This chapter covers three things:
- What is perhaps the most difficult aspect of reaching influencers, which is actually reaching them and then staying in touch.
- What to do when you have reached them and want to have a relationship with them.
- Finally, what to do when you realize influencer monogamy doesn’t work and you need to have and maintain multiple relationships. Note: No one considers them illicit. No one minds.
Disclaimers, Caveats, By Way of Explanation
If you read this chapter, you’re going to have to read a lot of granular detail. There is so much “how to” in this chapter, that if it doesn’t give you a headache, you may come out of it thinking, why in the world should I bother with all this crap?
The sheer volume of detailed suggestions would almost make you think that influencers are hypersensitive babies who can’t stand a slight affront, much less a seismic slap to their psyches.
Not the case.
The reality is that all I’m trying to do here is think through my own and the discussed experiences of influencers and provide you with the big deets and the little nuances you can or don’t choose to apply to a general approach or how you deal with a particular influencer. How much of this you use is obviously your call.
Influencers aren’t hypersensitive; the percentage of big egos is probably the same as the general populations; some are nicer than others; others are meaner than some. They are simply human beings doing a job they may or may not like. The only thing that distinguishes them is that they are a known entity that other people listen to. They are not the nebulous influencers of Klout or more generally Twitter. They are known to be experts in their field that are trusted by an audience. Beyond that, they are like any other humans. They work and play as they choose.
All I’m trying to do is give you everything I can think of so that you can pick and choose the things that might be beneficial to you. This entire e-book is an organized brain dump.
So forgive me if I seem either overly promotional for influencers in the vein of “you need to be nice to them (us)” or too self-serving with “you need to be nice to me (them).” I don’t mean it that way. Since you kind of have to deal with influencers, you might as well have all the tools and practices that at least I can think of to make it easier on you to both acquire the attention and manage those who’s attention you get.
Chasing Amy: Reaching the Influencer
The “Chasing Amy” part of the header is just there because you do have to chase influencers who for reasons of overload or occasionally petulance make you chase them and I like movie metaphors. And movies.
The toughest part of getting to an influencer is getting to them the first time and then the second time. After that it gets easier. Maybe.
In order to really grasp the way to do this, you are going to have to get into the head of an influencer. And understand “a day in the life” of one.
Since I have only my head to work from, here’s my day in the life. It’s really more a week in the life. But first, I want to put something to rest about how I think that you’re probably thinking about all this. Correct me if I’m wrong. But I know that I’m not.
From your perspective as an AR/PR/IR/Marcom person, part of your job is to reach out to influencers and get them to respond in a way that gets you initially in the door with them – perhaps to show them a demo, or to take a briefing or have a discussion with a senior executive about something in particular that affects your company. You may even have an “influencer quota” – a certain number of influencers that, in a month/quarter need to take a briefing or demo or have that conversation for you to meet some number or another.
So you have a large list. It could be 50 or 100 or 200 or as little as 20. Whatever, (I say a little too dismissively). You have none of them in hand yet, so you send out an email to them. It could be based around a product release, an event in the headlines that you think they would be interested in speaking to your person(s) about; or a “thing” that the company you represent as an employee or agency has done. It could be a general note – though if it’s that, most often it starts out “I read what you wrote on (fill in media property name) and (given that) I thought you might be interested in…” Or, if you take another tack, and contact those who seem to be influential bloggers/journalists (we’ll get into the meaning of the italics later), you might pitch a story or make an attempt to get someone interviewed or request a guest post, based on the subject matter the blogger/journalist writes about – as far as you know.
Your concern is with getting some influencers to bite, with an understanding that the bulk of the influencers aren’t going to respond. So you send out a general email to a large number of them, because that’s how you can get maybe 1 in 10 to respond or 1 in 50. Or less.
Maybe you do better than 1 in 10 with that approach. I doubt it.
The content and approach in the email is something we’ll talk about in the “how to…” part. Take my word for it at this juncture. For 80% of those sending them, it’s done just flat out wrong. Traditional PR templates are no longer viable. Brian Solis will back this up. When he was leading PR efforts he did it right – and was the pioneer of contemporary PR rightness.
A Week in the Life
Okay, now my turn. I’m going to tell you what I have to concern myself with and I’ll be brutally frank here. I’m a variation on a theme when it comes to other influencers so extrapolate from what I’m saying as much as you want.
In a given week, I get requests that cover the gamut of requests/suggestions that I mentioned above. Someone pitches me as a ZDNet blogger for a particular story based on the general subject matter of my Social CRM blog. They ask for a guest post for one of their executives. Others are requesting that I take a demo or briefing for their new product or a new release of their old product, which I may never have heard of. Some say, rather presumptively, “we are looking forward to your feedback”, others don’t. Others…well, just read above. Know how many I get of these weekly? I’d estimate somewhere between 20-50 per week, each week, all year.
Hold that thought for a minute – and remember those numbers.
