By Toby Murdock published October 26, 2011

Win at Content Marketing by Building Your Influencer Community

More and more marketers are taking up the challenge of content marketing and they are taking on a brand new function in their organizations: It is that of a publisher.

The challenges and the new roles do not end there, however. As media publishers have evolved in the digital era, they have found that in order to succeed they need not only produce great content, but also must cultivate their community of influencers in their sector. These influencers serve the key function of providing content input, participating in the content production process, and supplying links, retweets, and Facebook “likes.” These contributions are critical to the development of content quality, site audience, and SEO rank, which in turn drive the core objectives of content marketing, including brand awareness and lead generation.

So, congratulations marketers. You now must not only transform yourselves into publishers but also into community managers! To better understand these evolving roles and excel in them, let’s look at the key interactions with influencers, the importance of these interactions, and how you can manage your communication within this community.

Influencer interactions

Here are the touch points at which your content marketing operation interacts with influencers across different stages of the process:

Ideation: An influencer may have provided you the idea for a post. Or you might have had an idea and bounced it off an influencer for their feedback and input.

Production. An influencer might be quoted or linked to in your post.  Or the influencer might have written the post.

Distribution:  You might publish your post on an influencer’s site or mention the influencer in your social distribution of the post (e.g., an @ mention on Twitter). Or the influencer might comment on the post on your site.

Promotion:  You may solicit a link or retweet on your post from an influencer.  This is particularly worth requesting if the influencer was already involved in the process in the preceding steps and they have a personal tie to the post (e.g., “I quoted you in this post I just published…”).

And of course different influencers may link, retweet, “like,” or share your post on LinkedIn.

Reciprocation:  Also key in the interaction is how you might do any of the above for the influencer’s content.  The world of links, retweets, etc., is driven by relationships and  reciprocity, so your actions on their behalf are just as important to the entire relationship as your actions on your behalf.

Influencer importance

Looking across these interactions, the impact of influencers becomes clear. The quality of your content can be strongly affected by the contributions of influencers in the ideation and production stages.

But the real importance of influencers comes in the promotion stage (and thus reciprocity too). To build an audience for your content marketing site, you must cultivate sources of traffic. The distribution you get from links, retweets, Facebook “likes,” etc., is critical to growing your traffic. In the post-Panda SEO world, these social shares and links are more important than ever in growing your SEO rank and increasing traffic that arrives through search engines. Thus, cultivating relationships with influencers and soliciting their promotion of your content becomes critical to your content marketing success.

Managing your influencer community

So now we understand the ways you can interact with influencers and the importance of these interactions to your content marketing efforts. How then do you manage the community of influencers you have cultivated?

First, you need to understand who these influencers are, develop a profile around them, and prioritize your interactions with them accordingly. Here are the main components that would make up typical influencer profiles:

Identity:  Identity includes their name, their organization/company name (if any), and their various internet identities:  website URL, email address, Twitter handle, Facebook account, LinkedIn account, etc.

Role:  The role indicates the position of the influencer in your segment.  An influencer could be a guru or thought leader in your segment (likely working as a consultant).  Or, they could be a customer of yours, a prospective customer, or perhaps even a competitor or vendor.

Influence:  Here we understand the power of this influencer in your segment through some quantitative measures such as:

  • Website visitors (derived from a tool like Compete)
  • Twitter followers
  • Klout score

You can also include a simple score of your own based on the knowledge that the influencer carries in your space.

Category:  Across the spectrum of content that you produce, influencers might have more relevance in certain categories than others. This too should be noted.

Now you have a map of your influencer community, including their profiles. You can prioritize your set of influencers according to the level of influence they carry.

Then you can move ahead with managing your relationships with these influencers. And just like the management of all business relationships (e.g., sales, customer service, etc.), tracking all of your interactions is crucial to success. Of your top-prioritized influencers, which ones have provided you with ideas or have distributed your content (e.g., through a retweet)? Have you reciprocated with distribution of their content? Who have you reached out to looking for distribution?

Careful management of these relationships leads to successful development of an influencer community, which can lead to higher content, high traffic, brand awareness, and leads. As content marketers push forward as publishers, they cannot overlook the importance of influencer community management to achieve their success.

The function requires a significant dedication of time and resources. The tracking of the key information and interactions is quite complex and is typically either done in spreadsheets or Google Docs. Does anyone know of good tools for this function? Please leave your thoughts in the comments.

My thanks to DanWeisman, Marketing Manager at FlipKey, for his inputs on this post.

Image Kheel Center, Cornell University via Flickr

Author: Toby Murdock

Toby Murdock is co-founder and CEO of Kapost, which provides a content marketing platform that enables marketers to become publishers and win at the new game of marketing. Kapost customers include TripAdvisor, Mashable, Intel and Verizon. Toby lives in Boulder, Colorado with his wife and three daughters. Find him on Twitter @tobymurdock / @kapost.

Other posts by Toby Murdock

  • Margaret Johnson

    Hi Toby, and thank you for this thought-provoking post.  I want to underscore the words “thought-provoking,” because I am truly sitting here wanting to poke at these ideas a bit, noodle on this out loud perhaps.  So let me just state my initial thought – this is truly excellent advice for people who are marketing content.  I’m not sure it is 100% true for the people who are marketing services or products, and I think it is a tall order for any marketing shop that doesn’t have people to dedicate to cultivating influencers.

    Let me clarify a couple of things up front.  I am a HUGE believer in content.  I think content marketing is the very best kind of marketing.  I believe content should advance an organization or an individual as authoritative, knowledgeable, and accessible.  I believe that social media is, ideally, a conversation platform, and our content should drive that conversation, or at least provide a framework for it.  

    As I write this comment, I am thinking about a variety of different businesses – the real estate company, the restaurant, the chiropractor, the IT services organization, and I find myself wondering how important it is for these organizations to cultivate influencers as you suggest.  The real estate company would leverage content to present itself as knowledgeable about a specific market, type of property, or neighborhood.  I envision a blog or paper on the topic of “The Importance of De-Personalizing Your Home When Getting Market-Ready.”  Do they really need identified influencers to tweet about it, or comment on their blog post?  Or do they simply need this content accessible to the potential home-sellers who would consider listing with them?  Does the restaurant need to identify influencers that will share their Facebook posts, or are they just as well off making an impression on diners who will do word-of-mouth and social media marketing based on the great experience they’ve had?

    Now I guess if I have a huge Twitter following, and I tweet about an awesome restaurant, I could be considered an influencer, and it would be nice to get a free meal out of it, but I’d have to walk in there and tell them that I am the one who tweeted.  Personally, I would not do that, as I believe it indicates an expectation that I will get something out of it.  I’m happy to be a stealth influencer, in that regard.  I like to give without an expectation of getting something in return.

    I see people who make their living by producing content that entices people to hire them to produce content, and I completely agree that those people should cultivate influencers as it gives them credentials in their content-production vocation.  I’m just not sure that the people who are producing content for the sake of displaying knowledge or accessibility in their services or product marketplace need to invest the time to cultivate influencers as you have outlined.

    Hoping for conversation, as I would love to learn more.


    • tobymurdock

      Thanks Maggie for the thoughtful comment.

      I think it all comes down to traffic. The point of working with the influencers is to get their links so as to get traffic / visitors.

      In your examples above you talk about “potential home-sellers,” “diners,” etc. who are consuming the content. The question is: how do they get to the content in the first place?

      The answer is to pursue influencers to get links to drive traffic.

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