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How to Build Up Your Influencer Network

How to Build Up Your Influencer Network Blog Feature

Bob Ruffolo

Founder & CEO, Keynote Speaker, Entrepreneur, Recipient of Comparably’s Best CEO ’17

February 23rd, 2017 min read

When Tom and I first started IMPACT in 2009, we had hardly any influence in the marketing community. 

Fast forward to 2017 and our blog is exploding, we speak at big conferences, and we have friendships/partnerships with many of the most respected players in the marketing world.

Our agency brand, along with our personal brands, is stronger than ever -- we even host our own annual marketing event now.

While it certainly didn't happen overnight, there is nothing random about the growth of our influence. We can trace our success back to several critical things we did and continue to do.

In this article, I'm going to share the three most important strategies we use to grow our influence, followed by some tips for leveraging the relationships you build with other influencers.

These are things that any thought leader or business executive can replicate, but the truth is that most people won't -- and that's exactly why you will stand out like we did, if you do

Don't Be Afraid to Break the Ice

The key to breaking the ice with other influencers is not being afraid to go first.

As intimidating as it may seem, you have to realize that this is how the game works.

In most cases, you can't expect the influencers in your industry to introduce themselves or reach out to you because they probably don't know who you are.

Plus, they are used to everyone coming to them, so it's hard to get on their radar unless your brand already has some major traction.

Events & Conferences

I've always made a point of introducing myself to influencers at conferences and other events. I also encourage everyone on my team to do the same because I know how valuable it is. 

(Note: Here are the marketing events you absolutely can't miss in 2017)

Once we started attending more and more events, I realized that being a spectator significantly limits your access to influential people, so, I decided to join in on the action and started speaking.

This was a major turning point because once we started speaking at events, we got access to the speaker lounge -- where new relationships and partnerships are born!

Of course, you can't always meet the people you want to meet at conferences; Either it doesn't work for your schedule, or they just aren't attending.

That's why we also send emails and make phone calls to connect with other influencers. Connecting on social media is a good start, but you really need to take it a step further if you are serious about a partnership.

Once you have broken the ice, you have to take the next step to start growing your influencer network.

Find Creative Ways to Add Value to Relationships with Influencers

Conventional advice tells you to share their content on social media and promote their brand online to get on an influencer's radar.

This might get the occasional like or retweet from your favorites, and it does add some value, but it usually doesn't add enough value to make them want to have a relationship with you.

To add real value, you have to be willing to do what most others won't...

1. Offer a Free Product or Service

Free is hard to turn down, especially when it's something you would normally pay for, or in other words, has real monetary value.

In our case, we have offered free Inbound Marketing services as a way to connect with the right influencers. 

A perfect example of this is when I introduced myself to one of my favorite influencers at INBOUND 2016. Without asking for anything, I offered to help him with HubSpot and a website redesign that he mentioned we was looking to do.

He was so impressed with our work that he gave us an amazing testimonial, and he even referred a few new clients our way.

He's become a great friend and an awesome resource for us when we have marketing questions that are right up his alley. He's also appeared as a guest on our webinars and speaks at our events -- all because we offered tremendous upfront value.

This relationship has tremedously beneficial for both parties, and that's how a great partnership should be. 

Most service-oriented businesses hate working for free, but free work for an influencer often has more value than paid work for an average client. The word-of-mouth you can earn with an influencer is ultimately worth much more than the resources spent on the project. 

2. Co-Market a Campaign

If your brand is already established and you have either a big audience or loyal following, you can provide value to influencers by agreeing to co-market/co-brand a campaign together.

This helps you both because it exposes your audience to that influencer and the products/services they offer, while also doing the same for their audience to you. 

Looking beyond the potential revenue, co-branding a campaign is a great branding strategy because it allows you to align yourself with other brands that share the same values and promote the same message.

It builds brand awareness and acts as social proof of your expertise. 

3. Offer to Be a Testimonial

Testimonials are incredibly valuable for influencers and businesses of all types.

We are quick to offer to be a testimonial for any influencer or brand who has impacted us because it's an easy and honest way to connect with them and we know it provides them a ton of value.

4. Give Them Helpful Feedback on a Product/Service

Feedback from one professional to another is always appreciated -- as long as the feedback is actually helpful, of course.

You might be tempted to offer praise for an influencer's product because you want them to like you, and if you honestly feel that way then you should offer praise, but your feedback needs to be useful.

The key to offering useful positive feedback is specificity. Tell them exactly what you like about their product/service and why you feel that way. Also, be specific about how those particular things helped you.

All influencers like compliments, but compliments don't help them grow their business; Honest feedback that they can use to improve their business does.

Along with positive notes, you should also provide constructive feedback wherever possible. The key to offering helpful criticism is also providing a suggestion for improvement.

Embrace the Competition

Now, there's a good chance that a lot of the influencers you want to add to your professional network are also competitors.

Does that mean you should hold back on the value you contribute to keep them from figuring out your secret sauce?

Absolutely not!

Embracing the competition and adding value to others has been one of the best decisions we have made in our business. We're open to sharing what we're working on with other agencies because, in exchange for our insights, we become thought leaders, which ends up bringing us more business. 

Unfortunately, some people will try to take advantage of the information you reveal about your business, but I look at like this -- if they are going to imitate what we're doing, they're already behind us. So, why worry?

Our willingness to embrace our competition has allowed us to connect with other businesses that share the same attitude. In return for our help, many are willing to share insights from their business and find ways to help us out as well.

The best part is that the more we share, the more people want to learn from us and work with us. It just goes to show that the reciprocity-aspect of inbound is real and extremely valuable.

How to Capitalize on Influencer Relationships

After establishing genuine relationships with influencers, you will eventually want to capitalize on those relationships to boost your own brand or to attract more customers to your business.

Consider the following tips to get some ideas:

  1. Interview the influencer with questions from your audience
  2. Exchange testimonials with the influencer
  3. Exchange guest posts on each others' websites
  4. Create a resource (or lead magnet) for their audience
  5. Invite them to speak at an event you're hosting
  6. Promote each other on social media
  7. Create a new brand/business together
  8. Offer them a commission in return for promoting your product/service
  9. Collaborate on a charity campaign
  10. Run a contest together that gets both of your audiences engaged

There are an infinite amount of ways to leverage influencer relationships, as long as it makes sense and feels right for both of you. There are no rules to break, so try something new.

Give More Than You Get

Building your influencer network comes down to always giving more than you receive -- or at least trying to always give more. 

Influencers know you want to build a relationship so they can later help you out. That's okay because they want the same thing, but remember, big influencers are careful who they partner with because they have to protect their audience and their own reputation.

Don't try to capitalize on an influencer relationship until you've already done the things I mentioned previously and have built a strong bond.

Once you feel confident you are both on the same page and you have provided value without asking for anything in return, then you can pitch them with an idea that benefits both of you.

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