According to research from Fipp, of all the marketing channels used today, influencer marketing is experiencing the fastest growth.

This makes sense since in general, consumers trust influencers more than they trust brands.

In case you’re not yet familiar with influencer marketing, it’s a form of marketing that uses influencers (think bloggers, vloggers, journalists, and industry experts) to get your brand in front of new audiences (i.e. the influencer’s audience). This could be as simple as offering your product(s) to bloggers for review. It could involve inviting influential figures to events. Or it could mean forging long-term relationships in which influencers repeatedly create content that’s geared around your brand.

I spoke to Matthew Spurr recently about his thoughts on this (he’s the co-founder of Quuu, a very cool social media content tool that I strongly suggest you check out, if you haven’t already). He told me, “Influencer marketing is the most obvious strategy ever for improved engagement, yet so few people actually consider it in their marketing, let alone genuinely leverage it.”

Taru over at App Virality filled me in on a few of their favorite ways to work with influencers:

  • Influencer interviews
  • Writing about growth strategies of apps and including quotes of co-founders or early employees
  • Creating articles by blending in curation with influencer mentions
  • Including influencer experiences in relevant stories
  • Just writing age-old influencer lists!

It’s pretty clear that there are plenty of ways to get influencers involved with your brand. The hard part is getting them to agree to work with you. If you’re a big brand with a budget to match, you’ve got a head start on most of us (money talks and few influencers are willing to work for free – understandably).

But money isn’t everything.

If there are limited funds in the pot, all is not lost. You might have to try harder to get influencers to notice you, and you might have to give them more reasons to work with you, but there are ways to stand out and increase the odds that influencers will say “yes” to promoting your brand.

Let’s take a look at them…

Work with someone that’s just starting out

Instinct might tell us that we should work with the biggest and “best” influencer that we can afford – period. That makes sense – the bigger the influencer, the more people any resulting campaign will potentially reach.

And yet, while I would never discourage a brand from aiming high, I’d also encourage them to consider working with someone that’s up and coming. Why?

  • They’ll (most likely) ask for less compensation for their time, but more importantly…
  • It will allow you to “grow” together and build a lasting, mutually beneficial relationship.

In my experience, working with the biggest names isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be. You need them much more than they need you – and they know that. Sure, if they’re being compensated financially for their time, I doubt you’ll hear them complaining, but when you choose to end the relationship, there’ll probably be plenty of other brands lining up to take your place.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that working with someone smaller will be any different – a jerk is a jerk, whether they have five followers or five million. However, if you take the time to find someone that not only matches the interests of your brand, but that you trust and get along with on a personal level, you should be in a position to build a relationship that’s based on more than financial transactions.

Key takeaway: Work with someone that’s still finding their feet – that is in a similar place to you – and try to build a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship.

Meet them at events

Research from Augure found that 66% of marketers use email to reach out to influencers, 57% use Twitter, and 52% contact them via their blog.

In the same study we’re told that “80% of the UK market stated that email was the most effective manner [for reaching out to influencers].” And yet, “some users feel that face-to-face contact with influencers or meeting them at events are the best approaches.”

When it comes to contacting influencers, there is no single “best” approach. Everyone is different. Email’s awesome because it’s efficient and leaves a paper trail. Obviously I love it – I based a whole tool around contacting influencers over email. However, sometimes it can come across as impersonal, and while email may be convenient for the person you’re trying to contact, the opposite can be true for those that are trying to contact them.

In that case, you might want to try pushing your outreach up a notch – by meeting people you want to work with in person.

While I don’t have stats to illustrate precisely how many marketers are going to the length of attending the same events as their target influencers, I’m willing to bet it’s few and far between. That’s understandable. It’s a costly strategy – in both time, and in most cases, money. But if there’s anything that’s going to make you stand out and ensure an influencer remembers you, it’s meeting them in person.

I’m a big advocate of this strategy myself. Email’s great. A necessity. I honestly don’t know what I’d do without it. But I don’t hide behind it. Email is no substitute for real-time, face-to-face communication.

Key takeaway: Don’t rely upon, or hide behind, email. Make yourself stand out from everyone else that’s vying for an influencer’s attention by finding out which events they’re attending, and where possible, going along yourself. Just play it cool – you want to come across as genuinely interested in these people. You don’t want to come across as a stalker.

Send them a gift

This is another strategy that needs to be approached with a little caution: Send the wrong person the wrong gift and you could easily freak them out. You’ll generally get better results when you know a little bit about your recipient and are already in contact with them.

