Identifying and Approaching Influencers

So following on from my article about ‘Credibility by Association‘ we now hopefully agree that we can bask in the reflective glow of influential people whilst working on our own credibility. 

But how do we attract influencers in the first place? Here are a few ideas for you.

The term influencer marketing is a form of marketing widely used by retailers, manufacturers and brands where they focus on specific key individuals as opposed to the market as a whole who they believe to have influence over potential buyers…. This is not what I am talking about here, although it is a fascinating subject. However we as individuals looking to grow our personal influence can learn a few lessons and more importantly…. Apply them.

A great influencer for you is generally one that is relevant to you objectives. For example if you are the ambitious employee it could be senior people within your organization or respected people within your industry.

If you are a local business it could be well connected business leaders in the area, or the business editor in your local newspaper, or the head of your local chamber of commerce of course depending on what you sell.

If you are a consultant it could be someone respected in your industry association etc etc, you get the point.

If you are not sure who your target influencers are then there are a ton of online resources you can use as well as the basic search tools on most social sites. But really if you are not sure who they are, then you might not yet be ready to connect with them. Do your research.

Depending who it is and ultimately what you would like to achieve with the relationship, will dictate the approach you might want to make. But one thing I urge you to do is be clear in advance on what your objective is and how it is also in their interests to connect with you.

So with all of that said I would like to share with you 7 key rules when making an approach to influential people.

Before I start by the way the end goal or perfect outcome you are looking for is to develop a meaningful relationship, not just a photo opportunity. Your barometer is whether you are remembered & respected. 

Rule One – Don’t Ask For Anything

This is rule one for a reason. It is important!

Influential people by their very nature are busy & in demand. They are inundated for requests on their time & attention and the last thing you want to be doing in your first interaction is asking for something. 

I have several friends who are considered famous or wealthy and the one common thing they share is how tired they are of people trying to get money from them or leverage their fame. I know at least one celebrity who has actually become quite lonely as a result of this and is cynical of nearly everyone’s intentions.

A much better reason to want to connect with Influential people is to learn from them. The very fact that they are influential means they are probably highly accomplished and extremely knowledgeable. Their conversation will be rich and their lessons will hopefully inspire you.

Rule Two – Add Value To Them

I have always found that if you approach someone with a genuine desire to help them, their guard will drop and the potential for the relationship will increase. But you mustn’t expect something in return.

I once got the opportunity to meet with Guy Kawasaki with my friend & talented author Sarah Arrow. We spent a decent amount of time interviewing him with a view to reviewing and blogging about his latest book ‘Enchantment’.

Our value add was to raise awareness of his book to our audiences and in return we got to listen to the insights & observations of a great thought leader.

Rule Three – Communicate on Their Level

No one likes a sycophant! As a public speaker I regularly leave the stage to be greeted by members of the audience who want to talk with me and will queue to do so. It is very flattering and I am privileged to be able to share my ideas with them. But they typically fall into 4 categories;

Star Struck – Nice people who are in awe of you, seem to genuinely appreciate you which is great but lack the confidence to speak as your equal.

Sycophantic – A person who praises people to gain their approval. Usually just self serving flatterer!

Insecure & Rude – This person goes out of their way to tell you how good they are and acts way too cool due to their own insecurities.

Self Secure – Typically respectful but also aware of the value they bring and not afraid to share their own experiences. Very much communicates as your equal.

It will not surprise you to know that the self secure are the ones influencers see as on the same level as themselves and the only ones with the potential to become friends.

Rule Four – Have Social Proof

We live in an age of due diligence and you can bet your bottom dollar you are being checked out on a regular basis. I am going to cover social proof in more detail later in the book but in the context of reaching out to influencers…

Evidence of Integrity is important. A well populated LinkedIn profile with plenty of endorsements & testimonials will help and you can help yourself by making it easy to find by being obvious on your website or in your email signature. After all, their professional reputations are on the line.

Rule Five – Introductions Increase Odds

It is very rare a direct approach will work when reaching out to influential people. They often have gate keepers that fiercely protect them from distractions. It is far better to be introduced by someone already trusted.

It can be much easier to build bridging relationships initially and although it might take longer, you will have a better chance of success. 

Two things you can do to make this process easier, firstly make quality introductions yourself, if you know two influencers who are not yet connected but might benefit from knowing each other, introduce them. This way you are adding value as per rule number two.

Secondly make introducing you easy. If asking for an introduction, write the paragraph for the introducer. This helps to contextualise the reason for it and is more likely to be well received & followed up on.

Rule Six – The Magic Of Mentors

To be clear I am not for one instant saying you should approach cold, as a stranger, a person of influence and ask them to be your mentor. That wouldn’t work.

However if you are lucky enough to develop a relationship over time i.e. several conversations, which evolves into a mentor/mentee relationship then this could be a great source of other influential introductions.

This starts with humility… no-one wants to mentor a know it all and be very aware, when a mentor introduces you to someone, you represent their reputation so make them look good!

Rule Seven – Don’t Bullshit

Admit want you don’t know. Really bullshit doesn’t baffle brains and accomplished people have a better bullshit radar than most.

As I have said, we live in an age where everything you say has to be Google proof and can be tested with our pocket oracles aka smart phones.

So don’t try to big up yourself or be too clever. People see through it.

Getting noticed by influential people

Lastly, an easy way to develop relationships with influencers is to become one yourself and get noticed. Here are a few ideas to get noticed.

  • Have something to say and say it often. 
  • Write a blog, get published & demonstrate expertise.
  • Be shareable (And share yourself).
  • Niche your knowledge – It is ok to operate in multiple niches but to build real influence is to go deep & narrow.
  • Consider public speaking, it’s a fast track to authority and you are more likely to get noticed at industry events. (See knowledge section)

With all of the above, you can get to build relationships with fellow speakers, bloggers & publishers, chances are they have a decent black book of their own.