Every day I log onto my computer, check email, and head to my social networks. I think about my list of to-dos: I need to write content, create videos, do a podcast, connect with my group of 750 ambassadors, update social media marketing accounts, put together an editorial calendar, reach out to advertisers, check with my accountant, plan an upcoming online summit, work on my new website, develop the programming for my membership site — and that doesn’t even factor in my full-time position as a freelance writer and editor.
Then I start sifting through email — lots and lots of emails. Many of these emails are from PR reps and brands that want to receive coverage for products or services. I don’t mind these emails. I appreciate getting updated on the latest research, the best products, and new industry-specific events. But the very act of reading an email, much less responding to an email, takes time. And what I don’t have a lot of is time.
And that is the cornerstone of my life as an influencer. Every moment I spend doing one thing is a moment I can’t spend doing something else. And my dilemma is the dilemma of every influencer, big or small: Time is a scarce commodity. When content marketers target me for influencer marketing, asking me to cover a product, do a review, or re-post a press release, what they’re asking me for is my time. Sometimes I have it to give, sometimes I don’t. But the approach you take can make the difference as to whether or not I’ll make the time.
Working with influencers is rewarding. Influencers — such as bloggers, social media stars, podcasters, YouTubers, and even your local Mom’s Club president — have worked hard to cultivate trust within their circles of influence. When influencers promote a product or service, their circles respond. Sometimes through immediate action, but also through positive brand association — a ripple effect takes place that results in brand awareness and future sales. But to make the most of this ripple effect, you must first enlist an influencer — and there are right and wrong ways to do it.
1. Do your research
Remember: Time is my scarce commodity. I read every email that comes through my inbox, but I only respond to a few. The ones I respond to have clearly demonstrated that there’s an understanding of my audience and a familiarity with my content. In fact, if you send me an email asking me to review a product that doesn’t align with my purpose, I will not only be mildly annoyed that I wasted time reading your email, but I will remember your name, and I will be skeptical of future emails. This isn’t a matter of grudge-holding, but a simple matter of time protection.
Take five minutes to go to an influencer’s website, read the “About” page, and check to see whether there are guidelines for content submission. If there are, understand that the influencer has implemented them to save time. Respect the influencer’s time, follow the guidelines, and make your approach in a way that makes it clear you understand the influencer’s audience and mission.
2. Understand true reciprocity and relationship-building
When I’m approached for an influencer marketing opportunity, I’m looking for evidence that a potential partner understands the value of my time. For example, you would never develop a new, in-person business relationship by walking up to a company CEO, asking him or her to take you out to lunch, pay for your meal, and spend two hours talking to you and, in exchange, only offer him or her the opportunity to take a picture with you.
That would be ridiculous.
In real life, you might ask someone to introduce you to a company CEO, and after getting to know one another, you might offer to take the CEO out to lunch, and pay for his or her meal in exchange for his or her time. There’s an understanding that the CEO’s time is valuable and worthy of an offering of something of value in exchange for it. Online relationship building shouldn’t be any different.
When you approach an influencer, no matter how big or small their circle of influence is, you must understand that on some level, you’re approaching a CEO whose time is to be valued. When I receive emails that say something along the lines of, “I have this great new product I’m representing and I think your audience will love it. Can you provide coverage? I can offer you a high-res image!” my immediate thought is, “How in the world does a high-res image pay for the two hours it will cost me to write something up in a way that is valuable to my audience? And what am I forfeiting (namely money or time available to spend on other projects) to do it?”
Here’s the thing: I cover products, services, and events for free all the time. I do it when it is something that provides immense value to my audience, something I feel strongly about, or a product or service I either love or am fascinated by. I may also provide coverage if I’ve been asked by someone I consider a friend — someone who has taken the time to build a relationship with me, and who I know respects my time and effort.
Otherwise, you won’t be hearing back from me. Or if you do hear back from me, it will be with my standard response: “This doesn’t fit into my current plans for editorial coverage — it’s better suited for paid inclusion on our site. Here’s my information on sponsored posts, advertising, and campaigns...”
When you make your approach, think about what you’re asking, and make it clear that you want the inclusion to be mutually beneficial. “Mutually beneficial” varies significantly based on the influencer you’re approaching, the value of the product or service, and ultimately, what you’re able to offer. But for the record, offering a high res image, or a sample of a $10 pair of socks in exchange for a review that takes two hours to write, edit, post, and send to social media, isn’t mutually beneficial.