In the meantime, I have to do the work that my paying clients contract me for, which, FWM (fraught with meaning), includes giving feedback to them on “things.” That means it could be speeches or consulting days - which involves travel that takes time (for example, I’m writing this on a plane coming back from Seattle, where I spent two days consulting with Microsoft). Plus the time to prepare the speech or the consulting research I have to do. I have webinars I do also, plus write white papers, plus do paid consulting via the phone for some of my clients. And several other things – filming video, logistics, negotiating contracts, reading and responding to emails (including a handful of the 20-50 weekly mentioned above), market, research, articles, podcasts, tracking company performance, and on and on.
Then there are requests from students – about 15 a year – for help in thinking about the thesis or dissertation that they are doing in Social CRM. Guess what? With no disrespect intended to any IR person doing their jobs, they are a much bigger priority for me than any of the 20-50 calls because they are kids who are starting out their lives and we are lucky enough in the industry to have them interested in CRM. So they ALL get my attention and my mentoring – which usually means both on the dissertation and their futures and even their life in general. Which I am honored to be a part of.
Then there is my work on the CRM Watchlist – which takes me hundreds of hours a year in work including research and just day-to-day tracking of the companies. The net of that, just to give you an idea of scope, were posts that amounted to 110 pages of CRM Watchlist reviews, analyses, and recommendations on 30+ companies. All free of charge and freely available (If you want the Watchlist 2012 Yearbook – those 110 pages of it - email me at email@example.com)
Then there is the work on CRM Idol which is the competition that I founded in 2011 that is run by a Brain Trust consisting of the most important influencers in the CRM industry (BIG HINT HERE: They are busy too) that reviews and judges over 60 emerging companies (ANOTHER BIG HINT: Figure this out yourself or read on later) in the Social CRM(ish) space. That takes weeks of my time. All free of charge.
Then I do things like hang out with my wife, root for the Yankees, which means watch a lot of games, take care of our cats, go on vacation, buy groceries, read, work out (once in a while. Sigh.), talk to my friends, see my brother, go out to dinner and all those other things that go along with a rich, fulfilling life that are not work related.
Once in bigger while, I write a book.
And that’s only part of it.
Why Should I Care About This, You Whining Egomaniac?
Keep in mind, I’m not complaining about anything. I’m one of the luckier human beings on this planet when it comes to a fulfilling life. I’m thrilled to be in demand all the time and that my thinking is respected. Plus I get to enjoy what I do both public and private.
Every Step You Take…
There are a few things that are implied that I think can become lessons learned and best practices if applied right that can solve this apparent conundrum.
The job of the PR/AR/IR person is to reach out to the influencer and engage them in an ongoing way and the way that they do it is by sending out emails asking for some form of that engagement
The influencers, all of whom are generally very busy with some variation on the week that I outlined above, are getting 20-50 of these requests per week – which if all were just replied to, much less all requests fulfilled, would eliminate the ability to do all those things that need to be done – including paid client work, family, friends, sleeping and eating.
Can a PR/AR/IR person (I’ll call them IR from here on) reach an influencer with all that noise from other IR people doing the same thing – especially if you are a small company – and be distinguishing enough to get the interest of that influencer.
Before I answer it, a story:
Immanuel Kant was a German philosopher who is often associated with the school of German Critical Philosophy. At the risk of oversimplifying it, (and those of you who are heavy duty philosophy majors, forgive me on this), he identified in his Critique of Pure Reason what he called the third “fundamental antinomy.” How does one reconcile freedom and necessity?” The answer? “You have the freedom to do what’s necessary.”
We can answer this conundrum in a similar way. You can reach the influencer by knowing the influencer. I’ll explain.
The Universal: Remember the Influencers are Human Beings
Even before you get to know the influencers personally, there is one universal truth that you can assume. They are human beings and thus, respond as human beings do – with all the quirks that others have – and with the sensitivities that all other human beings have. Each different. Uh. Oh.
This implies things.
Okay, roll up your sleeves; we’re going to get down to it.
To recap, I’m assuming if you read this far, and/or read Chapters 1 and 2, you realize that, as a business in your industry, it is important to reach influencers. Apparently, there are enough of you out there to drive 20-50 emails attempting to reach an individual influencer in a week. I’m also assuming that, selfishly or just self-interestedly, you’re only concerned with you reaching the influencer. Finally, I’m assuming that most of the influencers in question don’t know you yet.
If those assumptions are approximately truthful and you are willing to admit it to yourself, or are willing to prevent that from ever happening to you, here’s what you do, step by step.
Step 1: Do Preliminary Research
Remember what I keep saying. Influencers are human. Thus, they don’t like being treated as a soulless category. Yet because you are dealing with a list of 50 or whatever it is of them, you treat them as “influencers.” Which is a soulless category.
Well, the best bet, even though it means a LOT of work before you even contact one of them, is to do research on who they are, not what they are. That means find out more about them then they know about themselves.
