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The Art Of The Penguin – 10 Lessons From 1,000 Influencers

Influencer Marketing Lessons: 10 Lessons From 1,000 Influencers

When I was a kid, I grew up doing a youth program that had a lot of fun games and races.

One race in particular I found intriguing was the penguin race.

As we lined up at the starting point, each contestant was given a bowling pin which had to be carried with their feet across the finish line, thus forcing us to waddle like a penguin.

What do penguins and working with influencers have in common, you ask?

Very little. At least in terms of their appearance.

But if you get the privilege to connect with someone who is influential, you may realize the game can be quite similar. Although your mind tells you to spring, more often than not, it’s better to take things in slow strides.

Consider the speed of the penguins in this clip:

I’ve had the privilege of connecting with over 1,000 influencers over the last several months, everyone from Ramit Sethi and Dan Pink to the CMO of GE.

If I were to boil everything down to 10 concise lessons I’ve learned, these are the 10 I’d share:

10. Be a giver, not a taker

Who would you rather work with:

  1. Someone who proactively strives to help you grow your business?
  2. Someone who only focuses on themselves and what they can get out of the relationship?

This may sound like an obvious answer (and from experience, this is even more obvious to influencers). Yet I still see more people in the blogosphere make requests towards the latter rather than the former.

Another problem: There are some who craftily disguise themselves as givers, only to show their true colors down the road.

Kenneth Lay was the founder of a company that employed some 20,000 staff and was one of the world’s major electricity, natural gas, communications, and pulp and paper companies.

Then, on December 2, 2001, Enron collapsed. The accounting scandal broke and they declared bankruptcy.

What’s fascinating is that something as simple as a person’s picture could have prevented this demise.

Adam Grant, author of Give and Take, dug up an old report from Enron and compared it to one from a company led by Jon Huntsman, Sr., a famously charitable CEO. Check out the difference for yourself:

Give And Take By Adam Grant

Credit: Give and Take by Adam Grant

If you could not guess, John Huntsman is on the left, Ken Lay is on the right. Even in something as simple as a business report, the focus of a taker is on themselves.

Then there’s the time issue…

Even though I’ve barely grown my blog, I’ve still received more than a fair share of requests. While I do enjoy helping people when I can, frankly there isn’t enough time to do the work required of me and help every single person who asks.

Yet as I watch others, time isn’t always the problem.

William Harris, Aaron Orendorff, and Andy Crestodina are stalwart examples I’ve seen who are huge givers and indirectly have motivated me to do the same.

You may think each of these givers has a lot of time on their hands. But each of them are some of the craziest workers I know:

All that to say, when it comes to giving, it’s not usually a time issue. It’s about where you place your priorities.

 

Influencers get hundreds of messages a day everyday. Speaking from experience, whatever your objectives are in building a blogging empire, you’ll always get farther as a giver than a taker.

9. Keep your asks small

In Nir Eyal’s book Hooked, Nir gives a simple, 4-step process product marketers use to create habit-forming products:

  1. Trigger – This is the event that can cause someone to take…
  2. Action – What’s the simplest behavior in anticipation of a reward?
  3. Reward – Is the reward fulfilling enough to take action yet leaves them wanting more?
  4. Investment – What work can you get them to do to be invested to take action the next time a trigger occurs?

Why do I say all this?

Even if you aren’t building habit a forming product, you want to create a habit that the influencer will act in whatever way you ask.

Want someone to open your email every time? Consider putting them through the hook:

Trigger Action Reward Investment

Trigger – Sees new email
Action – Opens email
Reward – Information provided in your email
Investment – Responds to email

If a part of the loop fails, you won’t get a response. Conversely, a successful pass in each of those four stages helps begin the relationship.

Not only that, but it makes future outreach significantly easier.

If the reward from emailing you was worth their investment, the anticipation of a future reward will get them to more likely open your email.

