Lately we’ve been discussing ways that social media managers can help improve their social strategy, which has become a critical component of any marketing program. A recent study found that 82% of the world’s online population engages in social networking, and two in five use their smartphone to connect to social networks nearly every day. If your marketing campaign does not include a social component, you are missing the opportunity to reach a huge segment of potential customers and clients. One of the best ways to easily reach the most potential customers is by leveraging key influencers who become your business and product evangelists. By finding key influencers who have a large, established audience that cares about the problems that your business (or client’s business) are solving with specific products or services, these influencers will help you reach several more times the number of people you are targeting — without you needing to double or triple your efforts.

However, to leverage these key influencers, you must first develop relationships and partnerships with influencers, and then demonstrate that you can provide them with as much benefit for reviewing your products as you receive from their promotions. It is also key to engage in the conversations that occur through your key influencers to empower them with the information necessary to be a trusted source of information for your brand, even beyond a specific campaign.

Building Relationships

How to Engage Key InfluencersBuilding relationships with potential key influencers is one of the most critical aspects of both finding and engaging key influencers. Chris Aarons of Ivy Worldwide explains that, to find a key influencer,┬áthe potential influencer must first trust you and know that you care about them. In his book, Social Media Judo, Chris points out that this etiquette is key for leveraging key influencers. He explains that “creating personal relationships with online content producers and influencers — rather than merely trying to exploit them when you need them — is what relationships are all about.” In the book, Chris adds that “in the world of social media, marketers have to be social as well. They need to set up and build real relationships with their company’s key influencers. When we go to conferences, it feels like a reunion between Ivy Worldwide and the influencers we’ve been working with for ages. We catch up with each other. We ask about each other’s families. We laugh and joke for a bit. We enjoy hanging out with these friends, and, yes, we get down to business eventually. But we attend to the relationships first. The world of social media is social, both online and in person.”

At Microsoft, the social media team working on the recent campaign, Your Office, Your Terms, partnered with 85 Broads, a highly influential and well-respected professional women’s association. The partnership with 85 Broads reflected Microsoft’s target market for the campaign: high-level women executives, entrepreneurs, and small business owners. As 85 Broads already has established credibility and reach, it was an ideal partnership for Microsoft and 85 Broads.

Engage in Conversation With Your Influencers

After Microsoft developed its key partnership with 85 Broads, Microsoft created a platform for the partnership by conducting a survey with 85 Broads members to better understand the impact remote working has on women’s personal and professional lives. Its findings include that productivity increases when women work remotely (62% of respondents contend that their personal productivity improves very much or somewhat when they work outside of the office) and that 81% of respondents agree that remote working enhances job satisfaction. Microsoft says that, with these results, it was able to become part of a conversation in which our target market was already engaged.

Ivy Worldwide stresses that engaging in these conversations with key influencers is critical to ensuring that they become a trusted source of information for your product and, thereby, influencing potentially thousands of people to become customers of your business. In Social Media Judo, Chris Aarons explains that you must “come to influencers with your mind open and their needs in mind first, and demonstrat[e] that at every turn — and it must offer these bloggers and your online partners a way to promote themselves, their expertise, and their value to their audiences.” In the book, he adds that “if your approach doesn’t provide these things first and foremost, your conversation with these influencers — and, by extension, your conversation with your customers — will dry up pretty quickly.”

Benefits for Results

If you are able to develop relationships and engage in conversations with key influencers, this will help you not only find the best key influencers for your campaign, but also help you get the best results from your efforts. It’s important that your key influencers get as much benefit from working with you as you get from partnering with them. As the goal of Microsoft was to leverage 85 Broads as a partner and key influencer to extend the the US market penetration of Office 365, it needed to create relevant, robust conversations with women with the Your Office, Your Terms campaign. The benefit of the campaign, which centered around creating momentum around credible thought leadership and rich conversations on topics central to its target market, was a free Office 365 trial. After taking an integrated marketing approach with live and digital events, a website, hyper social media with broad syndication across more than 40 Microsoft channels, and content created by a wide array of influential bloggers, and a multi-tiered tracking system, the result was an undeniable success: 5.8 million impressions over two months.

How You Can Engage Influencers

While you may not have the resources of a large-scale PR firm or company like Microsoft, the method of engaging influencers is simple: Create authentic relationships, engage in transparent conversations, and offer a benefit for the partnership. While your results may not be as staggering as those mentioned here, following this easy approach will likely yield your business more exposure without the additional time and effort.

Are you a social media manager or part of a marketing team? What tips do you have for engaging influencers for a campaign? Share your thoughts in the comments.