Find out about:
- The actual work they do, rather than what you presume they do – I can’t tell you how many CRM companies – small emerging ones especially – contact me as a ZDNet blogger – even at times companies I have already spoken to. This leads to them pitching me as a blogger for a story about the company that this PR person represents or a story by someone at the company. A guest post in the parlance. What this tells me is a woeful lack of research done by the PR person who is contacting me. If they think of me as a blogger only then they are making a bad mistake, because my immediate response is to think the following, “If they want me to do something for their company that will ultimately take me hours of time AND benefit them considerably more than it benefits me, AND at the same time make me responsible for content about them or by them, AND obviously, they haven’t done 5 seconds of homework on me, which is proven by the fact that they think I’m a journalist, so they pitch me a story, then <delete>.”
- The variation – which is one that is far more irritating to me personally is that they pitch me a story and then offer to let me have access to an industry analyst or influencer to quote. ????? My response to that one is usually, right before I hit the <delete> key, “@#!#@&!!, take a deep breath, Paul, breathe, breathe, calma calma.” Then, when sufficiently calmed down. I send them a mildly petulant but polite email, which in effect says, “Why would I want to talk to an industry analyst about you, if I am an industry analyst.” That’s like saying to Derek Jeter, “tell you what, we can hook you up with a New York Yankees player to talk to.” To be fair, that’s NOT entirely fair of me. But what does irk me (and anyone who knows me, knows I am not easily disturbed), is that the level of homework they did is “Oh, he writes a blog for ZDNet on Social CRM, so he is clearly, a blogger/journalist.” Meaning they didn’t spend a minute even just googling me. If they had googled “Paul Greenberg” they would have found that I was a politically right wing syndicated columnist who won a Pulitzer, or an executive producer at NBC, or a senior management guy at Readers Digest or me. (Note: IF you google me, do it this way “Paul Greenberg”, CRM. Not just the name. There are a zillion Paul Greenbergs).
- The interests they have – In case you had been hibernating for the last decade or so, this is the universe of the social web. What interests those you want to reach have, are one way or the other, out there for you to find. The obvious here then is find out those interests. All of us have some interest we make public. I make my interest in the NY Yankees very public; Ray Wang makes his DJ history obvious in multiple places; Ditto for the Red Sox for Andrew McAfee. Brent Leary is clearly a major league music guy with a penchant for music of….wait a minute! I’m not going to tell you that. You go and find it out yourself. I often get these terribly awkward emails among the 20-50 that start something like “How ‘bout them Yankees, huh, Paul? I thought that you might like to hear about (company name) who (whatever they do). Seriously awkward, blatantly propitiatory and horribly lame, but at least they tried to find out something about who I am. Which I appreciate.
- The subject matter that matters to them – Don’t just assume that because they are specialists in some generic area that you are involved in, that they are interested in either all the areas that this domain covers or that they want to talk to you because you’re both in the same area. Find out what specific things are of interest to them, which is usually just a matter of reading their posts, tweets, and articles. It will become apparent.
The core here is doing the preliminary work on each and every influencer that you want to reach. I understand that you have a large list that you have to try to reach. I get that. Two things.
- How did you get the list? Someone did some research somewhere to find out that these are the people you want to reach. Maybe even you by trolling the web.
- By doing the research you’ll have much better intelligence in how you can prioritize who you have to reach.
Honestly, if you don’t do the research to start, you won’t get the level of response that you need to get.
Step 2: Writing – Be Engaging
Okay, you’ve done the research, now its time to reach out to the influencer.
Before we get into the writing, I have to provide you with a caveat.
NOTHING, not even the world’s best writing, is going to convince the influencer to talk to you if the company you represent isn’t producing anything of interest to them. If you get no response after a while, don’t be so arrogant as to think that you fell between the cracks. You haven’t. They don’t want to talk to you – now. Maybe later, but not now. So chalk it up to experience and a temporarily lost cause.
Planning the Effort
You are better off with a smaller well-researched target group, than a large “throw it against the wall to see what sticks” group. . Rather than sending it out to a large amorphous mass of influencers who you don’t know much about, focus on a smaller group that you know a lot about.
The universal first requirement is to establish an initial interaction by getting a response. Remember, when you first hit that send button, over that week, 20-50 others are doing exactly the same, not counting the already established relationships with some of the IR people that are guaranteed to get a response. So you’re up against a lot.
Why Not Twitter and Facebook Contact?
First, if you’re a young IR person, who grew up on social networks, you might (though I’m fairly sure you’re not) be wondering why an email, why not Facebook or Twitter to start?
Twitter is kind of easy. It is 140 characters. You can’t prove a thing in 140 characters that will get any influencer, no matter how actively engaged on Twitter they are to want to engage you. I actually get companies who send me tweets like this (this is real, Twitter IDs are redacted to protect the idiotic) “@pgreenbe please follow us so we can hook up with you.” Then they give me a shortened URL to go look at them. Something like this just makes me scratch my head in sheer wonder. I get about 5 a year like that. Keep in mind, the only thing I know about these people (I have to assume they are not bots) is that they have a twitter handle that has CRM in it -- maybe.
Facebook is not as easy. Theoretically, the influencer would have friended you in order for you to send me a message (though there are multiple ways around that). If you know the only way I communicate with people is Facebook, then there may be some merit in it, but be damned sure that the influencer communicates that way with people they don’t know, not only people they do know. As you might realize, someone who friends you back doesn’t necessarily know you. That said, there are several major corporate scions who communicate with me and I them strictly via Facebook.
