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How to (and not to) Pitch an Influencer



Andy: Welcome everybody. This is the SEMrush Influencer Marketing Webinar. My name is Andy I'm from Orbit Media Studios. We are a web design company here in Chicago and I get to talk to a lot of my heroes in content, and heroes in social, and heroes in marketing and influence. And today that's Peg Fitzpatrick. Welcome, Peg.

Peg: Hello Andy.

How Not to Pitch an Influencer

Andy: Welcome to all of you. So, we're going to jump in. We'll go into the pitch. The part at which we do the outreach and ask for the collaboration, the mention, in search it might be the link. In social it might be the share. In PR it might be the article.

And so this is the ask. We're going to go into details about the ask, which is an amazing topic because it's kind of that key moment, that nucleus of all good things. So, my examples here are kind of funny and I'm going to share this now. I'm calling these slides Bad Outreach.

These are actual examples of outreach, and these are people mostly trying to do search, mostly trying to build authority through link building. And this one to me is a good example. It just basically says, "Link to me."

Peg: Now.

Andy: Link to me now. It basically just tells me to link to them. No value at all. Here's another one that's common, "Hi, buy these links I'm going to link to you and it's this much money for these posts." This is real.

Peg: So, are these writers that are then they're going to write an article and put your link in there?

Andy: Exactly right. That's the theory. Absolute black and white violation of Google's guidelines.

Andy: These are examples of horrible pitches. They're horrible in several ways. Take this infographic and link to me," very common. Very common, creative visual asset. Do a bunch of outreach. Also very common is broken link building. I got to believe that these have extremely low conversion rates or success rates, but I still get these all the time.

Peg: I get them all the time too, and it's sometimes I just want to send an angry response saying, "Do your own work." But then I don't. But that's what I want to say.

Andy: Well, these are robots who are sending thousands of messages, so if 0.01% succeeds, they call it a success.

They literally turned their robot on in a way that said that they liked my contact page. They want me to add a link to their website from my contact page. Just imagine how insane that request is.

Can Cold Emails Work?

So, one of the final points I'm going to make before we jump into this conversation is that, and I'm kind of against cold email. Peg's going to give us another perspective, but the hypothesis is that there's a ratio, and if that person you're reaching out to has a much larger network, much higher visibility, much more influential, you need to take it slow. You should warm them up a little bit.

Now, of course, if the person's roughly at the same level of influence or their brand awareness is roughly the same as yours, or domain authority, or the number of followers, then you can probably rush it in that outreach email. "Hey, would you like to collaborate? Hey, do you want to provide a quote? Hey, we're both in the same space," can work first great on the first try. But take it slow if they are much higher up the curve. So, that's my hypothesis. Any thoughts on that Peg?

Peg: Yeah... I think building relationships, I've always felt that building relationships with other bloggers and other people, even people who are "competitors." So, I just have like some blogs that I link back to all the time just because they love their content. So, writing great content can lead to links back to your website. Could you believe that?

Andy: It's quality content plus a relationship with someone who makes other content themselves. We can do those things; build relationships with content creators and publish good stuff ourselves and hope that that happens.

Peg: So here's the thing, I have had some successful cold pitches, and obviously there's some that are really bad.

Andy: The specific request just for a link somehow it's too common, it's too expected, and doesn't offer value. So what are the attributes? Let's just jump right in. What are the attributes of an effective ask?

Attributes of a Successful Pitch

Peg: Okay, so number one, I don't care if it comes into my website forum. I'm actually okay with that. I mean, we can't stop them anyway, but sometimes they'll just comment on your website forum. And I would say a personal email like, "Hey Andy, I've been following you on Twitter. Your tweets really inspire me, and I've learned a lot. I'm writing a blog post about X and I would love to include a quote from you about this. It doesn't have to be too long. I'll link back to any articles that you want to if you could have this by this date."

One thing is sometimes people put dates but they're like really last minute. They're like, "By the way, and I need this tomorrow," or so. I think being respectful of people's time helps your pitches be successful.

