A 10-Point Plan for Connecting with Online Influencers (Without Turning into a Suck-Up)

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This is the fifth post in the “Content Connections” series.

I’m here to tell you a dreadful truth about online business and marketing.

While you can, in fact, make money in your underwear, there are limits to how antisocial you get to be.

The web isn’t really made up of algorithms. It’s made of people. In all their frustrating, imperfect, and complicated glory.

Don’t get me wrong. Systems are smart. Automation has its place. Creating functional processes will do a lot for your project or business.

But at the end of the day, you still have to deal with people.

One of the most critical aspects to building an audience for your business is making high-quality connections with other web publishers. From SEO to reputation management to growing traffic to your site, connections matter.

Which leads us to today’s topic. Here’s how you can make high-quality connections with bloggers and other content publishers in order to find a wider audience for your own content.

You don’t have to suck up or turn into some weird networking-addicted phony. Here’s what to do instead:

The 3 Foundational Building Blocks

Before you can start making connections, you have to build from a place of strength. Make sure you have these elements in place before you start reaching out, or you’ll find that your networking takes you in the wrong direction.

1. Build something worth talking about

Influential people — whether they’re celebrities, business leaders, or web publishers with large audiences — virtually always have one thing in common.

They have a lot of people coming forward who would like to engage their attention.

If you’re known for doing something interesting and useful, it makes it a million times easier to make the connections you want to make.

  • Josh Kaufman created the Personal MBA to empower professionals to educate themselves more effectively, quickly, and cheaply than they could with a traditional MBA. That’s remarkable.
  • Amber Rogers created GoKaleo to help women recognize the predatory tactics of fitness and diet gurus, get off the self-hatred bandwagon, and think critically about health, nutrition, and fitness. That’s remarkable.
  • Adam Baker and Grant Peele produced the documentary I’m Fine, Thanks, showcasing the lives of dozens of people who have worked to free themselves from complacency and traditional assumptions. The film inspires and challenges viewers to take a hard look at their own lives. That’s remarkable.

None of those people has any trouble making connections with influencers … because they’ve done something that lots of people will want to know more about.

Do something epic — even if it’s epic on a micro scale. One great project will open doors you didn’t even know existed.

The simplest way to do something epic? I bet you know the answer to this one. And yes, a genuinely interesting blog absolutely counts.

2. Be a good egg

Anyone can get social media attention by being an ass. And, as we have seen again and again, many do.

But making an ass of yourself only gets you attention … it does nothing for your influence.

All of the networking advice in this post depends on you being a good egg.

Be positive. Share content that’s helpful. Put your best foot forward. Make more friends than you do enemies.

It’s fine to hold some controversial opinions. In fact, next week we’re going to talk about how that can be a great way to stake out a remarkable position with your audience.

But if you pick fights 90% of the time, you’ll become known as someone who only knocks down. You need to be known as someone who can build.

Be nice until it’s time to not be nice. ~Dalton’s Rule #3 from Road House

3. Be interesting

Everyone likes to hear “I love your work.” But if that’s the sum total of what you have to say, the conversation fizzles fast.

(There are a few influencers who can spin your love of their work into an hour-long self-appreciation monologue. Thank goodness, these people are pretty rare.)

Have a point of view, think critically about your topic, ask interesting questions, and stay informed.

No matter how crowded your topic, there’s always room for someone who can think and speak intelligently about it.

The 3 Places You’ll Create Connections

Now that your foundation is set, you need places to actually get out and find your influencers.

4. Spark the connection on Twitter

Right now, Twitter is one of the best venues for sparking connections with content publishers. It’s not as popular with the general public as Facebook is … but it’s often more popular with bloggers and content creators.

Remember your foundation. Be helpful, be charming, be interesting, and point to remarkable things. (Including remarkable things created by other people.)

Twitter works because it’s easy to find your favorite influencers and it’s a low-risk environment. It’s relatively easy to approach even folks with large audiences … just “@” them.

