Yesterday, I came across Gideon Lichfield’s post Dear PR person who just sent me a robo-pitch. The senior editor at Quartz gets bombarded with pitches so frequently that he set up a series of email filters automatically deleting the worst offenders. Lichfield realizes he might miss the occasional gem with this slash-and-burn approach, but he doesn’t have time to sort through the spam of press releases to discover it.
So what should you do instead? Lichfield highlighted his idea of a winning outreach strategy:
- Really getting to know the journalists
- What they’ve written before
- What they’re experts in
- Where they’ve lived
- Things they believe in
- Things they love
- Things that make them mad
- Understanding the nuances of their news outlet
- Who it writes for
- How it frames its stories (people or issues, gossipy or wonky?)
- How its readers find those stories
He admits “this high-touch strategy is extremely time-consuming.” But the mass-emailing approach that most traditional firms pursue? “I call it failure.”
With public relations professionals outnumbering editorial voices almost 5-to-1, Lichfield isn’t the first person to write about the failed strategy of mass-email-pitching, nor will he be the last.
So, how can you reverse the trend of publisher lament? You implement a high-touch outreach strategy – you network, you learn, you build mutually beneficial relationships.
Social media channels function to break down barriers, allowing you to build superficial relationships with anyone from a celebrity to a journalist. Your goal with social media is to get the conversation going and then leverage other channels to develop the communication into a meaningful relationship.
While platforms like Facebook are largely meant for close friends, places like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Quora can be used for connecting with people from all walks of life. Here you’ll find several practices for improving and leveraging your social media presence for influencer outreach.
I. Make a good impression
Positive first impressions are important in a world dominated by social media, where your profile image is often someone’s introduction to who you are. Within 100 milliseconds of viewing your picture, people form opinions about your personality.
In several scientific experiments, people were able to accurately judge an individual’s level of extraversion, emotional stability, openness, self-esteem, and religiosity based on a profile picture. The combined impression of physical characteristics, body posture, facial expression, and clothing choices allows observers to form these accurate assumptions of your personality.
In one specific study, researchers at the University of York in England analyzed people’s first impressions of 16 social traits in 1,000 facial images.
The study found that brief facial expressions can make a big difference for how we are received by strangers. So, how can you use these findings to put your best face forward? Based on the study, you should do the following in your profile picture:
- Select images with a front view instead of a side view.
- Smile wide – a broadly smiling face seem more approachable and trustworthy.
- Tilt your head.
- Make your eyes appear as large as possible.
- Avoid facial stubble unless you prefer to appear dominant.
PRO TIP: From LinkedIn to Twitter to Gmail, do your profile images match? If we connect on ABC channel, but you email me on XYZ channel with a different image, how quickly do I recognize you?
II. Leverage social expressivity and self-disclosure to produce intimacy and liking
Research shows that the act of self-disclosure is central to the development of close relationships and to the maintenance of psychological well-being. Through several ongoing studies, researchers have discovered:
- People who engage in intimate disclosures tend to be liked more than people who disclose at lower levels.
- People disclose more to those whom they initially like.
- People like others as a result of having disclosed to them.
But is online disclosure perceived as valuable as in-person disclosure? New research shows that online social expressivity and self-disclosure plays as important of a role in producing intimacy and liking as in-person experiences. In a study of online impressions, participants who were socially expressive and disclosed a lot about themselves, both on their webpages and in-person, were better liked than those who were less open. Areas that were analyzed include:
How much one talks about himself or herself, as indicated by lists of personal interests, personal activities, personal attitudes, etc.
- Number of personal interests revealed
- Number of television, book, and movie preferences revealed
- Number of favorite quotes displayed
- Number of creative applications displayed
- Number of personal activities revealed
- Number of Facebook groups endorsed
How much one displays sociable interactivity, such as through posting of photo albums and contacting others (“friends”).
- Number of pictures posted
- Number of wall postings
- Number of photo albums created
- Number of friends
This theory of self-disclosure to form relationships is also backed by the Northwestern Law study on anonymity and the identifiable other, which states:
Since outreach primarily takes place in a lean communication channel – email – the more conversations you can nurture outside of email, the stronger your connection will be. Your goal when networking with writers on social media is to have as many candid conversations as possible, learning both professional and personal information that will allow you to form a bond with your influencer.
