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The Plan. The Pitch. The Project.




Andy Crestodina: We're live. Welcome everybody to the SEMrush Influencer Marketing Webinar. My name is Andy Crestodina, I'm the co-founder of Orbit Media Studios. Marcus Sheridan himself is joining us today. He's gonna share all kinds of insights and approaches and stories good and bad about influence marketing from both angles; how to grow your influence if you're interested in becoming an influencer yourself; how to work with influencers if this is a tactic or a tool that you use to increase awareness and trust.

Marcus Sheridan: I think sometimes when we hear this word “influencers”, we think we're supposed to sound smart. That's not the idea. What we're supposed to do is induce understanding for the masses. This is why for so long instead of using let's say, for example, the word “content marketing”, I said, “Let's just obsess over our customer's questions.” It's a very different way of interpreting it.

My quick story. I started as a pool guy in 2001 out of college. How did I become a pool guy? I just didn't have another job. Was looking around. My two buddies had just started a swimming pool company. They said, “Hey Marcus, will you join us?” I joined them.

Shortly thereafter they said, “Hey, why don't you become the third partner in the business.” It was called River Pools and Spas. We started really small and we pushed really hard to grow it. We grew it up until about 2008, 2009 when the market hit the total fan and things went really bad really fast. I was really close to filing bankruptcy in 2008.

The beauty behind stress and pain right, Andy is it forces us to do things that we'd never done before because it might've been too uncomfortable. It was during this time that I started to read these fancy crazes that had just been bubbling to the surface. Inbound marketing, content marketing, social, digital all this stuff.

What I heard in my simple pool guy mind was, “You know Marcus, you just obsess over your customer's questions and you're willing to address them openly and transparently on your website. Whether they're good, bad, or ugly you just might save your swimming pool business.” That's what we did. We embraced the philosophy that today is known as “they ask, you answer”.

To make a long story short it got traction. It really, really exploded. The traffic ultimately the leads and the sales for the company. We became the most trafficked swimming pool website in the world. Today we get about three-quarters of a million visitors a month. We become the largest builder of fiberglass pools in the U.S. I'm still a silent partner.

I started this really simple blog called The Sales Lion in 2009. Nobody really listened for the first year. I kept talking about what I was doing and some of the stuff I was working on. Suddenly somebody said, “Hey, can you speak at my event.” Somebody said, “Hey, can you teach us how to do that thing.” “Hey, this is really resonating with us, Marcus.”

It started to snowball. It really snowballed after Content Marketing World the first one which we talked about, Andy, you and me a little bit. Might address it today. Now, I get to speak around the world full-time, it's what I do. I own an agency.

The agency has since been renamed IMPACT. We have about 60 some employees. We have so many amazing case studies now of people that did exactly what we did at River Pools because I wanted to show the world it ain't just about pools. It's about you and your business because these are philosophies and principles. That's the quick story.

Andy Crestodina: You're exactly right, you make it accessible and you're not talking over people’s heads using fancy words. Because you summarize the industry in four words. They ask, you answer. It's part of the core.

Marcus Sheridan: I had so many people say to me, and I don't say this as a brag it's just true is they'll come to me and say, “You know I heard you talk on content marketing, Marcus … and it finally makes sense.”

It's because marketers have a massive problem. They speak like marketers. Then they wonder why they can't get buy-in. Do you realize the number one issue that I've received over the course of these eight or nine years of writing and talking about this stuff, Andy isn't, “Hey, Marcus how do I get more traffic leads and sales.” Right. It's, “Marcus, I'm so frustrated because I believe in this stuff but I can't seem to get sales. I can't seem to get management to buy-in.”

That's the number one email. In other words, from our influencers, we can't influence our internal organizations well enough and it's because of a lack of education. It's not because they're just hard-headed mean people. It's because they're ignorant. They're ignorant because we haven't educated taught them all enough. Because we're speaking like marketers, not like salespeople. We're not like business owners.

An Influencer Marketing Case Study: Knowledge Plus Networking

Andy Crestodina: My head is filling with ideas and questions for you. First, I want to continue that part of the market story into the tiny Andy chapter in the market story.

Marcus Sheridan: When we first met that moment.

Andy Crestodina: This would've been the third Content Marketing World because it was back in Cleveland. I was at that second Content Marketing World when you gave that keynote on the main stage in Columbus, Ohio. Then we were both in Cleveland and it was an after party. I had this weird idea. This is an influencer marketing case study.

