Measuring Influence? Learn How to Reach the Influencers

How to reach influencersMeasuring influence is a growing trend and a multimillion dollar business. There lots of players in the market already and, in one way or the other, the tools available allow you to know who the influencers are in a certain subject, demographic, etc. My opinion about the available tools is well known: Unless these tools start to measure sentiment (and not just numbers) these tools are worthless and the best way to get to know who the real influencers are is to do a lot of monitoring and hard work (pretty graphics not needed).

Regardless of my opinion, the truth is that many professionals use these tools and the companies providing the service are in a race to establish not only a strong user base but credibility, and for this they’re using several methods: ambassadors, perks, exposure, the odd t-shirt and, more recently, blogger outreach.

I was contacted by one of these companies recently and what happened is a case study in blogger outreach (or influencer outreach) of what you shouldn’t do when reaching out to users that you consider important for a segment of your business. From the approach to the communication, every single element of the process failed and this is why:

Cold call

Cold calls can be a double-edged sword. If you are not careful in the way you contact someone you really don’t know (using the e-mail address that they used to subscribe to your service), be ready for a reaction that might not be the one you expect. The solution is simple: use public social networks, like Twitter, to make the first contact and establish a relationship first. Your e-mail will not be a surprise and the chances that you get positive feedback will be bigger.

Don’t say that it’s personal when it’s not

The first e-mail I got told me that I was being contacted specifically because of my role in the Android community. It took me 5 minutes to find out that my wife (who clearly also happens to be a big deal on the Interwebz) had gotten exactly the same e-mail–and I mean exactly. I don’t think I need to go into the details of how this made me feel: from influencer to just another user in 0 to 60 is not a feeling you want to inflict, especially when you want the user to do something for you.

Be clear and get straight to the point

The first e-mail asked me to check an Android-related list and give my feedback about it. Even if I was already upset (see above), I went ahead and took some time to go through the list and reply to the e-mail with my opinion: the list was incomplete, it was full of inconsistencies and there was a lot of work to be done. When I got a reply, I was asked if I could “blog and tweet about it” and give more feedback.

At this point, I felt that my knowledge and expertise in this particular area was being recruited and replied accordingly: I would be available to curate the list and then write a blog post about it against a consultancy fee. This is normal practice and I would’ve appreciated if the first contact had been clear about what the company in question wanted from me. It would have saved us both a lot of time. Lesson to brands: If you are contacting professionals and asking them to help you, expect them to be professional about it. After all, we are professionals. If we weren’t, we probably wouldn’t have made it to your list. Moreover, if you are contacting someone because you think they can add value to your business, and/or if you want them to actually do some work on your behalf and/or spread some of their brain cells your way, expect them to want something in return. But asking a professional to do something like “blog and tweet about it and give more feedback” … that? It’s just lame. And it’s a clear indicator to me that you want to use me, my intellectual property, my time, my influence and my collective social media “status” and follower base to benefit yourself. To my way of thinking, that’s a business relationship. And one that merits compensation.

Don’t show that you don’t understand what you are talking about

My reply included an hourly fee for this project. The reply I got prompted me to archive it with a newly created label: “Adding insult to injury.”

When I offered to do what was asked for compensation, the response from the blogger outreach team was that their available budget was $25. And that since it would “take me 15 minutes to write a blog post” that it was fair compensation.

Hold me back! I know you’re smiling at that one.

This shows that the person contacting me had no idea how much time it takes to concept, research and write a blog post, never mind the time it takes to come up with a great headline. I spend 15 minutes just creating the structure for any post I write (excluding rants).

Follow up! Follow up! Follow up!!!

After taking a deep breath, smoking a cigarette (Go ahead, lecture me. I can take it) I sat down to reply to the e-mail. I was clear, professional and direct. I advised them that I don’t write blog posts in 15 minutes, nor am I available as a tweet for hire. I advised that if the company wanted, I would send an estimate that would include the time it would take me to fully curate the list and provide my feedback. That estimate would also include the costs associated with researching and writing a follow-up blog post about the list and the product, with full disclosure included.

I rather naively thought that the bit where I mentioned that I don’t write blog posts in 15 minutes would set off some kind of alarm—you know, the kind of alarm that tells you “Ooops, I screwed up.” Unfortunately but not surprisingly, the alarm system for the person in charge of doing blogger outreach in this situation must be on the fritz. One full week has transpired without any reply to my e-mail. Not following up on a professional contact (even if is just to say “Thank you, but no thank you”) should be common sense in any business, more so if you are reaching out to people that are not only influential in the online space – and influential about a product you have and want people to buy – but people you think that can add value to your business and whom you might need in the future.

Final thoughts

Blogger outreach to influencers is not something a company should do without having a proper strategy in place, and one that’s backed by a solid research. If you are in the business of blogger outreach and using some form of influence measurement to drive that blogger outreach, you should make sure that you are ready to establish a serious business relationship before making any kind of contact with people you consider to be influencers on a certain topic. I also can’t stress enough how important is to use the complex, and apparently hard to understand, scientific method that goes by the name of “common sense.”

Oh, and as an aside, when you treat an influencer poorly, you never know how they’ll handle it. And that’s why it’s even MORE important that the folks in your organization charged with blogger outreach know what they’re doing. Truthfully, if not done correctly, it’s a bit like playing with dynamite. The company in question can thank my smart wife and friends (like Shelly) who calmed me down on this front. Otherwise, I would’ve written one of what Shelly calls my “legendary rant posts” and publicly called them out on this ridiculous behavior.

Fernando is the Digital Strategy Ninja and founder of SoMeOps, a Seattle-based digital agency. A blogger and an activist, Fernando coined the term “Netflixed” and he doesn’t have a Klout score. You can follow him on Twitter.

Image by fireflythegreat via Creative Commons

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