Identifying and Building Relationships with Industry Influencers

I talk a lot about building relationships with industry influencers in order to increase the reach of your content (amongst many other things).

Within my latest article on Moz, I mentioned building relationships with authors in order to cash in on high quality links to your website.

Since the article, I've had a lot of people asking me more about some of the ways that I go about identifying and engaging with influencers.

With this in mind, I got in touch with 9 different inbound marketers to get their input into the discussion. The response was great and there's a ton of actionable advice and some awesome tools that you can start using to get the best results possible.

Without further ado, here's the responses...

Simon Penson - Zazzle Media

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Q1. What tools do you use to identify and engage with relevant industry influencers?

We use a variety of tools, including our own CRM system as we try to do it at scale. I spoke at Searchlove late last year on this subject actually and you can find our general digital PR process in this post.

In simple terms we use LinkedIn and Twitter the most to do the background research on possible influencers and tools that work off the back of those platforms to help us narrow searches.

Topsy, Followerwonk, Buzzstream, various journalist directories and a new social analytics platform called Nuviapp (which is great for showing you who is sharing relevant content) are great for the identification piece. Building the relationships themselves is then no more complex than the telephone wherever possible!

Q2. What advice would you give when building relationships with influencers to get more exposure to your content?

Again I covered this in the post and deck but the critical aspect is understanding a little about them as a person first, as this allows you to open the conversation with something warmer than a direct ‘sell’. We will use Netvibes often to build related feeds on key influencers so we can see, from a single window, what they are sharing online. This helps us create a crib sheet of useful info to help that first conversation.

Digital PR is nothing more than conversation in reality so anything that help you prep for that is a good idea. That and having awesome, exclusive content for them of course!

James Agate - Skyrocket SEO

jamesagate

Q1. What tools do you use to identify and engage with relevant industry influencers?

Followerwonk is great for finding influencers but when it comes to the upper-echelons of digital influence our process is quite manual and involves searching out high value publications in a space and identifying the individuals who power them.

If you want the really obvious answer, I would say Gmail and Boomerang - the combination is great for the inevitable follow-up that occurs in a sales and/or an outreach process.

Q2. What advice would you give when building relationships with influencers to get more exposure to your content?

That there isn't a broad brush set of rules you can use. You need to treat it like a high-touch sales or business development conversation. We have a 'system' to put in place to guide prospects through when we are looking to scale up the overall numbers for a campaign or if we have a new individual we need to provide with some training wheels but ultimately each is a bespoke conversation where we need to treat them like the individual they are, push their buttons and create something that is mutually beneficial.

Bottom line, it is hard work. BUT if you have the right "thing" to pitch then it isn't going to be as difficult as you might think, a lot of it comes down to going out there and getting started rather than worrying that nobody will be interested in what you have to say/share etc.

If you've created a solid guide to something or you've built a blog you are genuinely proud of, most influencers are more approachable than you might think provided you are offering something that is mutually valuable and not just focused around what you want and serving your needs.

Jon Cooper - Point Blank SEO

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Q1. What tools do you use to identify and engage with relevant industry influencers?

To identify influencers, whenever I do a thorough audit of a niche, I usually am looking for sites/blogs with authority, and then identify any influencers who run or write for those sites.

Rarely do I find the influencers first, then the sites; however I will use Followerwonk as a quick check at the end of the audit. In terms of engagement, I'm a huge fan of Buzzstream to organize all of their information and past contacts in one place.

Q2. What advice would you give when building relationships with influencers to get more exposure to your content?

Sometimes it's as simple as finding what they've shown passion about.

One recent example that I think really illustrates this is when I was doing broken link building on a blog's resource page. A few of the broken links on the page were to internal pages on that blog, and when I visited them to double check they were broken, I noticed the author had put up a really interesting 404 page. It was being generated from 404gotten.org.

When I reached out, I brought this up and mentioned what they thought of the organization and if there's any specific ways they'd recommend getting involved, and after that, getting what I wanted (a link) was easy since the target site was superb & relevant to them.

Rand Fishkin - Moz

randfishkin

Q1. What tools do you use to identify and engage with relevant industry influencers?

I know I'm biased, but even before Moz bought Followerwonk, I was a huge fan of the tool. I love the ability to filter searches by people who are already following me or my competition, and the Venn diagram functionality for identifying overlaps is awesome, too.