Conversely, if the interaction wasn’t positive, they’ll be less likely to want to spend the time connecting with someone they feel is worth the time.

This goes back to my main premise – if you keep your asks small, you are more likely to get a response. Each pass through the loop increases your chance of success of a bigger ask.

8. One email, one purpose

There’s a saying in the conversion optimization industry that every page on your website should focus one objective at a time.

Interestingly enough, I’ve found this to equally apply to emails I send to influencers.

Whenever I send an email, even if I may have multiple things to discuss I try to keep my emails to a single purpose. I say try because sometimes I get too excited and put too much into it.

(Note, this goes hand-and-hand with knowing your objective and the hooked model).

What happens when I make multiple requests?

Either they put it off for several days or, more likely, ignore it altogether.

Of course, you can choose to experiment and find out what works for you. All I want to do is teach you to learn from my mistakes in connecting with influencers.

7. Decipher what a “no” means (and how to move forward)

Didn’t get a response from someone? Or perhaps you got the classic, “I’m too busy” line.

Whatever the case, I try to dig into why I got a no (or conversely, no response). Not only will this help me in future outreach, but it will give me an understanding how to best continue building the relationship with that influencer.

Here are a few things I think through when faced with rejection:

  1. Did they open my email?Assuming you gave them enough time to respond, if they did not open my email, this could be because:
    a. My subject line wasn’t enticing enough.
    b. Previous failed attempts killed the habit loop.
    c. They use an email service that cloaks when they open an email.Knowing they did not open my email means it wasn’t as much what I wrote in the email as much as what was written in the subject line.Pro tip: Use the first words in your body carefully. Many mail clients include next to the subject line, giving you a greater chance for them to open your email.
  2. If they opened my email but did not respond…I try to examine the copy in the email. Was it too long? Too many requests? Maybe I’ve been asking them too much?Even though I cannot read someone’s mind, making an educated guess enables me to keep improving and, if possible, recover from the situation.
  3. If they opened my email, responded in the past, but did not respond to future follow-upUsually in this situation, I assume one of two things:
    a. The email had too many requests.
    b. They are busy. Rarely do I do any kind of follow-up, especially if I consider them a friend.

Building these relationships through email has been one of the best ways to increase my bottom line. If curious, here are the 3 primary blogger outreach tools I use to connect with influencers.

6. Get outside of your circle

Sol Orwell is an entrepreneur founded Examine.com, a leading source of independent analysis on supplements and nutrition (not to be confused with examiner.com). In a Facebook post, he shared that entrepreneurs and marketers cannot make a significant impact without leaving their circle.

When I began to work for Sujan Patel, he invited me into two of his inner circles. I quickly realized that most in that circle knew each other and shared similar perspectives and advice.

But most of the blog marketers I knew prior to working for Sujan had a different set of beliefs because they kept within a different circle.

Richard Koch, author of The 80/20 Principle explains:

“…We should spend a little energy cultivating a large number of people who are in worlds as different as ours…. The best way is to cultivate these very weak links routinely, to build a network of people who just might come up with a great idea or contact for us, which we can activate when the need arises.

And the crucial point is that these people should be as unlike us as possible.  Most of us prefer to hob-nob, if at all, with PLU, people like us. That is exactly the wrong thing to do if we want to put a spurt on in our careers and lives.”

Where’s the gold in your network? On the far edge. Which is why you should…

5. Start small and build concentric circles out

This may sound contrary to the last bit, but hold on.

If you have never built relationships with influencers in your field, you may need to do a lot of cold emails before you can begin those relationships. As you begin making connections with influencers in your industry, you’ll start noticing some overlap.

Instead of doing a cold email everytime, you should build off of the relationships from your existing network.

Take a look at this Venn diagram:

Venn Diagram

People who are closest to the points of the arrow often have the best way of adding value to your network (being on the edge) with the least amount of effort.

Why?

