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Stop marketing AT and build relationships WITH influencers

(Originally published on The Financial Brand.)

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Influencer outreach and marketing has evolved as an increasingly popular strategy for communicating your message in a socially networked world. The concept, on the surface, is simple: identify the influencers in your market space with the greatest authority and reach and leverage it.

However, there are a variety of approaches to influencer outreach and marketing and you have to find the one that is most effective for you and your organization.

I am a strong advocate for building relationships with influencers as the foundation for your social networking outreach and marketing activities. If your outreach to influencers is authentic, personal and generous, then the marketing almost takes care of itself.

In this article I will make a case for why this is the best approach for many businesses selling products and services to other businesses (B2B).

Influencer outreach that’s gone off the rails

Before I make my case for how I think it ought to be done, let me tell you a story about an influencer outreach situation in which I was the target – and how it went way off the rails.

This approach has become increasingly common for reaching out to influencers. A marketer sends an email to the influencer, me in this case, inviting me to review and post their content on my site because, the sender suggests, it may be of interest to my readers. The solicitation email may refer to one of my articles that the sender says they’ve read and enjoyed – a tactic that suggests the marketer is familiar with my work, when it’s really intended to overcome the fact that they are a stranger asking for something.

Recently, after receiving the third email in as many days from one such marketer, I relented and took a look at the infographic they were promoting on the topic of the worthlessness of using Twitter hashtags. Despite the compelling visual presentation of data, I felt that my own personal experience of using Twitter hashtags contradicted this conclusion. Hashtags have been very useful to me in a variety of situations and, while I think they are over-used and sometimes abused, this content didn’t seem true to me. I decided would pass on sharing the infographic.

Then, I happened to glance at this marketer’s Twitter handle and saw that a tweet had been posted in which this very infographic purporting to demonstrate the worthlessness of Twitter hashtags was accompanied by, wait for it, the hashtag #infographic. I couldn’t resist writing an email to the marketer asking about this apparent inconsistency which evoked this response: “I didn’t write it [referring to the infographic and the accompanying article]. I’m just promoting it.”

Wow. This company had hired a marketer to reach out to to me to share their infographic and the result is that now I have a less than positive view of the marketer and the company.

Know your market. No, really, get to know them.

This story points to the fact that there’s a lot of cold calling happening out there that’s being passed off as “influencer marketing”. Just because a marketing agency buys an “influencer list” and is now offering to contact them on your behalf doesn’t make it an influencer strategy.

After all, these marketers are usually complete strangers to the influencers. Each time I’m targeted as the influencer, I have the same response for the marketer: why? Why should I take the time to review your article or infographic? Why should I take the time to determine if it’s appropriate for my audience?

These pitches are often couched in language intended to sound like they are familiar with my work and my audience, but most of them are far off my target content areas, so they come off as tone deaf or insulting. At best, they are ignored. At worst, I leave with a negative feeling about the company or brand.

Effective influence outreach and marketing is not cold-contacting influencers and asking for something. Influencer outreach starts from the premise that you want to develop a relationship with an influencer and then leverage that relationship in a way that is mutually beneficial.

When you start from a relationship-centric approach to influencer outreach and marketing, it completely changes how you conduct your outreach. That’s because in order to build a relationship, you have to give something of value in order to get something of value.

If you want to succeed in influencer outreach and marketing, you need to invest in really getting to know the influencers and understanding their goals and objectives, while recognizing that the best way to get their attention and assistance is to give them your attention and assistance.

Effective influencer outreach and marketing for B2B financial businesses

I’ve spent considerable time over my career working in B2B financial services settings where thought leadership and insight-based sales and marketing strategies can be highly effective.

Whether you’re a financial technology vendor offering a better way to operate a business or a financial product manufacturer offering an innovative product for the shelf, relationships with key online influencers – analysts, reporters, consultants, and various other opinion-makers – in your marketspace is increasingly important. These are the people with audience and reach and they drive word-of-mouth discussions in online settings.

Here are some practices that I’ve found helpful in building an effective influencer outreach and marketing strategy:

1. Take a long view

A relationship takes time to nurture and grow. It’s a two-way street. You typically don’t get great results when the first thing out of your mouth is an ask. So, develop the relationship and take a longer term view to generating return from your investment of time and energy. After all, these are influential people you are targeting and they are likely to be around in your industry space for many years to come. The potential lifetime value of these relationships can have a huge impact on your business – and your strategy needs to reflect that.

2. Give value before asking for anything

Building relationships with influencers means offering them some reason to connect with you. The best way to do that is to look for value that you can offer the influencer BEFORE asking for anything. Consider tactics like promoting their content actively to YOUR audience or looking for ways to help them add value to their own audience relationships. Helping people help themselves is not only the highest form of charity – it’s also good business sense.

3. Get personal

As you are nurturing your relationships and offering value and support to your target influencers, look for opportunities to connect personally and authentically. People do business with people they know, like and trust – so be that person. Brands reaching out to influencers is far less effective than individual leaders engaging on behalf of their brands. Don’t lead with an ask, but seek to learn more about the person, their strategy and how you can help them. Use this relationship building to generate some positive social capital that you can cash in later.

4. Become an influencer yourself

Influencers are positively disposed to other influencers. They see each other as peers that have found their way to online social networks as powerful tools of engagement, networking and relationship building. There’s a sense of being a fellow insider when you approach influencers as one of them. If you can’t be an influencer yourself, then hire one to lead your influencer outreach activities.

Conclusion

Marketing is being transformed in the digital social age – and it’s getting more personal.

If you want to leverage the role that influencers play in fuelling digital word-of-mouth networks, the best strategy is to build a foundation of real relationships with real people.

While many aspects of an influencer strategy and implementation plan can be outsourced to an agency or consultant, best influencer outreach and marketing strategy in B2B financial services settings is to help key business leaders in your business to build relationships with online influencers – and ultimately join their ranks.

 

 

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