A Four Step Guide to Building an Influence Network
Building an Influence Network is a necessary and fruitful experience if you are engaged in inbound marketing. You build up a range of required relationships within your vertical, reward them and receive rewards in exchange. You will almost certainly gain out of this collective thinking.
The time it takes to build a network of influencers is relative to brand strength. If you work for a strong brand – one that is recognisable to the majority of your peers – then you’ll have it somewhat more easily than someone who has just started a website that deals in gold and silver. Starting afresh with no brand equity with the intention of building a brand is a whole other blog post; the vast majority of people work on brands with established business, customers, logos, and all the other things that make them recognisable. This post is written for them.
Step One – Finding Mediocre Players
The first step is to research your vertical for the Influencers (bloggers, social media personalities) that are most likely to link to you. I’d recommend going to Google and typing in ‘[verticle] blogs’. Most often than not, you’ll see some stuff that you have seen before, and some stuff you haven’t. I would suggest focusing on the stuff you haven’t – you are probably more likely to build relationships fast with people that do not have as much kudos. That and (in my experience) established players don’t usually have quite as much time to deal with this sort of thing. So your primary goal is not to find the biggest players and network with them – although there’s no harm in trying if you have the time, but find the mediocre players who are on the cusp of greatness but need a little push. When you identify a mediocre player, put them in an excel spread sheet with the following column titles:
Identifying Mediocre Players
When looking at blogs, there are four things I look for in identifying mediocre players:
#1 Link Equity – Toolbar PageRank normally sucks and I don’t use it too often, but for this it serves a purpose. Normally I don’t take aim at people with PR 5 or above at this stage. SEOmoz toolbar is good enough at finding what you need – typically the Domain Authority of a mediocre player should be 30-55.
2# Heartbeat – If your blog has mediocre link equity, but hasn’t posted in the last week, then you should ask some questions. If they haven’t posted in the last month then you should note them down, but de-prioritise them. If they are clearly active in posting, and have posted in the last week, they are a target.
3# Blogroll – Most blogs have a blogroll. Finding blogs that have one will make it easier to find other blogs, and it will indicate that the blog in question is part of a community. It’s not essential that a blog has a blogroll, but if they don’t I probably won’t give them a second look as quick as a blog that has one.
4# Person – Find their author bio and try to understand them personally. If they state they are a journalist, be a little more wary; journalists usually know the game and I’ve had one or two get a little pissed by fairly forward approaches. (One went completely nuts on the phone! It was harrowing). If they are clearly writing for The Sunday Times and do the blog on the side, I’d deprioritise them, as they probably won’t care so much about working with you. Find their Twitter handles as well, this is crucial.
Using Social Media for Identification
There are loads of ways to find people on social media, but the easiest one for me is to use Klout
You can find out influencers who don’t have a website (and some that do) very quickly by using Klout. Just type in klout.com/username-here/influencers and you’ll be able to see who this person is influenced by at the bottom of the page. Mediocre players will have a Klout score between 40 and 60.
If you have Twitter followers, you can check one of them out on Klout, and then look to see who influences them. Spend some time noting down the names and Twitter handles of those people you want to tweet about your stuff, and mention them regularly. If they have an email, then message them there too.
Using Gorkana to Contact PRs
Gorkana is a resource to allow journalists to keep in touch with PR agencies. You can sign up for some things for free, but you’ll normally have to be a journalist working for a publication if you go for the paid service. It is one possible route to get in touch with PRs – you may as well try your luck and get on there. Many PR companies are effectively running the Facebook and Twitter accounts of celebrities and TV shows, which hold some serious traffic building clout (can you say that word in its right form anymore?) if you get mentioned by them. The more PRs you can get into your influence network, the better.
Step Two – Long List Forming
This stage requires some extremely basic Excel know how. You have your initial list of mediocre players – now you need to do a backlink check on the strongest ten from the list. You can do more if you want, but I find ten is normally enough.
Method – Head to Opensiteexplorer.org and pull off all of your target’s external links. Put all of these into a ten tabbed workbook and filter out all unfollowable links and remove Followable, 301, Origin and Target URL columns – these aren’t necessary. I then insert a new column A. Put this formula into the column and drag down:
Then remove the duplicates. Do this for every sheet. Combine all the sheets into one and then dedupe a final time. You will then have a sizeable list of possible targets. Edit them so you remove big players like the BBC, then place into columns. You won’t have the final four columns at this stage, but prioritise your further research by domain authority.
Step Three – Contacting
Before you start contacting, as much of a ball ache it might seem I highly recommend doing a final human sanity check on everyone in your priority list. What this means is you’ll have a personal template. Use the one below and adapt it to everyone:
I’m the web editor at yoursite.com and we’re looking for partners to push our content and in exchange we’ll be happy to do the same. We might have a relevant YouTube video one week that we’d like you to publish, while you might want us to link to one of your stories or mention your blog on our social media profiles from time to time. Let me know if this is of interest – I think it would be beneficial to us both.
(You could go a bit further and offer product discounts, since they’ll be contributing to a marketing network).
Your level of response will be dependent on how your brand stacks up against theirs. If you have a weak brand that no one’s heard of, then chances are you’ll struggle compared to the Coca-Colas of this world. There’s a reason for that – they’ve spent billions on brand building and you haven’t.
You’ll almost certainly get some responses. If you don’t, then follow them up in a week’s time. If they don’t again, leave it for a while. Think of this stage as like online dating – you want a good honest opener in your messaging, but don’t get stalkerish or filled with negative energy if they don’t respond. You’re either not their type or they’re too good for you.
Do not, whatever you do, think you’ll get laid on the first date and come in with some crap like:
Hey, we’ve got this video and would be wondering if you’d like to put it on your blog and link back to us.
You’re meant to be building an influence network that lasts, and you’ve got to offer incentives.
Step Four – Relationship
Now you’ll have got some positive replies – mark them down on your sheet as ‘Partner’. Anyone who hasn’t replied put as ‘Contacted – No Reply’ – you can follow up with them later.
ReTweeting – Now get all of their Twitter handles and create a list from the account you’re working on. You’ll then be able to create a tab on Hootsuite or Tweetdeck that shows all Tweets from these people. ReTweet their stuff, and mention them regularly. They’ll return the favour. This is basically a courting phase.
Linking – Create a news roundup of what’s been happening in your vertical during the week. For every opinion of a topic you give, link to any opinion expressed on the topic by any of your targets whether they’re a partner or not. If none of your partners are talking about what you’re talking about, then start again so you are talking about the same thing!
If they are a partner, message them to say you’ve shared the link love. If they’re not a partner yet, message them to say you’ve got them linked and would like to know if they’d like to partner in the future. Repeat this process weekly and you’ll get more partners.
Syndication – So you’ve got partners who you ReTweet and link to regularly. Very good. Now if you have content, send it to them specifically and ask them to link back. This is particularly effective with video because it makes an easy, content rich blog post, and you can place links within the embed.
So with these four steps, you would have created a small influence network that you can depend on to build links, send you traffic and syndicate content such as video when it’s produced. Inevitably the network will grow with your brand’s reputation, but the bigger your support network becomes, the easier it will be to get your content and message out there.