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How to Connect Your Startup with Social Media Influencers

Posted 19 April, 2016


Don't know how to connect your startup with social media influencers?

There's no doubt, it's a tough nut to crack.

The last thing you want is a strategy that boils down to just firing off tweets and emails to influencers all day hoping to get lucky.

Even if your product or service is top notch, it's easy to get lost in unforgiving newsfeed algorithms and fast-moving Twitter streams.

But what if you could tweak your influencer outreach into a step-by-step blueprint and see a huge upswing in your results?

Luckily, that's exactly what you're going to learn about today.

No more feeling awkward about influencer marketing. No more second guessing how to write your pitches.

That all ends here.

I'll take you on the journey of what we're doing at Responster, and share everything we've learned along the way.

You'll be able to take the same steps with your startup -- and connect with every one of those influencers you've had your eye on.

How to Connect Your Startup with Social Media Influencers

How to Connect Your Startup with #SocialMedia Influencers - http://bit.ly/1qCSf4n (by @BrandonCLandis on @PostPlanner)Click to Tweet

First let me give you a some context. In the few months since starting a company blog, we've been able to:

  • Land guest posts on multiple sites with traffic that dwarfs our own.
  • Get our content tweeted by startup influencers and the official accounts of behemoths like Hubspot and Snapchat.
  • Cultivate relationships with a plethora of would-be brand promoters who help us grow month after month.

Here's how we did it (and still do it)...

We took advantage of influencer marketing. In other words, we're building relationships with others who can expose our brand to a new or larger audience.

It's a delicate balancing act between creating a valuable enough offer and having enough time to repeat and practice the process.  If you can find that balance, you'll quickly stand out in the sea of noise many influencers are subjected to.

You'll be able to separate yourself from the thousands of other marketers and startup founders who end up spamming people on Twitter day in and day out.


Let's go through the process from start to finish. I've broken it down into 4 steps.

  1. Identifying appropriate influencers in your vertical
  2. Approaching them in a way that helps you stand out from everyone else scrambling for their attention
  3. Making a mutually beneficial pitch that actually gets accepted
  4. Turning an initial "attention transaction" with an influencer into a long term relationship of brand promotion

Disclaimer: This post is about building real relationships with influencers and thought leaders in your market that can help grow your brand exposure. If you're looking for a guide on how to get some YouTube celebrity to hold your company's water bottle on camera for 30 seconds in exchange for $10,000 -- well, this might not be the guide for you.  

If you'd rather get free, lasting exposure from people who genuinely like your brand, then read on...

Selecting Influencer Targets:

Selecting the right influencer(s) to approach about promoting your brand is key. It allows you to reverse engineer an offer or piece of content that will be an appealing bargaining chip to them.

Important: Not every influencer is a YouTube star.

When people think of influencer marketing, they generally imagine some YouTube celebrity using their product in one of their videos and garnering instant visibility with their millions of viewers.

It's not a bad approach by any means, but it's one that's outside the budget of most startups.

Often influencers will share your brand or content without the need for monetary compensation -- you just have to be clever.


Try and get creative with identifying who might be worth approaching in your industry.

Look for people who have a bigger audience than you, but aren't so massive they're charging an arm and a leg for a disinterested product mention.

Influencer marketing is all about an exchange of value, and it gets considerably harder to offer someone something that's worth their time once they've hit a certain level of fame and attention.

For this reason, I suggest working on getting on the radar of several people with audiences in the tens to hundreds of thousands. Don't worry about cracking that 2 million follower account just yet.

"Alright, great - but where the heck do I find the right people to approach?!"

Here are 2 angles that might help you think outside the box when selecting an influencer to target.

1. Look at other startup founders/entrepreneurs that are a step ahead of you.  


Other startup founders who've found their voice and gathered a following recently are great targets because they generally understand your struggle.

They know that the barrier for entry in getting a response and getting the ball rolling is low.

For example, one of the first people to help share my content was Alex Turnbull, the CEO and primary blog author for Groove (which has a considerable following now).

In fact, it was Groove's blog that first exposed me to a lot of the strategies we're going to go through below.

Where to find this kind of influencer:  

Directories of startup blogs:  Look for blogs whose posts are starting to get traction. The first guest post I secured (and one of my most beneficial marketing relationships to date), came from finding a blog post of up and coming marketing blogs.