You can give a deadline but not make it so short that it's ridiculous. And then don't start hounding people like, "Can you have it by Friday? Do you think you can do it by Friday?"  

So, if you want something from someone, give enough lead time so they can do it. I usually try to answer those things right away because then if they just sit in your email box. If they just sit there then it's like weighs on you.

Those things are legitimate. And you get really good ones where people are like, "This is my podcast, these are my topics. I feel like you'd fit into this thing. I'd love to cover this with you because we've never talked about it." Then you can say, "Hey, that could be a valuable podcast for me to be on."

Andy: I like that a lot because the offer to collaborate is obviously way beyond and way more valuable to the influencer than the offer to just link to something, which there's no exchange of value. But that collaborative offer, I find that they're very effective when they are specific enough.

Peg: Right. One of the worst ones I've gotten is the people who want you to be part of their online summit. It's an online summit and they want you to be a part of it. They want you to email it to your email list at least three times. It's like, are you kidding me? Like, that's a ridiculous ask.

Andy: I think that's a common ask. People often say, "I'd like you to be part of this thing and the requirement is that you send this thing to your list." They want you to use your list to promote their event.

Peg: I think those are ridiculous.

Andy: I reject those because the people who signed up for my newsletter, they're sacred to me. The people who signed up for my newsletter are signing up for a biweekly web marketing tip, an article that I write every other week.

If you want to collaborate with someone who has a book, offer to talk about the book. Someone with a podcast, offer to talk about their podcast. You're clearly going to get them. The exposure value is explicit. How can you figure out if that person wants to be contacted? Like, what the preferred channel for that person is?

Peg: Well, you can tell. If you go on someone's Instagram account and they have their email address on their Instagram, you know that they want to be contacted. They'll say inquiries, and they'll have their email address on there. Otherwise, you send them a message there. Or I do go to people's websites, if they have a contact form, it's usually a good place because, as we mentioned, those are not going to go to people's spam filters.

Andy: Let's pause for a quick question. Satellite asks, how do you hit a collaboration with other Facebook pages? Cross promotion of content across different Facebook pages. I'm not a Facebook pro, but Peg, any ideas for that?

Collaboration With Influencers

Peg: There is a feature in there where you can share something and share it across different pages, but you have to connect the pages somehow. I think that you would have to contact obviously the Facebook pages, send them a message and say, "Hey, we love Facebook, you love Facebook, it'd be great if we could collaborate on a contest or something." I think Instagram collaborations are much more common,

When I did, I created an Instagram challenge. I was working with Adobe Spark at the time as an influencer. So I came up with an idea because they wanted to collaborate to grow their audience. They didn't have very many followers, so we collaborated with Tailwind and did an Instagram 30-day challenge. So, it was like 30 days of posting and both companies posted about it. They posted on Facebook and Instagram. So if you can find something that would be interesting to both of your audiences, I think it does prove a lot of value. It takes some of the burden off of your team for creating content, hopefully.

Andy: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, part of that idea there is just two people doing the same thing and talking about it.

So, if you think you're going to do something ... It's a clever idea. If you're planning to do something in your marketing, reach out to other people who might be interested in that same thing and just both do it.

Peg: Right, and pick a hashtag or something to tie it together.

Andy: Yeah. You're doing a survey. Let's do our surveys at the same time. Oh, you're doing a picture contest, let's both do it at the same time because you're going to get that feedback loop, right? That chance for better visibility just by tagging.

There's a question from Olga Alexandra, what are some of your recommendations from pitching collaborations with Instagram influencers? What about if you're sending free products? Boy, I mean that's a crowded channel and that's a common tactic. Free products for Instagram?

Peg: Well, I think direct messages are probably best unless and they have their email up in their bio. But the thing is you do have to provide value to them. It's not going to work if you just say, "Hey, can I send you my product? And will you talk about it on your Instagram?" I think those days are kind of gone.

