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5 Techniques to Engage With Influencers

on March 8, 2011

I feel a little overwhelmed with the endless advice on “How to engage with influencers” and “How to pitch bloggers.” Each piece I see keeps echoing the same recommendation: “Find out what interests the influencer or blogger and then pitch them that.”

Is that it? Sure feels like it’s missing a few steps. Maybe there’s actually something I could do that would actually get me to that point.

Here are some suggestions, but first…

Three universal principles for all engagements with influencers

An initial engagement with an influencer can result in another engagement, and then another. Do that enough and you’ll actually have a relationship. That’s the ultimate goal.

In a recent article, “Want influencers to pay attention to you? Pay attention to them first,” I explained the three basic principles of engagement:

  1. Everyone enjoys being recognized.
  2. Everyone enjoys a compliment (or debate).
  3. Everyone enjoys giving their opinion.

For any successful engagement, always keep these three critical principles in mind.

1. Be an influencer yourself

This is the most overlooked, yet most consistent way to engage with influencers. The reason it’s constantly avoided is because it takes time to achieve.

It’s far easier to just broadcast a press release and hope a few people take hold. The problem is that kind of broadcast communications doesn’t seek engagement. It’s designed to see if anyone will parrot your message.

Once you’re seen as an influencer, you’re no longer perceived as a nuisance constantly broadcasting your own agenda hoping others will relay. You become an industry equal and a resource.

The simplest way to become an influencer is to just start a blog and write, video, or podcast about your area of expertise. As you well know it doesn’t work as simply as flipping on a switch. There’s a lot more to it. For step-by-step advice, read my Mashable article, “HOW TO: Jump-Start Your Career by Becoming an Online Influencer.”

People who don’t produce content online often feel overwhelmed. They claim they don’t do it because they don’t have the time. For those people, here’s a little advice on getting started. Read “Blogging advice for people who ‘have no time to blog.'”

2. Leave comments on blog posts because they’ll actually get read

Here’s something to keep in mind. Most bloggers read all of their comments, but they rarely read all of their email. A blog comment adheres to the first two principles of engagement: acknowledge the influencer and then offer a compliment or open a debate.

With that simple understanding, you can put yourself in front of bloggers simply by leaving a comment on an article they wrote. Do this a few times and they’ll remember your name. At that point you can follow up with a personal email and they’ll probably read it.

This “always reading comments” theory also works with tweets.

3. Send customized mass-mailed emails

Yes, customized mass emails can be done. Not only do they look personalized. They are personalized. You’re just merging the activities of mass emailing and personalized messages in a far more efficient manner.

The reason personalized mass mailed emails have gotten a bad rap is because they’re not personalized. We’ve been fooled into believing that just adding someone’s name and company in an email makes it “personalized.” It doesn’t. All you’ve done is identify the person you’re emailing in the message. Not a big accomplishment.

To personalize a mass email, you need to add some context. You can do that by simply adding a longer personalization field, such as “PERSONAL_NOTE,” just like you would have fields for “NAME” and “COMPANY.” Using the spreadsheet where you have all your contact information, add this extra field, and enter an introductory personal line. Use any personal point of contact you can. If you met them in person or talked to them before, recall the last conversation. If not, just reference one of their articles and maybe a comment you left. When you’re done, use Microsoft Word’s mail merge feature for mass emails to create all the emails.

For more efficient personalization tips, read “If you’re going to be fake, try not to announce it.”

4. Take an influencer out to lunch

Influencers are just like you. They like to eat. And they enjoy good conversation. Even the busiest people in the world have to sit down for a meal. A good ‘ole fashioned invitation to grab a meal (make it clear you’re buying) will usually be warmly accepted.

Not everyone’s ready to do that because they may feel a one-on-one meal will put them or the influencer on the spot. To soften the uncomfortableness of the meal and to actually make it a more attractive invitation, why not invite a group (keep it small) out to dinner? If there’s a group of industry influencers you’d love to have a relationship with, chances are pretty good they’ll already know each other and would love the opportunity to get together for a meal.

If that’s still too much cold calling for you, the other option is to find one person that has the industry connections you want. Invite them to the dinner and ask them to extend invitations to others for you. I’ve actually done this for clients in the past and it’s worked extremely well.

5. Give an influencer a ride at a busy conference

The best thing a company ever did for me was pick me up at the Las Vegas airport when I arrived to attend CES. It was seven years ago, and I honestly can’t remember what I saw at that show or who sponsored the parties I attended, but I do remember Podzinger (created by BBN Technologies, later became Everyzing and now RAMP)  picking me up at the Las Vegas airport in a gold limousine.

CES, the largest trade show in Las Vegas, is notorious for very long cab lines. Sitting in the limousine, having avoided a two-hour cab wait, I happily listened to Podzinger’s pitch as they drove me to my hotel. The pickup was an amazing service. I greatly appreciated it. I’ve retold this story to dozens of people over the past seven years, but I’ve yet to hear of anything like it since.

CONCLUSION: Always follow up

Whichever engagement technique you do choose, it’s critical that you follow up after the engagement. I’m stunned how this basic principle of human communications is completely lost on people. People rarely follow up when I hand them a business card. And worse they often don’t respond to my emails after they handed me their business card (for more annoyances like these, read “16 annoying communications that must end in 2011”).

Don’t let follow up be lost on you.  Take notes from your engagement. Those will be your personalization cues that you can use as touch points to send follow up information.

All it takes is a few of these back-and-forth interactions and you know what you’ve got? A relationship…with an influencer. Congrats, you did it.

Stock photos courtesy of Shutterstock.

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