Marketing in the twenty-first century is almost entirely about being aware of discussions about and tangential to your brand, responding to and being a part of that conversation, and leveraging those discussions to connect people who have a problem with the solution to that problem.
Online influencers are fundamental to the way those conversations play out and are central to any strategy that relies on capturing attention. So, how do we connect with those influencers in a way that is mutually beneficial?
1. Remember it is still a numbers game
As much as everything that follows will stress upon how important it is to be personal and to avoid manipulative mass outreach tactics, none of that changes the fact that most of your outreach efforts will not go anywhere. Many of your unsolicited emails will not receive a response, and most of them will not lead to a link or mention.
There is no substitute for the power of sheer numbers. Do not get discouraged when you don’t receive a response, or when responses don’t lead to anything taking place in the public eye. If you expect every email to go somewhere, you will only discourage yourself.
Instead, focus on approaches that scale relatively well without losing personalization, and that will allow you to continue reaching out without burning any bridges.
2. Interview them
There’s a reason that interviews have become the go-to format for the majority of podcasters. They lead to interesting discussions that take things in a different direction than either of the personalities would take things on. The collaboration creates a unique piece of content, and the discussion format is something the human brain seems hard-wired to pay more attention to than a monologue.
But that’s not the only reason it’s the go-to podcast format. It’s also because interviews are mutually beneficial, mutually promotional endeavors. The host benefits because their show is more interesting and because the guest is likely to promote the interview, and the guest benefits by taking advantage of the host’s existing audience.
In general, it’s a good idea to focus on reaching out to influencers with a reach similar in size to your own, since this offers the most mutual benefit for both the parties.
3. Tweet them
Most influencers follow their social media activity fairly religiously and will notice when somebody mentions them with an audience of their own.
While merely tweeting an influencer alone isn’t likely to earn any immediate results, it primes them for later discussion. By providing your outreach with context, they will be more likely to listen to what you have to say.
Replying to their tweets also means that some of their followers will see you. Of course you should avoid cynically hijacking discussions to promote your material, but naturally involving yourself in a discussion with them will put you in front of their audience and increase your exposure. Do so naturally and you will be rewarded in the long term.
4. Be relevant
To get past people’s psychological filters, you need to signal the relevance of your communications, as soon as possible. That means, ideally, they should have a reason to listen to what you have to say, even before they’ve finished reading the email subject line.
This kind of relevancy cannot be manufactured.
Being this relevant means that you are paying attention to things they are working on, things they are currently interested in, and most importantly, things that they need or care about.
If you have something to say or ask about, a recent blog post, they have a reason to listen to you. If you have an answer to a question that they’d asked to the public, they have a reason to keep their ears open. If you are contacting them to let them know you are working on so and so project, you have already lost them. You might have something relevant to offer them, but they’ll never know it. They won’t get that far.
5. Scope competitor backlink profiles
It’s not exactly news to anybody in this industry that you can use tools such as Open Site Explorer and Ahrefs to take a look at who is linking to your competitors. You can also use tools like Buzzsumo to see who is sharing your competitor’s pages on social media.
When you are looking for influencers to reach out to, this is one of the best places to start, since you not only know that these influencers take an interest in subjects related to your products, but that they are willing to link to or share this kind of content on their platforms.
6. Identify a list of prospects before you get started
The fundamental difference between a successful approach to outreach and a failed approach is, whether you actually have anything to offer the influencers you are contacting.
To ensure that you do, it’s a good idea to identify who your targets are, even before you develop a piece of content. When you have specific people in mind, you are far more likely to produce something that resonates, not only with them but also with their audience.
There seems to be something hard-wired into the human brain that makes us produce more useful content when we are producing it for a specific person or group of people, compared to a generic audience with some list of traits. This works for the same reason customer personas work well.
Outreach is natural when you’ve created a piece of content with specific influencers in mind.
7. Email every influencer you mention
Any time you write something or produce any piece of media, odds are high you will mention somebody at some point. This is just the natural result of doing your research.
Reaching out to an influencer after you have mentioned them in a blog post, video, or infographic is a natural next step. It gives your communication a clear context and a reason to pay attention.
Don’t expect or force the email to go anywhere specifically from there. Use it as a natural jumping off point for future projects and collaborations.
If they reciprocate your mention with a mention on social media, great. If you portrayed them as an expert, or otherwise favorably, linking to or sharing your post makes sense for them. But if the email doesn’t immediately lead to anything, keep in mind that it establishes a context for a future working relationship.
8. Create content specifically for the target
The thought process here is similar to the one behind identifying a list of prospects before you get started; only in this case, you are going all in on a single individual.
It’s tempting to frame this approach as high-risk, high-reward, but the reality is that the finished project will almost certainly be a great fit for a large number of influencers you didn’t even have in mind. Writing for a single influencer means that you have a very good chance of getting a positive response from them, especially since you can honestly say in your outreach that you were thinking of them when you put it together.
In many ways, this is marketing in its purest form. You are identifying a need in your influencer, meeting it with your content, and then connecting supply and demand with your outreach.
This approach almost always works well, as long as you are familiar enough with the influencer in question.
This post is part of our contributor series. The views expressed are the author's own and not necessarily shared by TNW.