I go to a conference, “How can I meet everybody at this conference including all of my heroes and hopeful future collaborators?” I bought an orange notebook. Orange is the theme color of that event. I wrote on it, “My Content Marketing World yearbook. The instructions are, “write something: advice or hello. Add your info. Name, Twitter link and have Andy take your picture.”

I got 160 different people to write in my yearbook, just random notes. This was how I approached you. You looked at me like I was crazy. Then you smiled and you signed my yearbook. It was great for my network. We didn't even call it influencer marketing at that time.

I'm actually gonna turn this into a repeatable process. I'm gonna say the two biggest factors in success are network and your knowledge, right? Knowledge plus networking is success. The sources of knowledge such as live events and formal education books, videos. There are networking opportunities such as live events and degree programs, and social media.

Mastermind Groups for Influencer Marketing

There's something specific I don't hear about enough I wanna go into just briefly. Then I'm gonna ask you what you think of this. The idea of the mastermind group. Get out there, go to events. Events are great for networking and knowledge.


The mastermind group is a unique opportunity. Here's the definition. It's a peer-to-peer mentoring concept where members help solve each other's problems by giving input and advice from other members. It was Napoleon Hill whose old book, Think and Grow Rich, where he said that "Every mind needs friendly contact with other minds for food and expansion for growth."


You can do these as virtual events. You can do these as face-to-face events. Sometimes everyone goes, in turn, talking in a monthly thing.

What we often can do is use social media as a way to find these potential collaborators, influencers, mastermind members. To be careful to find just the ones in my mind that are the content creators because there are two kinds of people online. One percent of people make the internet. We are the content creators. We write stuff. Marcus's blog, Marcus's book. This format, this webinar.

Here's a really specific thing I recommend. Pay attention to who you're interacting with on social media and are they a content creator? Yes or no? Content creators… create links, therefore driving authority and future SEO rankings.


Here's my rule for who to connect to on LinkedIn: I connect with anybody in my industry, anyone in the world. You're a marketer in Singapore great. Let's connect. Or, anybody in Chicago in any industry at all. You sell real estate here in the city I live in? Great. I'm gonna accept that connection.

I want your input on this in a minute. Just to be a little more permissive in LinkedIn I think is a good idea. I think it's good for your network. There's no downside. I don't know why you wouldn't want to do that.

I think that's a helpful useful thing about these groups. They should have a little structure so that there's one person who runs it. They take notes. As a content marketer, I'm gonna suggest to you a little agenda. This is a content marketing mastermind group agenda. We'll share these slides.

Marcus, me, six other people are in a group. We're gonna go around the virtual room and say, “What are you doing that we can all promote?" Link to, share, collaborate away. What are you doing that we can all collaborate on? What are you doing to be more productive in your job and in your day? Do I know anyone that you want to meet?

Imagine if you took four, five other people formed a group where you all got on a call and asked each other these questions once a month what that would do for each of you. What they would do for your network? What that would do for your knowledge? What that would do for your reach? Your awareness, your influence, your authority.


Simple right. Costs nothing. What are you doing that we can help promote? What are you doing that we can all help create? How are you becoming more productive in your day? Do I know anyone that you wanna meet? That's my specific recommendation for you guys today. It's the idea of building that network. Building that friendship. I'm in two of these groups myself right now. Marcus, what do you think?

Marcus Sheridan: I think this is magical. I've watched the power of peer-to-peer. "You are the sum of your five closest friends." Generally speaking when you look at a mastermind group they are the friends that will call a spade a spade when somebody needs to call a spade a spade in your life.

For some reason, you're not listening to your family because you're too close to your family or whatever that thing is. Or, because you're too close to the situation you can't see the forest through the trees. That mastermind group can do it for you.

Andy Crestodina: It seems relevant to influencer marketing to me because people when they do influence marketing or networking or content collaboration that's what you're looking for; people who can all offer that value to each other.

What you might think... I thought influencer marketing was about paying Instagram celebrities. We're bringing it way back from that. Just find people who you might consider … micro-influencers. The candidates for a group like that.

Marcus Sheridan: Well, I mean, the thing about it is even with your story with the yearbook, Andy what it made me think about is being very intentional. In other words, you can't just say, "I'm going to go to a live event or I'm going to go to this thing" and hope to get something out of it.