Unfortunately, a lot of people do want to get paid to post things. I mean, it's peoples’ jobs. So, you're essentially asking people to take time to do something. Just planning your Instagram posts, taking the photos, writing the caption, all that. It takes so long to put together a good Instagram post, it's ridiculous. So, it is a great way to get your product out there. I would search for people who already talk about things similar to your product, they don't know what kind of product it is, but find people who talk about it.

You can send things to people but you can never tell them that they have to share it. I would engage in their community for a little bit so they know who you are. So you're warming up the water a little bit. I would comment thoughtfully on their Instagram posts, try to connect with them. Maybe when they're sharing stories, write some nice comments back to them saying, "Wow, your dinner looked great. I love those shoes." I don't know what kind of influencers they are, but connect with them so they know, they get a feel for who you are. And then once you kind they kind of know who you are a little bit, then say, "Hey, I'd love to send you our product. Are you interested?"

And just make sure that you're building the relationship first so they kind of have an idea of who you are. I think most Instagrammers are really all about staying up to date on their direct messages because that's where they're doing their business. People that are influencers don't have to have a huge following. They could be a micro influencer and have a thousand followers, but check to see if they have like great engagement.

Do they have people that are interested in what they say? Are they posting things that even if it's a great photo with a great caption, but no one's commenting on it? Then they are not the person that you want to work with. You want to find someone who has comments where people that are saying thoughtful things that are real comments. Not just like great picture, things like that.

Don’t Neglect The Micro Influencer

Andy: The way that influencer marketing is developing as a skill set, as a promotion channel. It seems to be biased toward giant followings, and, it's like this proxy for value. It's like, "Oh, that person has a big following, therefore they must be a good influencer partner for me." And I think that people are chasing after giant accounts. Maybe they're just easier to find first of all, but how do you break that mindset of just going after celebrities? And if you do believe in the micro influencer, how do you find some of those people?

Peg: So, I do think that there are so many people on Instagram, they have a lot of followers. It's crazy. I mean, obviously there's smaller accounts too, but it just seems like people have really built big accounts there. But like I kind of touched on, it really has to do with engagement. So it has to do with a number of followers versus the conversation that's happening. And it's getting really hard on Instagram to even get that engaged anymore because they, like Facebook, have cut it down. The organic reach is just very, very low in commenting. People don't see your thing, so it's getting harder.

So if you want to find people who are influencers, I would look for hashtags and keyword searches for people who are like relevant to the topic you're talking about. So, say you're a shoe company and you make sustainable shoes, then you could search for sustainable blogger, sustainable fashion bloggers, and look for people to connect with.

It's kind of any influencer pitching that you're going to do if you're just doing one thing and cutting it and pasting it to a lot of people, it's just not going to work. You really have to work on relationship building. Unless you have a big budget and you also have money because that could, that could make up for the difference.

Andy: Well, speaking of money, I mean when you make this initial outreach, especially if the person has a big account, they may be getting tons of these. They may be getting lots of free products, and I don't think we should be surprised if that response is, "Yeah, here are my rates." And you find out that this was not an organic influencer marketing effort, it was a paid influencer marketing effort. And there are two types of influencer marketing, right? Social has paid and organic, search has paid and organic influencers. There's paid and organic.

Peg: Right? And then it gets you to do the whole other topic, which we weren't really going to talk about, but you do have to make sure that you work with people who are honest and use all the FTC guidelines. If you see people that you know that's the sponsored posts and they are not writing it, don't work with them. Because the person who's responsible for that is going to be the brand. The brand, the influencers could get charged(fined) or whatever. But the reality of it is they go after the companies usually.

I think finding micro-influencers, again, you just have to like do some research. Look for hashtags that have to do with who your target audience would be. And then look for the engagement piece because that really is key. It's not just a number of followers, and it's not just the likes, it's the conversation.