Beyond Wonk, I know our team is a fan of Sprout Social. We're also looking at the upcomer, Steady Demand. I personally use Moz Analytics to track my own social accounts and my competitors (I have a few folks I compare myself to on Twitter/FB/G+).

Q2. What advice would you give when building relationships with influencers to get more exposure to your content?

I recently did a Whiteboard Friday video on Influencer Marketing. In it, I talked & diagrammed through a few tactics that can work for identification of influencers.

The challenge with getting engagement is that it's a lot like dating. If you go into a relationship just looking for slick ways to remove someone's pants (or, in the case of social media, get them to share your content), you're in for a bad time.

People crave authenticity in relationships (both offline and on), so finding genuine ways to connect with and learn from influencers (and from your dating partners) before you try to get transactional is a smart way to go.

Brad Knutson - BradKnutson.com

bradknutson

Q1. What tools do you use to identify and engage with relevant industry influencers?

To identify influencers, my weapons of choice are BuzzSumo and Followerwonk. Both tools are great at generating a list of relevant influencers in any niche or industry. I typically use both to generate a more complete list, because I get different results from each tool. I'm able to export lists from both tools, and then combine and sort them.

Q2. What advice would you give when building relationships with influencers to get more exposure to your content?

Both BuzzSumo and Followerwonk generate lists of influencers based on their Twitter authority, but Twitter isn't necessarily the platform I choose to reach out to those influencers. I find that engagement on Google+ is much easier and much more personal than on Twitter.

It doesn't really matter where you build your relationship with someone, if your conversations are meaningful and you produce good content, they will share your articles on Twitter, even if you introduced yourself on Google+.

Of course, in niches other than marketing you might have a harder time finding your influencer on Google+, in which case I would focus my relationship building on Twitter.

Once I have my list of influencers, I'll search for their profiles on Google+. If they exist (most in my industry do), I'll put them in a special circle that I monitor daily. I call this my "Opportunities" circle. I'll +1 their content, comment on their posts, and spark a conversation. I don't approach the situation as if I'm trying to get something in return, I genuinely try to add value to what the influencer has posted. Influencers appreciate this, as they aren't in the business of giving out handouts.

I choose Google+ because when I +1 an article the influencer is sent a notification, and when I comment they are sent an email. I've noticed that influencers are much more likely to respond to your comment on Google+ then they are to a mention in a Tweet.

It doesn't really matter where you're reaching out to your influencers, it's the conversation substance that makes all the difference. If you aren't providing value in your feedback and comments, then the influencer likely won't respond to you.

James Norquay - Prosperity Media

jamesnorquay

Q1. What tools do you use to identify and engage with relevant industry influencers?

Five tools and methods we use to identify and engage with niche specific influencers are the following:

http://outreachr.com/ - This is a great tool to use when doing outreach and finding influencers and top blogs in a specific niche. The tool is built by a top SEO in the UK, I suggest every one gives it a shot.

http://followerwonk.com/ - One of the better tools from Moz in my opinion it is under used by the market. You can do some great things with this testing different industry specific keywords and building relevant lists of top industry people.

http://www.grouphigh.com/ - Is another great tool for finding niche specific blogs and influencers in the market.

Using top user list for niche specific website – One tactic which is very easy because the data is already presented in front of you is to go and find top user lists for forums or websites. These lists usually display people who have spent 100’s of hours building up a reputation on a web property.

The best thing is a high number of these users have blogs and huge followings so you need to thing how you can strike up a relationship with them example of MOZ’s top user list - http://moz.com/community/users simply do the same thing for forums using lists like this - http://www.thebiggestboards.com/ my advice is build up some kind of forum/ user name and posting size before you try and contact any one because people will not reply usually if you have no reputation you have to earn it first and give them a reason to reply to you.

And finally “making real world contacts at events” – One thing which works is going to industry events which are related to a specific niche. Making contacts during the breaks of networking parties. Numerous times we have made contacts which have turned into business, guest posts or just someone to have a good chat with about work.

Q2. What advice would you give when building relationships with influencers to get more exposure to your content?

The best way to get more exposure is to simply ask those in which you strike up an agreement with if they can share your content on all the social channels they own. One thing you can do is also to agree to do a “content swap” where they make a piece for your site and share in on the social sites they own and then you do the same. This way it is win/win for all because you get content and you also get the site to amplify the reach by sharing the content.

