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Research & Outreach: Influencer Marketing Tactics That Work



Influencer Marketing: High-level Approach

Andy Crestodina: Welcome everyone. This is the SEMrush Influencer Marketing webinar, and I'm super excited to have this guest, Neil Schaffer.

Neil Schaffer: Excited to be here.

Andy Crestodina: So, we always start with a little presentation. I'm going to show you the basic structure and high-level approach to this whole idea of influencer marketing.

Getting leads is a goal for a huge number of marketing campaigns. So to generate leads, what do you need? Two things; you need visitors and you need to convert them.

There are three main sources of traffic for content. There's search, social, and email. But which source of traffic is the most likely to convert? It's search, because those are visitors with intent. Those are visitors that want something.

If we're talking about search, we're talking about rankings. Why do things rank? The site is authoritative, incredible enough to be considered by Google, and the content is rank-worthy. We're talking about off-site and on-page SEO.

Now, I'm going to ask one of the most important questions in all digital marketing; why do people link to things? It's because the content they link to is visible to someone who creates content themselves. In other words, there's a relationship between the brand and the content creator, and there's something worth linking to. Link-worthy content plus relationships with content creators.

So, even if you have a totally search-focused lead gen program, influencer marketing can make a difference. It is important to have relationships with people who create content.

Now, there's a lot of bad ways to do link building. I get emails like this daily. Some of them just say, "Please link to me." Some of them say, "Pay me and I'll link to you." I'm not a fan of that tactic either. How about this one? "I write good article for you." This is just an email with poor grammar.

What we want to do is build relationships, relationships with people that create content. The relationships they can lead to links, which leads to qualified traffic, which can lead to conversions. In other words, leads. We connected the dots already.

Finding Influencers and Building Relationships

So where are these people? Who are they? How do we find them? There are a lot of tools for that. GroupHigh is one example. All you do is enter your topic and a tool like GroupHigh will list the influencers out and you can see the size of their audiences and the places where they publish.

BuzzSumo does a nice job of this as well. You can put in any topic and it will show you not just influencers and the size of their followings, but also the authority of the websites they write for. Bottom line; social media is simply the world's greatest phone book.

Here I am on LinkedIn asking myself this simple question; “who are the editors working in human resource industries?” Editors, bloggers, journalists, academic researchers, podcasters. These are people who create links.

Next, we're going to connect by listening, subscribing, or following, and adding them to a list. Hootsuite provides a way to follow a specific social media list that you've created. Then we're going to engage, share their content, favorite, like their stuff, comment on their content.

Now, see, we're warming it up. No cold emails. Connect with them. Even write a recommendation. Write a recommendation for them in LinkedIn after you've connected. You're building a friendship here after all.

You could try to meet them at a live event. If they're a podcaster, writing a review for them in iTunes will trigger huge reciprocity. If they're an author, write a review on Amazon. Bottom line, if you're not making friends, you're doing it wrong.

So, Neil, not everyone is doing this, but does that feel like a more sustainable tactic than the cold email?

Neil Schaffer: I agree with everything that you said.

Here's the thing about influencer marketing. We're working with people and it takes time to build relationships with people.

The Flaws of Cold Email

When you treat every influencer the same by sending a cold email, number one; you've already devalued them in their eyes, because it's clear that you probably sent this email out to a bunch of other people. Number two; you don't have a relationship, yet you're asking for something extremely invaluable.

Those of us that work in marketing, when we place that link in, we know that we're giving some Google juice to whoever that person is on the other end of that link. We don't do that lightly, right? We're not going to just get an email and all of a sudden, "Oh, I'm going to go back in and spend some time to change a link."

Cold email is the absolute worst tactic. I have seen some case studies of people say, "Well, I sent out a thousand of these and I got 5 links. So, hey, it's a bad conversion rate, but hey I got five links." But you made a bad impression with 995 other people that are never going to want to work with you.

So it is relationship building. It is getting to know someone and actually having a personalized approach because the value of what you get from them is huge.

Instead of going for quantity, go for quality. Not every influencer is going to engage back with you. You're going to have a list. You're going to identify a group of people, and maybe 5, 10, or 25. Not everybody is going to want to engage back with you, and that's fine. You'll pick a few that you'll be able to build a relationship with, and it has to be mutually beneficial.

