of influencers that easily spring to mind are the low hanging fruit of your initial research, you’re likely to already be aware of them, or at least the companies they work for. But they’re still important, so be sure that you include them on your list of potential promoters for your business.

So what about less obvious influencers? How can you uncover those? Well, it takes a bit of leg work, but it is possible.

You can use tools like Followerwonk, and Buzzstream to search by relevant key phrases and uncover people with popular social media presence, or people who run or contribute to a respected website which would be a great place for your business to get coverage.

At this stage you might be wondering why these high profile people would actually want to promote your businesses, so here’s a little secret – influencers are always hungry for things to promote.

Whether it’s a business journalist on a local newspaper who needs stories as part of their job, or an expert in fintech apps on Twitter who wants to be the first to share interesting content to cement their position as a though leader,  influencers are always on the lookout.

Of course, this doesn’t mean people will share details of your business out of the goodness of their own heart, there needs to be something in it for them. Understanding how your business can provide a mutually beneficial opportunity to these influencers will be a key part of your outreach strategy and tactics.

How can I develop an overall influencer outreach strategy?

As with all forms of marketing, you need to have a firm objective for your influencer marketing campaigns. The vague notion of “getting your business website out there” isn’t a good aim, nor is “attracting more visitors to your website”.

You need to pick clear, measurable goals that are limited by time in some way. So instead of “getting your business website out there” you could go for “attracting coverage from ten different, relevant websites in the space of six months”. And instead of “attracting more visitors” you could go for “creating a piece of content that attracts 1,000 new visitors to our website within a month of publication”.

Of course, a true strategy will likely cover a longer period than this. Perhaps up to a year. In some cases, even longer.

It’s ok to start with a one-off goal to help you get started, although it’s always better to make influencer marketing an ingrained part of your overall marketing strategy.

Of course, your exact strategy will depend on the type of business you run, your general marketing aims, and the type of influencer you’re targeting.

Tip: Try developing a tiered approach to connecting with influencers. If you’re just starting out, it can be hard to get the attention of the really big players. But if you can clock up a few smaller wins, which prove you’re knowledgeable, then you can use those smaller win to impress and get the attention of the bigger players.

But what about actually making contact with influencers?

What tactics can I use to develop a relationship with influencers?

A strategy is your overall plan, tactics are the way you carry that plan out. Tactics will vary from business to business, and from goal to goal. But there are some broad factors you should bear in mind.

The first we’ve already touched on – you need to provide something of value if you want to get traction with influencers.

This something of value could be results of research you’ve conducted. You could pitch this data to journalists at local publications, or use it to create a report or ebook, which you can then ask relevant influencers to promote.

The value you offer to journalists is, of course, the potential for a good story, while influencers promoting your report/ebook will most likely get used from the data in and of itself, as well being able to share it to help demonstrate their position as an expert.

Whatever method you decide to use to get the attention of influencers, it’s important to remember that there will be other people vying for their attention too. That means you need to make sure you stand out from the crowd.

So don’t be afraid to outsource content creation to freelancers to help you come up with something really special. It’s not as expensive as you might think, and it will help you develop top-notch ebooks and graphics if that’s the road you want to go down. You can find our guide to hiring freelancers here.

Ok, so what about actually making contact with influencers? Again, this will depend on the tactics you’re employing, but there are still a few broad guidelines.

Cold email or calling does work, but contacting people in this way is always better if they have an idea of who you are. You can use social media to cultivate influencer relationships long before you are ready to launch a campaign.

Follow them on Twitter, and Facebook- answer their question, assist them if they have a problem you can help with, talk to them about mutual interests. That way, when you do need their help with your influencer campaign, they’ll already know who you are.

And course, it’s always possible to meet potential influencers in person – by attending events and conferences. If you want to know more about networking, you can check out this guide.

Tip: When it comes to the actual process of pitching your content (or whatever approach you decide to use) make sure the value you’re offering to the other person is immediately clear. That means if you’re emailing someone, they should understand from the first line of your message why they will benefit from what you’re asking them to do.

How can I measure my results?

You have Google Analytics set up on your website, right? If not, then do it now and don’t delay. You can checkout this guide for more information on how to do it, and take this free course on Google Analytics to get to grips with the basics of understanding how people interact with your website.

Exactly what you measure and how will depend on what you’re aiming to achieve. However, some examples of things you’ll want to cover are:

  • The number of outreach attempts you made, the number of responses you received, and the number of positive responses.
  • The number of links to, and mentions of, your website you generated
  • The amount of traffic from the links you gained, and the number of sales that resulted
  • The number of social media mentions your campaign gained
  • Remember – if it’s possible to measure something that’s relevant to a marketing campaign, then you should measure it.

If you’re struggling, then check out our guide to setting targets and measuring results here.

What’s next?

So you’ve come to the end of your first influencer outreach campaign, what now? Well, whether it was a roaring success or not, the next step is always to analyse your results and see what you can do better next time.

Did people who weren’t keen to share your content provide you with any feedback? If so, take a look at it and work out what improvements you can make for your next piece of content.

Was it easy to get the attention of some less well-known influencers, but almost impossible to attract the attention of anyone bigger? If so, you may want to spend more time trying to build a relationship with the bigger targets.

No matter how well (or not so well) a marketing campaign went, it’s always possible to improve things for next time.

Look at the data you’ve gather from your website analytics, and your interactions with influencers and use it to make sure your next outreach campaign is even better.