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How to engage with a social media influencer

Last week, I spent some time talking about how to find a social media influencer. This week, let’s spend some time talking about what to do once you’ve found them.

In my opinion, engaging with a social media influencer hinges on three key factors:

  • the social media platform in question
  • the relative level of influence/popularity that the influencer exerts compared to your own level of influence
  • your willingness to give without expecting/demanding anything in return

Let me explain each with a bit more detail.

The social media platform often dictates the methodology that you should use to engage with your influencer. Here are three examples:

  • If you’re trying to connect with an influencer on Twitter (e.g. get them to follow you and/or retweet your content) you should start by simply following them, then move onto retweeting their posts (when you really feel that their posts are worthy of retweeting) and then attempt to directly @ reply them when you think you have something to add to their conversation (example: the influencer asks a question and you reply with a well-thought-out and/or humorous response).
  • If you’re trying to connect with an influencer that is a blogger (e.g. get them to read your site, link to your site, partner with your site in some way, etc) you start by simply subscribing to their site (via RSS or email) then move onto mentioning/linking to their blog posts within your site/blog/twitter feed/Facebook feed as well as commenting on their individual blog posts. Finally, after you’ve spent some time (at least a few weeks) contributing to their site in this manner, you can attempt to reach out directly (via email, contact us form, etc).
  • If you’re trying to connect with an influencer that is a forum or group admin (e.g. get them to allow you to create threads that link to your site, reach out directly to members of the forum, create signatures with links/mentions of your site, etc) you would start by simply replying to existing forum/group discussion threads and also starting relevant threads of your own. After you’ve spent some time (at least a few weeks) contributing to the forum/group in this manner, you can attempt to reach out directly (via email, PM, contact us form, etc)

Now here’s where the relative level of influence/popularity comes in. The more popular/influential the individual/site in question (compared to your own level of influence) the longer you’ll likely have to spend contributing before getting any sort of return on your effort. So for example, if you’re working in the online marketing niche and to engage with an upper-echelon social media influencer like Lisa Barone from Outspoken Media be prepared to spend a long time (think weeks, months, or maybe even years) contributing to her content (comments on her blog posts, retweets, links to her content) before getting any sort of return on that effort.

Why?

Frankly, because Lisa has more important things on her plate and because you’re competing with dozens if not hundreds of other entities that are vying for her attention. So don’t take offense if the influencer(s) you’re targeting don’t initially acknowledge your efforts to contribute. Just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, building your network of niche influencers will take time (regardless of what your particular niche might be).

Note: There is one well-known short cut, which is to buy to buy these mega influencers a drink at a conference that they are attending (that’s how I got the opportunity to meet and learn from Lisa’s mega SEO-influencer buddy, Sugarrae).

That brings me to my final point regarding a willingness to give without expecting anything in return. In my experience, social media engagement is one of the ultimate manifestations of karma. What I mean is that people who are truly out to help and contribute to the community (and the influencers within that community) are often the ones that receive the most in return.

This bears itself out most in the realm of SEO link building (which some might argue is the original form of social media engagement). Simply sending out an email asking for a link without giving anything in return typically has an extremely low success rate. On the other hand, a carefully planned out campaign to connect with a webmaster, blogger, etc and propose a mutually beneficial partnership will often result in not just a single inbound link, but a series of contextual, anchor-text friendly inbound links on an ongoing basis.

Granted, these types of holistic engagement efforts take time, which is something that C-level executives don’t want to hear (which is why it’s so hard to get corporate buy-in and budgeting for these types of holistic, grass-roots social media efforts). Moreover, sometimes these types of grass-roots efforts generate absolutely no return on investment (there’s no guarantee that every influencer will ever engage with you, no matter what you do) but the long-term marketing equity that the successful attempts provide will far outweigh cookie-cutter email campaigns.

Now I’m not suggesting that you abandon email outreach efforts for SEO link building or social media engagements. In fact, it’s a core aspect of our SEO programs. What I am suggesting, however, is that you infuse some of the techniques mentioned above to help improve the success rate of those emails you’re sending. For example, one thing I’ve found successful is to email any site that links to us for the first time and simply thank them for the effort. I find that just acknowledging a webmaster can break the ice and lead to a deeper connection.

P.S. One last thing worth mentioning is that, as usual, big brands have an inherent advantage when it comes to engaging with influencers. Since their own level of influence is high up on the scale, it’s usually easier for them to make an immediate connection with minimal effort. That’s why sites like the American Express OPEN forum for small to medium businesses are able to recruit some of the most influential bloggers in the world to write for them. It’s also why SEO link-building outreach (even the cookie-cutter email variety) is usually wildly more successful when done on behalf of a Fortune 500 company then when done for a small company or start-up.

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