3. Go ahead and build that relationship
I’m a real person — all influencers are. I develop relationships online, and I recognize names that frequently come through my email. Don’t hesitate to ask me questions, or to let me know what’s going on in your world: By finding common ground, you make a connection and build a relationship.
Years ago a PR rep sent me a message in response to a HARO request. She noticed I was living in Oregon, and she asked what I thought of the area. I told her it was beautiful, but a bad fit for the Texan in me (I couldn’t handle the weather). Turns out she was also from Texas and, by coincidence, her older sister and I knew each other: We had graduated from high school together.
It was an incredible connection that stuck with me. Every time I see an email from her, we banter a bit, and I always do what I can to help her out. She built a relationship, and because I feel connected to her on a personal level, I’m more likely to work her products or services into my coverage (only when they’re a good fit for my audience, of course).
And while this is an extreme example, it’s an important one: By showing authentic interest and asking a relevant question, you can develop a mutually-beneficial relationship that lasts for years.
4. Follow up
Remember what I keep saying about the scarcity of my time? Well, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve received an email, thought, “Huh, that’s interesting,” then looked at my schedule and said, “Nope, can’t make it work right now.”
But that doesn’t mean I won’t be able to make it work in a week or two, or a month or two. If I don’t respond to an initial email, I certainly won’t be offended if you send me a follow-up, especially if the content you’re peddling is a good fit for my audience.
You might be wondering why I wouldn’t respond to the first email if I found the content interesting. Good question. Sometimes it’s because I feel too overwhelmed to start up a back-and-forth email chain. Sometimes it’s because I’m not sure it’s a good fit, and I don’t want to get your hopes up or promise something I can’t deliver. And sometimes it’s simply because I forget (sorry!).
5. Think creatively and be open to creative ideas
Well known influencers have earned that moniker because, well… they’re influential. Influential people aren’t the ones doing the same thing as everyone else — they’re the trendsetters, they’re the ones doing something differently that others find interesting and worth following.
If you want to get my attention, then approach me with a pitch that’s different: Suggest a new type of partnership, or a fun way of collaborating on a standard piece of content. Instead of saying, “I represent XYZ athletic apparel. Can I send you a sample in exchange for a review?” or “We’d like you to be a brand ambassador. Can you post about our company twice a month in exchange for a discount code you can offer your audience?” come up with a twist like, “Our company just came out with a new running shoe. We’d like to sponsor an Instagram challenge through your site, giving away a pair of shoes to a few of the participants — is this something you’d consider?” As someone who receives dozens and dozens of requests on a regular basis, I’m more likely to respond to something I haven’t seen or taken part in before.
And sometimes, if you’re promoting a brand, service, or individual I really like, but your pitch wouldn’t serve my audience, I might come back to you with a different idea. If you’re receptive to my idea, or you’re open to doing something creative (even if it’s not the idea I pitched), I’m more likely to want to work with you, both now and in the future.
6. Don’t be cheap
I understand you might not have a huge budget to pursue influencer marketing. I also understand you might have a huge budget. I don’t know the full background on every request I get. But what I do know is that, while I love serving my audience, I also love serving my stomach… with food, on a daily basis. Food costs money, just like the roof over my head, my internet connection, and my business overhead costs money. Every minute of my time costs money, just like every minute of your time costs money. In order to serve my audience, I must first make sure my basic human needs are being met.
If I ask you for your budget, or if I tell you I can only commit the time necessary in exchange for payment, I promise it’s not because I’m being a green-eyed, money-hungry, greed-demon. When I receive a response like, “It’s our policy not to pay for coverage,” my thought is, “Does your boss get away with that response when you show up for work each day?” Surely you expect to be paid for the work you put in. And on some level, you must understand that your “policy” not to pay for coverage devalues my policy to eat regularly and pay my rent.
But I’m not unreasonable. If you come back to me with a reasonable response — one that explains your position, values my need to eat, and offers a solution that’s mutually beneficial — I might even consider your proposal.
Content marketers and influencers live in a state of symbiosis: We both benefit by working together. As an influencer, I want to find companies, brands, products, and people I can bring to my audience and unabashedly promote — as the saying goes, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” But I only want to work with the content marketers I respect (and whom I can respect) and who understand that time is scarce and valuable. If you come to me with those understandings, I promise, I’ll reciprocate in kind.
What do you wish influencers understood about working with content marketers? How can influencers interact with you in a way that’s better for everyone? I would love to read your thoughts in the comments.
Looking for more guidance on influencer marketing? Download our complete toolkit, Influencer Marketing: The Latest Strategies, Templates, and Tools, for a simple 8-step process – including templates.
Cover image by kruziwuten via Pixabay.com