In the previous articles in this series, we talked about how our hypothetical Quebec resort can find online influencers. We’ve seen that the process involves more than just a Google search. Now that you’ve identified people to engage with, you need to craft an approach and an incentive that’s right for them.
Influencers aren’t reporters. First, make an effort to understand the influencer. In a case of a blogger, scanning a few recent posts, reading a biography and noting the categories or tags that the person uses can give you a quick idea of what motivates him. For someone who contributes to a group blog or recommendation site such as TripAdvisor.com, consult her profile and list of recent posts to learn this information.
Make your initial contact meaningful and positive. If the e-mail address isn’t on the site, use Zoominfo.com, Spock.com or LinkedIn.com to find it. Even if you don’t like what the writer is saying, find something you do like and post a positive comment on her blog or Flickr portfolio. Bloggers love comments and links.
Offer something of value. This doesn’t have to be expensive; it can be a discount, free sample, trial offer or just a link from your web site.
Follow through. Drop a writer an e-mail or make a comment on his site every so often to show that you’re engaged.
Treat influencers the same way you would the media.Some companies worry that this is a slippery slope: if they legitimize bloggers by treating them like journalists then there is no going back.
You don’t have to treat all influencers the same. Decide what criteria a person needs to meet in order to merit special treatment and be prepared to explain those criteria to people who object.
Create an incentive. New influencers appreciate being taken seriously, so think of how you can get the people on your short list involved with your business. This doesn’t have to be expensive, but it does have to be special. Here are some ideas:
Photo weekend. Your research has shown that photo and video enthusiasts are an important constituency, so consider hosting a weekend gathering of top photo bloggers. Invite 10 key people to bring their cameras for a weekend, with accommodations on the house. Don’t require them to publish their photos online, but ask them to tag any images they publish with your resort name and ask to feature the best work on your site.
Contest. Raise the stakes a little and sponsor a photo contest. Winners will have their work featured on your home page and win a weekend trip for two. Or offer to feature the winning photo on your brochure. You can even have the community vote on entries. The cost is negligible and the payoff in prestige is substantial.
License content. Sponsor a ski weekend and invite key ski bloggers and videographers to attend. Offer to incorporate their best work into your collateral for a small licensing fee. Offer to introduce them to some of your travel industry colleagues in the area, too.
Free trials. Contact a few influencers and offer them 50% off the price of a weekend stay. Make it clear that you chose them because you admire their work. Flatter them. It’ll get you everywhere.