Let’s say, for instance, that you see someone you want to work with tweet about how much they’re craving chocolate. Sending them some chocolate and replying to their tweet to let them know it’s on its way opens the lines of communication. When the gift arrives, they’ll be happy and grateful rather than confused and concerned.

However… I think this tactic can also have a huge impact when you approach someone as a brand, not as an individual, and that gift is…your product.

Do you remember when Morton’s Steakhouse responded to this tweet…

…by actually showing up at Newark airport with a porterhouse?

That’s one surefire way to get yourself noticed.

Of course, as generous as Morton’s gift may have been, there’s no doubt it was a calculated gesture.

Peter Shankman’s a pretty famous guy. He’s a best-selling author, NASA advisor, and the founder of HARO. Today he has 168,000 followers on Twitter.

Would Morton’s have been quite so generous had Joe Average with 650 Twitter followers sent the same tweet? Probably not. And that’s okay. That’s marketing.

While this one was easy for Morton’s since Peter tweeted them directly, you can potentially do something similar if you keep tabs on the people you want to work with and jump in when an appropriate opportunity arises. The gift itself doesn’t have to be your product, but it definitely helps.

Tread carefully – choose a gift wisely, don’t send it cold (i.e. ensure you’ve initiated contact with the recipient first), and this sneaky tactic should prove to be a great way to make sure someone remembers you and will increase the odds they’ll say yes to working with you.

Key takeaway: Start monitoring the online activities of the influencers you want to work with (I like to create a specific Twitter list for people I’d like to connect with) and keep an eye out for opportunities to send them a gift they’ll genuinely appreciate and be grateful for.

Butter them up on your blog

When you have an influencer in mind that you really want to work with, you can start to get on their radar by featuring them on your blog.

This could mean just quoting them or linking to an article they’ve written. I do this regularly – sometimes it’s intentional, because I want to capture the attention of someone in particular. Most of the time it’s just a coincidence. I quote someone or link to them because it helps to illustrate a point I’m making. If it helps get my name onto the radar of someone new, that’s just a bonus.

Alternatively, you could base a whole post around them. You might write a post that further explores a theory, idea, or statistic they’ve penned. Take a look at a post on my personal blog in which I talk about how to apply Derek Halpern’s 80/20 rule to content creation and promotion to see what I mean.

Or, if they’ve been criticized in any way recently, you could write a piece that defends them. You might, in fact, simply write a piece that talks about how much they’ve influenced you and how you attribute some of your success to them. The trick is, of course, to “butter them up.” You need to make them feel good about themselves (just avoid being too overzealous – you don’t want to scare them!).

Once you’ve written and published your post, you need to make sure they know about it. Link to them from within the post (which you should do anyway) and they might find out naturally. Then again, if they don’t regularly look at who’s been linking to them, they won’t. So just tell them. Being bold and upfront will also open the lines of communication with them, which is exactly what you want.

Key takeaway: Feature your target influencer(s) in a blog post by quoting them, or if appropriate, linking to something they’ve written. Alternatively, write a post that’s specifically about them or an article they’ve written.

Target them using Facebook ads

One of the great things about Facebook ads is how specific they allow you to get with your targeting – so much so that it enables you to target certain people. So long as you have the email address, phone number, or Facebook user ID of the people you want to reach out to, you can target them specifically by creating a “custom audience.” Bear in mind that you need to target at least 20 people at once. If you only have one influencer in mind that you want to work with, this technique probably isn’t for you.

There are four ways to do this:

I’m personally most experienced with using Ads Manager, so let’s go through how to use the tool to create and target a custom audience.

1. Go to Ads Manager

2. Click on “Tools” and select “Audiences”
3. Click on “Create Audience” and “Custom Audience”

4. Choose how you want to create your audience. “Customer List” will enable you to create a custom audience by matching emails, phone numbers, or user IDs with Facebook users. “Website Traffic” targets ads at those who visit your site (this involves installing a pixel on your site – it’s an awesome feature, but not much use in this context). “App Activity” allows you to create a list based on people who are using your app – again this is really useful but not relevant to what we’re trying to do here.

We want to target specific people, so we need to select “Customer List.”

5. Next, you can choose to upload a file (which has to be a CSV), import a customer list from MailChimp, or simply copy and paste your list. In this instance, you’re either going to want to upload a CSV or copy and paste the details of the influencers you’re targeting.

I’ve chosen to copy and paste my list. If you’re adding contacts by phone number or IDs, make sure to change the default email setting under “Data Type.”

