When you are working on building your reputation and visibility online, you face many challenges. No one knows who you are. You have no audience. You have to find the time to create great content.
One great solution for these problems is to get an influencer to write for you. But how do you get them to agree to do that? That’s the topic of this post, where I’ll talk about what the challenges are, and then distill that into a recipe for how you can get them to help you out.
What Are the Main Challenges You’ll Face?
You might be thinking, “Hey, I’ll just pay them, that’s the ticket.” Sure, it’s not unlikely that money will be involved, but it may not have to be, and even if it is, it’s not the biggest issue you face in getting their help. Let’s look at some of the other concerns they may have:
1. Do They Have the Time to Do It? This is always an issue when dealing with an influencer. A natural consequence of their influence is that they’re busy. Quite frankly, you may have to pass on some of the influencers you are targeting, because they’re just so busy that there is no value proposition you could possibly offer them that would get them to work with you.
The fix for this one? Don’t bank all of your hopes on one single influencer. Have many prospects, and work toward the best combination of value to you, and the possibility of getting them on board.
2. Is This the Best Use of Their Time? Even if they have some potential time available, they are still going to be thinking about how to best invest it. The potential for writing for you may not be the best opportunity for them. This puts pressure on you to put together a great sales pitch to get them on board.
3. Will Working with You Potentially Damage Their Reputation? Make no mistake, if they don’t know you, one of their first concerns is whether or not working with you will actually be harmful to them. What if they start working with you, and then you go do something really bad, such as making racially prejudiced statements, getting arrested, exposed as a spammer, etc.
In short, they don’t know you. It’s your job to fix that. This is one of the reasons why it may take time to get them on board. You are going to need to be patient, and build your reputation with them first. More on this below.
4. What’s in It for Them?: This is an extension of point two above, but takes it the rest of the way. Make sure that you can define a clear value proposition for them. Be very clear with them about what the benefits are. Part of that might be a willingness to pay them, but it’s pretty likely that won’t be enough.
Other benefits might be:
- You’ve lined up a high visibility site to post the content.
- You’ve lined up another influencer to be part of a joint piece of content.
- You’ve got access to some compelling data or information for them to write about.
- You’ve established some joint set of values with them that causes them to have an interest in you.
These are just a few examples, but the concept should be pretty clear. Pique their interest using incentives other than money. You won’t succeed without this.
[Tweet “Time, effect on reputation, and personal benefits may be more important to an influencer than money.”]
The Relationship-First Strategy
This is pretty much always a requirement. You can’t get past challenge No. 3 above unless you’ve done this at some level. Ways to make this happen include:
- Follow them on social media and engage with them there.
- Comment on their posts on other sites.
- Get an introduction from someone they trust.
- Go to a conference where they are speaking and meet them face to face.
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In any of these scenarios, remember that you aren’t leading the conversation with “write for me,” but rather simply trying to start an initial relationship and build some trust.
[Tweet “If you want to get an influencer to write for you, relationship building must come first. More at”]
The Roundup Hack
One very popular technique used by many lesser known sites is to put together a roundup of many influencers. The ask in these is usually to get the influencer to provide just a few sentences on some question you ask them all. Since the threshold of effort is low, it’s not a big ask. In addition, if you’ve already lined up some other influencers to participate, it starts to lower the risk of their participation.
This is not yet quite as good as getting them to write for you, but it’s a start. If you make this easy for them, you get other influencers to participate with them, and the post does reasonably well, you will have started to build some trust. It’s a start!
The Low-Lying Fruit Hack
Some people are easier to get to work with you than others. Part of this may be that they are “not quite as influential,” but it’s much more nuanced than that. Some people are naturally more open than others. Use this to your advantage. You can see the people who are included in most roundups, who post on many different sites, seem the most open and communicative, etc.
Bear in mind that once you get the cooperation of one influencer, the next one will be easier, and the next one will be easier still. Nothing wrong with stair-stepping your way to the top.
The Interview Hack
This is similar to the Roundup Hack, but it’s meant to be a one-on-one experience. Few people will get mad when you ask them if you can interview them. Consider also the way you do this. If you set it up as a video interview, or a phone interview where you transcribe the interview, you make it much easier for them.
If you do approach it this way, make sure they get to read the final transcript before publication. And then, publish it exactly the way they give it back to you. If for some reason you don’t want to do that, ask them if you can tweak something. If you can’t agree on what to publish, don’t publish it.
Be Patient and Be Opportunistic
Unless you are very lucky, these things don’t happen overnight. Yup, you are going to have to be patient. Treat it like a long term project, and be prepared to invest in the effort over time. Then be watchful. Look for openings and opportunities to build the relationship.
The first opportunity might be to engage in a dialog about some hot industry trend, and all you do is exchange a series of four or five tweets on the topic. That may not seem like much, but congratulations, now you are on their radar. You can build on that.
The other scenario you may encounter might be one that’s a bigger opportunity, but you are going to have to make a big commitment, and you need to decide on it fast. That happened to me when Rand Fishkin posted this: Free Linkbait Idea on Web Analytics.
If you look at the post, you will see that I was the first person to comment, and I committed to the project. I had to make that decision within minutes of seeing the post, and I jumped on it, even though I had to commit myself to a couple of hundred hours of work.
What was the result of my committing to doing this study? In August of 2007, I published the Web Analytics Shootout Report. Having completed that took my credibility with Rand and brought it to an entirely new level, and was likely a key factor in my being asked to become a co-author on the Art of SEO, which is now on its 3rd edition.
It also led to me getting my first ever speaking opportunity related to SEO, at SES San Jose in 2007. Since that time I’ve spoken at more than 50 search-related events.
Pretty good payback on one opportunistic moment I’d say!
[Tweet “Want to get to work with influencers? It pays to be opportunistic! More at”]
Our objective in this effort was to get an influencer to write for us, yet most of the time we spoke about how to build a relationship. That’s because we were focused on addressing the challenges I outlined above. In short, paying them to write might be necessary, but it’s not enough. You still need to:
- Find an influencer that has available time.
- Build trust with them.
- Show them a clear value proposition of what’s in it for them.
Once these things are in place, the rest of the close will be much easier. Some of the considerations that remain are:
- Where to Publish – Presumably the idea is to publish on your site, but it’s part of what you must be clear about.
- Writing Frequency – How often do you want them to write something? Is your request a one-off? This will often be the best place to start, but you might be able to expand this relationship over time.
- Make the Writing Request Something They’re Passionate About – Or, let them pick the topic. However, it’s very useful if you can feed them an interesting new angle to talk about, for a topic they’re passionate about.
- Your Promotional Plan – If you have a strong organic social media presence, that’s very helpful, but either way, you can always consider putting a strong paid social campaign, or other promo efforts, behind the post. That can definitely sweeten the pot.
- Willingness to Pay Money – You can also offer money. As I’ve noted throughout this post, that will not be enough by itself, but if you are willing to pay for the help, put it out there.