How to Build Relationships with Influencers from Scratch

Let me tell you a story. Some time ago I used to work for a quite well-known digital marketing tool. My colleague and I were on a mission of building relationships with influencers. To give you some context, at that time asking for a product review in exchange for access to a product was a common practice no matter how influential a person is. We had been following this strategy and it worked pretty fine before we reached out to a person that didn’t believe that it was okay. He wrote a post criticizing our strategy, shared all screenshots of our email exchange and so on. This post turned out to be a quite successful one; it was shared and commented by numerous readers of that influencer. As you can imagine, the fact that the tool established itself as an industry leader and built a strong community was not helping at all.

The key takeaway from this story is that building relationships has nothing to do with trade. It’s not similar to a barter where you could exchange something for something. You should make influencers believe that you truly care and understand their needs rather than you’re looking for quick wins. 

In this post, I am going to show you how to build strong bonds with influencers and make sure that your relationships with them will be fruitful and mutually beneficial.

Why you Need It

It may seem obvious to many of you, but surprisingly, I’ve met a lot of business owners that still do not realize it: influencer marketing is extremely effective. The main reason behind it is the fact that influencers’ audiences are genuinely loyal and tend to follow their advice.

Of course, some brands try to look more “human” and build ties with their consumers by speaking directly to them; some brands are even successful doing that. But I strongly believe that while it is possible to develop such a level of human-brand trust, it demands an enormous amount of resources. Sometimes it does pay off, but the risk of failing miserably is too high, and not every business can afford such an expensive mistake.

Having a pool of trusted influencers spreading your brand message may be quite effective. Building it is a tricky task, but with a clever strategy, everything is possible. So let’s start!

Finding a Perfect Influencer

Finding the right person is the first step of your journey. Influencers come in all shapes and sizes, and your primary goal should be to find the most suitable ones. 

But before you even start looking, you have to understand who is your ideal influencer. What you must keep in mind is that your ultimate goal is not to make friends with a blogger, but to connect with their audience. Hence, you should make sure that it resonates with your business. 

For instance, if you are a local business, there is not much sense in collaborating with a nationwide blogger whose readers come from all over the country. Chances are, none of them live anywhere nearby you. Or, if you are a big B2B company with a certain reputation, it might be not wise to work with a blogger who uses profanity or expresses radical opinions that may upset your core audience.

Also, you should be aware of the fake influencers problem. Yes, since the demand for influencer marketing is so big, some people make use of it creating fake profiles and making their living from it. Make sure you don’t fall into this trap.

Here are a couple of questions you should ask yourself when evaluating an influencer:

  • How old is their profile?
  • How close is their tone of voice to your brand’s?
  • Could their audience be interested in your product or service?
  • How often do they publish posts that are relevant to your business?
  • How often do they promote other brands?
  • Do their engagement metrics look natural?

Where to Find Bloggers that are Relevant to your Product or Service 

There are quite a plenty of tools and techniques that can help you mitigate some of the issues I mentioned above. Here are some of the steps I take to find bloggers that are relevant to my client’s niche:

Monitor Relevant Content

To speed up the process of uncovering industry influencers I use the BuzzSumo tool. It allows me to uncover content that is written by industry leaders on a specific topic. 

Go to BuzzSumo and search for a term that is relevant to your niche. For instance, I’d love to connect with more fellow link builders. Just perform a search with ‘link building’ term and you will see a list of posts for a given time period. Different social media engagement stats come in particularly handy.

The best thing about utilizing BuzzSumo is that it allows me to export all results and see authors’ names in a separate column. 

Another useful feature allows you to find all posts created by a certain person by using the “author: XXXX» parameter. It helps a lot because this way you can filter out those bloggers that did only a few posts versus those who do it on a regular basis:

Besides searching with terms relevant to your niche you can also review guest contributors that write on the top-notch industry blogs. Below you can see a list of authors who published their articles on Search Engine Watch. Naturally, it is safe to presume that they are considered experts in their niche and collaborating with them can help you a lot.