How about Phone and Direct Mail?
Let me do this fast. Direct Mail? Yeah, right.
However, phone is something you could chance if you are willing to take risks. Just a case in point, the way I met Mei Li, the SVP of Corporate Communications at NetSuite is that she tried calling me to engage me because she had read my stuff and thought I needed to have NetSuite on my radar. She heard my, let’s just say “unorthodox” voice message at the time (2003) and left an unorthodox response, prompting me to call her back and having a two hour phone call with her. They’ve been on my radar ever since.
I said case in point. The point is that she had researched me thoroughly and knew that she could take a chance to be a bit different than with other analysts. She knew it was a bit of a risk, but it was a calculated one that paid off, because she did the preliminary research.
Email – Things to Do
I think its fairly clear, that the best medium you have now is email, that old school approach that’s more than 30 years old at this point – I think. Most attempts at IR communication are via email in any case, and it does make the most sense – and is, oddly, the least intrusive.
When trying to land an influencer, the email has to be compelling. That means compelling from the standpoint of business and personally compelling. So what goes into that?
- Start with a salutation like any other letter - That might seem sooooo obvious, but I can’t tell you how often, because the writer doesn’t even know how to use mail merge, I get either “Dear (blank)” (its literally blank) or even worse “Dear Brent (or fill in the name of some other influencer). This is not infrequent. So, if you’re going to persist in writing a bulk email to multiple influencers, make sure if its to me it has Dear Paul and if to Brent Leary, “Dear Brent” etc. Duh.
- DON’T START WITH A PITCH IN THE FIRST SENTENCE, GODDAMIT! – Ninety percent (90%) of the emails that I get pitch me immediately. Something to the effect of Dear Paul (they got that right), “these trying economic times leave customers more jittery than ever and businesses jittery about losing their customers. As a business person, wouldn’t you want to have some way of keeping those customers. Well, (company name) has a solution…..” then it goes on to ask to me write about it or take a demo or interview or talk to the CEO about it.” I think it says that after the pitch begins. Know why I’m not sure? Because I delete it. The reality is that at minimum do something like say “Hi there” before you pitch an influencer.
- Show the influencer that you know something about them. – There is no way to overstate the importance of this. When writing the email, make it personal and unique. Hey, I know that you’ll be chairing CRM Evolution again this year….” There is a subtlety here that makes this a great thing to let me know that you know. It says “again” – which means they didn’t just do a search and find out that I’m chairman of CRM Evolution, but they looked at my history – which means they know I did it before and not only this year. That’s what I mean. Give the influencer a sense that he/she was important enough for you to find out a lot about them. They will appreciate it.
- Give the influencer an idea of what the company does that is compelling to the individual influencer – If you’ve targeted the right influencers for your product, make sure that you know what floats their boat. For example, if you want to talk to Brent Leary, don’t just talk to him about Social CRM, make sure that there is a small business focus that you can legitimately make attractive to him. Generic similarity is not compelling in any way at all.
- Since you’re going to ask them to do something , make it minimal – I’m starting this one with a compromise. Reality is that influencers will be willing to do things for people free of charge (up to a point) if they know them and like them. It’s always about the relationship. But I understand that IR people have KPIs they have to meet – get a story published, get a briefing, get a meeting. Because you have to ask them to do something, I’m going to suggest a couple of minimums. But before I do that, I want you to think of something. Let’s say you’re coming into your office and before you get to the door, someone you’ve never seen before comes up to you and says, “can you give me about 30 minutes of your time? I need to tell you something.” You just want to get to work, because this guy isn’t paying you and you don’t know him. If it were your best friend on the other hand, one of two things would happen, depending on the circumstances, you’d either take him aside for 30 minutes or work out a time when you and he could talk. Am I right? Do I have to be more blatant? At this stage, you’re a stranger to the influencer and if you represent a company that he/she never heard of, you are a total enigma and not much more. So you send the influencer an email while they are doing client work and expect them to write back and say, “sure, I’ll give you 30 minutes of my time and evaluate your solution. Even though that’s something I normally get paid a lot of money to do, I have no problem doing it for free for you, whoever you are.” Not happening. So be smart, initial foray, presuming you’ve got something that interests the influencer in the first place, and wrote a good communiqué, ask for either a brief phone conversation to talk to someone about the company or, even more intelligent, permission to continue to send them releases. For example, a company that does that very well without having been intrusive to start, was Social Dynamx. They sent me emails with their press releases. The writer obviously knew something about me, the rest of the email was the press release and they didn’t get pushy about what they’d like me to do. Just left it as an option that I didn’t have to respond to. But they remained in my head, though I didn’t respond. I also didn’t delete them. Then I saw them – found out a friend of mine works there – saw him – saw the product elsewhere (more on other stuff to do later) and they are now contestants in CRM Idol (again, later). They are on my radar by not being too obtrusive and by showing understanding of who I am.
These are things that do work; now let’s look at what you shouldn’t do – ever.
