It used to be that if you wanted to sell Wheaties, you team up with Michael Jordan. Nowadays, you might have more luck working with a YouTube magician. That’s exactly what Kellogg’s did when they partnered with Justin Flom to introduce their new line of Cinnamon Frosted Flakes.

 

More and more, companies of all sizes are using influencer marketing to effectively connect with their fans (and cut costs). Estée Lauder teamed with Instagram princess Kendall Jenner, the geeky subscription box Loot Crate launched a campaign with PewDiePie, and $15,000 startup Daniel Wellington raked in $220 million in 2015 thanks to a social marketing strategy involving thousands of micro-influencers.

It’s not just the exposure of having an army of followers see you featured. Influencer marketing is about social proof: influencers aren’t seen as normal celebrities, but authorities on one topic or another. On top of that, people develop a much stronger bond with influencers. Social media allows for back-and-forth conversation, as well as a glimpse into the influencer’s in personal life. This direct contact is relatively new to marketing. I don’t remember leaving a comment with Wheaties and having Michael Jordan respond the next day.

The influencer marketing service provider TapInfluence more or less proved the potency of influencer marketing with their ebook on the topic. Their studies give us food for thought when comparing influencer marketing with the methods of the past:

  • Influencer marketing has an 11 times higher ROI than traditional advertising.
  • Teenagers consider YouTube vloggers 17 times more engaging than other celebrities.
  • For every 1,000 social media impressions, eCommerce brands make an average of $285 in incremental sales.
  • Of the people surveyed, 49% follow influencer recommendations when shopping, and 40% have purchased something online after seeing an influencer use it on social media.

Of course, it’s not always so easy to convince influencers to work with you. In this article, we’ll talk about the most successful strategies for influencer outreach, according to the best practices developed over the last few years.

How to find the right influencers

Taylor Swift may have millions of Twitter followers, but I bet she wouldn’t be much help selling used auto parts. It’s not just about the number of followers, but about what kind of followers. Your goal is to find the influencers who speak to your specific customer base. Try the three strategies below to hone in on the influencers that can help you most.

1. See who uses suitable hashtags

If you took the time to create a master list of hashtags for your industry, chances are other serious professionals did the same. See who else is using the most suitable hashtags for whatever it is you do. Also, pay attention to frequency. Find social media leaders who talk about your topics regularly, not just every once in awhile.

2. Leave your social media comfort zone

Your brand uses mostly Twitter because—well—you like Twitter. But maybe you’d have even greater results on Snapchat. Maybe there’s a trending topic on Instagram that you could take advantage of. Maybe the people of LinkedIn are having a discussion right now about a problem that your brand solves.

Branch out from your comfort zone to discover any hidden pockets of your customer base in other channels. You’ll discover each channel has its own unique influencers, and maybe the best one for you is staked out in a channel you’ve never used before.

 

The BBC is known for its sophistication, while Snapchat is known for everything but. Still, the broadcasting giant found an unlikely ally in the youth-oriented channel when they needed to target a new market for their current events show Panorama. John Sweeney’s segmented documentary of a real-life migrant journey from the Greek isles to Western Europe surprised everyone with success on a medium falsely perceived to be vapid.

3. Digital marketing tools

You’re not the first person to need assistance with influencer marketing. By now, there are plenty of digital marketing tools, both free and paid, that collect and organize the data you need to know to plan the perfect influencer marketing strategy:

Screenshot of BuzzSumo Influencer Page
BuzzSumo cuts your search time for influencers in half by listing them outright… as long as you pay for a Pro membership.
  • BuzzSumo – BuzzSumo focuses more on content data, such of top-performing blog posts, but also has a separate page that lists influencers and their shows their statistics.
  • Klout – The first of its kind to monitor social media influence, Klout comes under criticism for its mysterious and less-than-perfect algorithm.
  • Kred – Similar to Klout, Kred discloses more details, such as the metrics they use to calculate the score, as well as breaking down influence by demographic group so you can see who influences your target customers most.
  • Traackr – Kind of like a CMS exclusively for influencer marketing, Traackr organizes and showcases all the influencer data you need, plus it tracks relevant post performance.

Tools like these can even organize post data by different social media channels, so you can find the leaders in whichever channels work best for your brand.