A great example we recently asked a niche specific PR7 blog if we could do a guest piece, they agreed and as they had 300,000+ Facebook likes and a huge twitter following we simply asked if they could amplify the post on these channels. We also offered a guest piece on our related niche property which was taken up by the business.

In the end of the day it is often far better to strike up a good relationship with a blog and build an ongoing relationship. In the end of the day my advice is to go in with a personal approach even pick up the phone if you want to make a deeper connection.

Dan Petrovic - Dejan SEO

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Q1. What tools do you use to identify and engage with relevant industry influencers?

A1. Circle count is the only tool I've been actively using in the last few months to dissect and analyse users on Google+.

Advice: Don't Be a Tool. Be Genuine.

No matter how sophisticated they may appear, tools still return only raw metrics and allow your to float up certain users based on crude algorithms. At best you can form your initial research list and move on from there. If you are an in-house marketer, this might just barely work due to your industry knowledge, but if you're working in an agency, for a variety of different industries then your lists are as good as random guesses.

Imagine you have a list of top 100 users on Google+ sorted by an arbitrary Klout-like score (followers, followers/following ratio, +1s...etc.). With the list alone you still don't know of each person's character and a myriad of subtleties that define who they really are.

Sure you can try to connect or submit your pitch to your top candidates and see what happens but you may sound like more of a tool than the one you used to find them. More importantly, I see this as a completely roundabout way of engaging with industry influencers. A bit like old school link building. Industry influencers are intelligent, charismatic people - they're likely to see through your commercial intent.

Key Thought: Instead of manufacturing signals of greatness, how about we create something great instead?

Q2. What advice would you give when building relationships with influencers to get more exposure to your content?

I tend to write about things I am passionate about with complete disregard of who might read it. This has lead to a steady organic growth of highly engaging audience on my blog. Over the years I noticed that every now and then somebody you may call an influencer picks up and shares my content and the impact is evident in traffic and social data.

So it's the analytics tools that play a key role in inbound influencer acquisition than most explicit outbound techniques. When this happens I am more concerned about the "why" and "how" than "who".

Key Thought: I want to know what I did right, and how I can do more of it. With that knowledge I no longer have to solicit my content to others, but instead I can focus on creating something great influencers will share organically.

You should have seen the look on my face when I (eventually) realised one of my Google+ buddies, David Amerland, had more than 200,000 followers. He's always been and always will be just another one of my favourite guys on Google+ whether he has 200 or 200,000 followers. Any attempt to capitalise on our friendship would feel like betrayal.

I realise not much of my preferred approach is scalable, which may disappoint some marketers. Keep in mind though that the inevitable result of increased volume is decrease in quality. This is how marketing tactics manage to appear on Google's webspam radar.

Disclaimer: I rarely engage outside of Google+ and use Twitter and Facebook to simply broadcast my content.

Sidenote: This article is so meta.

Jayson DeMers - AudienceBloom

jaysondemers

Q1. What tools do you use to identify and engage with relevant industry influencers?

There are some good tools that can be used for this, but I'm a bit more old-fashioned. I like to browse respected publisher websites, such as Search Engine Journal, Moz, Search Engine Land, and Search Engine Watch. I look for the most frequent, knowledgeable contributors, then I reach out to them personally via social media channels (or email, if it's available). It's a bit old-fashioned, but I like to rely on my instincts more than tools.

Q2. What advice would you give when building relationships with influencers to get more exposure to your content?

Be consistent, persistent, honest, generous, and polite. The more you offer to give, the more you'll get in return.

Paddy Moogan - Author of The Link Building Book

paddymoogan

Q1. What tools do you use to identify and engage with relevant industry influencers?

I really like using Followerwonk to find influential people on Twitter and am a big fan of the process originally outlined here by Richard Baxter at SEOgadget. I think that finding that sweet spot of where multiple members of your target audience follow the same people is a great way of unearthing influencers who may not seem obvious at first.

Q2. What advice would you give when building relationships with influencers to get more exposure to your content?

I think the key here is to remember that there needs to be a clear "why" in terms of why the influencer should care about you and your content. It's foolish to blindly contact someone and expect them to share your content with their audience. These people will care greatly about what they share, so you need to make sure you're sending them something that is relevant.

You also need to find that emotional trigger to make them share your content. I really like the principles of sticky content outlined in Made to Stick - these principles can apply to why someone would engage with, and share your content.