It’s also a noisy environment, so it can take some time to make yourself heard. Don’t let that worry you. Get out and start putting your friendly, useful face forward.

5. Deepen the relationship on Facebook or Google+

Twitter is great, but 140 characters is a pretty significant limitation.

At some point, you’ll want to deepen connections by going further with the conversation on a platform that supports that. Depending on who you’re talking with, Facebook and Google+ are two great venues right now.

(Although for your influencers, it may be Tumblr or Reddit or a particular online forum. Focus on the principle, not the platform.)

Longer-format platforms allow for more complexity and better continuity. Contribute to a conversation worth having. Remember your foundation.

6. Do some serious deals in meatspace

“Meatspace” is the cyberpunk term for what boring normal people call the real world.

You can make some amazing connections online, but if you can swing it, always try to take things face-to-face at some point.

Conferences are a great way to solidify lots of connections over a couple of days. Meet for coffee, or a drink, or breakfast. Have conversations in hallways.

When you get a chance to meet face to face, take it. It often creates a whole new level of engagement that can last for years and yield surprising benefits.

The 3 Don’ts

It wouldn’t be a good list post if I didn’t throw in a couple of warnings. There are a few things you can do that will make your efforts at connection much less successful.

Avoid these three in particular:

7. Don’t whine

Oh, you’re a blogger? What do you complain about? ~Julien Smith

It’s so easy to fall into a pattern of constant whining and complaint on social media.

Resist. Strongly.

Whining, as any parent can tell you, is profoundly irritating. And so often, what feels like “making conversation” to us comes across as whining to the poor suckers on Facebook or Twitter who are reading us.

We all need a little pity party sometimes. Call a friend and ask her for coffee (and give her fair warning that you’re in a whiny mood.) Don’t make a habit of dumping your bad day all over your social media connections.

8. Don’t gossip

If you don’t have anything nice to say, come over here and sit right by me.

Talking about others behind their back is so seductive. Most of us do it, and most of us secretly find it rather delicious.

But it’s dangerous.

When you tell a long, unflattering story about someone I like, you’ve damaged your ability to connect with me. And you may have no idea you’ve done it.

You’ve also taken a very real risk that I’ll run back and tell my friend what you’ve been saying.

Your career (and your psyche) would be better off if you simply never talked about anyone when they weren’t present.

That goal’s a little lofty (and I’m far from there myself, trust me), but try to get into the habit of thinking twice (or three times) before you share a juicy story. The reputation you save may be your own.

9. Don’t squee all over your shoes

I stole this phrase from the lovely and remarkable Pace Smith.

The thing is, I know where you’re coming from. I’m a fan girl too. I’ve got my own heroes, and I have to fight that urge to babble when I meet them.

But if your hero is worth your admiration, she probably gets a little weirded out when people treat her as something Better-than-Human.

Again, it’s great to let people know you’re enjoying their work. Enthusiasm is a lovely quality. Step #3 can be helpful here. If you’re geeking out about the topic (rather than about the person), you can often find some common ground.

And one last point …

10. It doesn’t always work the way you thought it would

Way back when I started my first blog, I secretly imagined that one day I was going to have tea & crumpets with Seth Godin every day.

Turns out I can’t really eat crumpets … all that gluten’s no good for me. Also, possibly more to the point, Seth just wasn’t all that interested. (To be clear … he’s always been very nice. Just not daily-crumpets-level nice.)

On my path, one of my goals was to some day develop a good working relationship with Seth Godin. Things didn’t work out exactly how I had visualized. But a bunch of other good stuff happened on that path, and I did end up building great working relationships with lots of other amazing people.

You have to follow the path you’re actually on. Which sometimes bears only slight resemblance to the one that was originally in your head.

The plan is nothing; planning is everything. ~Dwight Eisenhower

Do have goals. Do have some folks in mind that you’d love to create professional relationships with.

Then do a bunch of epic stuff, be a good egg, know your topic, and make yourself useful, and see where the real path leads.

