Whether you’ve been in business two days or two years, you’ve probably realized that building relationships with the “experts” (even though I’m not a fan of the word “expert”) and leaders in your industry and beyond – otherwise known as influencers – is critical to your ability to build a strong brand and become known in your field.
But, up until recently, it’s been difficult to build relationships or even get in contact with celebrities/influencers. After all, the “old school” influencers of yesterday were guarded and protected. In order to successfully reach them, you had to get through layers and layers of gatekeepers including PR people, agents, handlers, angry protective dogs, and who-knows-what else.
Based on that, what are the odds that you could actually have a one-on-one conversation with someone you admire/look up to, such as your favorite author or blogger? Very little to non-existent, unless you had a huge sum of cash – or perhaps a nationally syndicated TV show with 1,000,000+ viewers. Or maybe you could have written them a letter via snail mail to be answered eight months later. If you were lucky.
Now, many of the most inaccessible people in the world are much more public and transparent.
As a result of the seismic shift in online communication and social media taking away the middleman, you now have “access” to the most influential people in the world. Which means that you can email, DM, or Facebook message all those authors, entrepreneurs, and brands you’ve been dying to reach.
And with that has come a new set of challenges, “rules”, etiquette, and a chance. A real chance to form amazing relationships with people you admire.
It is this principle that has allowed me, since 2008, to interview on video over 275 of the world’s most interesting and unique entrepreneurs, business innovators and people (including many personal heros of mine), ranging from Tim Ferriss (the author of one of my favorite books of all time, The 4-Hour Workweek), to marketing master Seth Godin, to “The Millionaire Matchmaker” Patti Stanger, to the CEO of Zappos, Tony Hsieh.
And perhaps more importantly than the interviews themselves, is to know I have great relationships with all of these people. People that can count on me when they need me and people I can count on when I need them.
How did this happen? Better yet, how can you leverage these strategies to not only build quality relationships with influencers, but to grow your following and brand?
Here is the multi-step process and principles to, essentially, get in contact with anyone you want.
#1: Understand The New “Gatekeepers”
Just because modern influencers are accessible in a variety of different ways, doesn’t mean they are any less busy and waiting to selflessly serve your needs (and why would they?).
The new gatekeeper actually isn’t a person. It is time and clutter. You have to be able to stick out from the pack and have something unique to form relationships with the “new” celebrity.
Imagine if you had hundreds of thousands of fans that all had your email and Twitter handle. Think of all the random requests you would get. Can you look at this? Can you help me do that? Can you RT my blog post? Can you give me your first born? The list goes on…
The mistake I see constantly when looking to strike up a relationship with influencers is asking for something right away without any kind of foundation.
As opposed to taking the selfish mentality of “What can this person do for me?”, flip it around and ask yourself, “What can I do for this person?”
Here are some examples on how you can add value and begin to build a relationship:
- @ reply your favorite author when they ask a question or ask for a recommendation on Twitter.
- Promote their book or latest offering on your blog or via Twitter.
- Have a product? Ask them if they would like it. Give it to them. Ask for nothing in return.
- …the list goes on.
#2: Position Yourself With Your Platform
With the democratization of media comes a great opportunity to build YOUR platform. This is really a fancy way of essentially saying that everyone has an opportunity to create an online platform full of awesome content.
It might be a blog. It might an online show or podcast. It might be….the list goes on.
When you create educational, entertaining, and/or inspiring content, you become an authority on the topic. And your influence grows over time.
What does this have to do with building relationships with influencers? Everything. When you have a platform and following, influencers have an opportunity to spread their message to a new audience (yours) and that is very valuable.
#3: Use Your Content As A Handshake
How can you help out the person you are looking to get in contact with? What is the #1 thing you can do to help them (your most powerful weapon)? Because good content can essentially become ammo. An excuse to reach out to anyone you want. Let me explain…
Content and links are extremely valuable to everyone. I don’t care who it is. Because the more links to your website, the better.
Here is something I would do to strike up a relationship with someone I would otherwise have no business talking to:
- Write an article about them or include them in a list like this: 35 Unique Entrepreneurs That Are Changing The Business World.
- Shoot them an email/tweet/or some other way of communication and let them know they are in the article.
