By Jay Swansson
During the beta testing phase of our product launch, we relied heavily on direct feedback from industry influencers. Interfacing with influential voices has countless rewards – their feedback was no holds barred, direct and extremely useful. They were the ad hoc team we needed to fine tune the product before releasing it to the public at large. Because most of the folks we collaborated with are socially active, they also kept the social media buzz about the release on simmer, which we were later able to crank up to a full boil on launch.
Identify the Right People
We started at the obvious place: with industry leaders we already knew and had built personal relationships with over the years. Most of these people already had an inkling of what we were up to and were excited, or at least curious, about the product. But it wasn’t enough just to call in our posse, we also spent a fair amount of time strategizing on how to best corral these influencers.
Our ultimate goal was to host a series of influencer demos where we showcased the product on a live video call via Google Hangouts.
Our steps for tackling the process:
Brainstorm: First, we rallied our leadership team to brainstorm influencers and thought leaders from each of the main disciplines critical to our success.
Categorize: We then categorized each influencer according to discipline: SEO, content marketing, social media, marketing/PR, media, brands, product mentors, agency leaders and tech.
Rank: Next, we used our own algorithm to measure the content impact and reach of each of the influencers. Some we eliminated because their voices were more impactful on mediums outside our sphere of influence.
Group: Finally, we grouped influencers by category while also considering any existing synergy between certain individuals. In other words, if two influencers were already chummy, more engaging conversations would occur organically by having them in the same demo.
We obviously had a specific focus in this exercise but the effort has been useful for other endeavors as well. This “rolodex” of sorts has become our go to for tapping influencers for co-branded marketing projects, guest contributor opportunities and new phase testing. Your influencer list should be dynamic in that you’re adding new voices and new categories.
Set Clear Objectives
Our goal was simple: Gauge their reaction to our product. But with the understanding of how overloaded the plates of these people are, we were adamant about not wasting their time and maximizing our own.
Our strategy included these elements:
Pre-meeting tech check: Nothing more frustrating than the “Can you hear me now?” brigade. Do everything on your end to avoid tech fails. We are lucky to have a capable audio/visual guru on our team. We had him test our Google Hangouts prior to the real thing, which saved us from technical flubs during the real deal.
Pre-answer obvious objections: The beauty of grouping influencers by category of influence was that we were able to formulate answers to the commonly asked questions prior to launch. We also crowd sourced questions and answered them so they were ready to go by launch.
All hands on deck: During the demos, we made sure that a representative from every department in our organization was on hand to answer questions. You never know what a person might throw at you and you want to avoid an “I’ll get back to you on that” answer at all costs.
Follow up: A thank you goes a long way. We followed up with each of our participating influencers with surveys and sincere notes of our appreciation.
Use the honesty of influencers to your advantage. Ask for their constructive criticism and be prepared to remove “hurt feelings” in favor of incorporating valuable feedback into your product feature set.
Keep Your Relationships Current
Influencer relationship building should focus on the keyword “relationship.” Build real and meaningful relationships with influencers. Don’t ask for things. Instead, pique their curiosity. Find creative ways to partner and evolve that process based on mutually beneficial desires.
In the words of our Director of Growth of Initiatives, Andrew Bart, “you should treat influencers like friends.”
If you conduct influencer relations appropriately, a large volume of the relationships should blossom into true friendships. Congratulate them on wins, pick up the phone and check in with them, thank them for their time, buy them a drink at the next conference. Your relationships with influencers shouldn’t be kindled only when you need them. Remove the lines between business and personal. Be genuine.
Jay Swansson is a seasoned entrepreneur and digital marketing expert with nearly of decade of experience leading organizations. In 2004 Jay helped start a SEO software platform where he fostered the explosive growth of the company to become the market leader with over 100,000 monthly subscribing partners and clients. The company was later acquired in 2006 by the private equity firm Lake Capital Partners. In 2009 Jay partnered with Joe Griffin to start iAcquire, a digital marketing agency based in Phoenix and New York City. iAcquire champions content marketing for 100+ clients worldwide. In 2014, after realizing the importance of credible authorship for search and social relevance, Jay helped lead the vision and creation of the content platform, ClearVoice.