Top Authors is another feature that makes me really happy. It helps you to find the most effective influencers in a given niche. Probably it is the quickest way to find bloggers who publish content that is relevant to you.

Find Referring Domains

Another way of finding influencers is looking through your rivals’ referring domains. Among the pages that are linking to their site might be a good number of influencer’s. To get access to a website’s referring domains you can use a variety of tools such as Ahrefs and CognitiveSEO

For example, the screenshot below shows two guest posts on different websites written by two different authors that link to the same website. Of course, I am not implying that it was some kind of an organized campaign. Most likely, these guest authors used the data from the source website because they considered it credible. What if they were aware of an alternative source of information (your website, for example) and believed it was more valuable? This is exactly what influencer relations are needed for.

To ease the process of uncovering the most recent influencers posts that are referring to your competitor’s site I highly recommend using the Ahrefs report that shows new links. Apart from providing information on possible influencer connections, it can also be a good source of intelligence: if your competitor starts an influencer marketing campaign, you will be among the first to know. 

Discover Twitter Influencers

Finally, you can use tools like Followerwonk that allow you to search through Twitter bios and get the list of the most influential experts within your niche. To make sure no fake influencers appear in this list, Followerwonk uses the special Social Authority score that is based on engagement metrics.

While all the aforementioned tools and techniques are extremely helpful, please don’t forget that no tool can replace common sense. You still will have to handpick the bloggers to work with by manually checking their accounts and monitoring the way they interact with their audience. 

And once you pick the ones you want to collaborate with, the real work starts. Now you have to reach out.

How NOT to Reach Out to Influencers

There are myriads of ways to screw up the process of establishing a connection with industry experts. Here are a few of the most common ones:

Lack of personalization and using some dirty tricks

If you ever owned a website, I bet you were getting dozens of such emails on a daily basis. They are clearly sent out to thousands of recipients simultaneously, so probably they won’t even call you by name. Dull, unimaginative, copy-and-pasted templates containing the same dusty old compliments. They ask you for a link, or permission to publish an article that contains a link, or just a mention… they are countless, they are annoying, and sending such email is the easiest way to get instantly blacklisted.

As for tricks, I added a screenshot below where I highlighted the “Sent from my iPhone” line. It really looks odd since the email was clearly part of a large-scale outreach campaign,  and adding such misguiding lines does not do any good for a sender.

Asking for a favor without providing any value 

Whether you want to ask someone for a link from their website or to share your super insightful article with their social followers, just asking is not enough. You must explain why you think it will provide value for their audience and how they can benefit from it. If an influencer has never heard of you, they have literally zero reasons to do anything for you. Demanding something out of the blue is the best way to get ignored or (the worst possible scenario) made fun of.

Adding a wrong value proposition 

I often hear of this mistake being made by SaaS companies. Offering access to your product in exchange of a favor may not be the most effective way of interacting with influencers. It has nothing to do with your product quality, it is about influencers’ needs. Let’s say you develop a specialized CRM for catering companies. You know that there is a food blogger who is extremely popular among such companies owners. Does it mean that this blogger needs free access to your tool? Not at all.

How to Connect with Influencers and Journalists in a Meaningful Way

You only get one chance to make a first impression. Don’t spoil it! Here are some tips to help you start off on a right foot with influencers:

Show Your Interest

I prefer to use social media for breaking the ice to make influencers familiar with my name before reaching out via email. For instance, I connect with them on LinkedIn and start promoting their content across my channels. To show them that I value them highly, sometimes I even create custom-designed images for my posts about their activities. It helps to catch their attention and make them appreciate your effort. 

Show that You Care

Before approaching a blogger with an email, do some homework. You need to spend some time on getting through their posts and writing up something meaningful. In an ideal world each and every initial email has to be unique and custom-tailored for the recipient. Unfortunately, it is not always a realistic scenario, but you have to add at least a few sentences that will make it clear that your message was not delivered in a bulk.  

