By Maria Geokezas, Heinz Marketing

influencer-300x300Every company, new as well as established, strives to build and profit from third-party, non-paid endorsements.  They are the apex of marketing and sales goals.  These types of endorsements that come from key influencers don’t cost anything but they have an incredible impact on your business.  Endorsements from the key influencers in your market drive brand awareness, boost customer engagement and have a direct positive impact on sales.  That’s why engaging and marketing to influencers, has become an important part of every marketing strategy.

The idea of influential people who move markets was redefined recently in Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point”.  In his book, Gladwell called them “Mavens” and defined them as “information brokers, sharing and trading what they know”.  These information brokers connect us with new information.  They accumulate knowledge, love to help others solve their problems and are experts in how to share their knowledge with others.  So how do you get them to talk about and refer potential customers to your company?

Typically when marketers launch an influencer strategy, they focus on who they will target and what content they will use to attract their target.  However, the content you use doesn’t really matter if the influencers you are targeting aren’t listening to begin with.  If you haven’t established a relationship of trust and credibility, engaging influencers will be futile, even with the best, most compelling content.

Influencer Engagement Strategy
Developing a successful strategy to build a stable of influencers that will help you and your company build trust in the marketplace and drive more sales engagement starts by defining your objectives.  Define what you want to get out of your community of influencers.  Is it more customers, more content, more referrals?  Once you know what you want to achieve, then start defining your approach.  Consider the following steps to building an active and engaged influencer community:

1. Follow
Consider the number and type of active influencers in your marketplace – how many and what types of prospects follow them, what topics are they most knowledgeable of, how do they engage and manage their base of followers, in which social channels to they participate?  Develop a list of topics that are relevant to what your company produces and sells.  Develop a target list of CXOs, industry experts, industry analysts, publications, groups/associations and events that participate in these topics.  Determine who you will actively follow.

2. Share
Begin sharing Tweets and posts to get on these influencers’ radar.  Retweet their content and reference their blog or posts on other social platforms without asking for anything in return.

3. Comment and respond
Elevate your visibility and start developing a more active relationship.  Add comments to their posts, both on their blog and other social platforms.  Comments should be supportive and objective, do not use your influencers’ content for your own sales pitch.

4. Ask and collaborate
Once the relationship becomes more active, start asking your targeted influencers for their advice.  Make it easy for them to respond by asking questions that can be answered in 1-2 sentences.  Ask them if you can link from your post to one of their posts.  If your goal is to utilize your influencers for content development, ask them if you can use their content in your own posts.  Begin curating posts from the answers provided by these influencers.

5. Promote
Once you have established a strong relationship you can begin more actively promoting your influencers and in exchange ask them to promote your company, products and services.  Feature your influencers as guest posts on your blog, collaborate on more in-depth content that drives engagement for both entities.

Keep in mind, this approach isn’t linear and there is no absolute step-by-step process.  Depending on the people involved, building a successful influencer community can take weeks, months or years.  Ultimately, the effectiveness of your influencer community is truly based on the personal relationship, trust and credibility you develop.