Getting a recommendation for your business from an influencer can be like panning for gold – it takes a lot of time and effort but the end result is highly valuable. Influencers are defined not by how likely they are to recommend a brand (hence the effort it takes) but by the size of the audience they reach and their own credibility/reputation; influencers are usually industry thought leaders and as such are highly trusted. A recommendation from them comes with an unspoken ‘seal of approval’, making them worth their weight in gold!

Finding Influencers

So how do you find them? Influencers are thought leaders, and whilst some will be well known within the industry, there will be others who are less conspicuous and harder to find. Unsurprisingly, social media is a goldmine of influencers, and Buzzsumo, PeerIndex, Topsy and Followerwonk are nice online tools that can help you identify influencers in your niche over a variety of online channels. Alternatively, conferences and other online and offline resources can be helpful; research conferences and exhibitions relevant to your industry and see who the guest speakers are. Look at the top online and offline sources for news and industry comment, and see who the editors and journalists are, or who regularly guest posts or has a column, and which articles, blogs and sites are consistently linked back to. With some investigation you will most likely see that the same names and titles crop up again and again – these are your influencers.

Baby Steps

Once you’ve collated your list of ‘top dogs’, that’s where the patience and effort comes in. These influencers will most likely be approached dozens of times each week, or even each day, so they’ll probably be sceptical and hard to get through to.

Give yourself a fighting chance by doing thorough research; get to know their style, what they like to talk about and how, what they’ve written about in the past and try and find out a bit about them as a person – their personal, as well as professional, likes and dislikes could be helpful when you eventually pitch. Also find out which channels they prefer to use for interaction – this will be the platform to approach them on.

Remember also that trust isn’t built overnight. Take the time to build relationships with your influencers. Follow them on social media channels and like, retweet and share their content, making sure you tag them so that they can see your interest. Also remember that it’s not just about content – they are human too and genuine communication is more likely to curate a long term relationship than just retweeting all their tweets. Make sure therefore that you comment on a blog or reply to social media updates  – but also make sure you do it with meaningful and/or insightful comments – it is more likely to help you appear as the credible, trustworthy peer you are.

Remember the key is to determine what you can offer them that they will find valuable – that’s the end goal of your research. Once you feel confident that you are familiar with an influencer’s style, personality and that you have something that they’ll be interested in, it’s time to make your approach.

Personal Touch

The hardest part of connecting with influencers is the initial ‘hello’, as they can seem intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be a formal email of introduction. Dial the formality down by reaching out and saying ‘hi’ on social media. Using your personal account for interaction, rather than a business account, will help you seem more friendly and accessible, and show that you aren’t necessarily out for commercial gain from them. Likewise, if you do choose to email initially, keep it short, concise, informal and consider offering your help – without asking for anything in return. Perhaps you read an article that struck a chord with you; there’s an opportunity to email and tell them as such, and ask if you can help with any of their content in future. First contact made. Easy peasy.

When you come to pitch an idea or make a request, keep the informal tone. Remember that you’re trying to connect as a peer, rather than as a business.

Offer Choice

In addition, once you pitch, make sure you offer choice. It’s easy for someone to dismiss or decline an email which only pitches one idea. Offering a variety of ideas or angles shows that you have put thought and effort into how you can help them, is more likely to hit upon at least one idea that they like and/or can use and makes it harder for them to refuse your offer.

In the same vein, influencers are thought leaders, not followers, so are much more likely to want to write something themselves – therefore if you can it’s a good to offer multiple resources so they can pick and choose what will work for them. If you have what you consider to be a really strong offering, like a piece of research, offer it in various ways – not only as a press release but perhaps provide a candidate for interview or a quote, or attach images or graphs which illustrate key points. This will give your influencer the freedom to use the information as they see fit.

Think Laterally

Just because it’s not a perfect fit doesn’t mean your idea won’t be useful. Look at what they have written before – could they do a follow up piece? Could you suggest an angle or approach that would enable them to use your research, news story or talk about your product / service whilst still writing the piece they want to write?

Keep At It

People with influence can be intimidating, and approaching them directly can be a scary prospect. However, if you’ve done your research, and made the effort to interact with them on social media and their blog, and have added value, chances are they’ve already clocked you. Even if they haven’t responded to your interactions, they are likely to be more receptive to your ideas than if you pitched to them cold.

Importantly, make sure you keep at it – but don’t bombard them with pitches. View the process as cyclical; identify, research, follow, contribute, pitch – if you don’t get a response or a ‘thanks but no thanks’, go back to the research phase and repeat. Good luck!