It’s going to go somewhere good. Just be ready for a few interesting twists.

This is part five of the Content Connections series

This post is part of a series on making connections with other web publishers — the kinds of connections that will serve your business.

It’s the other half of content marketing — what happens after you’ve created something worth reading.

To get the full series, just stay tuned here at Copyblogger. If you haven’t already, why not subscribe by email so you’ll be sure you don’t miss any of the posts.

You can read the first four posts here:

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Reader Comments (60)

  1. says

    #10 is my favorite. It reminds me that life is rarely what we imagined it to be. We need to get out of our heads and over the reality that it’s not supposed to be any different.

    As I kid I idolized a singer. Fast forward 20 years later when this singer was shooting a video locally. I had a connection that got me on the set. I rehearsed a speech in my head that was teleprompter-worthy of any political address for that “special moment” when we met. Sure, I tried to be a good egg, but the bottom line I was uninteresting, trite and quite frankly, an ass for thinking we would have a connection outside a typical musician and a roving fan.

    Needless to say, Michael McDonald and me did not bond over his music, my effusive ramblings, or the short, cute miniskirt I wore for the occasion.

    Totally squeed all over my shoes but learned the invaluable lessons that people connect with like-minded people and nobody owes you a thing–no matter your illusions of how the relationship should be.

  2. says

    I would like to add that small gestures to help an “influencer” also goes a long way. (Of course we shouldn’t do anything expecting anything in return!)
    A few weeks ago, I wrote a post title’d “Great Blogging Tips I Learned From Smart Passive Income By Pat”
    My goal was to purely, share my experience on how I read Pat’s blog and put his advice into action.
    Imagine my surprise when Pat himself made a visit made added the first comment! I was blown away. Ever since that day we’ve been communicating on email and I still wonder how it all happened!

    Actual influence is composed of the ability to influence opinions, outcomes, and actions.

  3. says

    “But if you pick fights 90% of the time, you’ll become known as someone who only knocks down. You need to be known as someone who can build.”

    It’s always better to be nice, no matter what anyone else does. Getting into squabbles and confrontations once in a while is bound to happen, but you don’t want to earn a reputation for being a troublemaker. There are enough cranky people out there, no need to join them. Love the Road House quote by the way.

    • says

      It’s great to be reminded of #6. We shouldn’t be confined in our own virtual world. Get out and take the opportunity to meet fellow bloggers.

      In line w/ #6 is even starting to meet online through skype. I make podcasts and interview other people. This is my simple way of connecting with them. Then through the podcasts I’m hoping to build something worth talking which is #1 and #3 to be interesting. Like when you said “No matter how crowded your topic, there’s always room for someone who can think and speak intelligently about it.” And that’s my guests in the podcasts.

  4. says

    I love number 6: Do some serious deals in meatspace. Actually, I have never heard it referred to as that – but it is an interesting concept. We have to be sure we are meeting with people in the offline world too as that is where the real rubber meets the road. And offline contacts can become online connections too which is cool. I loved your story about Seth Godin and the crumpets too. Your style is something I am always learning from. Love it.

  5. says

    Great post. I love #10 as well. It typically never works out the way we imagined, but it could be better than we ever expected. Serving others without asking for anything in return is what sets people apart, in my opinion.

  6. says

    Number 9 and number 10 are very true, yet almost never talked about. No one likes a hero worshiper. The path always leads somewhere good, even if it’s not where you originally intended to go!

  7. says

    I knew two sentences in that this had to be Sonia:
    While you can, in fact, make money in your underwear, there are limits to how antisocial you get to be.

    Brilliant. Way to craft a line that pulls me in Sonia. Got to tend to patients just now, but I’ll be back to fully digest this.

  8. Krista says

    Ha! I tell my nephew to “be a good egg” all the time…guess I should heed my own advice,huh? Thanks Sonia!