The more influence you have, the easier it's going to be to work with influencers because they see that it's going to be more mutually beneficial. Building influence will help you yield more influencers.

Andy Crestodina: Right.

Neil Schaffer: What really fascinates me, Andy, when I get these cold emails, is all the other blogs they say that they've already been featured on. All these blogs, in my eyes, have been devalued, because they're accepting blog posts from anyone and everyone. I think at the end of the day, that's going to hurt them with Google authority.

Andy Crestodina: What we're talking about here for everyone's sake is a huge disadvantage and possible risk, reputation risk of sending massive amounts of cold email. The problem is the lack of warmth in the outreach.

Really, quick, we have a question from Yolanda. Yolanda asks, "What is a good authority? What's a good range of credibility for a website for an influencer to collaborate with?”

As a general rule, I would just consider any website or domain that has a higher authority than yours, or higher domain scores than yours to be good.

Neil Schaffer: Exactly.

Andy Crestodina: If there is a very large gap between your relative level of visibility and fame and theirs, that just makes it even more important that you warm it up slow. There are amazing examples of influencer marketing where people reached out and were successful connecting with huge brands, big names, celebrities, legit, pop culture, world-stage celebrities, but you don't do that with a cold email.

Another point you made, Neil, that I think is important, everyone's got a permanent record, because if I search my email for your name and you came up in there 18 months ago as someone who spammed me, that's not helping you out. Treat people like people. I'm not saying you can't aim high, or that the pitch won't work, but it's not going to work if it's cold.

Neil Schaffer: At the end of the day, it comes down to personalization, which comes down to doing research, right? Influencers are really, really busy people. If you're trying to send them an email, think of all the others before you that have already done that.

Andy Crestodina: You're getting so many. That inbox is filled. So they should recognize your name because you're already connected, because you've been commenting on and sharing their content.

You're trying to reduce the friction as you would in any relationship and be considerate in the ask. The R, the return on that investment must be evident, and the I, the investment, should be as low as possible.

Neil Schaffer: It does get back to, “what's in it for me”? Try to make it easy. Give them a reason. And this gets into an interesting topic: do influencer relationships cost money? Because time is money, and influencers have client work and they have a job and they're already getting money from brands. It's going to be hard to build a relationship organically that might not require some compensation, right? It doesn't have to be money. It could be a gift card, a donation.

I really think it is one of the least properly understood concepts in marketing. I think it's also the thing that a lot of people have been miseducated, which explains why we get all these bad cold emails.

The Power of Research in Link Building

Andy Crestodina: Kim has a question from a marketing agency standpoint; "How do you suggest approaching link building on behalf of the client?"

Look at the industry of the client, ask where there are information gaps or data gaps. Is there a statistic that you could create? In other words, create a piece of research that answers an important question in that industry. Then go big on creating an amazing piece of content that answers that question.

When you publish this piece of research, include influencer quotes in the research. When you reach out to them, say, "Yeah, I know you're an expert on this specific thing. Could you please send me 50 words in the next two weeks on this topic to include in my industry study?"

They're going to love being quoted in a piece of original research. You showed that you care and you're listening by citing other things they've already created, and when you publish that link-worthy piece that's 3,000 words long and it's filled with original data, you don't have to worry about whether influencers who create content ever see it, because they're in it.

So create link-worthy content as an original research, which builds citations, links, and make it visible to other people by including them in the research.

Be Both Professional and Personable

Here's a question from Christian, “Should we do this from a company account and can we build relationships if more than one of us running the account?"

Neil Schaffer: Yes, if you are trying to build influence for your company, it should be from your company account. But on the other hand, people relate to other people. So when you reach out, it's always important to say, "Hey, I am so and so who is in charge of something something at the company."

If Ritz-Carlton Hotels was going to reach out to me, I don't expect to get angelasmith@gmail. I would expect to get angelasmith@ritzcarlton.com. So I think in some ways you want to make sure that you use the company brand. But make it personable, right?

Whether you're B2B or B2C; B2B is people within companies connecting with people inside companies, right? So that personal touch when you write from a company is always going to help.

