How to Build a Lasting Influencer List from Scratch

Marketing Tools & Tips Social Media Best Practices

Influencer marketing, you’ve heard it, you know you should do it, and you may have already sold the idea to executives. But, how do you create an influencer list?

A quality influencer list can help you begin solving a wide range of marketing issues. At this point, you should already have a plan for what you’re seeking to do, and how you’ll measure success. After you’ve mapped out your goals and metrics, then, and only then, do you take the next step to figure out which influencers to engage.

There are plenty of networks and software you can use to skip this if you’d like to dump money into it with no expectation from influencers to engage again in the future. But, if you’re seeking to create a truly valuable influencer marketing program with long-term, mutually beneficial relationships, consider fostering those relationships directly and making a solid list of influencers.

Building an Influencer List

Know your audience

group of people throwing dry paint into the air in a color race on a sunny day

It’s the no-brainer that every marketer needs to repeat over and over again–Do you know your audience?

Any time you take on a new marketing initiative put your customers at the center of it. By skipping this seemingly obvious step, you risk wasting time, money, and countless other resources. If your product truly is for a massive audience, you’ll have to figure out a way to narrow it down for marketing purposes.

Segmenting your audience, and creating strategies that are specific is a necessary step. When people say they don’t like advertising or marketing, they actually mean they don’t like it when the marketing and ads don’t speak to them. To create a successful influencer list, you’ll need to understand your audience and who speaks to them in their own language.

Talk to your team

Group of young professionals on a startup team discussing important things about influencers

Your team is talking to all sorts of people; industry leaders, loyal customers, media outlets, and fans. These relationships are a gold mine for potential influencers. Walk into these conversations with an open mind. Making assumptions will lead to missing key opportunities. Everyone within your company has the potential to introduce you to your next influencer, so make sure you engage your executives, executive admins, management staff, sales people, customer service team, and any interns.

What CEO’s, co-founders, CMO’s and thought leaders do your CEO have acquaintances or business relationships with that you can leverage? Have your sales people and customer success managers already laid down the foundation of solid business relationships with prospects, customers, or churned customers (who still love your product) that you can leverage for marketing purposes? It doesn’t hurt to ask them and we bet you’ll be surprised with the list of connections you walk away with.

Peek at who your audience follows

Young man discovering who his audience is and search communities for influencers on a mac

When you interview your customers, ask them who they look to for advice or insights. Who do they follow on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook? Look at who your followers are following. Who are they retweeting, sharing and otherwise engaging with on social channels and online communities? As you map this out, you will likely discover patterns. You’ll see major brands, publications, influencers with millions of followers, as well as micro-influencers popping up multiple times.

Engage with people who already influence your audience

Unless you have a large budget to spend on sponsoring influencers, don’t expect to get them to help you out with the first interaction. Treat this like networking. Invest in building relationships. Start by following them, and sharing their content that’s relevant to your audience. This simple action opens opportunities to create conversations. When they share something interesting or relevant to your audience don’t just retweet, add a comment. Engage with them like a real human. As you get to know them, you’ll get a better sense of what they look for in content and what they recommend.

Reach out, and make an ‘ask’

Make sure you ask influencers what you want from them.

After spending time engaging with influencers it’s time to make an ask. You already hunted them down, followed them and started a conversation with them, so don’t forget to ask them for what is it that you came for.

When you reach out to make your request, ensure that you are specific in what you’re looking for and set the expectations. Skirting around your request will get you nowhere fast. Instead of treating your request as an intrusion or nuisance, approach them confidently. Be frank and directly ask for what you want from them.

Since you’ve spent time engaging with them via social channels, they’re already aware of your organization and experienced benefits from your engagement. Make sure in your ask, you tie it to that person. Why do you think this interests them and their audience? Consider the complexity of what you’re asking from them. An RT is drastically different than asking them to write a blog post about your product or service. Do your best to make what you’re asking simple and quick for them to execute.

Lastly, don’t be surprised if they request compensation. Be prepared to handle that conversation respectfully and honestly. If you don’t have a budget to pay cash, what else can you offer? Perhaps you can give them exposure to your audience, or offer to share their content that will help build their personal brand as an influencer. Get creative in what you can offer them if you’re strapped for cash

Follow Up

Woman taking notes to reminder herself to follow up with her influencer list she reached out to.

Assume that influencers are just as busy as you are. Answering your message is not at the top of their to-do list, and of course, emails get buried. Practice patience and follow up in a timely and respectful manner. If they decline, make sure to respect that, thank them, and leave it be. If they don’t respond to your request, rather than assume that don’t want to help you out, try returning to your request at a future date. Influencers are people and can miss emails or forget to respond. Your timing could simply be off, and by following up in a few weeks, you may find your persistence pays off.

An extra bonus to cultivating relationships with influencers who partner with you is content distribution. Once you have a solid network of people you can lean on to help promote your product, brand or service, you can help one another out by sharing each other’s content with your network.

Building an influencer list and network is an investment that requires time, work, and energy, but when done correctly can help your marketing strategy makes leaps. If it was an easy task, everyone would do it, but don’t let that discourage you. If you’re concerned about your ability to make a proper investment, start small and iterate as you go.

Cassandra Schwartz

Cassandra leads our product marketing, focusing on product, brand, and communications needs. Cassandra has worked in marketing and communications for nearly a decade helping businesses like Microsoft including Xbox and The Garage, Pike13, and many others connect with their audiences. Outside of work, Cassandra keeps extraordinarily active. An avid community builder, she leads the Seattle Lean In Circle, and co-founded SheHasDrive, as well as a peer-mentoring program based in Seattle. Since moving to Seattle from Kansas, Cassandra has adopted an outdoors lifestyle that includes hiking, skiing, and kayaking. Follow her on Twitter or Facebook.

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