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As the gap between “reality” and “celebrity” shrinks, the power of influencer marketing keeps on growing. Marketers might see influencers as just another promotional tool. But to our customers, they’re much more.

It’s a phenomenon that Viacom Velocity calls “the conjoint effect,” in which “brands are [now] people, and people are brands.” In a survey of over 2,000 Millennials, the company found that almost half felt a personal connection with their favorite celeb.

We already know our audiences are more inclined to buy from friends, family or even affiliates (i.e. people they trust). That said, it’s pretty safe to say influencer marketing isn’t just another glitzy, frivolous buzzword...

It’s the current of today — and the wave of the future. To ride it out and reap the benefits, brands need to connect with influencers now.

For guidance on doing so, we asked a group of experts: “How do you establish influencer relationships when you're just starting out?”

In short, they say, prioritize four things:

    1. Try the “big fish in a small pond” approach
    2. Do some informal research
    3. Start a conversation — not a sales pitch
    4. Give 10x as much as the amount you’re taking

1. Try the “big fish in a small pond” approach

David Reimherr

David Reimherr, Founder at Magnificent Marketing LLC

“When we say "influencers", this does not automatically mean someone with over 100,000 Twitter followers or is on the Forbes Top 50 Most Influential List. You might have to start smaller and find influencers in your niche.

This is not only okay, but it is recommended. And once you start to build up some steam, you can then mention other influencers you are working and collaborating with as this will snowball.”

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2. Do some informal research

Josh Steimle

Josh Steimle, Founder & Chief Executive Officer at Influencer Inc.

“As a writer for many publications, I get pitched all the time. 99% of the pitches I get, I ignore. I ignore them because I can tell within a few seconds that they don't know who I am, they don't know what I write about, and if I ignore them they won't notice. Those who do just a tiny bit of research are the 1% who get my attention. It may be old-fashioned to spend the time to research an influencer, find out what he or she is interested in, and then provide value first, rather than merely taking, but it works, and that's what matters.”

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Lolly Spindler

Lolly Spindler, Founder at Crea Content Marketing

“Establish a relationship via social media first. Follow them, like and interact with their posts, attend their AMAs, and message them directly with compliments/feedback. You really have to put in the time to establish a relationship before you ask them for anything in return.”

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3. Start a conversation — not a sales pitch

Courtney Buchanan

Courtney Buchanan, Content Strategist

“One of the most successful ways I've reached out to influencers I don't know is by complimenting their work and stating why they should respond to my email versus the hundreds of others they've received that day.

To get their buy-in, share how the opportunity will add value for them as well. It can be easy to put a sales hat on in this instance but avoid doing so as most people will see right through that.”

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Bill Schick

Bill Schick, Founder & Chief Digital Officer at MESH Interactive Agency

“If they have a physical book on Amazon, buy it. Read it and quote it in social and in blog post. Make sure that you tag them, and use that as a jumping point.

I actually reached out to an influencer this way, requesting a bulk order of his book, and he sent me a box of them—on the house. He even signed one for me personally.”

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Bree Brouwer

Bree Brouwer, B2B Copywriter & Content Strategist at BreeBrouwer.com

“Connect with them on a personal level first and listen to what they say they're interested in; if they tweet about loving a particular movie or TV show, for example, ask them why -- start a conversation.

You can also be helpful to them; maybe they mention they need or want something in order to do their job better, so provide that to them for free without asking for anything in return.”

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4. Give 10x as much as the amount you’re taking

David Reimherr

David Reimherr, Founder at Magnificent Marketing LLC

“It's one thing finding and connecting with an influencer one time, but the magic happens when they see the value in the relationship and keep coming back. And to drive this home, give give give give give, then ask. And then give some more.”

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Alexandra Tachalova

Alexandra Tachalova, Founder at Digital Olympus

"I've found that adding a quote from an expert to a piece on a well-known blog and asking them to take part in a small survey that will be featured on an authoritative site generally work quite well.”

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Jenna Vernon

Jenna Vernon, Director at Collective Comms

"The most important factor to influencer outreach is having a genuine reason for getting in touch. Whether that's an invite to an event, gifting or sharing a message.

The relevance should be the focus of any outreach — Always think "why should this matter to this person?" Personalisation is the most effective way to attract attention.”

read more from Jenna