  1. You can ask the influencer for an introduction.
  2. They often have a different group of people they know.
  3. Alternatively, you can use the names of the influencers to make the cold email almost a warm introduction.

Here’s a template I used to connect with influencers in the big data space on LinkedIn:

Donne,

I’m the evangelist for Maptive.com and Import.io. I’ve connected w/ several data experts (such as Kirk Borne, Gregory Piatetsky, and Jeremy Waite) and helped them to increase their marketing and brand.

Just wanted to reach out to see if there’s any way I can help you too :).

~Jason

In doing so, I was able to quickly begin to build connections with another 12 experts in the data field.

Though you may not be familiar with the names, if you notice, I’m using the brand of 3 influencers and 2 companies. So even though I don’t know where the expert fits on the above Venn diagram, my odds that they recognize at least one name goes up significantly.

While you may not have the ability to leverage companies in your field, this template can still be tweaked to your situation.

If you want to grow your network, the most effective way is to build connections.

4. Give specifics how you can help

“Success is a team sport. Failure we can do alone, but success requires the help of other people.” - Simon SinekClick To Tweet

When people tell me, “Love to help you any way I can,” even if we could help each other out, I have no clue in what way.

Think about this:

Even if I knew someone was a marketer, I don’t know where their expertise lies (are they an email automation wizard, a social media legend, a link building strategist, or something entirely different?).

Instead, I try to give specifics or proactively make the magic happen.

When I first began to guest blog, one of the most effective things I discovered was asking for opportunities rather than digging for them on my own. In fact, Adam connected me to Ashley, which lead to writing 10 Tools You Need to Create a Blogging Empire on the MadLemmings blog, one of Ashley’s most shared hits of 2015.

This saved me time Googling around and doing a completely cold pitch and built my relationship with another awesome marketer.

3. Keep it simple, silly

In the last four months, I’ve been working with Johnathan Dane at KlientBoost.com and Sujan Patel, helping him promote and grow ContentMarketer.io, Narrow.io, Maptive.com, Import.io, and LeadChat.com (not to mention occasionally promoting his personal site).

Frankly, keeping all of that organized is a pain in the BUTT.

One of the best pieces of advice Sujan gave me was a mentality change I needed to make: keep it simple and stop overthinking.

Let me give you a practical example:

When I first started out, I was given the task to promote the crap out of this article. I knew the promotion strategy I wanted to execute with. Using Buzzsumo and Content Marketer, my plan was to find everyone who shared similar articles to my own and get them to share our article.

Then I started thinking about things too much:

  1. How do I know they are worth the time finding their email, drafting up a pitch, and sending it to them?
  2. How do I know they are really influencers and not bots?
  3. How many Twitter followers is it worth to start connecting with them? Did they buy their Twitter followers?

I’ll be honest – God was with me on this first project as I ended up getting an additional 200 shares (509 on the 2nd one I promoted in this way. Full details of the case study here).

Here is what I now (try) to do when starting a new process:

  1. Get the basics. What is the simplest way to get maximum results?
  2. Just do it.
  3. What failed? Why? What did you expect to fail but didn’t?
  4. Move on. If it worked, great. Figure out why, repeat, consider adding a level of complexity, move on. If it didn’t – figure out why, decide if it is worth repeating, and move on.

By combining the 80/20 mindset to my marketing and keeping things simple, I was able to drive some gnarly traffic promoting the PPC Food Pyramid and 31 Brilliant Landing Page Examples With 71 Takeaways with only 45 minutes of work each.

Social Media Arrow

Note: this only shows the social media traffic. In case, you were wondering, the arrow shows when I started working with Johnathan.

Wish you could do that when accomplishing your goals? You can.

That’s why I always want to…

2. Know the objective

Whenever you are connecting with someone, you need to know what your first objective will be.

If I’m not in a rush, I always begin by being friendly and building a relationship (goes back to the whole being a giver bit above).