Email – Things to Not Do
Bulk emails can’t be “sincere”
Let me explain something to you. If I get an email that says (paraphrase of a real one) – “Dear Paul, because you are such an important influencer in the CRM world, we would be honored if you would give us a few minutes of your time to take a look at what we do. We are (company name) a small company that is trying to break into the CRM market and we are honestly confused about how to characterize ourselves. We know of your stature, everyone does, and realize this is an imposition, but if we could get 10-15 minutes to just have you take a fast look at our application, which we think has merit, and give us an idea of where you think we fit, we would be grateful, because we know what little time you have.” You would think I would respond positively to this, but there is one other thing here. They sent this email to about 20 people, just swapping the name. Know how I know? Remember what I said in another chapter. Influencers gossip. We talk. This is a nice note and seemingly personal. However, you can’t have 20 most important persons in the world. I know of at several others who did what I ultimately did. No response.
Don’t be careless about how you say something
There was this Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) who sent me the following email after this company (who I happen to like a great deal actually) realized that when it came to Social CRM they probably wanted to be in touch with me. (That was their thinking, not mine). It went like this (some parts redacted here. Only immediately relevant is in and names out.):
I think you were spot on and we have some more work to do on the PR/influencer front. My first year was a bit of a whirlwind, and while we spent a ton of time briefing Gartner, Forrester, Altimeter and many others in the analyst community, I know there is a much wider community out there we can and should be reaching. I’m looking forward to expanding our outreach this year.
With that in mind, I wanted to reach out and see if we might be able to schedule a call sometime to chat…
While not intentionally insulting, if you read it the way I do, here’s how it translates.
“I’m sorry but I’ve been so busy briefing everyone else, I’m just getting around to you, pretty much the bottom of my list.”
I know that the person who wrote this probably didn’t mean to say it that way, but it doesn’t even take reading between the lines to read it that way. If I was someone who wounds easily, this would wound me, because it basically says, boiled to its essence, “you’re not very important.” Luckily, I’m comfy in my own skin.
The point of this story is that as I have mentioned over and over again, influencers are human beings before they are members of a category and need to be treated with the same respect that I would presume that one accords any human being. Which means, how you write things is as important as what you write about – and because you are dealing with influencers, can affect what they think about your company, warranted or not.
Don’t bombard influencers with follow-ups
A cardinal sin.
Of the 20-50 emails I get in a week, there are ALWAYS 3-4 of the writers who insist on thinking (I guess) that I must have somehow missed seeing their incredibly important email that they sent to me.
- Getting 20-50 a week
- Gotta do my client work – because I’m getting paid to.
- Too many things on my plate at the moment.
- Not all that interested in most of the 20-50. Maybe 4-5 of them.
Even the 4-5, I don’t know the people, so don’t feel obligated to jump to it because they want me to.
- Get to it when I get to it.
- It’s been 2-3 days, not weeks, since I got the original email that they are following up on.
Yet, because the IR folks are not particularly empaths, often inexperienced, influencers get the “maybe you didn’t see my email earlier this week” or the more polite follow-up “Just following up on the email I sent you two days ago.”
Influencers get that. We all understand that they are pushing it to get some closure. But what I would highly advise is:
- Wait a week before you follow up – because 2 days is ridiculously quick.
- Don’t send a third – if you don’t get an answer.
To be brutally truthful, if you didn’t get a response the first time, much less the second, it’s not because it got lost. It’s because the influencer wasn’t interested. As I said earlier, that doesn’t mean they won’t be interested later or won’t be interested in something else that the company is doing. By all means try later on. But give this one up. If you insist on a second note and don’t get an answer, let it go.
Summary - Step 2
So if we are going to create pithy sound bites of what to do, here they are:
- Try not to do mass mailings.
- Try to write an email that shows a knowledgeable person wrote it to a specific influencer. The way I used to train people in thinking about this is ”get across your idea in their metaphor.” That means know enough about the person you are trying to engage to be able to shape the value proposition and at the same time reflect the personal knowledge.
- Be willing to write it off if it doesn’t work the first time. Wait awhile and go back at it in a different way when sufficient time has passed.
You Hooked Some. Now What?
Good news. Lots to do now. But also be prepared to throw some of your catch back.
Once you’ve engaged that influencer and they’ve responded, there are several things that you can do to keep them involved with you. Some of it is obvious; some of it is not so obvious. All of it is probably necessary, though the degree to which you do these things is practical and needs to be in context – dependent on the amount of time you have, the personalities of those involved on both ends, the budget that exists for your program and the scope – the number of influencers that you have to deal with.
I’m going to assume that you have a number of influencers to deal with rather than just one. Reasonable assumption isn’t it? If you don’t have more than one, your job is pretty likely in jeopardy unless you’re impressed into duty and have a different job description to begin with. This is something that I’ll deal with in Chapter 4 not now. Just humor me for this.
I’m also assuming your company is dealing with institutional analysts like Gartner folks; some boutique guys like Ray Wang or Brian Solis, and some of the independents. I’m also presuming that you’re the one on top of all of them. Again, humor me. More next chapter on this one.