Andy: Yeah. Going back to those, we had Mark Schaefer on this show, and Mark made some interesting points that I'll go back and remind people of. He said there are really three kinds of influencers. There's like the top, the peak, the super, the celebrities. Then one level down, there's like the Andys and the Pegs, and the Marks, we create content, right?

But then the bottom he says, we should really be focusing on and paying attention to anybody that shares your stuff, that fan. So he wants us to go back and look at who we are already engaging within social media, regardless of the size of their account, and make sure we give them some love too and engage with those people that are actually influential. They're referring people to companies, they're driving business.

Peg: I think everybody has influence, right?

Andy: Of course. Definitely.

Peg: Everyone has influence. That's the bottom line. It doesn't have to be a celebrity.

Andy: Jonathan Martinez asks us, "Do large influencers have people managing their incoming pitches? Should you change the way you construct the ask?" I think maybe yes, right?

Peg: Well, I don't know. I don't know how they're doing it in the first place, but yes, people probably are managing their pitches for them. Some people of course work with agencies, the bigger people. But I think you should always direct it towards the influencer if it's their email account. You can't assume that someone else is going to read it. So you should always write it directly to them.

See, I do all of mine. I've never had anybody do my email. I don't want somebody doing my email. That's weird. To me, that seems weird.

Andy: I do my email and I don't want to do my email. So if anyone on this show wants to do my email for me, I've got a big job for you. I need help.

Leveraging the Power of LinkedIn

I recommend everyone on this webinar to consider being a bit more permissive on who you connect with on Linkedin because it's a really powerful content platform. Because Linkedin spam is not that bad. Because the awkwardness when someone says, "Hey, can you introduce me to Peg?" And you have to tell them like, I don't actually really know Peg that well. It's a weird moment, like once a month, not that big a deal. I have a large network on Linkedin, and I'm very grateful for that. I'm happy about it every day.

Peg: Yeah. I think LinkedIn still is very undervalued for people, and influencers especially should be on LinkedIn. A lot of them don't even think they should be or know why they should be, but brands and PR agencies all used LinkedIn and they look people up to see what they've done. And I'm always like, "You really need to have your LinkedIn profile setup." And people are like, "Why? It's so boring." I'm like, "It's really not. It's networking.”

But you can't send good pitches and Linkedin. I mean, I do check mine every day too, so I do see things on there. I think it is a valuable place to connect with people if you don't have their email. Yeah. I think it's a great place for networking.

Andy: So, for networking, for collaboration.

Peg: Okay. So Rebecca and I we're blogging buddies. We've done posts together. One we did like 52 tips and we each do 26 on each of our blogs. We split it up, we worked on it together and then it was great. We did a big graphic together for Pinterest and shared it. So, it's great to plan that content in advance. Why not?

Andy: If you're promoting a software product, I mean, it's like sending the shoes to the fashion Instagram person. Make sure that they have it in their hands and that they can play with it. Someone gave me a tool yesterday and I'm kind of like, this is amazing. I'm definitely going to add this to some content I've written.

Peg: I had a design company reached out to me and I don't need any more tools to create images. I really don't. I have a lot, but I tried theirs because I liked their email. They were nice and they were like, "Hey, we'll make you a whole bunch of custom templates so you can figure this out." I was like, "I'll try it." And I actually did like it.

“PS” Influencer Marketing Campaigns

Andy: Before I forget, that idea the PS campaign with the one simple link at the bottom of the email. I think the PS campaign can go into all over the place, and if you're helping someone because you are an influencer for them, or they're an influencer for you, or you want to suggest something.

Maybe the mention at the end of blank, the end of the podcast. "Hey, if you like this show you might like that show," super common. The end of the video, "Hey, if you liked this content, you might like that content." The end of any specific piece of content can be a chance to mention and refer people, and scoop them into something else that you're involved with, whether or not that's something you're asking someone else to do because they're influential for you.

