Authentic influencer marketing: Make good contact with these people ahead of time so they’re not strangers anymore. You’ll be glad you did. This seems obvious but it’s not.
People used to say that you should reach out to blogs and social media influencers to cover your company’s announcement. Such a simple approach isn’t good advice any more though, because the playing field is full of desperate strangers cold-pitching online heavyweights. I was asked tonight by writer David Spark for an example of some no-longer-good advice that seemed to make sense in the past – and I’ve been trying to figure out how best to express this for a long time.
You wouldn’t walk into a crowded party and shout, “ok, who here is the most popular? It’s time for you to tell everyone about ME!” That’s what cold pitching influencers is like. It happens all the time. That’s not what we’re building our startup Little Bird to do, either.
Instead, you should discover people now (right now!), get to know them over time, enjoy the huge wins that come with paying attention to the best in your field, and then pitch them later once you’re a known and respected entity.
I’ve been on both sides of the coin on this, as the first hired writer at TechCrunch and then the co-editor at ReadWriteWeb – people were pitching me constantly. The ones I was the most responsive to were the ones I knew already because we had been talking for weeks before the pitch: about my work, about their work and about matters of common interest. By talking I mean they were tweeting at me and commenting on my blog posts.
On the other side, as a startup guy, consultant and now an entrepreneur I’m the one looking to get other peoples’ attention.
Let me tell you, it works much much better for everyone if you put in the time and can share real value through authentic online (and offline) relationship building. To say it’s worth it would be a drastic understatement.
I got started in my career by posting smart comments on peoples’ blog posts and linking to their posts in my blog posts. (1st person was Barb Dybwad, who is awesome and later hired me.) Today I send people public @ replies on Twitter. I read their stuff and I respond to or reshare it, with commentary. (Most recent example was Glen Gilmore, who I retweeted with commentary and who then followed me back and now I’m DMing with.)
In all of those cases I try to say something that makes the people I’m making contact with say “hey, that’s really useful/interesting – who is this person Marshall who just added that to my public conversation? If he has more things to say that are interesting, maybe I should be following him, too.” That’s how I’ve gotten just about everything I’ve gotten from other people on the internet: I did something interesting that was relevant to them and I used the structure of social media (comments, replies, etc.) to let them know about it. It’s not about stroking egos, it’s about earning peoples’ interest and appreciation for real. That’s not easy but there are ways to make it much easier.
So if you’re thinking “I’ll engage with the leading influencers in my market when it’s time for me to pitch them for coverage,” then you’re missing the point and leaving huge value on the table. (Imagine: “Hey Jared Spool, I have a product for designers – would you re-post my link? What’s that? You’ve written years of incredible content that could boost my professional development if I just read it and you’re coming out with more every day – and that’s why you’re at the top of the field? Whatever! Tweet my link, jerkface!!” < -- don't let that be you, no matter what field you're in.) And I'm sorry to tell you that unless you're incredibly, unusually interesting - you're going to have a much harder time getting someone's attention if the first time you ping them is to ask them to use their voice to promote you. So don't pitch top blogs and social media influencers on your company's announcement. Pitch your friends online, the world-class thought leaders you've interacted with in a dignified, interesting way. You're smart and interesting, don't you deserve to be thought of as a peer to those people at the top? If so, you'd better get started now. (We’ll make it a whole lot easier, by the way.)
Update: Here’s a great example of how you do it.
Rob got my attention by becoming a part of The Atlantic Tech’s extended cast of writers and interlocutors. His network analysis was uncanny. One minute I’ve never heard of this kid, and the next minute, he’s engaged in interesting, respectful conversation with half of my Internet friends.
That takes a certain kind of fearlessness, and most of the time it’d be paired with arrogance. But not with Rob. His humility is genuine, driven by a real desire to think this stuff through. And the thing that I always noticed about Meyer’s conversations with everyone was that he was such a good and generous reader of other people’s work. He tended to respond with whatever the opposite of snark is. His role became to connect good ideas with each other by connecting good writers with each other. He wove the social fabric tighter and made our conversations richer.