  9. says

    Hey Sonia,

    I find it fascinating that we have to be reminded to be good. What? And tact … why, what’s that?? But, then I look around and realize that just because we’re putting ourselves out there in the blogging world and being exceptionally visible doesn’t mean we’re any different (better) than in “real” life.

    We see examples of everything you’re saying everyday, all around us. People are people, it’s just that now all our foibles are exuberantly exposed in the living color of the web. And I suppose we need these seemingly obvious kicks in the virtual asses because some of your points – just – ain’t – that – obvious to many!

    Thanks, Sonia. Whew, I feel better now. 😉 (oh gosh – i was whining! hahahaha)


  10. says

    Hi Sonia,
    Incredibly useful as always!

    #6 and #9 resonated with me the most.

    #6 because doing deals in ‘meatspace’ can be really intimidating, especially if you’ve only spent time communicating with that person via text (email, twitter, etc.). Would you consider Skype meatspace? Probably not.
    I feel like meeting someone in meatspace that I’ve developed a relationship with online would be a lot like having a dream where your mind has placed a really familiar object in a place that it’s not supposed to be…like your car on a boat, or your mom in a space suite. (Unless of course your mom is an astronaut).

    #9 reminds me of something Pamela Slim says in her book, and I think also on her blog. It’s about not becoming ‘fan boy’ or ‘fan girl’. It’s tempting to just lay on the flattery as thick as we can to prove that we really do admire this person, but usually that person doesn’t admire self-depreciation. Especially when you’re saying that you are a nobody or that they are the God or Goddess of ‘online marketing’ or ‘women in business’ or ‘making money in underwear.’

    Again, seriously awesome post!


  11. says

    #3 is key. At the beginning I would get a lot of people just complimenting me and to be honest I didn’t mind it. But later I figured I needed to start conversations, so I made my posts more opinionated and at the end always called for the comments. Conversation is what we all want, at least I think so :)

  12. says

    #10. Dr.Seuss says it best, “Oh The Places You’ll Go”. I’m still get a kick when more than 50 people visit my blog in one day. and you’re very right, it sure as heck doesn’t work they way you think it should but the journey from no visitors to 2,000 in two months has been interesting.

  13. says

    #11 should be “lend a hand”

    I’ve mentored and advised people who have turned around and to help me later.

    Don’t just network “up”. Network “down”

    • says

      Yes! I’ve been reaching out to a LOT of a-list folks over the last year or so (even more lately with the whole Prosperity’s Kitchen project) and I can tell you that this is KEY. If (when) I someday become one of those people who others seek out for help, I hereby swear on a stack of Seth Godin books to always respond — even if it’s just a polite, no, thank you. I am continually amazed and impressed (and surprised) by who says yes and who says no (and — more importantly, who blows me off).

  14. says

    Hi Sonia,

    Great list! #10 rings big bells for me. I went to a lecture in New York once with legendary songwriter, Jimmy Webb (wrote songs your parents rocked out to in the 60’s: Up, Up and Away, MacArthur Park, Witchita Lineman, etc).

    So I contacted him online afterward and just boldly asked if he would be interested in mentoring me as a songwriter (after mentioning at least a few qualifying credentials). He reminded me he had six grown children he never has time for and couldn’t do it on a regular basis but might answer a question from time to time. So I asked him who I should listen to in the classical realm if I was woefully deficient in this area.

    To my surprise, he wrote back with a list of composers and specific albums. Then it was radio silence. The list was a huge help but I felt somehow dejected. I had to ask myself if I truly wanted to be mentored by him or if it was just cool to say to my musician friends.

    The lesson: really know why you want to connect with an influencer in the first place and don’t waste one extra minute of their time if they do grant you an audience. They got to that place working their ass off. Try to offer them something of real value, which begins with respect.

    #1 is still the best advice. Or as Emerson put it:

    “Do your work and I will know you.”

    Thanks for this.

  15. says

    Funny, the meatspace one resonated with me too. I’ve said for a long time that when it comes to social media and building relationships, event planners have an unfair advantage that they should be taking advantage of (though many still don’t seem to quite get it). They have the opportunity to connect people before (virutally), during (in meatspace) and after (possibly both). I hope more event planners will realize what a powerful position they are in.

