A lot has been written about how to reach influencers, especially on how to build relationships with journalists and other stakeholders on the web.
Most of the blog posts and eBooks available on the topic will give you some standard step-by-step recipe for success:
1. Have a goal in mind
2. Have a strategy before reaching out
3. Give first
4. Follow up
5. Be grateful
There’s nothing wrong with the above. These principles are the foundations of how you go about connecting with people who may be able to help you and your business in the future. What I think is missing from these articles is practical advice on how to execute these strategies. When it comes to building relationships online, the devil is indeed in the detail.
In my experience there are four main principles that can help you execute your outreach activities successfully.
1. Real influencers are not in the business of being influencers, they’re in the business of doing great work
Look for a win-win situation. When it comes to influencers, we want what they have: We want their audience, their authority and their endorsement. The truth is that you have to earn those things. You have to earn them just as much as they earned the positions they’re in today.
The people who can really open doors for you and your business are most likely to be people who opened those doors for themselves in the first place. Those who take their hard work for granted will not be welcome.
If you want to build relationships with strong foundations you have to start with respect. Respect for their craft and for the value they have created. Great partnerships are never about negotiating, at least this is what I’ve learnt. Great partnerships are about serving the other half.
Once you have identified the people you want to engage with, the first question you need to answer is: What can I do for this person? This is not the part about giving first. This is the part about understanding why and how you may be relevant to them. If you can’t see a win-win situation forming you need to find a different approach.
The partnership needs to make sense beyond the typical ‘This would be great for your audience.’ Whatever idea you have in mind needs to be able to impact their business and their work to a level or speed they couldn’t execute on their own.
For instance, if you’re targeting an author, you may want to come up with very concrete ideas on how to promote his/her latest book in a scalable way without spending money. You also want to be clear on how your business can make that happen and how that may help his/her audience and your customers today. Your influencer is ultimately your customer too. They need to buy into your ideas.
2. Giving first is not enough. You need to give the right stuff over and over again
Pull your weight. When you reach out to people to help you achieve something, you normally end up doing tons of work for them before they can return the favour. It’s just the way it works. Sometimes you end up nurturing a relationship for months, sometimes it’ll be years before you can actually see the fruits of your efforts. Much like in content marketing, building relationships with the key people in your sector is a long term game. At least you need to think about it that way so you can stop yourself from burning bridges unnecessarily.
So what are the things you need to give first?
1. Ideas on how to sell more of what they do
2. Ideas on how to amplify their own reach
3. Introductions to people that may be able to help them
4. Relevant books, links and research they can use in what they do
5. Invitation to events they care about
6. Actively commenting and contributing to their content
7. Your time and expertise
If you are not willing to think very hard about how can you help your influencers, then maybe partnerships are not your thing. The best partnerships are those when the other half comes up with ideas on how you both can work together. You earn that by building a productive relationship first. There are a couple of books that I highly recommend if you want to learn the psychological aspects behind building great relationships.
Influencer marketing is nothing new. We just got better at creating tools that help us find the people that are relevant to our businesses. What you do with that information is what really matters.
3. The channel you use to reach out to people matter more than you think
Don’t call people. It sounds a bit odd but the truth is that most people hate unexpected calls. There are many reasons for this but probably the biggest reason is that we all got more conscious about the most important resource we have: TIME.
With mobile devices everywhere you are now in control of when and how you reply to people. You determine when to send an email and when to text back and you plan your day accordingly.
When somebody is calling you without any notice that person is assuming that you are immediately available for them. They are assuming their needs and time are more important than yours. This is another thing you also have to earn: The right to call.
There is a brilliant post called ‘Sorry, No Calls‘ written by by Dharmesh Shah (CTO and Co-founder at Hubspot) that explains the conundrum behind unwanted calls. Have a look at it!
In a business context, email is the easiest way to reach out to people, but if you can’t get warm intros to influencers you need to be able to craft the right cold email for them.
The first thing to remember is that they are BUSY. People producing great work are not sitting around waiting for influencer marketing emails. You need to respect their time. You may have only one shot with that email so you better get it right.
There are a few rules that I found useful when crafting these emails. So far this approach has worked for me.
1. Answer the questions they’ll be asking. Quickly answer the key questions they will be asking themselves as soon as they open the email: Who is this? How do they know me? What does he/she want from me?
2. Let them know you’ll do the heavy lifting. Make sure you mention that you are willing to work around their schedule for that call or the project you are pitching.
3. Be short and to the point. Emails longer than two paragraphs are less likely to be read unless you have some amazing storytelling skills.
4. Don’t ask them for anything. This is probably the most important rule. They are already busy, don’t ask them to do unnecessary stuff for you. Like giving you some time availability so you can call them. You need to give them flexible options they can choose from. Aim for zero overhead.
I personally get a lot of emails from well-intentioned people who are not so good at sending cold emails. The typical mistakes are:
1. Offering to go for a coffee in the first email. This is similar to the phone call scenario. You have to earn that coffee time. If the person you are trying to contact is a busy person (like everybody else), I am sure they can buy their own coffee. What they can’t buy is more time and you are asking for the most important thing they have. Why should they spend time with you?
2. Trying to close too quickly. You need to pitch your idea, I get that, but what you are mainly aiming for is the chance to talk to that person again. Don’t try to get a commitment in the first email.
3. Lack of context. This is about doing your homework. Knowing what the person is working on, their latest interest, making sure they noticed you have taken the time to do the research about them. This is about showing that you are not desperate and you really care about connecting with them.
If you are planning to reach out to people on social media channels you may want to make sure you look into the kind of messages they respond to in open environments like Twitter. Getting people’s attention is never about you. It is always about them. Learn how they normally communicate on different platforms and follow their protocol.
4. Be careful about how you calculate the ROI of a relationship
Focus on the right stuff. We are talking about relationships here. Sure, you can measure the impact a tweet from an influencer may have on your traffic, your key metrics shouldn’t be only about marketing performance. What you really want to monitor is your ability to build better relationships over time. Your ability to come up with better ideas to help people around you and your ability to understand the key players in your industry.
The advice shared in this article equally applies if you are trying to connect with investors, find mentors, build media relationships or create business partnerships. The principles are the same and it all comes down to taking care of the small details and understand the psychological triggers behind building solid relationships.