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A strong network of friends, family, business associates and followers “online” that has been cultivated over time, when used for business, makes magic happens!

It gives you the starting boost that you need, allowing your network to amplify your content, get you out there in front of new people to help build your following. 

We all get this as a fundamental principal. It’s not rocket science. But too many times I see businesses underestimate the need to truly be ‘social and connected’ online.

If you have no friends online to start with, then who will share, like and engage with your content?

I’ve recently been working with a new start-up excavation business, servicing a local domestic market. First day online with Facebook, between the business owner’s own social network, his wife, their friends and family they captured over 300 followers within the first few days just by putting out a message and asking people to like their page and share a few posts. From there, their business gained traction and soon had their first bookings.

While these might be small numbers, I know how many businesses struggle to reach their first 100 page likes. It is an outstanding result for a small local business, with a small niche target audience.

Could they have gotten this same result without their digital network of friends, family and acquaintances?

No, not without focusing on other more time intensive or pay to play tactics. This is, after all, the social economy that we’re living in.

IT’S WHO YOU KNOW!

Lacking a strong digital network is more common than you think, particularly for people in the 40 plus age group that didn’t grow up with Facebook.

I work with a lot of people with successful businesses who have not yet started using digital to drive sales and leads for their business. People in this age group find themselves in a digitally connected world, but their network online is underdeveloped. Don’t get me wrong, these people have good businesses with strong networks they’ve developed as they have grown their business, but this hasn’t translated into the digital world.

Often, in comparison, their younger counterparts start out in the digital world with a strong digital network of people that will help them share the word about their business. They have grown up in a digital world and the rules are understood. This younger group are immediately able to get results from digital, particularly if they are targeting people already in their age/ social circles.

This is exactly how my client’s new local offering could  get good traction so quickly.

MAKING NEW ‘FRIENDS’ ON SOCIAL MEDIA

Buck up, if you are starting from a low base of digital friends, it is possible to build your network online so that you, too, can start to see the benefits of social media for your business.

The key is to look for people where you can help each other in some way with your businesses. You know, I’ll scratch your back, if you scratch mine….

In other words, you want to find and establish beneficial relationships with other people in the digital space, and over time build this into a network of super connected and influential connections that you can use to grow your business.

IS THIS INFLUENCER MARKETING or another form of online dating?

Well, it’s a kind of online dating, so far as you are looking for compatible ‘digital partners’. But it’s also a lot like influencer marketing without the big budgets.

First, what is influencer marketing and what is an influencer?

Usually, influencer marketing refers to finding someone with a large following of your ‘target audience. ’ You approach them, do a deal, usually for payment of some kind, and in return they promote your product or service to their social following.

The influencer will have built a large following of people on one or more of the social media platforms such as Facebook, or Instagram, YouTube or Pinterest etc.

The influencer is then able to use their relationship with their followers to promote or recommend your product and service.

This is nearly always done for an agreed payment, sometimes with money, sometimes with return favours such as shares, posts, likes and comments etc.

An ‘Influencer’ Example

An example of an influencer is Grace Bonney from Design Sponge. Grace created a blog 11 years ago and now has millions of followers across Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest. She was engaged as an influencer, to promote Mrs Meyers Clean Day (https://www.mrsmeyers.com/) (Super gorgeous cleaning products so you can clean with style and nice smells). Grace took over the generation of content for this business on their Instagram account for a week. All this content generated by Grace Bonney was shared back to the Design Sponge social accounts, giving Mrs Meyers Clean Day maximum exposure to Grace’s social following. Design Sponge has literally thousands and thousands of followers – all the exact target market for Mrs Meyers Clean Day. 

 
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But how does this relate to you and how does this work on a much smaller scale for you with no connections (yet) and no big marketing budget?

BUILDING YOUR OWN GROUP OF ‘INFLUENCERS’

What if you used similar techniques from influencer marketing to develop genuine friends and relationships with people that are also looking to grow their business and networks online? Instead of money in exchange for promotion, you exchange favours.

By seeking out those that are also in the growth stage of their business, you can use each other to help grow and spread the word about your businesses.

You don’t have to be targeting people with thousands and thousands of followers, just those that have a similar sized audience, or, are at a similar stage in their business as you. There must also be a synergy or a logical relationship between your specialty or product. Certainly, if you have the same target audience, working out how to help each other expose and grow your business is a win-win scenario.

The benefits of working with a group of influencers, better known from here on in as your ‘digital posse’ are:

  1. You can share and like each other’s content
  2. Help give your posts organic boosts to get in front of a new, broader audience
  3. Collaborate to double your value or offer
  4. Share learnings where there is no conflict or competition
  5. Share /collaborate on content to enrich and fill in missing gaps in your own content program.

HOW TO FIND AND BUILD YOUR DIGITAL POSSE?

Let’s talk about how you go about actually identifying, engaging, and making contact to build your network online.

1.      Take your real world contacts and turn them into digital contacts

It’s simple, pull out your contact book, all those business cards you’ve been collecting, your list of contacts in your phone and work your way through the list connecting with everyone, liking their pages and following.

Once you’ve done that, you can then invite them to like or follow you on your own social accounts.

This is the easy part. The next step is to look beyond your real-world contacts and start to look for people out in the wider digital world.

2.      Identify the types of businesses you should approach for your digital posse

You need to find people that are good matches with your business. By this, I mean look for other businesses where you have complementary offerings in your expertise or offering.

I call this six degrees of separation. Think of it like the wedding photographer, who would benefit from relationships with a florist, wedding dress designer, wedding caterer, venue hire and the list goes on. What’s your version of affiliated specialities with your business?

