‘Create quality content’ is a nauseatingly overused mantra in the world of content marketing. Not only is it stating the mind-numbingly obvious, in isolation it is also flawed advice. Without more than just ‘quality content’, your strategy is doomed to fail. Why? Because it’s like producing a beast with a heart and no limbs. In the absence of those critical limbs, it’s just not going to get anywhere.

There are essentially five ‘limbs’ of content promotion: search optimisation, social media, email, paid amplification (e.g. Google Adwords, paid social) and influencer outreach. Most brands will be doing some combination of the first four, but influencer outreach is the oft-forgotten fifth ‘limb’. This is probably because it’s the most intimidating of the five promotional strategies to implement. However, it’s also the one that’s most likely to help you achieve the holy grail of getting your content to ‘go viral’ – especially if your own audience is relatively small.
Content promotion diagram - influencer outreach
So what exactly is it?
Influencer outreach is the process of approaching those with an already established audience for assistance in distributing or linking to your content (or producing new content). ‘Influencers’ may include journalists, editors, bloggers and social media stars, or the publications, sites or blogs themselves. Whatever the form of the ‘influencer’, the key attributes they must possess are: the ability to impact followers’ opinions or decisions, and a reasonable sized audience in a field that’s relevant to your offering.

The two main drivers of influencer outreach are to gain a wider audience reach, and to deepen trust. Broader reach is self-explanatory – influencer outreach gives you access to a much larger audience of potential customers. Trust comes from the fact that true influencers have already earned the trust of their audiences and that a third-party endorsement is always going to carry more weight than self-promotion. Influencer outreach can also have the added advantage of earning you valuable backlinks to help drive your SEO.

You don’t have to have a blackbelt in PR to implement a successful influencer outreach campaign. Here are five simple steps to get you on your way.

Step One: Define your objectives
In broad terms, your aim is to promote your content – but what are you actually hoping to achieve out of this? The way you answer this question will help to lay the foundations for your outreach campaign in terms of who you target, what form your content will take, and whether you will take a ‘create first, contact later’ approach or make contact and then create content to spec. Having a clear idea of the reasons you’re embarking on this process will also make it easier to determine whether your efforts were successful down the track.

The ultimate aim of any marketing campaign is always going to be to boost the bottom line, but there are a myriad of factors that can have an impact on that, so try to break it down to more specific interim steps. For example, this might include: driving more traffic to your website, gaining more social media followers, more newsletter sign-ups, more leads (e.g. through ebook downloads or webinar sign-ups), greater brand awareness, or positioning your company or its key people as industry thought leaders.

Step Two: Create the content
The point at which you create the content depends on the aim of your outreach strategy. If you’re going for a broad-reaching campaign (i.e. targeting numerous influencers), it’s appropriate to create the content before you make contact. If, on the other hand, you are targeting a specific influencer or publication, it may be best to pitch the idea first. Check the relevant website to see if there are any submission guidelines to determine whether a pitch or completed content is the preferred way to go.

Your content could take any one of a range of different formats – from an infographic, to an article, blog post, case study, whitepaper or even a webinar… the possibilities are endless. An infographic or a suggested blog post are probably two of the simplest ways to get started with influencer outreach. (If you have a suitable product, there is also the option of sending it to influencers to review or offer their audience as a giveaway, but for the purpose of this post, I will focus on content.)

Whatever form your content ultimately takes, the one thing it must deliver is value. If you can’t demonstrate how it will add value to the influencer’s audience, your idea is dead in the water before you even begin. Try not to be too self promotional. Your content will have much more credibility and be more likely to be accepted by the influencer if it’s balanced and impartial. You can always ask for a bio with a link back to your site to bring attention back to your brand or personal profile.

Step Three: Find appropriate influencer/s
You might be tempted to seek out the personalities or properties with the biggest audiences, but keep in mind that relevance and engagement are just as important as reach. Forbes put it this way: Influence = Audience Reach x Brand Affinity x Strength of Relationship with Followers.

