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Mediakix quoteSocial media influencers are extremely effective at promoting brands—for example, with 3.2 million followers, blogger Chiara Ferragni wields enormous power in the fashion industry. And let’s put it this way: if people didn’t listen to and imitate the influencers they follow, would Tiffany & Co. pay Anne Hathaway $750,000 to wear its jewelry at the Oscars?

You don’t need to think 3.2M big, or spend anything like three-quarters of a million dollars to net a big star: There are lots of social influencers out there who promote brands. Are you using them to help promote yours?

These industry-focused bloggers, Twitterers, Facebookers, Instagrammers, and LinkedIn Pulsers have cadres of loyal followers on many social media channels, with whom they’ve earned enormous credibility. With a little research and outreach, you can find and engage with social media influencers and get them to put their marketing might behind your organization or product.

Steps to find the right social media influencers for your brand

So how do you find these brand boosters and bring them aboard?

One Microsoft partner that’s really knocking this out of the park is Qorus Software. Qorus regularly engages with social media influencers in their niche market, gaining exposure by retweeting, having conversations, and even partnering up with influencers to create content. I talked recently with Qorus’s Heather Thompson, SVP of Marketing, about her company’s strategies for extending their reach through influencers. Here are her tips for how any partner can increase exposure through social channels:

1. Know your target.

According to Heather, you need to have your digital foundation in place first, as well as your goals, before you start to build your social media influencer network. Ask yourself: who is your ideal audience? What verticals do your customers occupy, what topics are they interested in hearing about, what needs do they have that you can fulfill? Once you understand your ideal prospects’ demographic, you can start to curate a list of influencers they might follow.

2. Spend time listening.

To identify influencers, Qorus conducts searches on keywords and topics in their niche market (legal marketing) across several social platforms. LinkedIn Groups and professional associations are particularly useful for helping Qorus locate appropriate influencers, Heather said, because they can be very specialized by industry or even by role—which is great for targeting purposes. If you feel you need help conducting your own social listening, check out one of the many tools available to help identify good influencers, like Buzzstream and Followerwonk. Other tools, like BuzzSumo, are great for seeing who is sharing your content, as well. And for prospecting good targets, many here at Microsoft have had great success with LinkedIn Sales Navigator. Remember, industry events and conferences can be very useful in identifying influencers—keep an eye out for the more popular speakers who frequently speak.

3. Do your research.

Before deciding which social media influencer you should target, you’ll want to be sure their online presence and activity fit your brand and goals. Ideally, these social media mavens should be a contextual fit—they should speak about topics relevant to your business and to an audience who are genuine prospects for your products and services. They should also have enough clout with their followers to promote action. Then, consider the personality types that will appeal to your prospects: Do you want someone bubbly and enthusiastic? Or someone a bit more authoritative? Look for passion, trust, and firsthand experience, Heather says, as this also helps in identifying an influencer that resonates with your brand.

Once you find a candidate, make sure they really are influencers with a sizeable, multi-channel following and that they produce appropriate content for your purposes. As a best practice, once an influencer is identified by the Qorus team, their Senior Digital Manager and Content Manager work together to gauge the appropriateness and quality of the content those influencers are publishing before they begin engaging.

4. Collaborate for great value and exposure.

Twitter is fantastic for reaching out to start an initial conversation with a social media influencer, according to Heather. Usually if you follow someone, they’ll follow you back, and that’s an opening for more conversation.

Then: send an invitation to collaborate. Often the social team at Qorus will offer to guest blog on an influencer’s site, or host a guest blog on Qorus’s own site. They’ll then also share each other’s tweets and posts through their own channels to increase the exposure of the other.

“We pitch them, basically,” Heather told me. “In the legal marketing space, there are influencers we can approach with a pitch to co-author a specific piece of collateral with us. Most of the time they’re quite keen to do it because it increases their exposure as well.”

And the resulting content often includes expertise you may not have in-house. For example, an eBook with law marketing blogger Larry Bodine and legal agency Perceptio has been one of Qorus’s most popular pieces of content and includes valuable industry knowledge from all three contributors.

The key, Heather says, is to start slow. You probably already know a few of the major influencers in your industry. Reach out to those familiar faces and suggest working on a project together, maybe a blog post. Be genuine, accessible, and receptive to your influencers’ ideas and input. Have a plan and a timeline and really work with them to draft something you can all feel good about publishing. Then be sure you support the content in your social channels, giving your influencer reach into your communities as well.

5. Stay connected.

Don’t forget to stay in touch. You and the social media influencer may find other projects to work on together, or they may recommend you to someone else in their network. Continue to share and comment on the content they produce to keep the relationship and stay active in important social media circles.

“Be patient and keep at it,” Heather advises. While it takes time and research, connecting and engaging with social media influencers can be a very effective way to get high-quality content in front of your target audience, in the channels where they already are, with the stamp of approval from an influencer they trust.

Jennifer Tomlinson

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