The 5 best techniques for influencer marketing outreach

Here’s the secret to dealing with influencers: the best of them are business people, just like you. This means the top influencers will be able to speak the language of business quite well, especially the classic adage “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” You’ll find that’s a common theme in these five tried-and-true methods for influencer marketing.

1. Give them free gifts

It may be the oldest trick in the book, but it works. Send some of your products or swag to the influencer for free, and it will pop up in their feed. There’s no guarantee they’ll post about it, but make sure they don’t feel obligated. Try sending a personal message along with the gift to clarify your intentions.

Veteran content marketer Kaloyan Yankulov provides a reliable template letter to send to blogger influencers. Check out pages 62-63 in his ebook The Ultimate Guide to eCommerce Link Building for some messaging that you can personalize to your voice.

2. Establish rapport on social media

Like any other social media relationship, you want to build rapport. Essentially, just be a good social media friend: like their posts, share their posts, mention them in your post and ask them questions directly.

Be best buds with your influencers! (via Frankie Cadillac

On the surface level, this familiarizes them with you, so when you do decide to send them a direct message, it’s from someone they recognize instead of a complete stranger. But the benefits of this strategy go deeper. Every time you mention or interact with their post, it increases their traffic and visibility—and that’s the currency influencers trade in most!

3. Write a guest post

One sure-fire way to end up on an influencer’s social feed is to actively put yourself there. Try creating a guest post for your influencer, whether that’s an article, an infographic or a meme. This helps the influencer because you’ve done the hard work; they just have to post it. Plus, you can earn yourself an automatic backlink from a high-ranking site in your industry.

4. Feature them on your site

Kind of the opposite of a guest post, try to get them on your site. Publish a post about a topic where you can feature them heavily, perhaps even write about them specifically. Or, quit beating around the bush and publish a direct interview with them. This more or less ensures they’ll talk about you and spread the word once the post is published, as it’s in their best interests as well.

5. Collaborate with a campaign

The ultimate influencer marketing technique: a full-on collaborative campaign in which you’re both invested together. This usually happens after a working relationship is already established with the above techniques, but once you’re at this stage, it can reshape how people view your brand for years to come.

There are different ways to go about collaborating, depending on how much or how little the influencer wants to be involved:

Commission

The standard arrangement between influencer and brand—especially with fashion bloggers—is that the influencer gets a percentage of any sale they initiate. This is a form of affiliate marketing that works especially well, since the affiliate is already a trustworthy source.

Contests, giveaways, and promotions

One step above offering commission is to embark on a joint campaign together.

KeVita works with influencers to promote their giveaway.
To join the KeVita giveaway, participants had to comment their favorite flavor on a select influencer’s post and tag a friend, not to mention follow the KeVita instagram account.

The influencer’s role is up to you: some companies have their influencers give out a special code for a discount, while others supply prizes to be raffled off by the influencer. Typically, the campaign involves participants interacting with social feeds of the brand or influencer as the means to enter, such following an account, commenting on a post, tagging a friend—or all three, as with KeVita giveaway above.

Sponsorship

DJ Khaled appears in an ad for Stride Gum.
Stride Gum advertises its gum using the “King of Snapchat” DJ Khaled’s face… or more accurately, his face shape.

The next step is that the influencer becomes the face of your brand. This fits modern social influencers into the role of the traditional spokesperson.

Feature them in your product photos and post their original content on your site, while at the same time they publicize your products on their own channels.

Creative Collaborations

Finally, the last stage of outreach is you and your influencer working together to promote something you both designed together. For example, Colourpop repeatedly collaborates with fashion trendsetters like Sonya Esman.

Screenshot of Colourpop page featuring vlogger Sonya Esman
Colourpop often collaborates with young fashion influencers, one of the reasons they’ve built such a strong following since launching just a few years ago in 2014.

More than just talk, Esman curated a specialized collection of Colourpop products, all sold with her name on the box. Rather than having an influencer sell their existing products, they collaborated to create something new that both parties have a stake in.

Now’s the time to reach out

Don’t fall victim to the defeatist attitude that getting mentioned by influencers is just “luck” or “being good at social media.” Like most other aspects of having an online brand, influencer marketing is just business. Use the tactics above to increase your chances of a successful collaboration!

What are your influencer success/horror stories? Share your thoughts or questions in the the comments below!