Influencer-based marketing has become popular as an online marketing strategy, mostly because its beneficial effects are so multifaceted. Working with influencers can improve your brand's reputation, increase the visibility of your content, generate more inbound links, and increase both the web traffic and conversion rates for your entire enterprise. That's a lot of power you can tap into with a relatively small amount of work.

How to Identify Influencers

There's no single way to pinpoint or discover influencers relevant to your field, and entrepreneurs in the same field might define what constitutes an "influencer" differently. But all influencers share a handful of traits in common:

For many online brands, the easiest way to find online influencers is to scout for them on social media channels. LinkedIn and Twitter are two of the most popular platforms for online influencers, due to their accessibility and their affinity for generating discussions. Start by searching Twitter or specific LinkedIn Groups for trending discussion topics within your industry, and sort through profiles until you find some that are active, powerful, and prominent. From there, you can reach out through the platform and start to build a relationship.

Best Strategies

Combined with a solid content and social media marketing strategy, working with influencers will amplify the power of your online marketing campaign. Try using one or more of these tactics to win new followers and increase your brand's reach:

1. Ask them to share your work. If it seems painfully straightforward, it is. It's one of the simplest influencer marketing strategies you can implement, but it's also one of the most effective. Asking an influencer for a favor is not a breach of etiquette; in fact, if you position it correctly, they'll get as much of a benefit out of it as you.

For example, let's say you've written a whitepaper featuring original research on a developing new idea in your industry, and you ask a major influencer in the industry to syndicate or bring attention to it. You'll get the immediate benefit of having thousands of new eyes on your whitepaper, and they'll get the authoritative credit of presenting it in the first place. It's a win-win situation.

Don't try to wedge this into your first contact, however. Get to know an influencer through a chat or a few emails first, and only ask for a share once you feel comfortable. You'll also want to double check the quality and depth of your content to make sure it's worth their while to share it.

2. Offer them a spot on your blog. This strategy works especially well for influencers who have built a name for themselves by writing on various authoritative sources within the industry. These guest bloggers often look for any opportunity to publish an article on a new location, strengthening their network and personal brand visibility.

These influencers are generally easy to spot (just do a Google search for their name and see how many publications to which they've contributed), and convincing them to write a piece for your blog is often quick and easy. Instead of asking the influencer for a favor, you'll be presenting them with an opportunity--as such, feel free to present it during your first major exchange. Your influencer will get the audience exposure and increased diversity from posting on your blog, and you'll tap into a new audience when the influencer shares the published article with his/her followers. You can even make it a regular occurrence if it works out well for both of you.

As for the specifics of the blog post, that's up to you. You can keep full control of things like the specific topic, the length, and any other formatting requirements you might have.

3. Start regular online conversations. Instead of focusing on shared content swapping, you can get some of the benefits of influencer marketing simply by having public discussions online. The best platforms for this are social media platforms, particularly Twitter and LinkedIn.

On Twitter, it's easy to jump into a running string of comments or latch onto a hashtag and throw in your two cents. You might not get noticed every time, but if you can keep a conversation going with your target influencer, your brand will immediately earn new attention and new authoritative presence in the industry.

On LinkedIn, your best bet is to get involved with LinkedIn Groups, which are mostly public and dedicated to niche topics. Watch for influencers starting new conversation topics, and jump in whenever you have something valuable to add. Eventually, even if you don't catch the attention of the influencer in question, you'll start to be respected as an influencer--or at least an authoritative contributor--in your own right.

4. Request a testimonial. If you're on good terms with an influencer and you're looking for a way to increase your product or service's credibility fast, consider asking for a testimonial. There are several options, each with a different kind of value; written testimonials tend to be easier to distribute, and offer more text-based SEO benefits, whereas video testimonials tend to be shared more often and offer more link-based SEO benefits.

Your influencer's testimonial could be placed on your own site, as a way to get more onsite authority, but it's also a good idea to post offsite, on your influencer's blog or YouTube account. Any external links and new traffic you get will serve your campaign well.

Instead of asking for a testimonial directly, you could simply send them a free sample of your product for them to try and hope for the best. It works more often than you might think.

5. Build a system to funnel leads. If you have a well-established relationship with an influencer and you serve different segments of a shared audience, you can create a mutual system to cross-generate leads. For example, if both of you work in marketing, but one of you focuses on large corporations while the other focuses on small businesses, you can share a network of loyal marketers, but split the leads during the sales funnel process. Any leads the small business specialist gets that fall out of its wheelhouse can be recommended to the large corporation specialist, and vice versa. This is more of an informal business partnership than it is a strict use of influencer marketing, but it's an efficient strategy that's mutually beneficial to each party involved.

These strategies are all effective ways to leverage the power of influencers in the world of social media, but don't forget about the most important rule of influencer marketing: respect. Influencers are real people, not tools that exist to be used. No matter what type of strategy you're using or what influencers you're pursuing, you'll need to use respect as the foundation of your relationship.

Published on: Dec 2, 2014