III. Build authority signals in your social profile
When interfacing with influencers on social media, your authority signals serve as an outside endorsement and recommendation. Your goal should be to optimize every social profile so that your authority signals are one of the first things an influencer will see when they research your name.
- Optimize your cover image
Both Twitter and LinkedIn offer “Cover Photos,” which are usually someone’s first impression when they land on your profile page. If possible, include the logos of places you’ve been published to show that you and your company are an authority on high-quality content creation, which could be of value to your influencers.
- Write guest posts covering topics that influencers care about
If you want to be valuable to influencers, then you should be creating and sharing resources that the influencers will find valuable. The majority of influencers come in the form of high-authority publishers or individuals, most of whom create content that they want to be recognized for. Since most of your content creation objectives align with theirs, doing research in this field helps you both improve your content creation, gets you on their radar, and starts building a valuable mutually beneficial relationship.
If you’re really confident about your piece, send a friendly email to your influencer with your post and offer it as a valuable read. Ask for recommendations on areas they would like to explore further and offer to collaborate on a future study.
- Get endorsements for your work
The best way to secure more LinkedIn endorsements is to offer endorsements. I’d say 60-70% of the time that I offer an endorsement to someone I know, that person will then endorse me.
On Twitter, your endorsement largely comes in the form of your follower count. While there are dozens of high-quality posts teaching you how to increase your follower count, the next best tip is to aim to improve the following:followers ratio in your favor. By sharing useful and interesting content, engaging with your audience, and hashtagging appropriately to get new users, you can slowly grow your number of followers.
PRO TIP: Avoid following fake Twitter accounts. Most spam-bots have a following:follower ratio that is almost equal.
- Show off your portfolio of work
LinkedIn allows you to embed a portfolio of work under your summary and your individual job description. To get users to my authority signals faster, I feature my portfolio at the top of my LinkedIn page in my summary section:
Although Twitter doesn’t offer a portfolio section, you can easily share your recent campaigns through a regular tweet.
PRO TIP: Although Twitter doesn’t offer a portfolio feature (yet), you can use your images as a place to curate your own portfolio.
IV. Use advanced search functions to curate influencer lists
Twitter sees an average of 5,700 tweets per second. Unless you’ve curated a list of journalists who you want to actively engage with, it’s easy for your networking attempts to get lost in the noise.
When aggressively doing outreach for clients, I set a daily calendar reminder to spend 30–60 minutes engaging with my “Top-Tier Publisher” Twitter list. This is a private list I curate with all of the top-tier publishers I wanted to eventually pitch.
I highly recommend creating individual lists based on the client verticals your agency serves (e.g., cooking versus health). Use the Twitter Advanced Search to quickly curate a list of anyone with the words like “writer, journalist, blogger, columnist” in his or her bio, and narrow it down by your vertical keywords.
From there, cherry-pick the people you want to include in your private Twitter List. When your networking reminder goes off, check your curated stream for tweets that you can easily connect with.
PRO TIP: Use BuzzSumo Influencer Search and sort by Page Authority to discover columnists who write for high-authority sites. If you sort by Domain Authority, it will refine a list of mostly WordPress subdomains.
V. Leverage your six degrees of separation and social influence.
Nielsen’s 2013 Consumer Trust in Advertising report found that the No. 1 trusted form of advertising came in the form of “recommendations from people I know,” which was up 6 percent since 2007. As a form of advertising, influencer marketing can also benefit from personal recommendations.
Did you know you’re just six introductions away from any other person on the planet? After checking 30 billion electronic conversations among 180 million people in various countries, Microsoft researchers proved the theory of Six Degrees of Separation. Seven years later, Conspire was born.
Conspire is a powerful tool that analyzes email data to find the strongest path of connections in your extended network to any person or company you’re interested in. Conspire’s tagline “find the best path to any person without ever sending a connection request” allows you to avoid the emotional and psychological dynamics of interacting with a stranger, and go straight for a personal introduction.
