6 Ways to Engage Influencers in the Early Stages of Product Development

Influencer marketing is like hosting a dinner party. You invite the coolest people you know, bring out your best china, make them feel special, and hope they go home and tell their friends about how tender your scallops were.

Influencers are the people a brand desperately needs to hang out with. They have active followings on social media, and they’re on the front line of their audience’s trends and attitudes. By connecting with these powerful people, you can position your brand on the cutting edge of all things innovative and desirable.

Influencer with megaphone
photo credit: Official Blackberry Images / Flickr

So, why don’t you invite these influencers to connect as soon as possible? Seventy-six percent of marketers are already using influencers when they launch their products, but you can set yourself apart by gaining their expertise and reach in the earlier stages of product development.

However, just like any dinner party, you need to be welcoming, generous, and patient. Above all, you need to know how to communicate with your special guests. Here are six tips for involving your influencers in the product development stage:

1. Use social media to befriend them

Influencers are social media butterflies, so this is often the best way to reach them. Explore LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook, and identify influential people who you think would be interested in your new product, including those you already have relationships with.

People with large followings and active profiles will likely be able to provide valuable feedback about your product through their connections. Think about reach, relevance, and resonance. If you can get all three from an influencer relationship, it should be a go.

2. Think mutual

You should never approach influencers without considering what you can offer them in return. Once that mutually beneficial relationship is established, influencers will become excited to be associated with your brand. As a result, they’ll be willing to go the extra mile.

Make sure you’re clear about the rewards they’ll receive. A careful combination of tangible rewards (like free products and financial compensation) and intangible rewards (like the notoriety of being connected to something really cool) will motivate your influencers the most.

3. Clarify your goals

Influencers will get excited about working with you if they understand and appreciate what you’re trying to achieve. Present them with the challenge of your product development process and the effect that your campaign could have on that. On a practical level, knowing your goals for the product will help them produce the right content for their audience and collect the right kind of feedback for your team.

For example, restaurant and retail grocer line Lyfe Kitchen recently teamed up with DKC to build an influencer marketing campaign. The company wanted to expand into new supermarkets and increase word-of-mouth advertising through social media. By communicating its goals to its influencers, the retailer grew its distribution from 400 to 1,400 stores.

A business meeting with influencers
photo credit: Sebastiaan ter Burg / Flickr

4. Be a gracious host

Working with influencers can take a lot of work. They’re usually busy people – often with strong personalities – so remember to be patient, lighthearted, and open. As the gracious host, you want to make your guests feel special. So, create rewards that are tailored to them. Host an event in their honor. Name one of your products after them. Get creative.

5. Create a team

Weber Shandwick’s “Got Chocolate Milk?” campaign initiated a sales increase that just kept snowballing. Why? Because the agency invited influencers like popular athletes and fitness experts to get involved in the fun challenge of turning chocolate milk into a serious sports product. The challenge ignited these influencers’ competitive side, and Weber Shandwick succeeded by involving influencers with a team-like mentality.

6. Build real, ongoing relationships

Product development is just the first era of your product’s life, and there are many stages down the line in which influencer marketing will come in handy. Creating an ongoing and natural relationship is key. Don’t schedule monthly meetings with your influencers. Instead, reach out when you have an exciting moment with the product or have an idea you think they’d love.

By forming genuine relationships and sharing your excitement with your influencers, you can develop your product with a team of the coolest people around and boost your brand immeasurably. Then, anyone who’s anyone will want to come to your brand’s party.