Thing is, there is a reasonable chance you are an IR program of one. Even if you are part of one that has done some serious investment, you either have a heavy “case load” or you are responsibility for an entire category of influencers. Plus, you are subject to the biases of your employer. There are dozens of significant companies with adequate or nearly so investments in IR programs that have yet to figure out that the influencer market – meaning who is the real influencer here – has shifted. Traditional power lay with the institutionals. While the institutionals (for those of you with relatively short memories, that would be Gartner, Forrester, IDC – without nuance) remain the most powerful, they are a lot less powerful than they used to be. Since power is shifting to individuals, even at the institutional influencer level, its people like Michael Maoz at Gartner rather than “Gartner” as an institution per se who hold the reins of power.
Companies that don’t realize this, end up making bad budget decisions, have a poor sense of priorities and as a result, are unable to optimize the time of the overworked IR people they do have.
What that means is that when you’ve established more than a few relationships, prioritize how you are going to handle them – but not by the size of their…. institution, but rather by the individuals who wield the so-called scepters.
What that means at the strategic level is that you need to select those influencers who impact what you do either internally or in the market as the priorities. That means it may be Esteban Kolsky or Brent Leary from the independents, Ray Wang or Alan Lepofsky from Constellation, Brian Solis from Altimeter and Bill Band from Forrester and NOT others from the same companies. Well, focus on the individuals and insist on their services, rather than the corporate offerings. To the extent its possible of course.
There’s a simple principle that you all know that governs this approach. You are dealing with people not institutions whether associated with institutions or not. Some of them are more respected than others, some of them have more influence in your particular industry, some of them have a better relationship with you and others at your company and some of them are new to you but worth nurturing. But your priorities don’t rest with Gartner and Forrester because of the Magic Quadrants and Waves respectively, but with the individual analysts at those institutions because of their value to you – however you define that.
That will change how you view your list. A lot of lists look like this, more or less in this order:
- Institutionals – due to their power and ratings
- Boutiques – due to their market research capabilities
- Independents – due to their consultative value
The new lists look like this:
These individuals may represent an institution, boutique or be an independent and you may be looking at them for example because of their market research skills or their impact on the Social CRM Magic Quadrant, but you are prioritizing by value rather than by offering.
How Do You Plan to Keep Their Attention?
In any case, assuming you get that, the next question is what do you do once you have a priority list. This is like customer retention rather than acquisition. “Having” the influencer means that you have an always tentative line of communications open to that influencer. The single best way to find out what you minimally have to do and optimally have to do to keep that influencer engaged (retained) is to ask the influencer what it would take.
Let me restate that so it is crystal clear.
Once you’ve prioritized your influencer list, the best way to determine what it is you have to do to keep the influencer engaged, is to ask the influencer what it is that they want.
Recently Joan Levy, a star IR person from Blanc and Otus who represents both Oracle and Xactly, called me (as she is calling other influencers too) to ask me what it would take to make my Oracle OpenWorld experience better/great. In my usual longwinded way, I spent about an hour telling her things that I though the conference could do to make itself better, not just for me, but in general. Was what I said useful? I don’t know. Only Joan and Oracle do. But did I feel valued and that they gave a crap about me? I did. So even if only 10% of what I asked is done. Though I would notice if zero was done.
That level of attention, even if it is to more than just one, is very important because it says, “hey, you are someone who we value and thus we would love to get your feedback because we trust it. “
By asking the influencers who you have prioritized what they need to stay engaged, you are showing that you are respectful of their time and are treating them as an individual.
You aren’t those individuals either. You have:
- A limitation on your budget
- A limitation on your time
- A different end game than each of them do
- A different objective for each of them because you value each differently (though they don’t know the specifics, they know that some are more important to you than others. The influencers are not blind or dumb)
- A restriction on what you are allowed to offer.
Once you’ve gathered up the intelligence for retaining the attention of the influencers, you need to spend the time to figure out what it is of what they asked that you can do and can’t do. That can take three forms.
- A line item “yes” to everything (not all that likely)
- A general group of things that you can figure out that will apply to multiple requests (emails of press releases, for example)
- A line item “no” of some and “yes” of others.
Usually it’s a combination of the latter two that work.
In an ideal (and somewhat self-serving) world, you would give each influencer a program proposal and they would agree to it. That would be the world’s coolest thing and even though each of them will say, “you don’t have to do that” they love the fact that you did that.
Honestly, that NEVER has happened once in all my years of experience so it’s clearly not the norm. Treat it as a differentiator if you do it. But a customized influencer program would be cutting edge for influencers for sure. It would be in the form of “here’s what I propose we can do for you over the next few months.” This wouldn’t preclude changes or additions (like hiring them or inviting them to an unexpected briefing or something) but it would give the influencer an idea of what they can expect from you.
Again, it’s never happened in all my years so take it or leave it.
Retention is the Better Part of Valor
This is the day-to-day stuff not the full program or even the semblance of one. In Chapter 4, I’ll outline the programmatic aspects such influencer “days”, influencers at user conferences, hiring influencers to do “things,” etc. This part, the final part in chapter 3 is how to more around press releases, and influencer briefings, the regular events that are part of the life of an IR/PR/AR/Marcom person.