There are a lot of different ways in which you can work with influencers if you think outside of the box. Definitely, writing, getting data, writing a significant research paper is an awesome way of doing that, say that you'll include them in it, or you want to include a quote. Including them in your content is an awesome tactic that works.

But it really depends on your industry as well. At the end of the day it's going to cost something, and giving away your product is the easiest thing you can do. Not everybody is going to say, "Great" and use that product.

But If an influencer will not take you up in that opportunity, they may never work with you anyway, because there's no interest in your product or service. So it's also a good way to test the waters.

Creative Influencer Marketing

Andy Crestodina: It is. After all, you want not just an influencer who is incentivized to promote your content, but someone who's literally engaged with it. Influencer marketing has a chance to be really creative.

I can't speak for everyone, but my content over the years has become subtly more formulaic because I use the analytics to see what's working and I dump the tactics that don't work and I write long-form, search-optimized blog posts with contributed quotes and keyword focus.

I used to write crossword puzzle blog posts, and I wrote a poem one time. I wrote a poem about SEO. My content has gotten less creative. But influencer marketing, yeah, why not do something different.

I think it's a chance to be really creative, and that's one of the sad things about cold email, is that it just misses that opportunity to do something different or unexpected or more generous or more fun. This is really a category where I think people should go back to some of the reasons why they started doing marketing because they wanted to be fun and creative.

Neil Schaffer: Yeah. You got to stand out, right? Because everybody is trying to influence the influencers these days. It can't be scripted.

You may meet lower level influencers who will take anything and everyone. Ten of those people might not have as much value as working with one more legitimate influencer.

B2B Influencer Marketing

Andy Crestodina: A question from Frederick; "Is influencer marketing relevant in the B2B context?"

I'm a B2B marketer, and I find it very relevant. It's human to human, so it's relevant for anyone. Basically, influencer marketing is about finding people that have already built the audience that you'd like to connect with, and borrowing that audience from them in a very sensitive considerate way, or renting that audience in a paid context.

I don't see any reason why B2B would be less powerful. B2C influencer marketing to me is a little bit more top of the funnel. It's a little bit more celebrity-driven.  The higher up in the funnel you want to influence, you're looking for a celebrity. Farther down it's an influencer or someone in the niche. At the very bottom, the influencer might be someone that you're already working with, like a customer who can create content with you.

Neil Schaffer: Influencer marketing is about influence. Who yields influence in the community that you want to sell to? That you want to influence? So with B2B, it's going to be very, very different from B2C, right? From B2B, it might be a partner. It might be a reseller, a distributor. It might be an employee. It might be more of like a tech blogger. It might be a tech YouTuber. Either way, the general concept applies.

Andy Crestodina: Let's suppose you sell marketing services to construction companies. Who's influential in that category?

Well, there's a conference every year where all the marketers from construction companies get together. The programming director who books speakers for that conference is an influencer, and if I could make friends with that person, I've got a chance of being on a stage in front of everybody in my target audience and demonstrating expertise.

The editor of Rock & Dirt Magazine is an influencer. Executives of construction companies read Rock & Dirt Magazine, and if I can make friends with that editor, I might be able to get included in an article or be able to pitch them a piece.

So it's really just working backwards from that thing that you want knowing that there's a friendship or a relationship in the middle to get you there.

Don’t Just Rely on Influencer Marketing Tools

Neil Schaffer: I am the biggest fan of technology and influencer marketing tools out there. But you can't rely on a tool to be able to help you find influencers in the construction industry market, right?

It comes down beginning with common sense. Where do people congregate? Who are the influencers? Because if you were to do a search in any influencer marketing tool for construction industry marketing, you're going to get vastly different results. So you need a combination. The technology is going to help validate influence in many instances when you're not sure. But you don't necessarily need a tool to begin.

The problem that a lot of marketers have, and I see this a lot in B2C, is they treat influencers as if it was a traditional marketing campaign.

Over the course of 30 days, we need 30 pieces of content. We need 30 Facebook posts. We need 60 Instagram stories, and each one has to be three frames. I've actually seen this in a pitch to me as an influencer. It's basically a laundry list of deliverables that they need. I'm thinking, “what real influencer actually wants to take part in something where they're very constrained as far as their creativity goes?”