Lose the Fear of Reaching Out to Influencers

You actually had a clear strategy very unique goofy fun little way for you to have a first impression. To make a connection with people. People will see me onstage and think, "He's the ultimate extrovert." I am extroverted with people that I know, not so much when I'm in a room with people I do not know. I don't love going up to people.

Andy Crestodina: Unless they're celebrities, influencers want to be approached.

Marcus Sheridan: Yes, they do. Absolutely they do. Especially of all the ones that I've met. Now, granted I'm not hanging out with celebrities. Of all the ones that I've met in this industry 99% really do want people to come up to them and have that conversation.

Andy Crestodina: We never talk about celebrities on this show. No one here is talking about celebrities. What you said makes perfect sense to me because they wanna get the benefit of having that work on their personal brand and that exposure value from that collaboration.

I personally am thrilled to get any request to speak on someone's podcast big or small. To work on an article. To contribute a quote. Why wouldn't I? It's an honor.

Marcus Sheridan: The only reason you wouldn't is if you forgot who you were before you were known at all. Right. Because I remember the first six months I just wanted somebody to comment on my stinking blog just one time. Just somebody. Mom, dad, anybody leave a comment on my stuff right. Then you go from that to a point where eventually you're turning your nose up. No. I mean, most people just don't become that person.

Andy Crestodina: If they did you don't wanna collaborate with them anyway.

How Do People Lose Their Influence?

How durable is influence? What can lose it?

Marcus Sheridan: I have seen people rise and fall. People that got a brand and they lost that brand. They became very known and not known. It's fascinating what happens. You see these cycles.

One of the things that I see most predominantly is the reason why people lose influence is that they get annoyed with their story. They get tired of telling their story. They say, "I don't wanna be boxed into that thing." When you try to force-feed what people know about you in a different direction it can work against you.

Let me give you an example. I have been asked now as I was today I have been asked, hundreds and hundreds of times, "Marcus, will you tell how you started this. Tell us the pool guy story, Marcus. Tell us the pool guy." When anybody asks me to share the pool guy story I'm not sitting there thinking to myself, "Here we fricking go again. Pool guy story. "I've never said to myself, "I'm tired of being known as the pool guy." See what I'm saying.

The moment you say, "I don't wanna talk about social media even though I've been talking about social media for five years. I only wanna talk about this other thing right now. Don't ask me about that." I think you can really start to hurt your brand and you can start to confuse your audience and limit the value you're giving to the world at that point.

Andy Crestodina: I think there's an influencer marketing nugget in here. Have you ever been asked to speak somewhere where someone gave you a topic and asked you to speak on something where it wasn't your greatest hits?

Marcus Sheridan: I'm not sure. I'm curious to see where you're going with this question. Because unlike most speakers I really love speaking about things for which I am not extremely known for.

Some people say, "Just stick with your thing." Well, if I get asked to it means for some reason they trust me enough. Especially if they're going to pay money. I figure out what is the story behind it. Whatever that thing is. I love to say yes.

There have a very few times I've said no. I do say no a lot when people say to me I get those online requests where somebody's doing these big massive posts of thought leaders and they said, "Hey, Marcus we wanna know what your thoughts on PPC best practices this year.” PPC just ain't my jam. I definitely would give a talk on culture like I did last year a few times. Even though I'd never spoken about culture before.

Andy Crestodina: That's great. When I book speakers for our event, we have a monthly event, and an annual conference, I tell people, bring your greatest hits. I don't care if you just gave that presentation somewhere else. My audience wasn't in that other presentation.

Marcus Sheridan: When I hear Neil Diamond, who is the greatest singer of all time, I want to hear Sweet Caroline." I wanna hear Sweet Caroline. I wanna hear America. Those two songs. They're amazing songs. I want to hear them.

I used to worry about that stuff. I used to worry if somebody heard me twice they would be, "Oh, gee this is redundant." Now, I realize almost every single time like you, Andy people say, "It's amazing how much more I learned the second time than the first."

Andy Crestodina: I can hear it too. There's a takeaway point from here for all of our attendees. The idea is this. You're working with an influencer, collaborate with them on the topic, ask them for what you think would be best for your audience.

