Matt co-founded TrendKite in 2012 and oversees all aspects of the organization’s product strategy and development.
Is your influencer network helping you achieve your company goals?
Years ago when I first started using Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn I didn't see the huge influence they could have on a company’s brand and overall growth. I used to joke with my friends and colleagues about Twitter and asked them, “Why should I care if John (random name to protect the innocent) is in the bathroom right now, eating at the sushi restaurant down the street, or posting a picture he took of himself in the bathroom at the sushi restaurant down the street?” It didn't make sense to me at the time, but Twitter (and other social channels) and my views of them sure have progressed over the years.
Sure, there are still a ton of people posting irrelevant content (much of it like I described above) online, but my eyes have been opened to the intelligent ways people can use social media to gain exposure and track how their brand is being perceived (even if it means tracking “irrelevant” content like I described above). We are very fortunate to all be living in a new world of big data (especially where the media is concerned) where we have unprecedented access to the people and information that is interesting to us.
The bottom line is social channels can be a company’s best friend or a company’s worst enemy depending on how they are used. Below I’ve outlined an effective way to plan, launch, and optimize your influencer network (with a few tips and tricks I learned along the way).
Step 1 - Plan
Before getting carried away with following, liking, connecting, etc., it’s best to take some time to figure out exactly why you are building an influencer network and what you are hoping to get out of it. Then evaluate who your target audience is and research where they are interacting. Your target audience can include current customers, potential sales leads, industry experts (including journalists and bloggers), and alternative customers that you might not even know are in your target influencer network (you can find these people by tracking industry conversations in social media and traditional press).
Now is also the best time to set expectations and I’m not talking about just yours. Create a realistic picture of what the people in your target influencer network are going to want to receive in return for their promoting and helping you (I like to call this part the WIIFT – what’s in it for them?). This usually comes in two forms: valuable, relevant, sought after content and things that make them feel special (exclusive information, promotions, product trials, etc.).
Finally, you need to make sure you are planting seeds to eventually cultivate a culture of engagement at your company. What I mean by that is make sure it’s not just you engaging with your influencer network. The collective effort of your company will have a much more profound impact on your influencer reach than your efforts alone (i.e. doesn’t it make sense that if your sales team is trying to build relationships with potential sales leads, their jobs would be easier if they had a pre-existing relationship with them through online engagement before ever picking up the phone? Of course it does!)
Once you have a good idea of the kinds of people you are going to target, a realistic expectation of what you will need to provide them, and an understanding of how your organization as a whole is going to engage with your network, you’re ready to launch your campaign.
Tips and Tricks: Use social media and traditional news monitoring tools (light and free: Mention, Tweetdeck, SocialMention; comprehensive and paid: TrendKite, Cision, Vocus, Radian6, Meltwater, Sysomos) to better track and target the top influencers in your industry (bloggers, journalists, etc.).
Step 2 – Launch
The process of engaging with influencers can feel unnatural at first, so it’s best to begin your campaign by monitoring the conversations your influencers are having and taking a step back to get a feel for the overall conversation landscape. Start to build your own opinions on the topics being discussed and write down the main subjects you’d like to share and discuss. Once you have a good grasp on your overall position, start to interact with your influencers on the various social channels where they are active (this also includes engaging in conversations at the bottom of articles and blog postings). The best interactions usually come from providing information and content your influencers are naturally craving. Pay attention to the topics and information they are most interested in.
Tips and tricks: When commenting speak like a human and focus on commenting on topics you’re interested in and comfortable discussing (i.e. don’t comment on something way outside your area of expertise just to comment). Also (and very important) don’t spam your influencer network with a bunch of commercial messages – you don’t like them and neither do they. Effectively engaging with your influencer network is usually the result of trial and error, so cut yourself some slack if it doesn’t go perfect the first time and don’t give up!
Step 3 – Optimize
It won’t take long for you to discover who your most loyal influencers are. If your goal is to have your influencers influence others in your market, then give them what they want – recognition and gratitude for their loyalty and honesty. Here are several things you can do to show your recognition and gratitude: share their content on your social channels, provide them with exclusive information before your wider network receives it (if done right this can also create a buzz around your products or company), send them exclusive offers and consider giving them a free trial of your product or service, and if they’ve been super helpful everyone appreciates a hand written note or a thoughtful gift.
Tips and tricks: Information about your influencer can be very helpful, so find out all you can about them (email address, birthday, special interests, etc.). Try not to ignore anyone’s comments and questions, but pay special attention to your most loyal influencers. Ask these folks for their feedback and make sure they know you value their opinions.