Influencer Marketing: A Guide to Getting Started

Last year, I executed what is called an influence marketing strategy for one of our portfolio companies. This involved researching and building a database of key influencers, communicating the company’s message through these channels, and fostering relationships. Oh, and I secured some ink in the process. So what is influence marketing and how does it work?

Here’s a guide to get you started.

What is Influence Marketing?

The concept behind influence marketing is simple: rather than gunning for the target persona head-on, aim higher.  Discover who your end user listens to. Then modify your action plan to capture those attentions. By circumventing the door-to-door salesman approach, you may find that a little work goes a long way.

There are four steps of influence marketing, but we’ll get to that later.  First you need to do some background work to ensure success for your strategy going forward.

Identify Your Target Persona

A target persona is essentially an amalgam of characteristics representative of a market. Since you can’t appeal to every single person in the world, you take a group of them – a target segment – and identify common traits amongst the group. These then become your goals, or your “people.”

For more information on selecting a target persona, check out Kim Goodwin’s blog, “Perfecting Your Personas.” In it, Goodwin breaks down the complicated process of finding the best representation.  A few key points to keep in mind:

  • Personas are not a job title; rather, they are behavior patterns
  • Keep your persona set small to ensure manageability and ease of use
  • Craft goals for your persona set that make the most sense, i.e. if you’re a bank, focus on bolstering online security

There are many more pointers; be sure to read the article in its entirety if you’re uncertain about this step.

Set Reasonable Goals

We all want to take the world by storm, but the truth is that’s not always possible. So rather than creating lofty and precarious expectations for your campaign, be reasonable. It’s unlikely you’ll woo an entire boardroom with one presentation in an afternoon. Make it obtainable.

Starting small is a great way to advance.  For example:

  • Identify the top 3 bloggers within your space, take 10-15 minutes a day to review their blogs and start engaging with them.
  • If you can get the support of another senior manager (hint: the CEO), encourage him/her to do the same.
  • If you have another 5 minutes, peruse LinkedIn for major groups within your niche and join in on the discussion.

Build a Content Marketing Strategy

Before you can start whispering in the ears of highly influential people, you must first know what you’re whispering about. As you work on building relationships with key influencers, it’s important to have valuable content to share. Most people won’t buy a product sight unseen.

Creating an effective content marketing strategy requires a deep understanding of the chain of influence.  TippingPoint Labs created a simple pyramid chart about how influence works. The pyramid will help you draw out who influences whom – knowledge that will help tailor what you bring to the initial meeting. Follow the link above to see a more complex diagram of how influence works as well.

Company blogging to develop a content marketing strategy also works wonders.

Now that you’ve secured your background, you’re ready to start on the basics of influence marketing.

The Four Steps of Influence Marketing

Here are the four steps of influence marketing:

  • Identifying influencers
  • Marketing to influencers
  • Marketing through influencers
  • Marketing with influencers

Seems pretty cut-and-dry at first glance, but there are a lot of details to pay attention to if you want to start on the right foot.

Step 1: Identifying Influencers

In their book The Influentials, Ed Keller and Jon Berry delineate five different attributes associated with an influential person. They are:

  • Activists: influencers are highly involved with communities, political organizations and other broad, powerful groups
  • Connected: influencers have large social networks—and not just on Facebook
  • Impact: when an influencer speaks, people put down their Starbucks
  • Active minds: influencers have multiple and diverse interests
  • Trendsetters: influencers tend to be early adopters (or leavers) in markets

Of course, these characteristics aren’t the last word.  Some people you’ll network with embody all five of these traits—but have less sway than their superiors.  It takes a savvy dart to pinpoint the most effective bullseye, which is why it’s important to rank your influencers in order of importance.

Step 2: Marketing to Influencers

Once you’ve got them pegged, start marketing to and building relationships with the hardest hitters. You should already have a rock-solid content marketing strategy at your disposal. Set meetings, conduct demos, spread pertinent news – these presentations of value will go a long way. Word of your proposal will then spread virally throughout the company.

To borrow from a previous example, set your sights on bloggers.  Giving bloggers news tidbits that could place them high on the ranks of Digg will show them how a relationship with you is mutually beneficial – their site is on Digg, and it’s due to your contributions.

Step 3: Marketing Through Influencers

Now your influencers are sold on your idea – what’s next? As long as you have classified your target segments and target personas, and have selected top-quality influencers, it’s now a matter of standing by their side and listening to them at the bullhorn. Then you’ll see the trickle-down effect of your efforts: perceptive and loyal ears will listen, and then, through word of mouth and other ground-level methods, your original proposal will send ripples through the pond.

During this process it’s important to keep a steady hand. The Word of Mouth Marketing Association provides some helpful hints on this matter:

  • Make an effort to listen to and understand an influencer’s point of view about your brand before and during their engagement in a brand program or marketing activity or simply, in their role as a customer of your brand.
  • Invite and respect the opinions of participating influencers, even if this is contrary to the brand’s position.  Agree to share or make available these opinions throughout your organization as is appropriate.  Furthermore, allow influencers to evolve or remix messaging so as to be relevant to how they communicate with their community.
  • Never ask influencers to falsify or “hype” any product claims, make usage claims without direct experience, or back claims that neither they nor the brand can substantiate.  Never request an influencer to undertake on your organization’s behalf a task that they are uncomfortable with or do not believe in.
  • Thank influencers who have participated in brand-initiated programs.  Simple, effective, and universally appreciated.

Step 4: Marketing With Influencers

If all goes according to plan and you’ve hammered step two home, your community of influencers should now be loyalists. They will continue to tout your wares without a lot of further personal involvement. However, it’s important to keep your finger on their pulses and maintain solid relationships with your influencers—make it self-evident that your benefits are shared.  Check out Entrepreneur’s 8 steps to building and maintaining business relationships.

Get Started Today

Breaking down a concept like influence marketing into bite-sized chunks may make it appear simple, but the components are not.  Influence marketing can transform into a full-time position; it’s important to start small. So why not get started today?

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