Don't be afraid to ask them to go out of their comfort zone if you think they'd be really good at something like Marcus on culture. What I often want when I'm working with someone whether it's a guest post or a contributor quote or a presentation is, I want their best.

Andy Crestodina: We just got a question in. “I’m a single founder for 10 years. I wanna finally ramp up marketing. I'm struggling to get started. Should I start reaching out to influencers directly? What do I need in place beforehand?” It's a good one.

Show Influencers You’ve Done Your Research

Marcus Sheridan: What I'm curious is are they trying to build their brand? Or, are they trying to build their company’s brand? Right. Depending on what they're trying to build here that's going to dictate this conversation.

Andy Crestodina: Well, if it's a single founder then that personal brand and the company brand are probably pretty closely entwined. Polish your basic online personal brand through great profile picture, a lovely profile on LinkedIn. Write a great description. Have a couple of strong pieces of writing examples somewhere online.

Make sure the top post in your blog isn't super old and irrelevant.

Marcus Sheridan: You are way, way better off sending out five personalized video messages let's say to potential influencers then you are sending out 500 blanket emails that says, "Hey, first name, we've got this thing and we would love for you to consider using your platform or whatever. Would you be interested? What are your rates?" All these things are dumb. They don't make any sense.

It's funny to me sometimes it's like people will say to me, "Hey, I loved that article that you wrote there, Marcus." They think that's the thing that's gonna get them in. They didn't really say anything about said article. They just found the last article that I had published and they said, "Okay, I'm gonna use that as a thing that indicates that I know this fellow." You don't know me from Jack. Right.

Andy Crestodina: Research the person you're reaching out to.I'll give you an example. Let's say I'm not on a webinar with Marcus right now but I'm gonna reach out to him. I'm gonna make a video first. This will take me only minutes. Make a video first.

Basically, as soon as Marcus sees this video from me he's gonna know that I'm paying attention. I've been exposed to him. I'm showing respect. It's personalized. I'm upgrading the format of the outreach to video from text. Super important.

Marcus Sheridan: There's one other element to this and this is what I teach on online communications workshops especially to sales teams or just presenters or speakers, in general. The technique is what we call vanguarding.

The greatest way to address a problem or concern is to address it before it becomes a problem or concern. In other words, the person could be thinking, "Here's just another video where you sent this out to 1,000 people.”

You're saying, "Before you stop watching this, Marcus I know you're probably thinking to yourself right now, “okay I bet he sent out 100 of these a day and he doesn't know me from Adam.” Let me just quickly explain the research that I've done on you and why I wanted to contact you. I think this would have a significant amount of value for you." Then you go into it.

The key there is that I've stated out loud what the person is actually thinking. That is the vanguard. Allows me to nod my head and say, "That's true. That's what I'm thinking." It draws me in instead of pushing me away.

Andy Crestodina: Anytime you expect anybody to anything online, offline, business, love, any part of your life give them reasons right. Give them reasons. I love that. Going the extra mile thing is something else that you've seen done well or done badly.

How to Provide More Value to Influencers

Marcus Sheridan: We’ve got a question from the group here: "We recently launched a podcast because we thought it would be a great way to connect with influencers and micro-influencers. What we have found is vendors want to speak on it and influencers don't. We personalized outreach like you're talking about to the people we know about because we have been following. What are we missing?”

Here's a few questions that I would have to this person. When you do the personalized outreach what is the value prop that there actually giving to the person? Is it hey, you can be on my podcast? That's actually not very special. Right.

One of the reasons it's not very special because we get a lot of podcast requests. If you get a request to be on a lot of podcasts then all of a sudden I'm thinking all these things like, "Well, it's brand new you probably have almost no audience." This goes back to the issue of what's in it for me.

Because keep in mind a lot of people like myself when I get asked to podcasts I tell everybody it's like, "Look, I only do podcasts one day a month. That's it." This is my day

The point is that we have to choose where are we gonna get the most value from. If the only value is I know a little bit about you and would you please come on...that's not going to be enough for most people. What truly is the value prop? I think there needs to be more than that.

I also think there are ways that we could go in. This particular company might go in and say, "Here's why we thought you would be great for this audience. They really talk about. In fact, we've heard you, as an influencer, talking about these things recently and we would love for you to come on and talk about that new thing. In fact, not only would we love to have you on the podcast but we're gonna take it we're gonna transcribe it, we're gonna turn it into an article that highlights this thing that you're talking about."