The other thing is they know their audience better than the brand does. So, why don't you have a discussion saying, "You know what? Our main KPI for this is driving traffic to this site, or getting people to download an ebook or join the webinar. What do you think, based on your knowledge, is the best way to do that? And how do we make sure that you benefit from it as well?"

Andy Crestodina: One thing to keep in mind is that these people that you're reaching out to, not only do they get a lot of outreach, but one of their resource shortages is time. So, any idea that you have that keeps their investment minimal makes you more likely to get accepted.

In marketing, the traditional mega roundup is kind of overused. The link value on a post with 600 people is basically zero. Because the value of an outgoing link is divided by the number of outgoing links. If I'm one of 600 links on your page, that doesn't really pass much value to me. I think people forget about that.

In any case, when I reach out to people say, "Would you mind contributing a quote? I would be thrilled to include you in this section down here.” I'm only doing like three or five contributions at most. They're within a bigger article.

The post is keyword-focused, so they're probably going to get a lot of visibility from it. I will link to any piece of content that they feel is relevant. If they understand search, they may see that as a bigger benefit because it's not a mega roundup, first of all. Secondly, it may be linking to something deeper, more specific, improving their backlink profile. It's not just another homepage link.

Neil Schaffer: Also, companies have access to resources that influencers may not have. Think of the things that you can provide as a company because you have an infrastructure that the influencers may not have access to and you're going to get lots of ideas as to what you can offer them that's going to have value in their eyes.

Following Up With Influencers

Andy Crestodina: Neil, let me ask you how often do you see this? You contribute to something and then that brand wants you to collaborate on the promotion of it, of course, and then you get an email that says, “it's live, go share it.” What are your tips or thoughts about the post-content, launch, follow-up communication?

Neil Schaffer: That's an interesting question. This is more specific to this content collaboration idea. I call it a content-centric influencer marketing program which a lot of B2B companies do.

I find that influencers are busy people. So what I see some marketers do wrong is they go overboard saying, "Hey, these influencers have already invested time into the content creation.  Invest more time in sharing". I mean, they will share it when the timing is right for them. So I wouldn't go overboard.

I mean, I'd obviously say, "Hey, thank you so much for your contribution. Here's the link. Go check it out. Feel free to share with your network if you think it's worthy of your brand." I would leave it at that.

I work in social media, so I don't need the tweet link to figure out how to quickly share that tweet, right? If these people are heavy social media users, which most influencers are because they're content creators, I don't think you need to go that extra mile.

The Impact of Celebrity Influencers

Andy Crestodina: I want to ask this fun question. So, a celebrity shares your stuff. How much does that really move the needle? Is this a myth? Does it really matter? Is it just an ego thing or a vanity thing if you like, "That famous person shared me on Twitter."?

As an example, several of the emotional peaks in my career as a marketer were when the official Google Analytics account shared articles I had written.

But, really, what is the benefit of that? What's the upside? So you go look at analytics and check what was the spike during that hour? 30 visits? 50 visits? How much does it matter, a tweet from a celebrity? Is it overly weighted in the minds of influencer marketers?

Neil Schaffer: I think there are two different ways to look at it. Number one; the immediate impact can be quite limited. I was actually on Japanese national TV. I was featured on a pretty famous show that most Japanese people know of, and when I posted that on Instagram, maybe I got like three new followers.

On the other hand, I've had Guy Kawasaki share some of my content. This is a few years ago and it led to like hundreds of new visits in my Google Analytics. It really can be mixed. I think it comes down to the platform, the relevance of that content to the influencer's community.

It's all about the relevance of the audience, right? As a marketer, you have to pivot and you have to keep moving as well. The topics that worked 10 years ago, simply, they may work today, but they're going to be a lot less effective because it's always a changing landscape. You always have new channels of communication. You always have new things that people are looking at.

When you think about all the different ways in which you can engage with people and get them to find you, obviously you have digital media, you can do ads, you can do SEO.

So when a celebrity tweets you out, how much value does it have? I don't know. At the end of the day, and this is the big picture when we talk about influencer marketing from a social media perspective, the algorithms favor people. They always will favor people.

As a business, if you want to be found in social media and you want to stick out, you have to work with people. It could be your employees. It might be other people, but being found on social media, it's either going to be paid media or it's going to be people media, and that's the main message here.