Here are four things most bloggers I know tend to focus on:

  1. Links
  2. Shares
  3. Guest posts
  4. Build a relationship, perhaps for a future ask down the road.

Each of those will look very different in how you approach whomever you’d like to connect with.

1. The best place to win friends and work with influencers…

There are many ways to build relationships with influencers and get on their radar. You can:

  1. Comment on their blogs
  2. Share their posts and tag them
  3. Interact with them on social media.

Personally, I rarely do those things.

Not because they aren’t helpful, but because I’ve discovered other tactics that work just as well in creating awareness and building a relationship with them in a fraction of the time.

Get this:

If you want to really get on their radar, you need to get in their inbox.

“Isn’t their inbox crowded? What’s the value of trying to fight for attention where I’m competing against a lot of people?”

Good question.

More than likely, they do get a ton of email.

On the other hand, I’ve found this is the best way to begin to develop a personal relationship. And like any skill, once you’ve learned how to master it, it will get easier and easier.

Notice what I didn’t say:

Your goal isn’t to develop a casual connection. At times, I attempt to make the relationship to be more than just about business. How do I do this?

Simple. By getting to know them as a person. Things like finding out about their family, their goals in life, their hobbies… ya know, like you would a friend.

That’s dang tough to do through a blog comment. But once you are in the inbox, you can begin that personal, 1-on-1 relationship.

(BTW, if you aren’t sure how to find an influencer’s email, you can snag my list of the 5 best tools I use to get someone’s email in my author box below).

Have fun!

At the end of the day, what’s the worst that will happen? You email someone, they throw it into the trash can. You learn from the experience and costs you nothing for a very valuable lesson.

Don’t put more pressure on yourself than you need to.

While it’s great to make a good first impression, you’ve got two things going for you if you do accidentally drop the ball:

  1. Most people are forgiving.
  2. When they see a bad pitch, they often forget who you are after a couple weeks later. For them, the point of deleting emails quickly is to not take up more mental energy.

So, when it is all said and done, just have fun!

What lesson was the most valuable to you? Let me know in the comments below.

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About Jason Quey

Jason Quey helps internet entrepeneurs connect with influencers, experts, and linchpins to rapidly grow their business together on his site, The Storyteller Marketer. Download a free copy of his guide, "5 Strategies I Use to Find (Almost) Any Influencer’s Email In 3 Minutes or Less" by clicking here.

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  • adeshokan shamsudeen

    Hi Jason,

    Nice to meet you on Adam’s blogging wizard blog with an impressive article.

    Honestly, some few hours ago I sent out cold emails to 14 marketers through LinkedIn direct email message.

    At first, I was so reluctant to do it as I was thinking I could appear just another spammer.

    After so much thought about it, I decided to send it anyway.

    But to my surprise, some hours later I received a call from one of the recipient requesting if I could do some freelance writing job for him?

    We talked at length on terms, preference and other aspect of the job.

    Though I might have different thought and purpose of sending out that cold email this afternoon, but reading through your #1 tips above, I agree that the best way to get on the radar and cauth the attention of influencers is to land in their inbox.

    Thanks Jason, nice piece.

    • Glad to hear that worked well for you Adeshokan!

  • Thanks for allowing me to share these insights with your readers Adam.

    I’ve heard it said many times that the value of your network = the value of your network, and this past year seems to have really shown this to be true.

    Look forward to answering any questions from your readers!

    • My pleasure, Jason. Loved reading your insights – you’ve been doing some stellar work connecting with so many influencers.

  • Hi Jason

    Loved your blog post – great points and insight.

    I think the norm when it comes to connecting with influencers is, as you say, comment on post, share on social media and interact with them there. But, I do think those are becoming over used and it’s much more difficult to stand out if they are the only routes in.

    I’ve had success with emailing directly and that has led to responses inviting me to guest post. I emailed providing value without expecting anything in return. And, opportunities resulted. I didn’t expect them – it’s clear proof of the point you make about the giver’s mindset.