3.      Write down the keywords that best describe your business, product or service

Now, list words that describe your product or service. They should be words that your customers would use to talk or search for you. These ‘keywords’ will help you find people in related businesses to you.

4.      Research and identify your future digital posse

Using your keyword list, make use of the following tools to help you find your newest digital buddies.  

  1. Ninjaoutreach.com. This is specifically for identifying and working with influencers. It helps you not only find people, but also makes it super easy to connect and court your chosen few. This is especially true as you will be wanting to reach out to more than just one or two people.
  2. Tagboard.com. This is great for finding people and content via hashtags on your topic.
  3. Good old Google. Just search on your keywords, and look for bloggers or any content that comes up. Investigate the content by looking at what content’s being generated; what kinds of things are they saying. From there you can go and check them out on their social media channels, and see the size of their audience. You can look at how much content they’re putting out on a routine basis, and the type of engagement that they’re getting back from the people that are following them.
  4. Ink361.com is specifically for Instagram and helps you identify people with large followings based on their interests.
  5. Twitonomy is specifically for Twitter. Use your related keywords to identify other people that are actively talking to your target audience.
  6. Buzzsumo.com. This tool helps you find people that are publishing on your topics based on popularity of the content by the number of people that have shared it.  By identifying those people that are creating highly shared content, you can also start to identify more possible connections.

GETTING TO KNOW YOUR POTENTIAL NEW DIGITAL POSSE

Now that you’ve identified who your potential influencers are, you need to start the process of working with them.

The first thing you need to do is get to know them.

Follow them, look at their account regularly, read and engage with their content. Comment, share, and like their articles and posts. Eventually over time as you’ve gotten a good feel for who they are, and perhaps they’ve even responded to some of your comments or thanked you for a share. You can then reach out to them and start a conversation and build a rapport.

From there, you can then develop a relationship and make your pitch.

Some do’s and don’ts

  • Make sure that you don’t go straight into a pitch before you’ve established a relationship.
  • Do make sure you will have an equally beneficial relationship. Look for what you think they would be interested in and approach it from that perspective (you know channel some good old fashioned “what’s in it for me”.

Good examples of how you can help each other are:

  1. They have a blog and you have content that would extend or enhance their existing content.
  2. Offer to buy them a coffee and share and swap experiences.
  3. Look at where you might join forces to help promote each other’s businesses with discount offers or extensions of their own offering.
  4. Agree to like and share related content for each other.

Having said all the above, there are influencers out there who specifically build audiences, in order to sell “their attention”. While they might not be interested in doing a share for share or building a relationship with you, they may still be open to a deal, where, for an agreed sum of money they will promote you to their audience. If their audience is niche enough this can be worthwhile, even if their audience is small. Small can be good, if the pricing is reasonable, based on your expected return.

HOW DO YOU KNOW THEY ARE A GOOD MATCH?

To know if you’re a good match, ask the following questions.

  • Are they targeting your same audience?
  • Are they already talking about your topic? If they’re not talking about your topic, should they be? Is this a gap in what it is they’re doing? This might be the angle that you can use to approach them. Finding an influencer where you can add value to their business, will always make for a great relationship!
  • Does it make sense for them to talk to their audience about your product or service i.e. Is there relevancy and a natural connection to you? You don’t want their audience to be questioning why this person is recommending a product that has nothing to do with the influencer. It will just look odd.
  • What’s the level of engagement with their followers? Do they regularly comment and share or are they just silent lurkers that never truly engage?
  • Does the influencer’ personality type suit your business and brand?  If your brand has a level of political correctness, but you’re looking at an influencer who is an activist and has very strong opinions, then you might want to be careful about whether they’re a good fit from a brand perspective.
  • Do they have a following that is growing? It’s hard to say how small is too small. However, looking for enthusiasm and regular posting is the first thing, followed by a good growth rate are good indicators that you are not talking to a stagnant account.

STRIKING A DEAL WITH AN INFLUENCER

Finally, let’s talk about brokering a deal of some kind. The name of the game here is making sure that there is an equal exchange of some kind. So for example, this might look like:

  • One guest blog in exchange for 10 post shares
  • One promotion post on their channel for three shares of different posts.

It shouldn’t be about a money exchange, as you want it to be a sustainable and genuine relationship built of mutual benefit.

A note on paying for ‘influencer’ time

If you are paying for them to do some work, such as putting posts up, then think about the return and what you expect to get from it.

For example, if you pay $100 for one post to be put onto their account, you want to make sure that you’re going to get a fair return. For example, 100 click throughs to your website, resulting in a minimum of one new customer. So for $100, you’ve gotten one new customer. Does this math make sense based on your product /service value?

If you are doing this type of exchange for money, or even if it is around doing shares and posting of each other’s content, then make sure you put some rules in place, such as, the posts will actually stay up for at least 24 hours – you don’t want to be duped by someone who puts it up for five minutes and then takes it down again.

Make sure you have some control over the imagery and commentary. You don’t want them to make it up and not be aligned to your brand. Finally, make sure that you are measuring the impact to understand the effectiveness of the activity.

DON'T UNDERESTIMATE THE IMPORTANCE OF YOUR ONLINE NETWORK- it’s hard without online friends.

Developing a network based on identifying influencers in your area of speciality when you don’t have your own strong following, is a great way to raise awareness. It is a very valid way to establish long-term relationships that will benefit you over the long term.

In a digitally connected world, cultivating a strong digital network is absolutely essential.

While some might call this network marketing, and others will say it is influencer marketing, at the end of the day it really does come down to who you know and whether they are willing to share and promote you to their own digital network.

 

Image credit: thanks to https://pixabay.com/en/girls-whispering-best-friends-young-914823/

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