Are you one of the 69 percent of marketing and PR pros who rank influencer marketing as an important strategic priority for 2019?

If so, it’s time to take a closer look at an often-rushed part of influencer programs: outreach.

Wearing my fashion influencer hat (which is likely very large right now, as it’s Kentucky Derby season here in Louisville), receiving an ill-crafted pitch is time-consuming and frustrating.

Upon removing said hat, and looking at it from the perspective of my life as a former product manager and current digital marketing strategist, the sloppiness of it all is maddening.

Marketers, PR Professionals, and Agencies: We Can Do Better

As a marketer and influencer, it serves me well to help convince companies that influencer programs don’t have to be as daunting and expensive a task as some agencies or brands might make it.

Think about it this way: fixing one part of this process can lead to outcomes that make our hearts go pitter-patter: increased open and conversion rates.

With 77 percent of marketers preferring to handle influencer marketing in-house, you’re dedicating extensive internal time and resources to the influencer identification process.

And if you’re outsourcing it, you’re still paying for all that digging.

Let’s give the same attention to the actual outreach, so you can get more yeses.

Thinking back to pitches I’ve received over the past nine years, there are key differences between the ones I respond to, and those that go in the trash bin upon receipt.

Engage Before the Ask

Just as a cold call is less effective than a warm lead, engaging with your influencer prospects in advance of outreach is a great way to increase the likelihood of an email open, and to provide relevance to the communication.

Think of it as buying someone a drink before asking them out.

This can be as easy as adding them to a Twitter list so you can quickly like, retweet, or comment on their content.

On Instagram, you can give them a follow, turn on post notifications, and engage with their new content as it goes up.

For bloggers, add their RSS feeds to a feed reader, so you can quickly see all new content at-a-glance.

If your community management team has the bandwidth, consider giving them a list of targeted influencers for regular engagement.

I notice when brands start to follow me and engage with my content.

They’re doing me a solid by helping my engagement, so I will, in turn, pay attention to their outreach.

This engagement works particularly well for nano and micro influencers, since macro and celebrity tiers likely turn notifications off and have someone else to manage their interactions.

With more companies looking to engage with nano and micro influencers, the volume of inquiries they get will rise.

Connecting before the ask is an easy option to make that first email or DM a little less chilly.

As an added bonus, reaching out in advance of outreach can also help filter influencers who don’t align with your brand as well as you initially thought they would.

Say My Name

Basic customization is a low hanging fruit!

Using a recipient’s first name in the subject line can increase open rates by 26 percent.

And you wouldn’t believe how many generic subject lines and salutations show up in my inbox.

This is the first red flag when it comes to culling the noise.

It’s an alarm that this may be a “spray and pray” outreach.

A Note About Spray and Pray 

On the brand side, it may seem efficient from a time standpoint.

But a lack of quality vetting and personalization can bring a lot of noise to your funnel.

And the time savings will get negated when it comes to communicating back and forth only to realize an influencer’s not a great fit after all.  

Or, you onboard the influencer and they don’t help your KPIs.

Good luck justifying further investment in influencer marketing as a strategy!

Make it Personal Instead 

Here are two easy ways to personalize outreach:

  1. Use a first name or blog/social channel handle in the subject line.
  2. Use a name in a salutation. (“Dear blogger” is the worst.)

I’m not suggesting you include my dog’s name in your outreach email (though it has been done), but remember that you’re talking to a busy person, just like yourself.

I realize this may seem like common sense, but generic outreach happens more often than you might think.

And whatever you do, please don’t use someone else’s name.

It isn’t as bad as calling your spouse the wrong name, but it doesn’t help your cause.

Check your copy/paste or anything you’re automating before hitting send.

Demonstrate Relevancy and Alignment

In the recent ACTIVATE 2019 State of Influencer Marketing study, 44 percent of companies were turned down by influencers, because the influencer did not feel like they were a good fit for the brand.

Whether your brand is a household name, or a mom and pop shop, demonstrating brand relevance to an influencer in your initial outreach is always appreciated.

And it’s an indicator you’ve done at least some basic homework.

Something like this is not as uncommon as you’d think:

Greetings blogger! We’d love to collaborate. Please respond at first opportunity.

– sent from my iPhone

(From a Gmail account. No company name in sight.)

If you can’t tell me who you are and why you think we should chat (even broadly), don’t count on me to put the puzzle pieces together myself.

There are lots of ways to demonstrate relevancy and alignment:

  • Talk about how you discovered them: “I found you on Twitter when I was searching for people who understand sentiment tools.”
  • Mention previous work: “We noticed you previously wrote about travel tips to Punta Cana.”
  • Call out an attribute that made you reach out: “You have great engagement on Instagram—congrats!”

Indicating you’ve done a little homework is a great way to make an influencer want to take the time to research you in kind, and then respond.

Share Specifics, Asks, and Limitations

Even if you’ve nailed every other item on this list, failing to specify the ask or limitations is the equivalent of approaching me at a bar, telling me you see me, and then walking away.

What am I supposed to do with that information?

You don’t need to send a beautifully detailed campaign brief, but you can offer some clarifying nuggets to indicate if, and how quickly, I should respond.

Example outreach: “I want to introduce you to this new product!”

My reaction: I don’t know what they want me to do next.

Are they looking for:

  • Consideration for editorial coverage?
  • An address to send a sample?
  • Feedback about the product?
  • Collaboration on sponsored content?

Tell me what you want so I know how to respond.

Think of it as a CTA.

Similarly, communicating any limitations upfront is extremely helpful:

  • Channels: If you know you’re specifically looking for video content, stating this upfront can eliminate those who don’t have that skill set.
  • Timing: Have a quick turnaround? Be clear about your timeline.
  • Exclusivity: If you require exclusivity, detail the category or companies you’d want to include, and the term.

The disclosure of this information upfront can save both brand and influencer a lot of unnecessary back and forth.

Thoughtful Follow-up As an Influencer

I get it.

Sending follow up emails is a chore.

But given the quantity of information coming through email, it’s often necessary.

Consider the follow up to your non-responders.

Review initial correspondence to see if there was anything that may have been unclear.

If you’re able, offer additional clarity around the potential partnership, to create a sense of curiosity or urgency.

More often than not, the follow-up emails I get are:

Did you get my last email? Look forward to connecting!

Upon review of their previous email, I find it’s extraordinarily vague.

If you’ve provided clarity, alignment, and next steps in your initial and follow up communications with no reply, move on.

Perhaps the influencer is drowning, and can’t dedicate time to any new projects.

Or perhaps they’re a flake and you don’t want to work with them anyway.

Consider this a good lesson in “thank you, next.”

Outreach: Tedious, But Worth It

Even if an influencer doesn’t pan out for a specific project, all of the work you do fine-tuning your outreach isn’t necessarily wasted!

They may approach you at a later time with a different idea for a collaboration, recommend other influencers who may be a better match, and at the very least, keep the door open for your next email.

Have you faced challenges with influencer outreach? What are some ways you broke through the noise?

Photo by Esteban Lopez on Unsplash

Emily Ho

Emily Ho is the owner of Authentically Social, a digital marketing consultancy residing at the intersection of her background as a marketer and personal passion as a blogger/influencer. She founded the company in 2011 after several years in product management for industries ranging from agriculture to fire safety. As fashion and lifestyle blogger behind Authentically Emmie, she’s collaborated with some of her favorite “pinch me” brands. Emily lives with her husband and rescue pup in Louisville, Kentucky.

View all posts by Emily Ho