I clicked through to a blog whose posts were getting a couple hundred shares each (when ours were getting about 12). This told me they likely had a larger audience on their content already, which we might be able to leverage.

Subreddits and forums:  The r/startups page on reddit has tons of startup founders at every level interacting -- and it's far from the only sub worth interacting in.

Local meetups:  Seriously, every city these days has some sort of startup community and hub. Talking with people in person at local events can be a great way to start building rapport with someone who has more traction than you. You'll most likely be able to leverage that initial interaction. 

2. Look to niche celebrities in your vertical.


In every single market, there are people who've been chipping away making videos or writing blog posts for several months.

These people may not get 100,000 hits per day to their website, but they've cultivated a loyal following.

If you're the first brand to take notice and partner with someone in this position early on -- the payoff can be huge if they're loyal to you as they continue to grow their influence.

Where to find this kind of influencer:

Market-specific communities:  subreddits related to your topic, forums where your potential customers/users congregate, etc. See who is consistently posting great content and receiving interaction on these sites. Keep a list of who you might want to reach out to.

YouTube tutorials:  Finding YouTube tutorials that answer a specific question within your market is another way to discover up and coming influencers.

Often people making popular solution videos have proven they can identify a need within the market and provide an appreciated answer to that question. This makes them a safe bet for solid audience growth in the future.

Apps with relevant ecosystems:  Your market may have an app you can leverage. As another option, look to social apps with widespread appeal might have a subsection of their community that has grown around a topic that's relevant to you.

For example, Music.ly is an app with big influencers in the middle school/teen demographic. They focus on popular music and music videos. Alternatively, newcomer Anchor is an audio app with a wide audience, but with conversations that are easily searchable through hashtag or topic grouping.

Deep Google searches:  Boring but effective -- you can always take to the search engines. Put yourself in the shoes of your target consumer and ask a question that they would ask. Take note of who is answering them. Don't be afraid to go a page or two deep into the results to find influencers who may have an audience but not a lot of SEO juice just yet.

Now It's Time to Make Your Approach

You've made it to the big day, prom is just around the corner, and you're going to ask her to the dance. But wait! Have you wooed your date yet?

If you've made it passed the hurdle of finding a good influencer target in your market, don't botch your landing by throwing a pitch at them right away.

First things first, let's get you on their radar. Here's my 4 step approach:


Step 1 - Consume Their Content

Spend some time on their site/channel/profile and get a feel for their viewpoints. What are they knowledgeable about? What are their goals for their brand and following?

It's important to dedicate the 20 minutes, hour, or 2 hours it takes upfront to understand what makes this person tick. Find out what they've done that's allowed them to garner some attention.

Step 2 - Comment Intelligently

You know those cringe-worthy comments on every blog that just read 'nice one' or 'great post!' and then link back to the commenter's website? Those comments offer zero real value to the readers on the page or the author.

Do not, I repeat, do not be that person. Instead, leave 1 - 3 comments on their recent content that you liked the best. Take the time to engage in some light debate, critique or praise a specific part of the content. Make it clear that you actually read and appreciated what they had to say.

Speaking from experience, anyone trying to grow a brand or following appreciates the comments and interactions that actually have thought behind them. This alone will get you on their radar.

If they respond to your comment, great! Go ahead and respond back. Keep the conversation going. The idea here is to start building recognition.

Step 3 - Follow Them on Twitter or Another Relevant Platform

Most everyone has a Twitter account. If you determine your influencer isn't active on Twitter, you can always tackle this step on a platform that makes more sense. Follow your influencer on that relevant platform. I usually wait a couple of days between initial comment interaction and this step.

Step 4 - Share Their Content

Influencer marketing is less about making the right offer and more about being the right person and positioning yourself correctly.

Often, this is best accomplished through always offering the initial value. Continue to be generous and genuine, long before you every ask them for anything.

For those of you following the Gary Vaynerchuk school of thought, that's the 'Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook' approach.

For this step, use your startup's Twitter account (and your personal one, if you have one) to share a piece of their content with a thoughtful caption/comment. Tag their username in your tweets/shares so they get an alert you've shared something of theirs.

Even if your following is small (and it probably is at this point), the gesture is generally both noticed and appreciated.

Soon enough, it will be time for your pitch!

Create Value, Then Go For The Big Ask

Alright, the moment of truth -- you want to ask your influencer if they'll plug your brand, share your content or try your product.