Maybe there's some other throw in stuff that you could do. I gotta a feeling they're not doing that yet. What say you, Andy?

Andy Crestodina: Well, if so the request is denied what the person does and everyone does, and you did, and I always do, everyone who gets a request from anybody they do a tiny super fast ROI calculation in their mind.

The way to get better results from that is to increase the R like you just said, Marcus right. You're gonna get more value from this. You're gonna get more exposure value. You're gonna get more reach. We're gonna make more formats out of this. Or, to lower the I. R-O-I right. You can make it sound like an easier request.

Marcus Sheridan: That's a really, really great point. 25 minutes is a big difference than 60.

Andy Crestodina: If want someone to click on your button indicate value in the button. Or, make the button sound easy or whatever it is. I think that's an important thing to consider in just human behavior is that we all do an ROI calculation before anything. That works for any request.

For a lot of people, you just have to make it sound easy for them. I'll give you another example. People sometimes reach out and say, "I like that article about topic X. Andy, could you write an article for us?" Damn it.

That's a lot of work. It takes me eight hours to write a typical article. My response is often I'm open to this with anybody. "Email me questions. I'll email you back answers. I'll email super detailed answers with images and bullet points and screenshots.“

I work very hard to make the I lower. I can make the R higher by reformatting content, repurposing, publishing an alternate version. I also try very hard with working with influencers to make that “I” as low as possible. The friend card.

Marcus Sheridan: I think the friend card is an eternal principle of the idea of relationships, they matter. It's crazy what we'll do for a friend that we would never do for somebody else. Right. I'll go above and beyond for a lot of these people that I've met online.

Last thing I'll say about that to your point. I'm not necessarily creative with sharing my friends’ stuff. The one thing that I do well is I notice sometimes when they're something is either wrong in their life or off. Or, they need help. Or, they seem to be struggling with something.

When that happens I am intentional about private contact via phone call or be it a message. Because I think some of the best stuff that we can do is when nobody sees it. Then they know that it was of the purest intentions.

Andy Crestodina: I did this for years I do it less now. For a long time, I set a goal of reaching out to connecting with and having a conversation with one blogger every week or two. These are people in Australia and England. I don't care where they are. They're smart people I wanna learn from.

People would often say yes to that. A long list of people that I have stayed in touch with just from the people I learned a lot from on those calls. Still, feel grateful to. It wasn't content and it wasn't public. We were just getting on Skype or Hangouts.

Andy Crestodina: Looks like we got one more. This might be the last question. We're winding down. Marcus, you wanna read that one.

Finding the Right Influencers

Marcus Sheridan: “How can I find the right influencer for my company and measure the projected success of hiring the influencer? I'm talking about data that can persuade my company for hiring the influencer.”

I'll tell you here's my strategy. I've got two companies I've got 125 employees right now. Two very, very different companies. I've had a good bit of success in some ways hiring people that became influencers after the fact. Especially by me giving them a platform.

I've had a lot of success with this. What I have found is what really, really matters is that you go after the ones that are hungry at believing you but also really want to build a platform. They believe in you so much that they're not looking to just stop in for a shortstop and go.

This is an example of I go after those people. I don't really generally go after somebody that is already an influencer. That's not to say that you shouldn't but I think that is arguably a more effective strategy.

Andy Crestodina: I think this question sounds like it's right down the middle for what a lot of people think of as influencer marketing. Which is finding and paying social media influencers to share stuff on social hoping for more brand awareness.

These are not the highest ROI parts of influencer marketing. Paid influencers where you're measuring outcomes in social media metrics. I'd be cautious about paying people for Instagram posts because the ROI is not huge in that area. I think people will tend to overvalue the metrics we can see on social media. Metrics are so visible. I'm grateful for the question. Marcus, I am grateful for your time today.

Marcus Sheridan: Thanks, guys. Thanks, Andy. Thanks, SEMrush.

Andy Crestodina: We loved that you guys joined us. Again, a huge thanks for Marcus. Give this guy some love online. He was generous with his time today. We got a chunk of his podcast day. I love that idea you choose one day budget your time.

Join us next time. We have an upcoming conversation with Lisa Jenkins who is the editor of Social Media Examiner. That will be a fun one.

Marcus Sheridan: Thank you. See you now.

Andy Crestodina: Take care. See you next time.


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