So what are the most likely day-to-days that you have to do to keep influencers engaged. To be clear, day-to-day doesn’t mean everyday, it means regularized “things.”
They fall into four categories
- Getting out documents ranging from press releases to white papers
- Briefings/Demos of new products or about initiatives or financials.
- Responding to analyst/influencer/media queries
- Interacting on social networks
Getting Out the (Digital) Sheaves
Assuming that you have things going, put the analysts/influencers who want it on a list to receive the press information at the email address they want to receive them. They will be glad to read what you have to say. Please don’t preface them with a note that says asks them to do something. “We’d like your feedback on this.” That’s not a pro forma request, even though it tends to be treated like one by IR people. That should be asked when you have a solid relationship and there is something specific and special that you want to get free feedback on. Just send the press release with the usual note. Ryan Zuk of Sage (responsible for Sage CRM IR and an influencer in his own right) does this incredibly well with a short personal note and the release via email. He somehow balances being very unpretentious and just demanding enough. He’s always welcome in the homes of influencers because of how good he is at this thing. That means if there is something that he’d like influencers to pay attention to, because of his demeanor and how well he does his job and because he is just a great guy, it gets paid attention to. He’d be a great mentor to you young ‘uns.
Briefings, Demos, and All That
One regular part of life with IR is getting influencers of any kind to take a briefing on something. There are various levels to this.
If the relationship is relatively new (and the priorities are established), it tends to be a product briefing on a new version of something. More often than not, it’s a pre-brief, which simply means that the product is shown to the influencer under a non-disclosure agreement, prior to its release. Typically, a few days before its release. Once the influencer has agreed to an embargo and/or an NDA, she/he gets to see the product and as is typical, provides some level of feedback. To be clear, this is a one-on-one call. No more than one influencer per call. More than one can cause a problem.
If the relationship is long standing, it could be a messaging review. Companies that trust some of the influencers they deal with will sometimes ask them to get on a half hour to an hour call (I wouldn’t ask for more if I were you) to review a new approach to messaging. Typically, if the influencer has a long standing relationship, they’ll be glad to provide feedback on the messaging. Note I said typically. That means that not all influencers are like that. Some because they can’t be (often the larger analyst firms don’t allow it) and some because they don’t want to (I refuse to answer who because I ain’t a snitch.). Know how far you can go before you go there.
Aside from those kinds of briefing, there are more general quarterly financial calls with analysts, though that is usually with a mix of influencers and financial analysts. Who you invite from the “non-financial” side of the house is a matter of choice, not necessity. A vendor who does a great job with this is NetSuite who sends out the invites to a significant swath of influencers in addition to the financial analysts with all the call in info each quarter. The analysts/influencers then decide whether or not they are going to do the call. But giving the opportunity for participation on a financial results call to a selective group of influencers who are not typically financial analysts is a wise move. Over time they self-select in terms of who is on and who isn’t – typically. Doesn’t hurt to ask them though.
Responding to Queries
This one may sound super-obvious. Some influencer asks “hey” and you respond “hey.” But it isn’t.
First, in this case, don’t feel pressured to answer everything they ask, but do prudently try to respond.
For example, from time to time you’ll get calls from influencers about significant management changes at your company or pending acquisitions whether they happened already or not, or are public or not. The influencer rumor networks about things like these are really strong, the rumors circulate fast and they are nearly always right. We normally know about these events long before they become public. Odds are pretty good, you may be forced to lie (as has happened to me) but lie you must – especially if it involves a significant acquisition. Deniability is the polite term for it, but it is lying. BTW, the influencers know that you’re lying, but rarely will call you out because they know they are putting you in an uncomfortable spot and are probing. So be smart and answer as best you can under the circumstances, but if you can’t say anything about it, just tell them, “I can’t say anything about it.” Get instructions about how to handle it and handle it exactly as you are told. You won’t lose the trust of the influencer. Unless they are jackasses. Then you don’t have the trust anyway. There is no delicate balance here. Influencers are aware that you have a job to do – and one that you don’t want to lose.
But if there is a query about something other than those taboo topics, answer them fast because they usually are asking with a deadline and it will typically benefit you because it ends up in something published.
Interactions on External Social Networks
This is optional but, if the influencers you are communicating with have an active presence on social networks, especially Twitter, it’s a good move to be in communication with them. The reason for this is that it’s almost like meeting them in a physical informal environment. While the barriers aren’t completely broken down between you on the job and them on the job, it’s a more peer-to-peer way to deal with the influencers. I know with me, there are two ways it always happens. One in a public conversation and another in private direct messages.
This is where you schmooze and join the conversation. You add something to a public conversation going on and it will be noticed by the influencer. Use the right hashtags and/or the influencer’s Twitter handle for that conversation and jump in to say something. This is a public conversation so its no problem to comment. Just be smart about what you say. Don’t say things like “our (fill in your company name) is the best at doing exactly that.” You will be shot at dawn with no blindfold if you approach it that way. But just a cogent comment or two and you’re a part of it.
