It’s getting harder and harder to get attention these days.
We’re all inundated by marketing messages, social updates, email and even boatloads of “snail mail.” We’re growing weary and cynical. Daily news of corporate blunders and celebrity missteps aren’t helping matters either.
But we do still pay attention to people who matter to us. We do still listen, and more and more, we take their opinions and advice to heart. Most of us check with friends or family, before making purchases or taking action. Many of us read online reviews and search social networks for advice and recommendations.
And sometimes the people that matter to us, that we consider influential, are people we’ve never met face-to-face. “They are people who have established credibility and influence over an audience. By virtue of their reliability and authenticity, they can convince their audience about what they endorse,” says Andrew Cravenho, CEO of cbacfunding.com, in a post for MarketingProfs.
Enter influencer relations, a part of niche public relations that grows in value and importance every day.
What Is Influencer Relations?
Simply put, the work involved in managing the development of relationships, with those deemed influential, for marketing or public relations campaigns. Influencers can be bloggers, or journalists, celebrities or just people who are highly regarded in our social circles, marketplaces or industries.
Influence campaigns are being used to do everything from increasing sales to public education campaigns, event promotions, fundraising, new product introductions and reputation management.
Public relations has always been about building and maintaining relationships. Influencer relations programs simply channel relationship building for specific purposes, ideally, clear cut goals, objectives and deliverables.
As in the development of any relationship, influencer relations programs take time, organization, sincerity and a lot of effort. As our world continues to evolve, with new channels of communications, technologies and consumer demands, the practice of influencer relations should as well.
“We still tend to define influencers in ‘traditional’ terms and influencer relationships as largely tactical and temporary,” says Laura Ciocia, Director of Media & Engagement for W20 Group. “It’s as if we settled into early 2.0 era definitions of what influencer marketing encompasses, ignoring all of the external shifts that are challenging and re-shaping these notions.”
According to Laura, the change must come in seeing influencers as partners in business growth instead of elements, however valuable, in a campaign. With this mindset, building relationships with influencers must be viewed as extending beyond a single campaign or initiative.
Influencer relations campaigns are often designed with short timelines built to support specific campaigns. Yet, for the most part, the relationships you build can and should be nurtured with a view to maintaining long-term relationships.
“Having quality influencers in your back pocket can be great when you need to execute crisis management, when you have a tight turnaround for an Influencer program or when you simply need someone you can trust,” says Robin Shroyer of Ignite Social Media.
Building Long-Term Influencer Relationships
So how do we do this?
Actually, the same way we build any other relationship. Only more so.
“The foundation to building an effective influencer relations program is fostering relationships,” says Ed Schauweker, Principal, of Agile Public Relations. “Communication has to be personal, authentic and two-way. You can’t do that through automated distribution. Automated distribution is vapid at best and another form of spamming at worst. Think of it as dating. Because the best company-influencer relationships are just that, dating.”
Dating, but with a view toward longer-term commitment.
Begin by really getting to know your influencers, which means paying attention to what they do. Read their articles, posts and updates, listen to their podcasts and interviews. Watch their videos, observe their updates and notice who they pay attention to and what they view as important. Comment on their updates and shares, but do it sincerely.
Start to get to know them the way you would someone you’d just met at a networking event or cocktail party. Be genuine. Then, at the conclusion of your campaign, practice these six steps to take those budding short term relationships into something long lasting and enduring.
1. Thank Them
It seems obvious, doesn’t it? And yet, we can forget to say thank you.
Send them a quick thank you via email. Write them a short, hand-written note of thanks (this tactic is even more valuable today since few of us get hand-written anything any more, so you’ll stand out in the crowd). Just make sure to communicate your gratitude, simply but sincerely.
2. Think Long Term
Building a long-term relationship means investing your time, attention and interest in the other person. Communication is key, and that often means listening more than talking and looking at things from your influencer’s perspective. Be careful not to be seen as only making contact when you want something from an influencer.
“Nobody wants to be recalled only when they need something. You’d be quick to dismiss that kind of relationship in your personal life, so why shouldn’t the same apply in business,” Laura says.
She advocates finding opportunities to invest in what’s important to your influencers.
3. Deliver Value
Again, look at things from your influencer’s perspective. What do they view as valuable? Can you introduce them to people within your network? Can you offer them other projects?
As you get to know your influencers over time, you’ll discover opportunities to serve as a resource and deliver value.
4. Put in the Time
In most cases, you can’t get to know someone in a few moments. While there are a few exceptions to this, most relationships take time to develop. Putting in the time, on a regular basis is an essential part of taking a budding relationship from initial contact and campaign participation to a longer-term business friendship.
You may find it helpful to set up a system of tracking so you can remember when you last checked in with your influencer and what you heard them say. Be willing to invest your time in them.
Most of us have networks of people with whom we share content, ideas and conversations. Use your networks, and those of your company or organization, to help your influencers grow their own. Share, where appropriate, the content they create and help them build new audiences.
6. Meet Face-to-Face
When possible, meet your influencers in person. Face-to-face conversations offline are invaluable and can be helpful in taking a cordial business relationship to the level of friendship.
Take advantage of industry events or any travel that takes you to their part of the world, to set up a meeting. No matter how short, those face-to-face meetings really help build influencer relationships for longer-term friendships.
“If you conduct influencer relations appropriately, a large volume of the relationships should blossom into true friendships,” says Jay Swansson, co-founder of content marketing platform ClearVoice.com. “Congratulate them on wins, pick up the phone and check in with them, thank them for their time, buy them a drink at the next conference. Your relationships with influencers shouldn’t be kindled only when you need them.”