Influencer marketing is gaining in popularity for several reasons; it holds a high ROI, it’s relatively approachable, and it can support and improve multiple other marketing strategies. However, if you aren’t sure how to find influencers, or how to approach them once you’ve identified them, it’s nearly impossible to build any momentum here.
So what’s the best way to identify, and then approach influencers to support your brand and campaign?
Why influencers matter
First, you need to know who influencers are, and why they matter to your campaign—that way, you can filter out candidates who wouldn’t achieve these end goals. Essentially, an influencer is anyone with significant authority and popularity, who can mention or work with your brand (which helps to earn inbound links) to give it a temporary (yet significant) boost in notoriety.
There are three main benefits here:
- Visibility shortcuts. First, you’ll be able to achieve far more visibility than you could on your own (in a short amount of time). Influencers frequently have hundreds of thousands of followers, and one broadcast can introduce you to all of them at once.
- Authority building. Merely being acknowledged by a high-ranking authority means that you’ll be considered in higher regard. It’s an important step to being seen as a leading voice in the industry.
- Collaboration and connections. You’ll also get the chance to collaborate with a known influencer, which can be a teaching experience and a gateway to even more opportunities and connections with other people.
The ideal influencer
Your success will depend on who you target as a prospective influencer. So what does the ideal influencer look like?
- Large following. First, your influencer should have a large enough following that a mention of your brand will be worth your time investment. At a minimum, they should have several thousand followers, and ideally, they’ll have tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands. Once someone hits 300,000 followers or more, they probably won’t have time to field any requests, so try not to get too ambitious here.
- Shared expertise. Next, you should look for someone who shares at least some of your expertise—i.e., they should probably be in the same industry you are. You don’t have to be the same type of professional (in fact, it’s better if you complement each other), but you should be able to speak the same language. This will make it easier to approach them, and will result in better collaborative material in the future.
- Approachability. You’ll also want to gauge how approachable this person seems. Do they post on a frequent enough basis that you can be sure they’ll see your message? Do they answer lots of follower questions, or do they seem only minimally responsive? The more approachable, the better—especially if you’re new to the scene.
- Openness to collaboration. Collaboration can be a powerful tool for building your content marketing campaign, but the other party has to be a willing contributor. Is this potential influencer someone who’s collaborated with others in the past?
Now that we know what an ideal influencer looks like, what tools can we use to identify these influencers?
Despite all the software that’s available, sometimes the best approach is the easiest; perform a basic search. Look up topics related to your industry, and see who’s writing about them or tweeting about them. Start compiling a list of people you see frequently posting on major publishers, and those who seem to have a large presence within your industry.
Beyond that, I like to use BuzzSumo to help me narrow down candidates. You can use the tool to look for influencers directly, or use it to find trending pieces of content; you can follow the share trails of these pieces of content to reverse-engineer the people with the biggest influences in a given industry.
Let’s say you’ve narrowed the field to a few potential candidates. How can you approach them without being rejected? After all, influencers are extremely busy, and likely receive hundreds to thousands of new requests every week.
You need to frame your request specifically, make it obvious why it’s valuable to your chosen influencer, and show respect for their time.
- The intro. Oftentimes, the best introduction is the simplest one. Follow your chosen influencer, and start commenting on their work. Try to engage them in light conversation if you can, and spend a few weeks getting to know them better. This is crucial; you have to invest the time here.
- The pitch. Once you’ve made yourself visible, you can move in for the pitch. Make sure you have something to offer your chosen influencer, like a piece of content that their audience will love, or a mutually beneficial favour to pay them. Make the ask and see what they say.
- The relationship. After you’ve collaborated, earned a mention, or have paid a favour, work on building the relationship further by frequently mentioning them in your work, citing them, and commenting on their work on social media. The best influencer marketing strategies aren’t built around single-use favours; they’re built around long-term relationships.
Finding the right influencer can be tricky, and approaching them isn’t a guarantee of success, but if you follow these strategies consistently, eventually, you should be able to find a candidate who’s willing to give you what you need. Keep trying until you get your foot in the door, and don’t bother the same influencer too many times.