Influencers have become an integral part of any successful marketing strategy, including how you approach not just social media, but also your link-building plan. It’s become so pivotal it’s even spawned its own term—influencer marketing. When you reach out to those individuals with a strong online presence in your industry or niche, you’re opening yourself up to a completely new audience. You’re aligning yourself with someone seen as an authority, which lends to your own credibility, and you’re amplifying your brand and message in an organic way. Influencer marketing is much like today’s version of “word-of-mouth advertising.” Research shows this messaging leads to a 37% higher retention rate, as compared to paid advertising. So who is an influencer? It doesn’t just have to be a person with a lot of followers, although this is of course, helpful. It’s really someone who’s somewhat of an expert in any given area, and someone who maintains a sense of credibility. You may find influencers are just ordinary people who have built a large following in a field, for example, food and cooking, simply by sharing their experiences and interests on social media. In the business world, an influencer could be someone who doesn’t necessarily lead a multi-national corporation, but who is a regular content creator with a loyal audience. Targeting these influencers isn’t optional. For successful online marketing strategies, as well as valuable link building, it’s a necessity. For example, the Ground Zero Technique, which is a simplified link building method focused on starting from the ground up and incrementally building links, includes influencer targeting as one of the final steps of success. Below are 7 real, attainable and simple steps you can take to reach pivotal influencers, regardless of your industry or niche: #1. Know Your Audience Before you can start targeting influencers, you need to know your audience as thoroughly as possible. You may already have a general idea of your audience, but targeting influencers who will have an impact requires you drill down into the specifics. That’s the initial starting point to identify the influencers who are going to mean the most to your efforts, including marketing and link building. [youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_SGRqE3ayB4[/youtube] #2. Define Your Goals Before you can start branching out and identifying and targeting influencers, create your set of objectives for what you hope to accomplish as a result. Be as finite as possible. For example, is your goal to gain more awareness of your brand or increase traffic to your website? There are abundant possibilities, but narrowing it down to a few will help you gain a better grasp of how and who to target in terms of influencer marketing. #3. Hone In On Social Conversations Once you have a clearly defined idea of your audience, you begin listening to social conversations. This helps you identify and prioritize influencers. Often called “social listening,” during this phase of influencer targeting you’ll determine whether you’re looking for sector influencers or brand influencers. Sector influencers are going to be those people who are talking in a general sense about your products, services, target market or competitors. Brand influencers are more specifically talking about your brand, and they’re also the people sharing your content. There are a number of tools and apps that let you listen to conversations and identify the most visible voices. You can also do this yourself, although this requires quite a bit more time and effort. #4. Think of What You Have To Offer As noted in the Ground Zero Technique and other link building strategies, this is very much a mutually beneficial relationship, and you should approach it as such. Targeting influencers isn’t all about what you’ll get out of the relationships—it’s about determining ways both parties will benefit as a result. You likely know what you’re asking for, but what can you offer? Have a clear idea of this before you begin targeting. Perhaps you’re hosting an upcoming event or conference, even a webinar, where you could ask them to speak. Maybe you can send them free products, or maybe you’re even just going to pay them. Whatever it is, it’s important you know what you can offer before you reach out to anyone. #5. Engage Once you’ve identified your goals and your targeted influencers, it’s time to start engaging. You want to build a natural dialogue. You can begin by interacting with what they’re posting. Read and comment on their blog posts, and share their content. Participate in conversations they’re leading, and they’re more likely to notice your efforts and feel as if they’d be willing to enter into a relationship with you. Engagement is a vital precursor to reaching out and targeting influencers. #6. Personalized Contact Once you’ve successfully piqued the interest of your targeted influencers, it’s time to make contact. When you feel comfortable with the level of engagement you’ve maintained, go ahead and send the influencer a personal email that explains you’ve been following them, and you’d like to offer an introduction to yourself and your business. Consider this an elevator pitch, where you define what it is you’re seeking, as well as what you can offer. #7. Maintain the Relationship Once you’ve successfully secured a mutually beneficial influencer relationship, keep it going. Make it easy for that person to work with you. For example, if you’re asking them to write a guest post for you, consider contributing your outline and research so they can just put the finishing touches on it. Also, always remember to thank the influencer for their contributions, and ask them to share content with their audience. You can always follow up after the content is posted to let them know the results. The goal is to foster a long-term relationship that will continue to benefit you in terms of your social and content strategies, as well as your link building. Start Targeting Reaching out and targeting influencers doesn’t have to be a daunting or overwhelming prospect. These guidelines break it down into a manageable set of steps so you can start identifying, engaging and targeting them. Remember, the key is always to view influencer relationships as a two-way street and a real relationship that needs to be cultivated and nurtured. It’s not just a way to dupe someone into linking to your website. 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