In terms of relevance (or in Forbes’ terms, ‘brand affinity’), there’s no point enlisting the services of an influencer who doesn’t have any particular expertise or credibility within your target market. For example, a recent study by Twitter analytics company SocialBro found that top fashion bloggers had more influence over buyers than A-list celebrities. In the same vein, the size of an influencer’s audience does not necessarily reflect their level of engagement with followers.

In deciding on a potential list of targets for influencer outreach, don’t limit yourself to the usual suspects. For example, if your company sells technical gadgets, don’t just focus on reviewers of tech products. Think about who the end user might be and broaden your search to include them. If your brand is not well known, it might be better to aim for emerging influencers or niche subject experts rather than top level influencers, as you’re more likely to get traction at this level.

When targeting media sites, see if there is any information about publication demographics to work out if it’s the right fit for your brand (this can usually be found with the information for prospective advertisers). Don’t forget to also look at the tone of voice. If you’re trying to position your brand as funky and leading edge, the last thing you need is to associate it with a media property that’s dry and conservative.

If you’re looking for social media influencers, there are a number of tools that have been designed to make this process easier. Some of the more well-known ones are BuzzSumo, Klout and Followerwonk. While these tools can provide a good starting point, you’ll still need to check the influencers out to assess their fit with your brand and objectives.
Buzzsumo screen shot

Step Four: Make your approach
Even if you’re pitching a piece of content to a number of influencers, take the time to customise your introduction. Try to throw in a reference to something that shows you’ve done your homework – for example, similar content they’ve published, a recent presentation they’ve done etc. At the very least, if you’re pitching to a publication make sure you find out the editor’s name. Nothing will get you a one-way ticket to the trash folder faster than opening with ‘Dear Sir or Madam’!

Unless you have already established a relationship with the influencer on a particular medium, email is the safest way to go (assuming you can access their email address). Social media messages are too easily lost in the noise. Start by briefly outlining who you are and give a synopsis of your content or your idea. A short paragraph or dot points will suffice here. If you’re pitching an idea for an article, it may be useful to include links to similar articles you’ve written before so the influencer can see your style of writing. If you’re pitching a completed article, don’t forget to attach it and any supporting material (for example, images). Anything the influencer has to come back to you for will increase the chances of your pitch ending up in the too-hard basket. That said, be mindful of file sizes. Crashing the influencer’s email system with a 50MB image gallery is unlikely to herald the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

If you haven’t heard from the influencer after a reasonable period of time, follow up with another email or a phone call to see check that they received your initial proposal. A bit of judgement is required here – what’s ‘reasonable’ will vary depending on the time sensitivity of the content and the nature of the medium. If you’re following up by phone, have your elevator pitch at the ready and be sure to check that they have ‘a few minutes to chat’ before you launch into your spiel.

Remember that influencer outreach doesn’t necessarily have to be about getting the influencer to actually publish your content. It could be simply about drawing their attention to a great piece of content you’ve created to see if they might be interested in sharing it with their networks or linking back to it in a blog post. Or maybe you’ve mentioned them in your content and you simply want to reach out to them to let them know. This is a great non-intrusive way to encourage influencers to share your content.

Step Five: Promote the content yourself
You might have chosen a particular influencer because their audience is bigger than yours, but that doesn’t mean content promotion is a one-way street. If an influencer publishes your content, use your own channels to further push it out. This will not only help you maximise the value of your outreach efforts, it will also drive more traffic for the influencer and hopefully make them more inclined to accept your content again in future. Use everything you have at your disposal, including all your social channels and email. Also ask your staff and supporters to get on the content sharing bandwagon.

Don’t be deterred if your initial outreach efforts don’t move mountains, especially if you are still in the early stages of establishing a profile. Part of the process is building a rapport with influencers. As long as you’re targeting the right influencers with good quality content, you will be getting yourself on the radar with the right people – which can only be beneficial for future influencer outreach campaigns.

Feature image: Rihardzz / Shutterstock