So you need to start some influencer program, starting with your own fans, starting with your own followers, your own customers, your own employees and try to leverage that. Maybe begin with employee advocacy and celebrate the employee as an influencer.  

Influencer marketing is definitely more effective than organic social because you're working with people instead of brands.

Influencer Marketing Budget

Andy Crestodina: Scott asks about budget. Now, I want to say first that there are different ways to spend money on influencer marketing. There are tools that cost something. There are PR firms that will help you with this. There are agents that you can pay to access their book of influencers.

Then there's the HR cost for your company. But probably Scott is asking about the out-of-pocket expense, the incentive, the paid incentive to the influencer to engage with them, which, Neil, we know ranges hugely, right? There are bloggers who, in exchange for free product, will share and promote. There are people who are literally it's $20,000 per Instagram post.

On average, I think that the stats show 63% of influencer marketing budgets are increasing and that a lot of the money is going to the PR firm to manage the campaign it sounds like. Anyway, how about you answer that? How much does it cost?

Neil Schaffer: Well, time is money. So you have your out-of-pocket cost that you're going to pay someone, but there's also the cost of your own time of having to do this, and there's also the opportunity cost, that if you're not doing this, what potential are you missing out on? Because you might be doing something that is a lot less effective. So it's going to be different.

I see both sides of the picture because I have an agency and we do influencer marketing campaigns as well. I reached out to a hundred influencers, and I can tell you what they asked for in terms of compensation was very, very different. Very few are willing to do it for free, but some were.

Most at least wanted a product. Some wanted two products; one that they could actually use for a giveaway, which would help them build their list. Some wanted money on top of that. Some wanted three products and more money. Some wanted an exorbitant amount of money. It was like a price list.

With the democratization of influence, it's also brought down the price I believe for a lot of influencers because there are a lot more influencers out there, and there're a lot more brands working with micro-influencers. So it's a weird paradigm that we're in right now. Just for fun, go to one of these influencer marketplaces and see how much people charge for an Instagram post or a blog post.

I had some influencers saying, "You know what? I normally charge $400 for this blog post, but because your product has a lot of value and I personally want one of whatever it is, I'm going to only charge you $100."

There's no real set price. A lot of it comes down to emotion, it comes down to relationship, it comes down to relevance. So the question, "How much should I budget? It's less about how much you should budget and more about something long term you do, just like link building.

Bringing It All Together

Andy Crestodina: I love this last question from Heart & Sleep Clinics of America. “Who would be good influencers to reach out to for a cardiologist's office?”

I'm going to throw out some ideas for you. Suppose you wanted to do an event that would make you more visible to the people nearby. You might find one person who's an expert in nutrition who's going to give a short presentation and you're going to use Facebook to target all the people who are close by who meet certain demographic criteria. Have them come in and that influencer would be the subject matter expert, the SME, who's a nutritionist.

Another might be to reach out to the American Heart Association because you want to get a quote from them for a piece of research that you're publishing and you know that adding their name, their face, their logo to something on your site is going to add a lot of credibility. That would give your site more social proof.

The question isn’t just about who's the influencer. But what is the format? What's the topic? How is it promoted? How do these things work together to increase your visibility?

Neil Schaffer: I think, Andy, you gave a great example of how you can bring all these different elements together in different ways, but it comes down to having the marketing mindset and figuring out where these influencers fit in the general scheme, because social media does not fit in a silo. Influencers do not fit in a silo.

Events are great ways to work with influencers and to bring people together and to yield influence for communities. So it all has to work together. But it starts with really understanding your target audience and what type of people may influence them. What type of people might they be interested in the opinion of? I thought the example of a nutritionist was awesome.

Andy Crestodina:   So we'll have to leave it there. Thanks everyone for joining. Keep your eye out. These are all recorded, of course, and you can come back and watch the recording later.

If you know anybody who would like this, please share it with them. We also are now posting transcripts, which are reformatted and scannable into a long format text piece, which you can come back and just jump back in if we said something that you want to come back to and don't want to watch the whole video, you'll find it there.

Thanks again. The next one will be coming up in about a month or so. Huge thanks. Neil, let's do this again sometime.

Neil Schaffer: Thank you, my friend. It was awesome.

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