How to Identify and Leverage Influencer Partnerships: A 5-Step Strategy

Published: Jun 25, 2019
Last Updated:
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Influencer partnerships are as fundamental to a successful content marketing strategy as the content itself. A viable content marketing strategy has influencer marketing built into its core.

Here, we’ll lay down a 5-part strategy to influencer marketing that you can adopt and tailor to your brand. Follow these steps to launch relationships with influencers and get your content in front of their audiences.

1. Set up social listening

One of the first steps in any influencer strategy is to set up social listening using tools like Talkwalker Alerts and Google Alerts. These tools notify you as soon as somebody mentions your brand online, giving you an opportunity to reach out to them in a contextual way.

Most brands treat these kinds of tools primarily as PR instruments, but they can be very powerful in identifying influencers to work with.

When an influencer mentions your brand, you can begin building a relationship with them in a couple ways:

  • Follow up on a brand mention with a response on social media. Instead of sending something basic like a generic “Thanks for the mention,” send a message that’s tailored to their interests and audience instead of one that comes across like a corporate letter or general template. The primary goal should be to open up a dialogue.
  • Send them an email in response. The email should respond to something contextually related to the brand mention, and it should act as a jumping off point for a collaborative project. Keep your email short and relatively open-ended, and make getting a response the primary goal, rather than getting some other sort of “conversion.”

2. Identify influencers in your industry

Use a tool like Buzzsumo, or run a “” search in Google for your target keywords on the social networks and platforms most relevant to your industry. Use the results to identify the most influential people in your industry.

Narrow these results down by weeding out influencers who target audiences with different psychographics. It's important to remember that just because an influencer is in your industry, their target audience won't necessarily be interested in your unique selling proposition.

Make a spreadsheet of these influencers, their most prominent sites and social profiles, and their contact information, or use a tool like BuzzStream to save this information.

Either way, the goal is to keep an easily accessible record of these influencers so that you will remember to reach out to them and maintain contact. Make sure to build these tools or spreadsheets into your process so that they aren’t forgotten.

3. Identify influencers outside your industry

Do not make the mistake of thinking that your target audience is only interested in influencers in your industry.

Take a good long look at your selling points and other ways that you differentiate your brand from your competitors. Ask yourself where else you can find:

Once you've done so, you should be able to identify some keywords that aren't strictly within your industry but your target audience might search for or be interested in.

Now run through the same process you did in step 2 above to identify these influencers and save their contact information.

It's a good idea to categorize your influencers based on which features of your audience they speak to the most. You don't want influencers within your industry and outside of it all thrown together without any categorization to easily sort them out.

4. Lay down an “ego bait” strategy

There are two primary ways to leverage influencers and launch business relationships with them: you can either use “ego bait” to capture their attention with your content, or you can reach out to them to launch a collaborative project.

There is no particular order in which you should take these steps, and in fact, it's a good idea to do them simultaneously, but for the purposes of this guide, we will begin with ego bait before moving on to collaborative outreach.

Ego bait comes in two basic forms: complementary and adversarial.


Complementary ego bait is content that cites an influencer as an expert in a complementary way in the hopes that they will promote the content in order to promote themselves. A good complementary ego bait strategy should incorporate some followup emails or social media messages in order to let the influencer know about the content.

You can schedule your social posts to go out at the same time as your content using a tool like Social Jukebox. If an influencer “takes the bait,” it's important to continue following up with more relevant content they might find interesting, even if it isn't content you produced, in order to maintain a relationship and identify collaborative opportunities when they arise.


Adversarial ego bait is content that introduces some level of conflict or competition between your brand and another influencer. Note that this should be done carefully and in a friendly or harmless spirit.

Done well, adversarial ego bait can invite friendly competition that readers find entertaining. For instance, YouTuber Rob Scalon once challenged YouTuber Roomie to write a better song than him in an hour.

The end result: a cross-promotional opportunity.

Of course, adversarial ego bait can also be designed with the goal of starting an all-out flame war. However, this should only be done in cases where the influencer you are “calling out” is diametrically opposed to your brand values in important ways.

5. Launch collaborative projects

Looking at your list of influencers, brainstorm some collaborative projects that would leverage your combined skill sets. Bear in mind that collaborative projects can include two influencers working together, or even more. A few examples of the kinds of projects you could collaborate on include:

  • Guest posts, either on their site or yours (or both) - Don't fall into the trap of thinking that guest posts only benefit you if you post on their platform. Allowing an influencer to post on your platform can be equally beneficial, because they often bring their audience with them.
  • Expert compilations - Reaching out to a large number of influencers in order to collect a list of relatively short quotes is a great way to create a massive piece of content. Bonus: the influencers involved will be interested in promoting it once it's gone live.
  • Interviews, discussions, or debates - Two-way conversations and debates are inherently more interesting to most people than monologues, and can be a great way to spice up a piece of content. These work especially well for podcasts and videos, and can be a powerful way to build your presence on YouTube.

Once you've identified potential collaborative opportunities, you’ll need to reach out to your influencers. To get the most out of your outreach, keep in mind the following tips:

  • Don't be afraid to use nonstandard channels such as phone calls, snail mail, direct messages, and other alternatives to email. These can help make you stand out from other brands competing for a particular influencer’s attention.
  • Give context for the outreach in whatever medium you’re using. In other words, give influencers a very specific reason for why you’re reaching out to them, as opposed to someone else. There should be some blog post, tweet, or video that triggered your interest in them and helped spur an idea for collaboration.
  • Address your target influencer by name. A message that begins with “Dear Sir or Madam” will quickly land in the trash pile simply because it comes across as generic and impersonal.
  • Keep it short and ask your target influencer a non-threatening and relatively open-ended question. Your primary goal is simply to get a response, as opposed to getting a specific type of response.
  • Obey any guidelines your target influencer has publicly posted regarding any kind of solicitation. The rules for reaching out to sites that publish guest posts are very different from the rules for reaching out to influencers with other collaborative opportunities.
  • Include examples of your work to give influencers a reason to trust you, but do not bog them down in a long story about who you are and how you can help them. You should very rarely lead with your credentials. This has a way of triggering Nigerian prince scam flashbacks.

A Final Word of Advice

We've discussed how to respond to brand mentions, identify influencers, and then attract and reach out to them for mutual gain. To wrap up, we’ve got just one more piece of advice.

Content marketers tend to set their sights very high with their influencer marketing strategies, and this is a good thing.

But we often forget that a deeper business relationship with small-scale influencers in a similar situation as our own can be just as valuable. Don't sacrifice the opportunity to build strong partnerships with influencers who will grow with your brand.

About the Author

Tim Ferguson is the writer and editor of Right Mix Marketing's blog. He enjoys writing about SEO, content marketing, online reputation management, social media, AI, and Big Data. When he is not writing and editing for Right Mix Marketing, he spends his time learning more about content marketing and getting better at it. You can follow him on Twitter at @RightMixMktg.


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