  16. says

    Being interesting has been my toughest step to conquer. I sell real estate in the greater Oregon area and yes I do blog, but what it seems like it isn’t as interesting as other subjects. I even did some research on other Realtors websites and all of them are very boring. Any advice?

  17. says

    Sonia, we met last year – albeit briefly – at the problogger conference in Melbourne. (How time flies). I barely said two words to you (along the lines of ‘would you like something to drink? Duh!). I was completetly starstruck. I get your point trying not to go ga ga. Only it was that easy.

    Thanks for a great post. More than 70% of the stuff in my swipe file comes from Copyblogger. I adore some of your older stuff. (Should I have said this or is it too creepy?)


  18. says

    Good morning, Sonia.
    re: #9 and 10 – were you having a mosey about in my mind when you wrote those, I wonder?

    I have had – no, let’s make that ‘still have’ – the crumpets fantasy and to a certain extent have actually got to eat them with my hero on a reasonably regular basis. Not in real life, you understand, but privately online (email). I’m not sure what – if anything – my hero gets out of it, but for me it is extremely valuable. I ask for nothing (at least no knowingly!), but do try to give – if only a little entertainment away from the business of either my hero’s work or my own. But it also gives me an opportunity to practice being nice and interesting… least I hope that’s what I’m being!

    What I get out of it too, is that on the bottom line our heroes (well, mine at least) are actually just like us. Sometimes we tend to forget they too have their insecurities; fears for the future (even if maybe they don’t go about broadcasting them!); doubts about what they have done, where they have been and so on. I can’t begin to imagine what sort of pressure our heroes come under when they begin to realise that we have cast them in that role.

    Did you realise Marya was struckdumb just being at the same coffee pot as you? Doubt it – you come across as the sort of person who wouldn’t even think you could be someone’s heroine. My best guess is that for most of these people we put on pedestals, their reaction would be something along the lines of ‘Wha’!!! Me? No way!’

    I am so lucky and know it’s a privileged position to be in having crumpets a few times a week with my hero. My hero is so easy-going and fun to chat with, but I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I would ‘squee all over my shoes’ if ever I met my hero in the ‘meat or meet’ world.

    Thank you for being so honest about your hero-worship – makes me and I’ll bet many more, feel less foolish about the fantasies we have. But what’s really good, is that it shows you and we are in many ways ‘just the same’. Being a big kid at heart is no bad thing (let’s face it, there’s more than a hint of a teenage crush in our fantasies!) and there’s a time and place for all of us to see ourselves chomping on crumpets.

    Kind regards,

    BTW – hero used deliberately to protect the innocent…
    oh, just thought…. what does ‘squee’ mean? Sounds rather rude……

  19. says

    Very awesome and true points Sonia! Really charming and funny but with a lot of teachings and educative giving the knowledge of what the really truth about online connectors to capture the mind of your audience! I think it would sometime be more better if you need successful plans to establish personal relationships with dozens of these online influencers and turn many of them into friends and business partners. We must be some sort of networking animals. Anyone cant Plug Into the Secret World of “Online Influencers if the focus is positive and not giving up! Great post and thanks for sharing!

  20. says

    Hello Sonia! certainly interacting the people through social media is a big challenge you could face negative aspect through this but its you who controls the situation and react positively to that and for me that’s the tricky point where you build your repo in-front to the online community.

    Thanks for sharing valuable points though :-).

  21. says

    The big tip i got out of this is resisting moaning on the social media .haha

    I tend to be rather free and open and honest and ready to pour out my entire thoughts on a page

    Got to watch it and resist it strongly

    Thanks for an insightful post


  22. says

    What a great list and I know many of these I’ve failed up on more than once.

    I think another good one to add is “Be Mature.” It’s important to recognize that we all come from different generations with different rules for etiquette. