At the largest content marketing conference in the world, over 2,500 attendees from 50+ countries converged on Cleveland, Ohio this week to learn about all things content marketing. Our agency, TopRank Online Marketing, has been involved with CMWorld since day one: presenting every year for the past 4 years as well as helping to market the conference through influencer eBooks. Saying we’re big fans of the event is an understatement.
As it happens, my first session at Content Marketing World was presented by our CEO, Lee Odden on the topic of influencers and content marketing.
What is an influencer? In a recent interview featured in Ann Handley’s Entrepreneur Magazine column, Lee described influencers as having “subject matter authority, credibility amongst a network and most importantly, the ability to affect actions amongst a network.”
For content marketers, the challenge is to move past the “how can we gain entry into the influencer’s network?” mindset, to instead focus on content partnership opportunities that deliver value on the key topics audiences care about. In his 2014 Content Marketing World presentation, Content + Influencer Marketing = Powerful Way to Grow Your Business, Lee provided five fundamental steps content marketers can follow to plan, implement and optimize influencer marketing programs.
Step 1: Influencer identification
Make a choice on the topic or theme you want to be associated with. Then, use social tools such as Traackr, BuzzSumo, Little Bird or Keyhole to identify those who exert influence on your topic. It’s important to distinguish between those who are popular and those who inspire action because underwhelming results can occur when you engage people who appear popular, but in actuality are “white noise” to the discussion surrounding the topic.
A brandividual is popular. An influencer is effective at creating popularity.
Finally, use self-validation to ensure the identified influencers are producing quality content that aligns with your objectives. Trust your judgement of quality and don’t be afraid to shine a light on up-and-comers who are producing quality work. As Lee said, “work with an influencer, they’re friends for a day. Help someone become influential and they’re a friend for life.”
Step 2: Influencer
Now that you have identified and validated your target influencers, it’s on to romancing them. A few ways you can do this are:
- Share status updates
- Comment on blog posts
- Liveblog their session
- Interview them
- Co-create content (you can take the lead on this with thoughtful curation)
- Interact with them at events, or take advantage of other opportunities to interact “in real life”
Step 3: Influencer recruitment
The simple rule here is to make it super easy for people to participate. A modular approach to content — a tactic that allows influencers to contribute small pieces of information which you can aggregate into a larger anchor piece — makes for easy participation. You can also go the other way with modular content, using influencer contributions in social messages, blog posts and newsletters.
Lee keeps copies of his outreach emails and tracks how well they perform, which allows him to optimize the process. He finds using the word “invitation” in the subject line helps, and providing a visual example can help influencers grasp the context of their participation. You should also use the names of those who have already agreed to participate as others may feel compelled to participate because they “belong” with your current participants. The image below shows even more components of an effective outreach message.
And sometimes you just have to get creative. Lee has used off-the-wall products like “his and her beard scarves” and “brief jerky: edible male underwear” to compel would-be participants.
Step 4: Measure influencer content performance
How good was the content from each influencer? Did they share the content with their networks? Did they engage further with it? What were the sources of your traffic?
Evaluate your own performance as well. Did you make it easy for busy influencers to engage with the content by providing pre-written social messages, links, embed codes and status updates?
A thorough evaluation will reveal the campaign components you should keep, those you should tweak, and those you should toss entirely.
Step 5: Develop an ongoing relationship
There are several tactics marketers can use to strengthen relationships with their new content partners, including:
- Offering feedback related to performance
- Citing and promoting content partners in blog posts
- Continuing engagement on social networks
- Referring their expertise
- Citing in contributed articles
- Including in future projects
Finally, there was an excellent question in the Q & A session which many marketers can relate to. Essentially, the question was, “Influencers probably won’t recognize me or my brand, how can I compel them to participate?”
To get the ball rolling, you may want to consider paying influencers to participate or providing some sort of preferential treatment. If you can convince one well-respected influencer to participate, you can leverage his or her participation in the rest of your outreach efforts. But the easiest (and most cost-effective) way to get influencers to participate is to clearly show how their participation will lead to a remarkable piece of content that provides value to to contributors as well as to your shared audience.
And there you have it: Influencer marketing in five fundamental steps. As Lee says, “You can do it, just make a plan, execute and iterate improvements.”
A big thanks to Joe Pulizzi and his team at the Content Marketing Institute for putting on one amazing event. I can’t wait for day two!
Here’s the full presentation including a case study of how TopRank helped promote this year’s Content Marketing World conference through a series of 4 eBooks, infographics and of course, top content marketing industry influencers: