social media how toIt’s the Holy Grail of interactive marketing: getting “social media influencers”—the ones with the voice and the reach, the ones to whom everyone else listens—to endorse and promote what you’re doing.

Recently, my company managed to inspire 60 such influencers to participate in our event, called The Influencer Project, and they even took it upon themselves to help spread the word.

People like Social Media Examiner’s own Michael Stelzner, Guy Kawasaki, Robert Scoble, Gary Vaynerchuk, David Meerman Scott, and others all signed on. We were grateful beyond belief.

influence screen

Some of the brightest minds in social media spoke at The Influencer Project.

Why’d they come on board? And how’d we do it?

First Things First: No-one Cares About Your Brand

light bulb creative

It takes creativity to inspire others.

Many of us who are new to the social media space want influencers to “get behind” our brands, products and special events.

We think we can just reach out to them, and if we have a great thing going on, they’ll naturally want to endorse what we’re doing.

It’s an honest mistake, usually, but it does backfire—or at least, it won’t get you the results you’re looking for.

Of course, if you have deep reserves of cash, you may be able to afford paying handsomely for a big name to review your product—although, to be sure, that can get into very tricky ethical territory and is a delicate issue.

But for the rest of us—for those who don’t have tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to spend on “influencer outreach”—we have to be a little more creative.

In fact, we have to get rid of the very idea of “trying” to “get” a social media influencer to “back” our brand.

Instead, we need to create innovative ways to inspire not only well-known influencers, but also large numbers of participants, to join a project, a cause, an initiative. And that takes a different kind of thinking—one that I’ll explain below.

How to Inspire a Social Media Influencer

The thing is, no-one wants to be your salesperson—unless they are, of course, being paid to sell your products. But everyone—social media influencers included—wants to be part of something that’s bigger than them, that’s creative and that brings new ideas into the world.

So, without any further ado, here are my 5 creative ways for inspiring web celebrities to come on board with what you’re doing:

#1: Don’t Ask for an Endorsement

Don’t ask them to endorse a product or site. Instead, create a project—related to, but independent of, your brand—that they can get behind. Think about the “Yes We Can” video that created for Barack Obama’s campaign.

Regardless of your political leaning, there’s a lesson here. Yes,’s a celebrity. And yes, Hollywood is known for bringing other celebrities on board political campaigns. But that’s not the fundamental point. The point is that there was a cause, an initiative, a project that people wanted to get behind, that inspired them to act—and they did.

This is what you need. You want to create something that many people will join. A cause, a vision.

#2: Make it “Memetic”

Memetic means that it has a meme-like quality. Well, what’s a meme, you ask? In its simplest definition, a meme is an idea that spreads from person to person, one that’s so “catchy” that people almost can’t help but to spread it.

“Yes We Can” was a meme.

A meme is bigger than a brand. Just Do It is a meme. No Fear is a meme. The Red Bull Flugtag is a meme. It’s something that people can identify with, make their own and share with others. If you’re simply trying to strong-arm a social media influencer into singing your brand’s praises, good luck. But if you have a project that has memetic quality, then you’re on the right track.

#3: But Make it Values-Driven, too

A meme unto itself isn’t enough. Sure, you could get lots of YouTube video views by trying to replicate something like a funny hamster, but you won’t be enrolling people in a vision.

In other words, you won’t be providing extraordinary value—to the end user or to the influencer.

On the other hand, if your project provides overwhelming value and is memetic, then you’re not only sure to inspire people, you’ll also be making the world a better place.

It makes business sense, too. Simply trying to make a campaign “go viral” for the sake of going viral is far riskier than creating a project that offers tremendous benefit. In our case, we provided users with more than 60 helpful tips that they could use to increase their digital influence in 60 minutes. They heard from luminaries they respected.

Everyone won. There was no attempt to manipulate people to act on our behalf for a hollow goal. It was values-driven all the way around.

#4: Reduce the Barriers to Entry

There are two things all of us have an increasingly short supply of: time and attention. Unless you’re Apple or Microsoft and you’re offering a blogger a sneak peek at your new product, asking someone to write a whole blog post about you—or, for example, do an hour-long webinar to your not-quite-robust-enough-yet list of subscribers—is going to make getting a “yes” a lot harder.

In our case, we only asked for 60 seconds of the speaker’s time. The proposition was often met with enthusiasm. “Sure, I’d love to do a 60-second interview!” It was fun, short and interesting. There’s no way we would have gotten 60 busy people to do full-hour interviews each right off the bat. So we made it radically easy for them to say “yes.”

But that’s only part of the picture: we also made it incredibly easy for the audience to say “yes.” For only an hour of their time, we were going to give them 60 tips from 60 experts. Not a bad deal. And that’s exactly what we heard from participants: it was completely manageable and reasonable to take one hour to learn from so many people.

So don’t just reduce the barriers for those you want to headline your campaign, also make it easy for your intended audience to participate.

#5: Be Creative, but Err on the Side of Accessibility

When describing his company’s financial practices, CEO Marc Benioff said that while his software-as-a-service platform may have been revolutionary, his bookkeeping methods were as traditional as they get.

Similarly, I believe that it’s important to let your creativity and imagination run wild, and to create something new—for example, to take a conventional idea (say, marketing conference) and challenge it (the shortest marketing conference ever). But I see far too many campaigns that feature weird, wild and avant-garde stuff without making it accessible to the end users.

The “60-in-60” idea was new. But it wasn’t “43-in-68.” We didn’t ask them to speak for 10 seconds. We didn’t request that they sing, dance or rap. In other words, it all made sense—both to them and to the audience. “60 tips” is still an attractive value proposition, and participants felt that they truly benefited from the advice.

But the other side of completely inaccessible and avant-garde is utter banality. Think of the typical webinar, conference or jargon-ridden special report. Sure, those can be great as ongoing lead-generation sources, but not as a way to get noticed and build digital influence rapidly.

So even though I’d recommend erring on the side of accessibility, I still want to challenge and encourage you to come up with something innovative.

Now the Ball’s in Your Court

Hopefully, these tips have given your creative faculties some juice to explore what you can do to inspire social media influencers—and your target audience—to join your cause.

What do you think? Have you had success recruiting influencers? Put your comments in the box below.

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  • Siddharth Goyal

    Awesome tips Sam. Me and my partner are doing a lot of research in social media and I think I really like your first 2 tips a lot.

  • Rob

    These steps seem sound, look like they take some commitment though! Strange, how there’s over 100 re-tweets but 1 comment? … maybe that happens when influencers blast out content…less engagement.

  • Hey Rob,

    This post only went live about two hours ago 🙂

  • “No-one Cares About Your Brand”

    This is by far one of the most profound business concepts I’ve been meditating on since I heard it on The Influencer Project. Thanks for sharing this and reminding all entrepreneurs of the importance to “inspire”

  • Rob

    Thanks Michael. I did see that and I guess was commenting on the fact that there were 140 plus retweets but only 1 comment at the time, besides my own. It led me to believe that if you get influencers behind your post or project, tons of people retweet the content without really engaging because it’s just plain popular, but this post wasn’t necessarily watched by a bunch of influencers…

    …just confused on the disconnect of re-tweets to conversation, but who knows, it happens! I’ll scan some other posts, maybe that happens a lot here…found it strange.

  • Our site is a little out of the ordinary Rob. We get a LOT of retweets. Just scan through our articles over the last week. We have a very big subscriber base and many of them show their appreciation of our work by simply clicking the retweet or like button (thus sharing it), but not commenting all the time.

  • @Rob, @Michael – Absolutely echo Michael’s sentiments re: SME. Also, just to say, there were a large number of tweets related to The Influencer Project — we estimate over 7,000 — and a *lot* of them were conversational in nature, including influencers diving in to the fray.

    In other words, the conversation is also happening on Twitter, and RTs can often lead to their own form of engagement and collaboration. So I wouldn’t necessarily look at blog comments as the sole metric or parameter of how we define “engagement” or “conversation” — other social media and traditional channels are also very important and often just as valid.

  • kahickey

    Regarding the above comment, “No one cares..” is a hard marketing concept for executives to understand. Marketing needs to be educating about the market and it’s hard to remind executives that talking about us is not interesting. Finding relevant and useful content is key, but also difficult when your executives, or subject-matter experts are wrapped up in the products.

  • I love it. Simple common sense really. How uncommon it seems to be though. Thanks for the summary (I constantly wonder if I am missing something basic – these types of expert posts help me make sure I am not!)

  • petekane

    Brilliant Sam….love the idea of producing 60 video tips that are 60 seconds long. Makes for a good value added strategy for people to communicate to their niche. Thanks for the tip

  • I absolutely loved this post, it is both inspiring and provides great tips. I so strongly agree with the important factor of providing value.

  • I’m an ENTJ so I apologize in advance for my franc (and possibly disruptive) comment. Personally, I couldn’t care less about influencers. I mean, they aren’t necessarily bad. But they also aren’t necessarily good. Whatever a “guru” says if it doesn’t make sense to me, I’m not going to retweet it – let alone spending money on it.And, I care even less about whoever “buys” whatever those influencers “sell”! The beauty of the Internet is precisely its democracy, its lack of social cues and the fact that – ultimately – no matter who puts pressure on you, why and how it is done, you and only you (and your shortcomings) are in control of your emailbox and social media accounts.Simply put, “regular” people (with a brain of their own) pick up on what you (generic) say, and how consistent you are – and that’s how a brand is born. Followers (not referring to social medias but to psychological types) are a big part of the population but not the ones who are worth worrying over, simply because they are not engaging, stimulating or challenging. If one wants to work on big numbers, I understand s/he tries to appeal to them… but on the other hand, I don’t know how much fun, satisfaction and self-growth can derive from trying to lure a bunch of followers into following you.As I said, it might very well be an ENTJ perspective 😉

  • allenmireles

    Sam, loved the post and the tips. Important reminders for all of us who work in the social media space and for those who work with clients who are new to the social media space. Also enjoyed the comments (those that have been posted so far, that is). I thought your response to Rob’s comments about the small number of responses to the post was excellent and was as valuable a point as some of those made in the post.

    “In other words, the conversation is also happening on Twitter, and RTs can often lead to their own form of engagement and collaboration. So I wouldn’t necessarily look at blog comments as the sole metric or parameter of how we define “engagement” or “conversation” — other social media and traditional channels are also very important and often just as valid. ”

    Thanks for this.

  • Normally, I find all of your posts very good, but this one, I am not a huge fan of, I feel like the message is “Make something Viral, and good luck” Which is easier said than done.

    edit: fixed typo.

  • My big takeaway: influencers won’t care about your brand if:

    it doesn’t add value for them AND
    it doesn’t add value for their own audience/tribe

    This concept relates to lots of other concepts in social media :).

    Great article.

  • Maureen Monfore

    “Sure, I’d love to do a 60-second interview!” It was fun, short and interesting. There’s no way we would have gotten 60 busy people to do full-hour interviews each right off the bat. So we made it radically easy for them to say “yes.”

    Love this. Great article. I wish you would do more strategic articles like this. The tactical stuff has its place, but social media success starts with strategy.


  • Oh, I do love that hamster. And the double rainbow guy (check it out on Youtube if you haven’t, he now has a spot in a Microsoft commercial!). But the points about spreading your work through creating something that will help people achieve something they care about is the crux of the post. And I gotta say, as part of the team that put the Influencer Project together, creating connections with the speakers, even if it was only for a few minutes on the phone, was an awesome benefit of this campaign. That’s another reason I’d strongly recommend a project that involves many other people.

  • Hey Sam, Great, awesome, informative post. I have been thinking a lot about the value of viral marketing videos and how they’re in one day, and out the next. We are consumers (and even online marketers) who forget things just as quickly as we click the “next” button.

    But yesterday, I was stopped dead in my tracks and in complete awe of the Arcade Fire HTML 5 video. It was moving, emotional and impressive from a development standpoint. Would you consider it an example of your #3 tenet? Everyone wins, even if there isn’t really a takeaway value.

    I guess my real question is, do you consider having an “experience” value?


    Here’s the Arcade Fire video in case you missed it:

  • Nichole_Kelly

    Sam – Absolutely great tips! It definitely helped re-inspire my thoughts on how we should create our companies Facebook presence. Thank you!

  • jesskupferman

    I …dunno. I get that no one cares about my brand, or anyone else’s. Basically, what you’re saying is, in order to get influencers to pay attention, we need to create a project that has some type of altruistic purpose, NOT ask for endorsement but participation from influencers (which, in essence, could be construed as the same thing)…and then be creative. I’m not saying this is bad advice – but it can’t be the only way to get people to take notice. What about just being yourself, doing great work, and participating in conversation (such as this one? Isn’t that how they became influencers in the first place?

    I guess I just hate the thought of no one paying attention unless I’m doing something for a good cause. I do a lot for charity but I don’t need people to take notice of that. I’d rather be noticed for being creative, not just one creative project.

  • I think being creative is a big factor. Creativity makes me much more likely to share your content.

  • Wow, that makes someone doing blogger relations stand up and take notice. Great tips.

  • Rob

    Agreed, and validated throughout the interactions of this post today. You’re right, it’s a bit uncharacteristic than other blogs I’ve tracked, but in a good way. One high metric (retweets) doesn’t have to mean any correlation with another (comments).