Peg: Right, and I think that is a key to is the like building that relationship where you're both sharing each other's things. You never want to be that person who isn't generous sharing other people's content or ideas. Or the people who think it's all about them and they don't want to add any links to their blog that linked to anyone else. I think that's such a mistake.

Measuring Influencer Marketing ROI

Andy: Hey, let's take some questions. Steve Goldstein asks, how do you measure the effectiveness of influencer marketing approaches to guide your efforts?

You count likes.

Peg: Yeah, our ROI is hard to... You can go with engagement. You could do it with a hashtag. You can monitor it. But a lot of influence is brand awareness.

Andy: It is, especially B2C. I would say that the measurement should connect back to your goal. So, when people say how do I measure things? I ask them what their goal was. Like, how do I know how far I went? Well, where were you going? Or was distance more important than speed? It just depends on what you're trying to do.

So, if you had an influencer marketing campaign that was about search and authority, well you're planning to have a contest to get 10 celebrity chefs to write a competing recipe to try to win for this thing. Because you want to get links back to your version of that original recipe. Great. The link metrics and authority might have been the goal. If you're top level trying to become more aware and trying to build awareness or grow a following in a channel, then you'd use the social metrics.

Peg: The important thing that you're saying is you have to have a goal at the beginning. You have to start with a goal. So you actually decide what metrics are important to you and your goal. Is it sales? Is it leads? Is it more people signing up?

Start with your goal and then figure out how you're going to measure it. How do you measure it? You have to plan ahead.

Andy: There you go Steve. What else did we miss? We got Eileen in here. “What do you guys think about the influencer marketing platforms that you can go to sign up to, and then solicit influencers?”

Peg: I've seen those. I've had people send those to me. I haven't really used them. I feel like you're competing against a lot of people when you do that. There's actually a new back-end thing in Facebook where you have to be chosen to be an influencer, and then they will connect you with brands. And it's on the back end of your Facebook page. But I haven't connected with any brands but I have it. More places are working that in, and I'm assuming they're going to move that over to Instagram as well.

Andy: Influencer relationship management is a type of software tool, like CRM, it's IRM, influencer relationship management is also a skill. If you're serious about this, you might want to add that to your Linkedin profile and start winning endorsements. It's a software category. People are spending a lot of money on it.

Well, we talked about a lot. We're coming down to the end of the hour, I'm going to try to do a little bit of a recap and then I'll let you just put a bow on it. Well, good pitches, how to pitch, how not to pitch. I used to say that the cold email is a bad idea, never send a cold email. You've challenged me on that and I like that because you were saying that it's not about the email, it's not about the channel. It might be email, might be DM, might be pretty direct and upfront. But the key is to, if necessary, maybe engage first, comment, interact, share, and then make it really personal about them. No outreach, mass outreach, semi-personal messages.

Be really specific about what you need. Like really describe the outcome and what you're hoping for from them. If it's a contributor quote, maybe the length and how soon. Or if it's a mention, what the piece might be. But then also before you even do any of this, really research that person. Look into what do they interact with? What do they like? How do they want to be reached? How am I doing?

Okay. Well, I would say definitely make sure you have your Linkedin profile all set up like we talked about it. All you people who are ignoring Linkedin thinking that you don't need it, I think that you could find it's a great place to connect with people. Whether you are trying to connect with influencers or collaborate with people. I think Linkedin is a great place to do it, because then, as Andy said, it's less noisy.

And plus if you reach out to someone and they search for you, Linkedin might rank for your name. It's very visible.

Yeah. Anybody doing any outreach, polish up Linkedin for sure, right? Because people are going to see it, they're going to look you up before they contact you back.

Hey Peg, this was so much fun. Any last words, any closing thoughts?

Peg: Thanks everybody who took the time to watch and I'll check back on the comments to see. But it was great to have this conversation. It was fun to have different views of the same thing. So I always enjoy talking to you.

Andy: We can only make it this good when they have an expert like you. Thanks everyone for coming. Thanks SEMrush for hosting. We've got a December one already lined up. Bye.

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