Whether you run a fledgling startup or an established business, having an influencer program as part of an overall integrated marketing plan can reap many benefits. Seeking out and recruiting advocates for your product or service will not only act as an effective promotional vehicle but can serve as a feedback mechanism to accelerate your company's success.
To sway influencers or thought leaders in your niche, first figure out who they are. After some years of setting up influencer programs for clients, I’ve discovered these four different types of individuals work the best in promoting a company's product or service:
Doers are people with successful track records for using a product or service like yours. They are likely to have deep technical knowledge and an innate understanding of the industry you’re operating in. They may be experts in using and discussing competitors' offerings and therefore open to hearing from you and having the opportunity to kick the tires of another entry on the market. They'll probably not be shy about giving feedback either.
People literally hang onto the word of these individuals at conferences and events across the country. They are keynote speakers or notable leaders in your field who have been asked to give their opinion on panels or talk to meetup groups about the latest strategies, tactics and trends.
Getting in front of individuals in this group is important as they’ll often be sharing their wisdom to a much wider audience through social media or speaking to a paying audience whose members are taking notes to relay to colleagues. In my experience of speaking at hundreds of conferences, the most tweeted nuggets, after facts and figures, are product or service shout-outs.
This set of potential influencers are not necessarily journalists but rather of experts who spend time regularly sharing their thoughts on blogs or industry publications related to your line of business. Their pieces may appear on their own site or as columns overseen by a third party. Either way, they are actively seeking content to write about. Whatever their niche, they have a task of procuring a regular stream of ideas to blog about. So most writers are open to pitches and ideas as long as they’re relevant and have the potential to generate an impact among their following.
According to Experian Marketing Services, people spend 27 percent of their time on social media. So it makes perfect sense to find influencers who have a rich and active digital footprint. They have a lot of engaged followers and are actively engaging with their followers in an authentic and effective way. Too often I’ve seen companies investigate the “follower count” of potential advocates instead of doing due diligence to determine which individuals offer true engagement and reach.
After you have selected some influencers to target, here some ways to ensure success:
Keep tabs on the utility and value exchange. In relationships with influencers, consider how to be useful to them: What are you proposing beyond requesting that they talk about your company? Have you set up a viable way for them to experience your product or service and started a dialogue about how it might help them?
How useful is your company's approach for their readers or the people they speak to at events? How does your outreach relate to things they may have said or written about your industry in the past?
What problem is your product or service trying to solve and how will it aid them? Also how can they help you? How are you willing to involve them in the process of building an even better experience? How will you continue to involve them in the future?
Maintain regular contact. The worst thing you can do when kicking off an influencer program is to create a fanfare of communication and then go silent. Set in place mechanisms to sustain the conversation so that requests for involvement don’t simply come out of the blue, on your terms or only when you need something. During the planning process, try to determine a regular rhythm for contact that’s not too demanding on your resources and not too overwhelming for your targeted influencers either.
Having a response protocol set up within your organization is important as well. Success means a two-way dialogue with your advocates and they may have questions and concerns that need quick responses. Be sure that you’re set up to deal with them in this fashion and that your company remains authentic and responsive to this crucial audience.