Imagine you are planning an upcoming product launch. You pick up the phone to buzz the most popular blogger in the entire sector without ever having met the lady. You offer her the chance to write about your favorite subject while promising to send her a couple of screenshots and pictures of your new product. Almost magically, overnight, you get rave reviews from across the wide world of social media.
Okay, now you can open your eyes and stop dreaming because this never happens in the real world. Influencer engagement is far from being an automatic transaction, nor is it managed with a simple phone call. It is based upon a well-designed strategy. It takes a long-term dose of patience to allow for the time required to capture opinion leaders’ attention, to get on their radar and to (slowly but surely) build a relationship to start developing content together.
How long does this process take? Typically, somewhere between six months and a full year. Have you allotted that much time to reach your goals?
The Influencer Journey
To a certain degree, influence marketing is like taking a trip, or what I call the influencer journey. You’ve probably already heard this term and will recall a similar term called the buyer’s journey, which may be described as the evolution that a consumer undergoes before carrying out an actual purchase. It can be broken down into 5 basic steps:
The influencer journey is the evolution that an influencer undergoes from a total lack of awareness of a specific brand to the opposite end of the spectrum where they have become that brand’s ambassador. Visually it may be depicted in the following manner:
This early in the process, targeted influencers most likely know nothing at all about the brand and its internal workings. This is the moment in which the brand has to gain visibility from bloggers, social media users, journalists or online experts – whoever they happen to be targeting.
“Social networks are the best approach for reaching them,” said Danielle Look, Content Coordinator for Relevance, in a webinar about “Content Marketing & Influencers”.
Getting key targeted influencers to begin sharing your content, commenting on blog posts and mentioning you in their posts will only be achieved with a series of thoughtful actions that should never be overlooked in the very early stages of your influencer engagement strategy. Here’s a brief checklist:
- Monitor each and every one of their activities. This can be done by using monitoring tools that comb through the media, social media and blogs they engage with. News aggregators also work well to monitor their latest blog and Twitter postings. Regardless of which system you end up choosing, the vital point here is that you don’t want to miss a single opportunity to respond to their activity and get on their radar.
- Share their social media content. “Like” them on Facebook, retweet them, save them as one of your Twitter “favorites.” Let them know that you are very interested in everything they are saying and doing, and do it by combining their corporate profiles along with their personal accounts. Why? Because influencers – and, for that matter, anyone who has established a web presence – are pleased to know that behind any brand there are real human beings, real professionals. The moment that “devirtualization” with an influencer takes place is when you are able to assign a name, a job, a face to them and then gain their trust.
- Attend their events, workshops, and offline appearances. Continue to grow your interest in targeted influencers’ content by personally attending events, classes or workshops where they are speaking. Moreover, you will become much more visible to them as soon as they realize you are tweeting what they are saying at these events. Attempt to devirtualize yourself after attending an event by explaining “I would love to chat about something you said in your talk,” which will give you a great opportunity to explain to them what your company is doing.
By closely following these points over a period of time, you will successfully gain visibility with these influencers and move onto the next step, credibility.
Once you have moved into their field of vision, the time has come to take another step forward and help them perceive you as being an active player, a content generator and fully committed to this specific sector.
- Comment on their blog posts and/or the articles they publish in the media. This is another way to show your own recognition of what they are doing. But don’t over-do it by piling on excessive praise or simply flattering them. Instead, actively participate in the discussion provoked by their articles and share other similar content with them.
- E-mail or send your own content to them. Do this without being asked to do so or requesting anything in exchange beyond their honest, sincere opinion and response. By forwarding high-quality content, you carve out your own spot within their weekly reading.
- Offer them the chance to test your product. At this point in time, they know you quite well, understand what you do, have attended your events, and read your content. Why not offer them the chance to test your products or services and then give you some real, honest feedback? They will appreciate your thoughtful gesture and find value in testing (and perhaps blogging or posting about) a product within their sector. Additionally, you will receive an expert opinion that will help you improve your own offering.
You have now gained more visibility with your influencers. Whenever they see your logo they immediately associate it with your services or product. They have met a person or two from your team. The time has come to take the next step and to propose some sort of joint collaboration.
- Interviews: Your targeted influencers are well-regarded professionals within your sector, as you yourself are. They work and write about subjects of great interest for your clients and potential customers. So, why not conduct a brief interview and post it on your blog? This not only offers value to your audience, it gives you a wonderful opportunity to recognize your influencers’ work far beyond simply sharing it or retweeting it. Additionally, they’re likely to help distribute the interview across their own networks, which will further drive traffic to your website.
- Recognition content: There are infinitely many different ways to create content that explicitly recognizes and celebrates the work of the targeted influencer(s). For example, earlier this year Augure launched a “communication calendar” for our European market that involved posting a caricature of an influencer every month along with one of his/her quotes predicting what will happen in the world of communications in the coming year.
- Webinars or whitepapers: Why not literally work with them? At Augure, we call this collaborative content. Ask them to generate content expanding on the subject of their latest book, the subject they are going to talk about at an upcoming event or the course they are going to be teaching later on this month. They’ll jump at the opportunity, viewing it as promotion and publicity for their future activities.
- Research: Research and sector analysis tend to be excellent content to boost PR actions. Lean on your targeted influencers to offer feedback and data to fuel your industry research.
This is the phase in which your influencers fall head over heels in love with you thanks to your content, your accessibility and your recognition of their work. This is the point when your influencers, without you exerting any pressure whatsoever, are writing about your products, services or your content, attending the events that you are organizing and freely distributing your content. They are the ones who are proposing ways for the two of you to collaborate on joint projects. At this stage, we no longer refer to them as “influencers,” but rather as “brand ambassadors.”
At this point in the journey, they are part of your company. They play an active role in advisory sessions or panel discussions before a product launch, participate in the communications campaign planning stage and even provide support in event organization and other partnership agreements. Thus, naturally and without even realizing it – solely based on the fact that they are collaborating with a transparent, useful brand – these ambassadors will become a major asset at all levels.
That is the influencer journey in a nutshell. Don’t forget that this may be a two-way street. Keeping your influencers at the right connection level and maintaining their status as a brand ambassador will depend greatly on how well you handle the constant activity flow, on how well you follow your pre-defined strategy, on the transparency of communications with them and the overall quality of your products or services.
Are you ready to start the trip?