    And, even though it sounds simple, if you get onto someone’s email list and then respond directly when they send out a message, with something that adds to what they are talking about, it’s a great way to show that you are engaged and interested and then get a conversation going.

    Thanks

    Debbie

    • Definitely agree Debbie, if they have a blog. Not all influencers do (but perhaps they may not be who you care to connect with), which is why I provide other strategies to find an email here – http://www.thestorytellermarketer.com/blogging-wizard-bonus.

      Thanks for sharing your insights :).

      • Thanks for that. Good point re if they have a blog. Must admit, the ones I have on my radar do have a blog but you have got me thinking – and maybe I need to look wider and dig deeper. Thanks for the great article and the handy link. Much appreciated. I’ll certainly be hanging out on your blog now for more great tips. 😉

  • Sue Anne Dunlevie

    Hi Jason,

    Great post and very interesting points. It seems like a lot
    of them boil down to relationships, and how you can provide value for someone
    else, in this case, influencers.

    I love your point about getting out of your circle. It does make sense that we tend to stay where we are comfortable, and this is a great
    tip.

    Thanks,

    Sue

    • Thanks for the compliment Sue!

      Highly agree that relationships are a key part. Learning how to do that in the digital age isn’t easy, so hopefully this gave them so good ideas to do that. 🙂

      Cheers!

      • Sue Anne Dunlevie

        Definitely did!

        Thanks, Jason.
        Sue

  • Hi Jason, really in-depth and very helpful article. Thanks.
    I tend to over-think things, so your bit about keeping things simple is so important. Oh, and having fun too!

    • Yeah, I still have the same problem of not shipping quickly. Guess I tend to not want to break things and ask for forgiveness later.

      Thanks for stopping by and glad you found this helpful Ian!

  • Hmm great article with lot’s of resources and points to learn from.

    I think like you mentioned, that most of the times I do think that by emailing it would be a waste of time, because of so many they get each day.. But hey if you don’t try you will never know.

    • Glad you learned some things and found it helpful David!

      It’s surprising, but email is almost always my go-to weapon of choice to begin the relationship. Even when using other strategies, usually email is still in their too.

  • I do have a big problem creating a network, I can use some of these tips. This was really helpful.

    • Glad you found it helpful Heide!

      Honestly, it’s best to build things well small, then scale from there.

      Hope that helps!

  • Hi Jason,

    Excellent tips and I love the penguins. Who doesn’t 🙂 .

    Giving first works. After I’d failed trying to make blogging work for me a few years back, I decided on a taking a journey to see what the really successful people online were doing.

    I found some truly great writers, like Corbett Barr, Demian Farnworth and David Cain. As I found them, I just could help sharing their work. And, remarkably, they began to notice I was sharing their stuff and saying good things about them. Funnily enough, I didn’t realise at the time, I was doing something that stood out. I just wanted to share their work.

    Now, as I have a blog they’re amongst those people who are helping me grow successfully.

    This strategy work people. Only if you do it with genuine integrity and thoughts of giving first.

    Tom

    • Penguins FTW! 🙂

      Great to hear you’ve got them on your side Tom! Demian is someone I’m hoping to connect with soon, but is somewhat elusive online :). Corbett also seems cool, but haven’t had a chance yet to connect.

      Thanks for the comment!

  • Jasper Oldersom

    Hey Jason,

    Good to see a blog post from you again, especially here on Blogging Wizard. 🙂

    I need to give you credit, this is a very well written piece and all awesome advice!

    It’s pretty mind blowing that you managed to connect with thát many influencers in just a couple of months.

    I like how you made the information from Hooked relevant to influencer marketing. Because of my knowledge of copywriting, I would intuitively use the AIDA formula for an email like this, but I will definitely add the hook to my swipe file!

    Number 6 sounds about right for me. I definitely feel like it’s time to get outside of my circle more. When I was consistently building new connections I saw the effects. Somewhere along the line, I stopped building and kept within the circle I created.

