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How to Win (Online) Friends and Influence People (on Social Media)

Elliot Rysenbry

(Much like a rocket launch, getting off the ground online requires preparation.)

So it’s time to launch that awesome campaign. You’ve set your goals (goals that have nothing to do with going viral), and you’re about to kick off something awesome. Maybe you’re saving the whales. Maybe you’re saving the people who are saving the whales. Who knows. The point is, you’ve got something amazing that you want to do that shares your story with the world, and calls on people to act.

Unfortunately, when it comes to virtually everything online, the maxim “build it and they will come” does not apply in the slightest. You’ve got to build it, and while you do, spread the word far and wide. The earlier you start this process the better.

This blog post is going to teach you how to find and befriend some influencers, and then ask them to share or write about your campaign. We’re assuming that you want to create some buzz at a certain time in a certain target audience.

Let’s get to it.


The Influencers

No matter your cause, there’s going to be some people out there who tend to be at the centre of affairs. These people are known as influencers, and from this point on it’s your goal to make them your best friends. Of course, you’ll need to figure out who these folks are before you start your courtship.

Generally, these are people who:

  • Post a lot about your cause using related content and hashtags (hint: you can use those to help find them).

  • Have a whole bunch of followers/friends to maximize your reach.

  • Maybe have a blog or a website that ranks highly for relevant keywords (e.g. if your cause is Anti Whaling, you’ll probably want someone who’s blog ranks for “save the whales” rather than “My Little Pony Tv Guide”)

  • Are reasonable people who represents your values pretty well. People who get into a whole bunch of all-caps fights online are generally a no-no - use your best judgment.

(this might not be the right sort of influencer)

In addition, you might want to add your own criteria - whatever ensures that your influencers are relevant and connected with your audience in the right way.

Hopefully now you’ve got a list anywhere from about 10 to 30 influencers. Don’t forget slightly smaller bloggers and media publications well connected to your audience - no need to aim for Oprah when you could get 10 bloggers and tweeters that suit you better!

Finalized that list? Congrats! You’ve just identified your new best friends. In order to keep track of them, use a Twitter list or a spreadsheet. You’ll want to make sure you’re sharing the love evenly and often, and you definitely don't want to forget anyone.

Now it’s time to play the long game. If you expect these people to help you out in the future, you’re going to have to show them that you value them. Generally this means simple gestures like retweets, sharing their posts or any content from their blogs, engaging in Twitter conversations, and thanking them for sharing your posts.

Keep this up daily, giving each of them some attention. There’s a lot of value in cultivating these connections, and the longer you do this, the more success you’ll have when it comes time to ask them for their help. Ideally, aim for at least 2-3 weeks of engagement before you start asking them to do things of you.


The Content

While you’re doing all this, it's a good move to start collecting some ideas about the content that you’ll use to promote your campaign. Use the time spent sharing and engaging to figure out what sort of content your social media influencers like to share and write about, and think about how you can make similar stuff to promote your campaign when the time comes. Make sure to dig into all the tools you have available to you.

For influencers who you’re hoping to get share your campaign, it’s worth considering involving them in the creation process. People who support a cause generally do so for their own, personal reasons. Having your influencer share those reasons with their followers, or even contribute in creating content will give you a big boost later on, and may help a create discussion about your campaign rather than just a broadcast of it.

For the bloggers and media types, think about what sort of angles would be beneficial for them, and what sort of things they like to write about. If you can figure out a way to build in a hook for them, you’ll have a better chance of getting them to cover you. Photos, exclusives, early access and interview offers can also help your case when you shoot off your pitch email too.


The Pitch

Have you ever been invited to a friend’s party after it had already started? You probably didn’t go. I know I’d be feeling less than inclined to attend. Why didn’t they invite you earlier? No one likes to feel like an afterthought.

("Yeah hey! So my party's not going so well. Wanna hang?")

The same goes for your new influencer best friends. This campaign is your party, and you’ll want to send out invitations ahead of time - more than a week if possible. This is the pitch, and this is the part where you get to see if all your engagement and research has paid off (again, the longer you do the engagement, the more success you’ll have with this part).

For many of your influencers, this is going to step your relationship up a notch - and you’re going to have to ask permission. We’ve tried a few different ways of doing this, and so far we've had success with initially reaching out on social media. 

You’ll want to briefly say how much you appreciate them, what your campaign is, and what you’d like them to do, finishing by asking if you can email them. Since you’ve been engaging with them on social media they’ll know who you are, and they’ll respond with their email address. If they do, then well done -  you’ve taken your relationship to the next level! 

Of course, you could just email them out of the blue - but how many of those sorts of emails do you open? Far better to have them expecting your email, rather than just hoping they don't think it's junk.

What should you put in your pitch? We aren’t going to get into the intricacies of a pitch emails here - There’s already thousands of blog posts about them, and it’s different for each ask and each audience. However, like most things, covering the basics will take you far: be polite, be brief, be clear, and be grateful.

It's also very important to make sure any deadlines are clearly communicated in your first email (nothing like going off half-cocked), and that you’ve got all your press summaries, sharing images, and sample tweets, and/or contributing instructions all ready to go - but not included. We’ve found that it’s best to send all those materials off once people have said they’re willing to help out - there’s no need to intimidate them straight off the bat with excessively long emails and loads of attachments.

Above all, try to make everything as simple as possible for your influencers. If it’s easy, they’ll be more likely to do what you’re asking of them!



Still with us after all these steps? Yes? Fantastic. Make sure to follow up with any questions that your influencers have, and bump them if they don’t respond. Email inboxes are crowded places after all. Now pat yourself on the back and go make a cup of tea (or something stronger). You’ve set the wheels in motion for your campaign, and put it on the best footing to reach as much of your target audience as possible on social media. You’re a champ, and the toast of your office. Yay!!

Download the 2015 Nonprofit Email Deliverability Study

Topics: twitter, engagement, campaigns, social media