Reverse Engineering Value: The first step to making your pitch should be slipping into your influencer's shoes and considering what would be valuable to them.

What can you offer, right now, that would give them utility?

Let's say money is off the table (or that you at least need to minimize direct spending). So what else could you do to help this person out? Here are a couple ideas:

- Create a relevant PDF/report/guide to give them. Let them use it for free to help get people on their mailing list.

- If you have a skill (like design or copywriting), you could use your consulting or 'free' services as a bargaining chip.

- Introduce them to another influencer you know who they might benefit from knowing.

- Give them a hint at a community or promotional angle you've thought of that might help them. Choose on that they don't appear to be leveraging yet. 

Ask Permission:  Even in our social media world, sending your partnership pitch to an official email is usually the best way to go.

To help your email get read and responded to in the most positive manner, you should give a heads up that you'd like to send something.  A tweet or a direct message (if they're following you back) on Twitter works well.

Be short and direct. "Hey!  Been loving interacting recently - had an idea for a potential partnership and wondered, what is the best email to send it to?" will suffice.

Once you've got the green light, send over your email.

Be clear and concise:  In your email, let them know what you have in mind. Don't hedge, don't sugarcoat. Frame your partnership in a clear way that lets them know why you want it and also how it will benefit them.  

Do you want them to share a recent blog post you made in exchange for designing their personal brand a free logo?

Do you want them to create a video review of your gadget and place it on their channel in exchange for introducing them to a journalist friend who wants to profile them in a publication?

Do you want them to tweet how cool your website is in exchange for getting free access to the paid version of your service?

If you think hard enough and you've targeted the right person, you can probably broker some pretty killer influencer deals without ever actually opening up your wallet.  

Keep your email to 1 to 2 paragraphs. Your job here is to pique curiosity and open a dialogue in which you can work out the details.

If you've done your homework in the previous sections (selecting your target and warming them up appropriately) -- you shouldn't have that much friction to bypass here.


"But what if I'm rejected?"

This process probably seems like a lot of work. It can be discouraging to get an unenthusiastic response back -- or none at all.

If your influencer isn't receptive to your pitch, be sure to ask them if they have a counter-offer. Or ask them to tell you why they aren't interested in partnering now. Maybe you'll learn something that helps you win your next battle.

Just don't let a rejection email or a lack of response be the end of your interaction. That would undermine all the effort you previously made. Plus, it would make it look like you never had any genuine interest in their content or conversation at all.

Keep in touch with the people who reject your offer. You never know who will come around in the end!

You never know who might decide to have a peak at your website 'just for the hell of it.' They may see something they like!

Keep repeating this process with people and you'll land something. The more you do it, the more you'll succeed. The more you succeed, the more you'll grow. That growth will only bolster your acceptance rate as time goes on.

Now It's Your Turn!

Here's a timeline for landing your first influencer partnership as a startup! It's time for you to connect your startup with social media influencers.

I would love for anyone who intends to follow through to leave a comment here letting us know -- then come back in a few weeks to let us know how it's gone!

Today:  Source a list of 5 potential influencers using relevant communities, organic search and social media. Look for low-hanging fruit via influencers who are just hitting their stride, but who aren't superstars yet.

Tomorrow:  Read or watch content from each potential influencer. Find out what makes them tick. Leave a thoughtful comment or 3 on their recent content.

By Next Week: Follow each influencer on Twitter. Share some of their content to your own audience(s). Let the creators know you appreciate their great work.

By 10 Days From Now:  By now, you've engaged in conversation with your target influencers. You've also messaged each individually to ask if you can send over a quick partnership idea.

By 2 Weeks From Now:  You've pitched all 5 with your offer!


If you're successful with any or all of your potential influencers -- set up a timeline for following through with each offer.

When you get this far in the process, you need to be ready to move quickly and hold up your end of the bargain!

If you don't get the response you're looking for, learn as much as you can from the experience. Start a new and improved influencer search process all over again.  

Final Thoughts

As you can see, there's a process for successfullly aligning your startup with social media influencers.

So many people immediately go for the ask -- and it's no wonder that doesn't work. Influencer marketing is all about building important, long term relationships.

Select the influencers you want to target carefully, and always remember to provide value and be genuine in your communications.

Eventually, you will strike gold!

And when you do -- your startup, brand, or business will more than thank you for it.

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