    Ashley is awesome, I actually just sent him an email for a possible guest blog last night!

    When it comes to #1, I do exactly those 3 things. Only occasionally I’ve been connecting through email, like Henneke from Enchanting Marketing and I suppose I’ve replied to an email or 2 from Adam. You make a good point because that’s definitely where the strong connections get built!

    Whew..there’s a lot to learn from an influencer marketer like you, Jason. Thank you so much for sharing.

    – Jasper

    • My pleasure Jasper!

      I think there’s a lot that one learns when doing something 1,000x, so glad you found this helpful.

      I know Henneke too, she’s an awesome copywriter. See if you can move from email to other platforms too.

      Sounds like you’ve got a great plan in place, lemme know how it goes J :).

      ~Jason

  • Hi Jason,

    Great to read these tips based on your vast experience. I like number 10, as I think a lot of people just want to take from influencers rather than give as well. It should be a two-way relationship, in my opinion. And number 1 is interesting about getting in the email box. I would have thought that would have been harder because emails can just be ignored, but I’ll take your point that it is definitely direct 1-to-1 which cuts out the fluff,

    Thanks for the lessons, and the penguin story!
    – David

    • Yeah, I was kinda surprised too re:getting into the email.

      There’s only a small handful of marketers I haven’t quite cracked the code in connecting with them, but they’re boarderline celebs.

  • Terrence Blair

    Hey Jason,

    This is interesting and informative. Lots of good info here. I too prefer to connect through email, but I first get to know the person first through their bolgs. Something I can complement them on.

    Relationship is always a two-way thing. If one is only asking then that’s not a relationship. Real relationship is about providing value. I agree with you here.

    • Hey Terrence,

      Getting to know them through their blogs is a great way to get to know them. On the other hand, it’s hard to scale and not all influencers use blogs (hence blogger outreach is not always influencer marketing).

      Also, a blog can be harder to do much beyond a comment. A good way to get on the radar though.

      Hope that helps!

  • An addition to your “If you want to really get on their radar, you need to get in their inbox.”, Jason – an even better and simpler way to doing it (other than looking for their email) is getting on their email list.

    So many folks don’t realize those emails have a reply button, so hit it and reply! Plus, the fact that you signed up for their emails is an instant buy-in.

    • Great tip, Ana!

    • Ana that is very clever 😉

    • This is so true! I’ve never really thought about it before. But it is a great way to connect.

  • Hi Jason,

    Your tip about getting outside of your network or niche is gold! I will rarely find the client I want to work with online. Many of them are entrepreneurs whose businesses are between $10 – $50M in revenue per year and they don’t spend a lot of time online.

    So the point is they have networks who do spend some time online. I got a $20,000 contract from someone I started networking with online who made an introduction to a company in Washington DC. I would have never done that on my own or inside of my niche.

    What you’ve really delved into here is how to network, and networking is what makes the business world work!

    ~ Don Purdum

    • Awesome! Sounds like you are on the right track Don :).

  • hey Jason,

    Although I find it more convenient to interact with different influencers on social media and their blogs, I do agree with you that another great way to get on their radar is through the inbox. I also like what Ana Hoffman said about getting on their email list as well.

    Also, #5 is a big one. It has helped me to not only attract more opportunities, but also attract other bloggers as well. This I also will result in what you said in #6 to get outside of your inner circle. By me building my inner circle of blogging connections with similar paradigms, I was also able to attract people from outside my circle.

    Thanks for the share Jason! Have a great weekend!

    • Great to hear Sherman! Hope that goes well for you sir.

  • Hey Jason! What a great article.

    Your fist point (#10) is my favorite. It’s so important to be a giver not a taker.

    Your so right when you say to keep it simple, easy and to the point.

    I’ve noticed that getting in someone’s inbox really is the best way to build a relationship.

    Thanks for the post 🙂

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