Don’t Slow Your Pace

Once your conversation with an influencer has started, make it clear that you are interested in building a long-term relationship rather than taking advantage of quick wins. For example, explain how exactly you could help them grow their brand. Among other options, you can keep promoting their posts across your SMM platforms, feature them in your newsletters, invite them to contribute to your most recent round-up post or even leave a quick quote in your next guest post.

One of the best ways to give a great shout-out to experts is putting together a roundup post without even asking them to write anything up. Take a look at this article by Adzooma: they created a list of the most influential Google Ads experts and voila!

If something goes wrong and your emails stop getting responses from an influencer, don’t panic. It does not necessarily mean that they do not want to cooperate with you anymore. Sometimes it is just impossible to keep track of all conversations. In this case, a finely-crafted follow-up email may come in handy. 

Now that you have some conversations started, let’s talk about influencer management.

How to Manage Influencer Contacts

First things first, you need to set up some process to make things less messy and easily manageable. I recommend starting with getting rid of all spreadsheets if you use them for influencer management. Since growing the number of active contacts on a monthly basis should be your priority, this list may grow huge and get out of control pretty fast.

What you need is a tool that allows you to track all interactions with your industry experts that can be shared with other team members. It has to have some custom sorting options, for example, to create lists of the most and least active influencers. 

Back in the days when I used to work with bloggers, I was using a CRM tool that is called Nimble. It’s a great tool but it is designed to manage sales processes rather than influencer relations. However, time flies and now there are tons of awesome tools on the market that are solely focused on managing your influencer marketing campaigns.

Once you select a tool that will help you manage all the interactions with influencers, you need to create a list of activities that will be beneficial both for your brand and bloggers. You should keep in mind that you need not only capitalize on an expert’s community but also help them grow it. 

How to Build Stronger Bonds with Your Expert’s Community

Some marketers think that the tough nut to crack is to connect with influencers. On the opposite, I think that it is the easiest part; the real job is to maintain those relationships and keep bringing value to your industry experts on a regular basis. Your goal is to turn them into brand ambassadors that are keen to promote your brand whenever it’s possible.

Need some more ideas on what to do once you have a loyal influencer by your side? The possibilities are countless, here are just a few of them.

Asking an expert to contribute to your blog. 

Actually, that might not necessarily be a full-fledged guest post. You could ask an influencer to drop a quote for an article that you create. It will definitely help you promote your post once it’s live. 

On the screenshot below taken from this article, you can see a quote from an expert which adds depth to the post and promotes an influencer at the same time.

Another option is a roundup post such as this one. It contains a mixture of expert answers and some additional information, also don’t forget about the importance of a visual appearance and usability of your post.

Inviting an expert to host a webinar 

The good thing about webinars is that they do not demand too many resources; while not every expert is ready to spend hours writing a blog post, preparing for a webinar is much quicker. Also, it gives you plenty of repurposing options. You can create short videos, transcribe a webinar and turn it into a blog post, and so on. 

Creating an online course starring an expert

It may look like a daunting task, but actually creating an online course may be easier than you think. I realize that not everyone has the resources to put together state-of-the-art online courses such as SEMrush Academy’s, but it’s still quite possible to create a decent course. The most important part is making it genuinely valuable for your and the influencer’s audiences.

Organizing a conference and inviting an expert to speak

“Organizing a conference” sounds like a lot of work, right? Well, that is true, but you can start with a smaller scale online event. If everything goes well and you successfully bring experts and their audience together for an online conference, who knows how far it may take you? Digital Olympus started online, and now we are preparing to meet thousands of attendants in an offline event in Poland.

Conclusion

Building relationships with influencers is not easy. Remember that you will inevitably make mistakes, and not everything will work as intended. What you need to remember is that every time you fail you learn something new. Use this new knowledge to develop your influencer marketing skills, and it will eventually pay off.

PS: If you want to store all your influencer contacts in one place, pitch them with ease, and analyze the results, you can do it all using Prowly.