6. When you’ve entered all relevant details, click “Create Audience.” You’ll then need to give your audience a name and click “Next.” Bear in mind that your audience might not be ready to use right away.

From the next screen you can go straight on to creating your ad by selecting “Create an Ad Using the Audience.”

You will then be able to create an ad in the usual manner (click here for more info on creating a Facebook ad). Just remember to select the Custom Audience you want to target:

I should probably point out that if your custom audience is very small, you will see this message:

That’s okay – you can still target the people you actually want to get in front of. You just have to expand your audience to reach other people, too.

Key takeaway: Use Facebook’s custom audiences feature to target ads at specific influencers. Bear in mind you’ll need at least 20 emails to build an “audience” and may then have to expand your audience further before your ad will be shown.

Send them business referrals

If someone sends you a business referral, you feel pretty excited, right? You’re not only happy about the potential to secure some new business, but you’re also pretty thrilled that someone thinks highly enough of you and your work to recommend you. What’s not to like?

Let’s assume that you do feel this way. If so, it’s safe to say that others will too. This means that referring business to someone you’d like to work with is a great way to break the ice and get them on board.

As I see it, there are three tricks to pulling this one off:

Get the balance right – The bigger the influencer, the more significant the referral you’re probably going to need to send their way to get them to notice you. Money talks, and if someone’s used to getting new business every day without even trying, you’re going to have to pull something pretty special out of the bag if you want to get their attention.

This next one should be obvious, but…

Make sure whoever you’re referring actually explains who referred them and why they (i.e. you) are awesome. If they can get the influencer in question to follow you on Twitter (or something to that effect) even better.

Follow up – A few days, maybe a week (don’t leave it too much longer) after your referral confirms as a new customer, follow up with your chosen influencer. Send them a friendly, casual email that mentions:

  • The details of the referral itself (to jog their memory of who you are)
  • Why you chose to refer business to them in particular (in other words: butter them up)
  • A proposal for what you’d like to happen next (i.e. work together)

If you do all of the above, you should wind up in a pretty strong position for getting exactly what you want.

Key takeaway: Butter up your target influencers by sending new business their way – just make sure that they know you’re the one to thank!

Take their content and make it better

In short, this entails repurposing a piece of content that your chosen influencer has created, and making it that little bit better. You might rework it into a different format, add extra information, or offer a contrasting view.

Generally, when we talk about repurposing content, we talk about repurposing our own content. However… when handled correctly, there is no reason we can’t repurpose other’s content. After all, no idea is truly original.

Just be careful with this one – you don’t want to offend the very person you’re trying to impress, or piss them off if they deem you to have “stolen” their content. Done right, this can really make someone sit up and notice you. Get it wrong, and they probably won’t want to see you or your name ever again.

So how do you go about repurposing someone else’s content without crossing the line into the realm of “theft” or potentially pissing the original creator off?

Ask for permission

If you’re going to be republishing someone else’s content in any significant way – this could mean publishing large chunks of their text or taking their work and reworking it into a different format – then always ask their permission.

You might think that crediting the original author would suffice. In some cases you’d be correct – some people are happy to receive the exposure, whether or not they’ve given their permission. But not everyone feels this way.

It’s always best to err on the side of caution (especially when you’re trying to get on someone’s good side!) and ask their permission, just in case.

Be polite

If you’re writing a follow-up piece to someone else’s work – whether you’re adding to the conversation or offering a different point of view – seeking their permission isn’t necessary.

You’ll probably link to the original work and you might provide context to your own piece by quoting some of it. They would be well within their rights to request you remove references to their work if they had objections to its use, but free speech means you’re well within your rights to continue the dialogue as you see fit.

Of course, if you’re polite and respectful (and why wouldn’t you be?) I can’t see many people objecting to you using their work in this way.

The trick is to show how much you admire the original content and the person behind it – don’t criticize them, and certainly don’t try to hide the fact that you’ve based your content around their work.

Key takeaway: Repurpose content that an influencer has written. You might write a follow up, explore one of their ideas further, or rework their ideas into a new format. Just be sure to ask for permission if your repurposing could be perceived in any way as “content theft,” and make sure not to criticize the original work.

So that’s it for today. I really hope you’ve picked up a few ideas and strategies that you can take away and start putting into action. There’s more to working with influencers than the financial reward you can offer them – it’s pretty important that they like you and are on board with your brand and what it’s out to achieve, too.

As always, I love to hear if you have any ideas to add or your own experiences to share. Fire away in the comments below: