I had a real mindset shift in how I think about influencer marketing recently.

See, I bet many of you feel a little awkward or embarrassed or nervous about influencer marketing because it involves asking a big shot (aka: someone you totally admire in your field) to read and recommend your stuff. And it feels… WEIRD, right? Like you’re saying, “Hey! Check out how awesome I am (even though I’m totally a nobody pay no attention to the entrepreneur behind the curtain)…”

Anyone? Just me?

But I realized today, influencer marketing is really just relationship marketing — and for me, that’s the holy grail of how I want to run my business.

  • I don’t want to sell to people — I want to be insanely useful and offer value people are happy to pay for.
  • I don’t want to preach to people — I want to have a conversation and a deep discussion.
  • And I don’t want to bother influencers with tons of asks — I want to develop real business relationships in which we’re both excited to share one another’s stuff.

So much of the advice I see about influencer marketing is about doing the bare minimum to reach out to an influencer without seeming like a total askhole. And many people don’t even do that! I get several terrible pitches a week for me to share something in which it’s clear the sender has no idea who I am or what I do.

But when you turn it around and think of it as developing and nurturing strong relationships, that just turns the whole thing on its head. It’s suddenly about being useful, about being of service again instead of it being all about the ask.

And I like that.

Relationships are great, but I need traffic, like, yesterday.

Here’s the thing, influencer marketing only works one of two ways:

  1. You have enough money to pay someone to care about your thing enough to share it.
  2. That person actually cares about your thing enough to share it.

This is not about me putting down anyone who pays an Instagram celebrity to promote their product; that is a legitimate form of advertising and promotion.

The point, though, is that if you don’t have enough money to pay a bigwig to care about your stuff (or they don’t do paid promotions) then the only other avenue open to you is to get them to care about it.

How do you do that?

You systematically engage and build a relationship with that person.

Will you be my friend? Circle yes or no.

Do you remember how you made friends on the playground all those years ago? No? Me either. But I have a 5-yr-old, so I can take an educated guess. She just walks up to someone and says, “Do you want to be my friend?” and the other kid says yes or no, and they take off and play.

It’s a little more complicated with adults, and trying to make business friends (ie: relationship or influencer marketing) adds a whole other layer of awkward.

influencer marketing is a long game

But really, if you approach a business relationship the way you would any other relationship, you’ll be starting out on the right track. Start with these steps:

1. Know thyself

This isn’t necessarily about psychoanalyzing yourself (although, that can help, too!), but rather understanding what it is you have to offer to a potential influencer. Remember above I said that our goal was to get them to care enough about your stuff for them to share it on their own? Well, why should they care?

Remember, these people are probably inundated with asks. The bigger they are, the more tweets, emails, and FB messages they get that all have a “hidden” agenda.

How will you stand out from the noise? What is your value add to the conversation?

  • Do you have unique data to share?
  • Do you have case studies that support something they talk about?
  • Do you have a new perspective or dissenting opinion? (And if you disagree with them, why would they want to share your perspective?)
  • Is your resource bigger, more in-depth, more complete or somehow better than what else is out there?

Unless and until you can identify what value you’re bringing to the table, you won’t be able to convey it clearly to them. So spend some time on this. You may need to do it once for your overall brand (what are you adding to the conversation overall) and then again for each specific post you want shared.

2. What’s their motivation?

Once you know what you bring to the table, ask yourself, do you know what they are bringing? What’s the goal of their blog or website? Is it to sell a product? Can you help them do that?

A great example is my friend Summer. She took a course on money management from a major influencer and loved it. She decided to email them her own testimonial — and wove her business into the testimonial. The influencer was thrilled to publish it in their newsletter because it helped them sell more product, and it helped Summer because it included what she does and her business name. Win/win.

How does sharing your stuff benefit this other person? Sometimes it can be as simple as the fact that they need great content to curate and share with their audience, but you need to understand what they will get out of it.

3. Have a conversation

Have you ever been in a Facebook group or other group and there’s that one guy who just shows up and spams the group every day with a pitch for his product? Everyone else is having conversations, asking and answering questions, and generally acting like normal humans — except this guy.

Don’t be that guy.

Find natural ways to interact with your influencers online, and do so regularly long before you ever make an ask. Figure out where they like to hang out on social media and strike up a conversation. Leave a comment on their blog (comments are becoming so rare, you bet we pay attention to who makes intelligent comments!). Like and share their posts on social.

Then take it one step further. Start sending them other people’s stuff that you think they’d be interested in. Know they love tacos? Send them that cool article on LA taco trucks. Are they talking about planning a vacation? Send them an interesting travel guide. Don’t be creepy, and don’t be a stalker. Just share things with them as you would with a friend.

Also, ask questions. Offer opinions. Be humble.

In other words, be a normal human being.

I would recommend keeping track of how many interactions you have with this person at first. Pick a number and shoot for interacting with them that many times (NOT all at once; over a period of weeks or months). I like 22 because I got it from a sales expert (and basically, you’re selling yourself). See what feels good to you.

4. Then, and ONLY then, make the ask.

Do you see how influencer marketing is a LONG game?

I would start interacting with influencers months before you have anything to ask them to share.

Once you feel like you have caught their eye and gotten on their radar, then you can send an email (or a tweet, or a FB message — however you’ve been communicating) and ask if they’d be interested in sharing your stuff.

And not only is it a long game, it’s an ongoing game. Because the relationship doesn’t end once you’ve made the ask.

No matter what their answer is — whether they say yes, no, or ignore you completely — you keep up the relationship.

Unless they say something like, “Ew get away from me you stalker I’m calling the police,” (which, by the way, is a good indication that you did step 3 incorrectly), you can keep communicating, keep talking, keep tweeting and sending interesting stuff.

Of course, after a while you may decide that they’re just not in to you and not open to sharing your stuff. In which case you may let that relationship fall to the side in favor of more robust relationships with others.

If you’re ready to get serious about influencer marketing, I highly recommend you download my spreadsheet to have a place to keep track of your efforts. Just click use the form below — and then stay tuned for my joint workshop with Beth Hayden on all things blog promotion, coming soon!