Through its internal analysis, Conspire creates relationship scores to determine the difference between a close colleague and someone you met at a conference for five minutes. With this data, Conspire can then tell you exactly how to get the best introduction to whoever you want to meet.
The icing on the cake? Conspire’s email report card offers insights on your message volume by day, number of contacts you’re in touch with, top contacts, response time, response rate, and who you’re losing touch with.
PRO TIP: Grow your authority and your six degrees of connection by cross-pollinating your social accounts. Publisher covers your exclusive? Add him as a LinkedIn connection. Writer follows you on Twitter? Add her as a LinkedIn connection. Not only does this allow you to build more opportunities to create stronger connections, but it also keeps you in the front of mind when you post future updates.
VI. Go where the conversation is happening
Want to shoot fish in a barrel? Twitter, LinkedIn, and Quora all provide places where like-minded individuals gather to have meaningful, thought-provoking, and educational discussions.
- Twitter Chats
Throughout the week my Twitter feed becomes peppered with various industry Twitter chats. These events are hosted by one individual who poses questions to the crowd, meant to discuss trends, tips, and more. These Twitter chats serve as a playground for industry peers to network and learn. You can join the chat by @ replying the question asker and/or appending the assigned hashtag. To keep track of the conversation, simply follow the search for the chat’s hashtag.
What better place for you to get your feet wet with the influencers you hope to reach? Below I’ve curated several chats designed for journalists to talk about the tools and tricks of the trade.
When: Mondays at 8pm EST
What: Started in November 2008 by PR maven Sarah Evans, #journchat is one of the first and largest journalism-related chats to crop up on Twitter. According to the blog, the mission of #journchat is “to keep an ongoing, open dialogue between journalists, bloggers, and public relations professionals.”
When: Wednesday at 8pm EST
What: #wjchat is focused on the conversation surrounding Web journalism.
When: Wednesdays at noon EST
What: Topics for the weekly Digital First Media chat include open newsrooms, crowdsourcing, and user-generated content.
When: Monthly at 2:30 pm EST
What: Style experts at the Associated Press host monthly sessions in which journalists can pose questions on tricky grammar choices, receive writing tips, or just brush up on the rules. For a schedule of upcoming chats, click here.
For more Twitter chat schedules, check the following resources:
- LinkedIn Groups
LinkedIn operates the world’s largest professional network on the Internet with more than 347 million members in more than 200 countries and territories.
Where do all of these members congregate? LinkedIn groups. Unlike Twitter chats, LinkedIn groups provide an in-depth and intellectual conversation, with many groups posting multiple questions per day.
Since LinkedIn limits the number of groups you can join to 50, you have to be strategic in the groups and discussions you participate in. While some groups should speak to your general interests, others should give you the opportunity to connect with the influencers you hope to pitch.
- Broad Groups
- Niche Groups
- Publisher Groups (regional, national, news, etc.)
You don’t need to be a publisher to contribute meaningfully to a discussion. Most threads offer topics ranging from “your favorite journalist” to “your favorite resource,” all of which you can answer with a quick Google search.
PRO TIP: Perform an Advanced LinkedIn Search for the influencers you want to reach out to. Scroll to the bottom of their profiles to find which LinkedIn groups they participate in and which influencers they find inspirational. Use this as a point of connection in your future pitch.
VII. Leverage LinkedIn ads
LinkedIn ads can be an amazing way to show off content you have already created to very targeted sets of journalists and tastemakers. This can work especially well if your content has already been published and is gaining traction on a high-authority site.
The best part of LinkedIn ads its the granularity they provide in their targeting, including location, company name, job title, school, degree, field of study, skills, groups, gender, and age. With these fields, you can target all the way down to a small sample of highly targeted individuals.
For example, if your piece has been picked up by Harvard Business Review, you could leverage the authority signals that this sort of pickup provides, and promote the HBR post to targeted groups of journalists and editors at competing sites, blogs, and newspapers. For publishers, marketers, and influencers alike, there is almost nothing better than having pre-proven social traction to incentivize them to cover your story.
What best practices do you use to leverage your social media presence for outreach? Share your tips in the comments below!