Thing is, though, don’t do it if you don’t want to. If you like using Twitter, then its worth the time and effort. If you don’t, it isn’t.
On Facebook, writing on a wall is nice the way it is nice in any Facebook interaction. Happy Birthday or a comment on a post or picture is fine really and shouldn’t be a second thought. Do it if you feel comfortable doing it. But don’t ask a question of the influencer on the wall. At least not an important one you want a straight answer on.
This is a whole other ballgame.
There is a cost to this. You have to be monitoring them on their social networks, which means they have to have accepted you as a friend, follower, whatever, depending on which social network you are corresponding on.
But behaviors are different on each of the social networks. For example, on LinkedIn, if I have no idea who the person is or the person doesn’t have any ties of interest to me I turn them down. If they have only one follower, I turn them down. That doesn’t mean I don’t accept strangers. The way I might hook up is with a personal note accompanying the invite that indicates they are more than a bot trying to reach me or I’m more than a mass invite.
On Facebook, there is a different protocol. It actually is much like email in that the Facebook messages (not the writing on the wall ) is a back and forth serial communication that I have with people who are most comfortable communicating that way. For example, 90% of my interactions with Susie Penner at Oracle are on Facebook via messages. Most of my interactions (though they are infrequent) with Marc Benioff are via Facebook messages. Same goes for Bob Stutz of Microsoft. Its just the most comfortable way for them to communicate with me and I respond in kind. Influencers in this regard, if you are a Facebook user who does business comms via Facebook, are happy to talk to you through it if they are on it. In my case, I have it linked to Skype so I can communicate with the two social networks simultaneously using either one of them at ANY time.
On Twitter, the Direct Message (DM) is a powerful tool. It is a back channel. But that means don’t ask an influencer for something unless you already know them well or are trying to contact them around something in particular and you can’t reach them any other way. If you have a good relationship, DM away
The Case for Skype
It’s funny. Skype is arguably the most popular channel for video calls, audio calls, and even more IM. Skype has nearly 900 million users. Skype is, probably, in my circles, the medium used most frequently for back channel communication. The Accidental Social CRM Community speaks daily on it. The CRM Idol judges use a private Skype back channel to communicate during demos. I have one to one interactions with other influencers there all the time. ALL the time. They represent the gamut from independents, to boutiques, to institutionals. The channel is so widely used it’s already a verb, for chrissakes.
With all that, I can’t think of a single time that an AR/IR/PR or media person, with the exception of Robin Carey, the extraordinary owner of Social Media Today and related properties, has communicated with me on Skype.
I’m not sure why it isn’t used to communicate. If I were Microsoft for example, I might try and figure out a way to use it, since they own it and many of the influencers communicate on it. But it is widely used in everything but IR work to my knowledge.
The General Point
Truthfully, the point here is to communicate with influencers in channels that you are both comfortable communicating in. Don’t have any preconceived notions of who uses what. But find out what they prefer, and if you aren’t familiar with it, either learn the channel and its protocols or communicate in another channel that both of you are comfortable with. But figure this one out.
A Couple of the Very Little Things…
There are multiple small nuances that would either be impressive or prevent skepticism. Keep in mind, these are small things that would refine your approach ot influencers. Here are a couple of them, though there are of course, many more.
- When an influencer is being contacted by someone at your company because perhaps they’ve downloaded a white paper they want to read, flag them, so if their name comes up in a prospect list, they are identified as an influencer. Then either remove them from the call list or if they are called, it’s with the opening “I know that you’re not a sales prospect, but an influencer, so I wanted to say hello. I see you’ve downloaded xxx report. Is this for some research you’re conducting? Usually, there is no data-matching going on, so if I download a white paper, I get a call as a sales prospect. So the caller, an inside sales person has no idea that I am already on the network and briefed. Which isn’t a big deal, but seems to be a bigger deal when it’s a CRM technology company trying to convince you that their applications/services include things like deep customer data and a single customer record. There is a CRM-industry-irony here that is truly absurd.
- The other one is to make sure that there is one point of contact from an external PR firm, at least when it comes to a specific event. For example, there is one large enterprise technology vendor who has more than once had 4 to 5 different people email me about the same event and for the same reason. Makes you think they aren’t well organized. Again, this is about getting customer record that actually has a 360 degree view of the customer/influencer, including the note that “this email asking this has been sent out five times by five different people!” The company shall remain nameless. These aren’t big things but they do bring the veracity of the company’s claims about how good their apps are into question – a little.
Enough, Too Much, No More…
I’m done with this chapter. This has been molecular, even subatomic, and not merely granular. As I said in the beginning, take what you want out of it; use it any way you want, that’s up to you. I’m giving you whatever I can think of to make your job a little easier if you have to deal with influencers.
There is one more chapter to go. I’ll be covering the rudiments of programs. That means the basics of putting together an influencer program systematically by you and the types of programs/business models that influencers offer based on how they are structured. I’ll even cover some ideas and pointers on how and when to hire an influencer – the whys were in Chapter 1.
Unless, of course, I cover something else.
See ya later.