  • @jesskupferman — I agree with you on many points, so let me take this as an opportunity to flesh out my point more. First, in terms of the question, “Do you need to create an altruistic project to get noticed?”, the answer is “absolutely not.” This is just one particularly powerful way to build awareness *if you want to make a splash.* There are plenty of people and companies that are incredibly successful just because of the remarkable work that they do. And, of course, if you do wonderful work, and you consistently demonstrate interest and generosity within your network, then influencers may very well take notice. But that, in my opinion, falls a bit more under “business development” than “awareness-building” or “lead-generation” campaign.

    The second point is a slightly more philosophical one. “Cause” is an interesting word, with a lot of interesting definition. Oftentimes, “doing good” means supporting a particular non-profit, and “altruistic” connotes charity. The Influencer Project made no mention of charity and didn’t “use” it as a prop. Now, partnering with a charity can be an absolutely wonderful and beautiful way to both advance your brand’s mission and help out very deserving non-profits. But I don’t equate “good cause” with “charity.” I more think of it as a transcendent purpose, one that benefits many people and that they can get behind. An example of this is The Creators Project, a collaboration between Intel and Vice. It features up-and-coming artists through short videos and in-person parties. It’s all about creativity–I’d consider it an exemplary representation of the principles I went into above.

  • @C. Lobo — I absolutely consider “experience” valuable–depending, of course, on the content and context of that experience (if it’s an experience of nihilism, for example, than I wouldn’t consider it to be of absolute value). Reading @jesskupferman’s comment below, I realize that this is a point I should have elaborated on more.

    Expressions of beauty, truth, goodness, and all other things that create some kind of powerful experience are absolutely valuable, and even essential, in my opinion. So I’m definitely not referring to “values-driven” in a purely “do good deeds” or “learn how to perform a task better” context. As a former musician, I appreciate anything of transcendent or creative value, and actually believe our sometimes overly compulsive need to have a “clear and concrete takeaway” doesn’t actually reflect the full spectrum of human experience.

  • Sadly, it seems as if all you really have to do is stroke these people’s egos and then hope for the best.

  • jesskupferman

    Ah – I see what you mean. I focused on charity but even “for the good of the common man” is a “cause” and people can get behind it. I’ll check out the Creators Project, but I see what you mean. Somewhere deep down, I guess I just hope I’ll be noticed and supported for ME, and not necessarily for a brilliant project I think of.

  • Floramae Torculas

    Great tips Sam! I will surely present your ideas to my clients in our lead-generating and brand awareness campaigns.

  • I wouldn’t say “former” in relation to your musicianship. 🙂

  • Would love to hear how it goes for you. @stevehaase to chat.

  • Kelly

    I’m totally inspired!!!!

  • Couldn’t agree with you more. Thanks so much for the response!

  • Maureen Dudley


    I just downloaded the mp3 yesterday and I’m enjoying all the great tips. It can be daunting to try to keep up with social media. I appreciate this forum to learn from others. I’ve always thought learning was a lifetime pursuit. With all the new social media, there definitely won’t be a lack of new things to learn.

  • Maureen Dudley

    As you can see, I’m still learning. Please pardon the mistakes. I often find jumping in, mistakes and all, is the only way to learn.

    I just downloaded the mp3 yesterday and I’m enjoying all the great tips. It can be daunting to try to keep up with social media. I appreciate this forum to learn from others. I’ve always thought learning was a lifetime pursuit. With all the new social media, there definitely won’t be a lack of new things to learn.

  • All brilliant insights. And so common sense when you think about it. That first one is worth it’s weight in gold: “everyone—social media influencers included—wants to be part of something that’s bigger than them”.

    Thanks for another great article!



  • Gaurav

    Steve, I must thank you for the work u r doing on sme. I have been very active online trying to explore trends in social media and I m yet to come across a resource as good as this. Adding u on twitter now!

  • An easy way is to ask yourself “What’s in it for me?”

  • Thanks for the great article. I like best when you advise us to “take a conventional idea, and challenge it. I look forward to reading your other posts.

  • The line about no one caring about your brand is very powerful. As much as I really believe what my company’s doing has a potential to add real value to people’s lives, I have to make sure they see that and not just expect them to jump on board just because I think it’s great! If some of them happen to be social influencers then that’s even better.

  • Thanks for the great tips,I agree with all the points raised here and will be using them to benefit my own site in the future.

  • Nowadays doing business is better than perform on a long therm. People go for the fast lane, the local banks, but don’t care for what they did in the past… kind of selective memory. After the crisis the still believe in this concens/company’s which didn’t had morals and ethics, maybe twitter can change this….

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