By definition, content marketing means working with owned media. Media you own (or largely control) can include properties such as a company website, microsites, blogs, and social media platforms. The idea is you build it and hope that they will come.
Often, they (i.e., a target audience) will come, enticed by compelling, well-crafted, search-optimized, useful, funny, clever, delightful content. And sometimes, all best efforts to the contrary, more reach and more subject matter authority are required to meaningfully connect the message to the desired audience.
This is where an influencer strategy often comes in for many content marketers. Influencers are domain knowledge experts in a field. That field could be enterprise software, beekeeping, baking, or national defense. No matter the topic, the influences are the go-to subject matter experts. Their writings, videos, tweets, and/or blog posts enjoy broad followings with what's likely your target audience: the people who follow that given topic.
Influencers can be leveraged in a wide variety of ways. They can be interviewed for your own owned media (e.g., an e-book or a blog post). They can be briefed on company news in the hope that they will share it with their networks, which is good old-fashioned PR, updated for a world in which journalists no longer have a corner on the media influence market.
Influencers can also be commissioned to create and share content on a relevant topic with their followers, providing ethical guidelines and disclosure protocols are followed. A large technology company recently commissioned a dozen technology influencers to create a total of 120 pieces of content (mostly blog posts) which enjoyed, in aggregate, over a million views. In B2B, that's paid media reach for an earned media investment -- not too shabby.
The basic steps for connecting with and working with influencers are fairly simple, yet frequently overlooked by harried, deadline-driven marketers.
This checklist should help.
Identify the influencers
Media, analysts, researchers, and academics are all obvious choices. So are the people active on social media with the biggest and most passionate followings on the topic in question. They post frequently and reliably on the topic, and their messages are amplified by readers and followers. Find influencers via search, hashtag research, or through social listening software. Influencers can also be located the old-fashioned way: who's quoted in articles, cited in research? Those are the names to get.
Weave an introduction into the initial contact
Genuine influencers are frequently courted and receive a great many "asks." Don't assume influencers you reach out to know your company/product/strategy. Provide background information, with an offer of more. They'll want to know who they're dealing with. Communication is a two-way street.
Craft narrow, highly specific requests
Influencers are often asked for quotes, or to respond to interview questions via an initial contact email. Nothing wrong with that, but a response is more likely if that ask is laser targeted. Instead of requesting a quote about "content marketing," go straight to the specifics. "What are three best practices for using curation in content marketing?" or "What's the difference between content marketing and content strategy?" Providing direction is more likely to elicit not only a response, but a good response.
Always, always, always provide a deadline for response. If there isn't one, make it up. There's a world of difference -- and responsiveness -- between asking someone to do something whenever, and requesting that they do it by close of business on Thursday.
Ask for everything upfront
Need the influencer's headshot? Bio? These aren't afterthoughts -- they're part of the content plan. Request all deliverables upfront. It's polite, considerate, and saves everyone a lot of time and email traffic.
Be easy to work with
Really, this is the cardinal rule of everything stated above. Are you requesting a call with the influencer? Providing three or four available timeslots in the initial request makes their life much easier than throwing the ball into their court with a "When are you available?" So does providing options, e.g., offering to conduct an interview either by phone or by email -- their choice.
Follow-up is essential
It's not just what an influencer contributes, content-wise. Distribution and amplification are huge components of an influencer strategy. Ensure the influencer has access to all published artifacts (e.g., the interview, the e-book, the webinar link). Mentioning their contribution or participation on social media makes them more likely to reciprocate and broaden the reach of that tweet or post. Using their Twitter handle or favored hashtags also helps get the message to their following.
Working with influencers needn't be difficult or complicated. It's easier than it ever was not just to find the important voices in the field, but to easily connect with them, too. The rest is basic Golden Rule territory: do unto influencers as you would have them do unto you.
On Twitter? Follow iMedia at @iMediaTweet.