#3: Ask for nothing
Number three on the list is the secret sauce that most people forget. By doing it, scarily, you will separate yourself from 98% of the pack.
Because, most people in that initial contact add step #5 (which is to ask for something). That might be something like: “Can you RT this?” or “Hey can I interview you now on my show?”
Yuck. You are doing something nice. Giving someone a present. Not a Trojan horse with stipulations and requests. Everyone likes their ego stroked a little bit. How can you show some love?
#4: Little Touches
Staying in front of someone without being a jerk is also something critical to forming relationships. Does this mean sending the person an email every day? Commenting on literally everything they do? Nope. That would be a pest.
Instead, think of consistent ways you can help out on small levels. It might be sharing one of their posts/products/books/whatever with your online following. It might be hopping into the conversation and leaving thoughtful, non-promotional comments on their blog. It might be the occasional follow-up email if the person is more of an “email person.”
One thing I love to do is help others out on their “big day.” Their big day might be:
- When their new product comes out, such as a book.
- When they have a BIG announcement about something.
Again, you are giving. Helping. Being a trusted resource and a human as opposed to a slimy person trying to get something.
Yes, building relationships takes time – and there’s no ways around that fact. The people going for the quick one way relationship (“Can you do this for me?!”) are being weeded out the by the new gatekeepers. Little touches will help you separate from the pack.
#5: The Ask
It might be weeks later. It might be months later. Heck, it took me over a year to interview Seth Godin. This takes time. But, at some point after giving, giving, giving, you can ask for something small. There isn’t some kind of manipulative jackass formula to this. It is just the reality of it.
My “ask” is an interview on my show. I ask people to come on and tell their story via Skype video. And usually I wait for a big announcement to do so. For example, when Tim Ferriss announced his big new book, The 4-Hour Body (Amazon link), I immediately reached out to him to see if he would like to come on the show, and he accepted.
To the outside world, this looks like timing, but an inside looks reveals that this was a build-up of steps #1, #2, #3, and #4.
For the past two years I’d been building my platform, helping Tim out to the best of my ability in various small ways, including retweeting his content, writing about him on my blog, mentioning him on the show, reaching out occasionally with an idea, etc.
When it was time to reach out and ask for a little something AND also help him, it worked out.
What might your ask be? Is it something selfish or does it help both parties? Perhaps it is an invitation to be a part of your podcast series, blog interview, teleseminar series, webinar, or something else valuable.
Other random tips
Tip #1: In-person contact still beats online networking.
Yes, the Internet is an amazing freaking medium, but still nothing beats face-to-face. Looking to meet someone? See where they will be speaking or hanging out. And go there. Even the most inaccessible people are much more accessible in person.
For example, if your favorite person is offering a workshop, buy a ticket or attend the conference where they are giving a keynote. In doing so, you demonstrate that you are truly interested in the work they’re doing and in them as a person – versus a “celebrity” that’s cool “to know.”
Tip #2: Know how someone likes to be contacted.
This is a big one that can get you off on the wrong foot without even knowing it. Normally, with a little digging, you can find out how the person you are looking to contact likes to be contacted. It might be posted on their website somewhere. Some people prefer email. Others hate it. Some like a good ole fashioned phone call. Others hate the phone. Some like a private message on Facebook. Others never check them. The rules vary. For example, one of the world’s most influential tech bloggers, Robert Scoble, answers public messages on Twitter and Facebook before private messages, email, etc.
Bottom line? Our brave new world of online marketing and social media is changing extremely fast. As we become more connected and accessible, new sets of rules, etiquette, and challenges are popping up every day. But, if you remember the “give first” policy of relationships, you would be surprised at all the magic that can happen.
Because I focused on building relationships and giving first, I now have an audience which tips in at over 100,000 viewers per month.
And I’m not unique. Those that are understanding this new, crazy world are establishing their real estate online and creating amazing connections. You can too.
Want to learn more about how to connect with anyone you want, build a massively engaged following, and much more? Pick up a copy of my new book, Smarter, Faster, Cheaper: Non-Boring, Fluff-Free Strategies for Marketing and Promoting Your Business, which just released everywhere December 7th.