It's no secret that people appreciate recommendations from people that they trust above all else. This is why online reviews are becoming so important for small businesses--they are a direct way for consumers to hear what "real" and unbiased people have to say. Fortunately for brands, reviews aren't the only way to improve your reputation. Social media is a great way to get the right people on your side. These "right" people are known as social influencers.

A Step-by-Step Plan to Using Social Influencers to Build Your Brand

If someone is influential on social media in an industry or with an audience, it means that the audience trusts him/her. Influencers can have an impact with a group because in the past they likely made themselves transparent and showed credibility. Your job as a brand is to turn these social influencers into social advocates of your brand to help build your trustworthiness. And hey, if you play your cards right, the ultimate goal is to someday become a social influencer yourself.

Below are five steps you can take to position yourself to work with social influencers to help build your brand online:

Step #1: Spend time finding the right influencers.

Of course the first and arguably most important step is to find influencers that actually matter. Believe it or not, social influencers don't always stick out the way you would assume, and in many cases the ones that do don't have much potential to really help your brand. This is where being able to analyze and identify influencers is key. A few things to look for:

  • Relevance. They don't necessarily have to be a part of your industry and your industry only, but they have to have ties to it in some way. For example, someone who is a social influencer for something that compliments your industry is still going to be relevant to your ultimate goal--building your brand.
  • Engagement and reach. Part of what makes a social influencer is the fact that they have a large following. Take a look at not only the number of followers, likes, engagement on their social accounts, etc., but look at the quality. Are the people this person is influencing a quality audience, or do they seem spammy?
  • Authenticity. Always make sure a social influencer is putting out quality information and not just endorsing things they get paid to endorse. You have to believe in what they say or they won't be seen as a social influencer for long.
  • Frequency in a community. Always check to see if his/her face pops up across the community you're targeting. They need to be active often to be a true influencer that will make a difference for you in the long run.

So how exactly do you go about finding people to then analyze? A great way to find social influencers that is just starting to gain popularity is utilizing the feature Google+ Ripples. In short, Google+ Ripples help you see which people sharing on Google+ are getting shares in return. It will actually show you visually the ripple effect that any one person can have with a piece of content. Find the person with the biggest ripples and then start your analyzing from there.

Step #2: Become active in an influencer's community, social accounts, and his/her website.

Becoming "active" in that influencer's community means commenting on his/her articles or posts on both social media as well as the website where that post-link may take you. In other words, you have to go beyond social media to get the attention of an influencer and show that you care about the content they are publishing. You want your brand or your name to be noticed long before you try to make anything further happen, and this is the crucial step in getting there.

Also make sure to connect with him/her on all different social accounts, particularly Google+, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. Then, take things one step further and share his/her content on your own social accounts, and tag the influencer whenever possible to help make that connection even more clear. The moral of the story: Get involved.

Extra: It's great to be involved, but don't be annoying. Use your best judgment and don't bombard someone's newsfeed on social media. Engage with content a maximum of once per day and be careful with what you choose to share on your own social accounts. You're playing the long game here, not the short one.

Step #3: Start small and work your way up when it comes to engagement and relationship building. Spend time crafting your introduction.

What I mean by "start small" is this: Don't jump into an introduction with a major influencer right away. You want to have a lot of activity and engagement on their social accounts under your belt before you go introducing yourself.

Instead, see who is connected to those influencers and who the influencer is engaging with on social media. Try to establish relationships with these people as well through all the tactics discussed in step #2 above. They might not be as influential as some, but that doesn't mean they don't have any pull or won't be major influencers in the future. After all, the more people you have in common with the major influencer, the better.

Step #4: Maintain a relationship before trying to jump into anything else. The idea is that an influencer will naturally start to build your brand and you won't even have to ask.

An introduction should be just that--and introduction. You shouldn't be asking for anything in return, but rather just getting to know the influencer and publishing great content. Very far down the line if you want an endorsement or a mention you might consider asking a social influencer if you have a good relationship, but ultimately the goal is for things to happen naturally. This will all come down to maintaining that relationship and publishing great content on your social accounts.

Step #5: Always pay it forward.

If a social influencer is writing great things about your company, do the same. Commenting and engaging with a social influencer's content is great, but take it one step further by actually promoting it on your own social pages. If you really believe in something, let your followers know. This will ideally lead to very fair and long-lasting relationships.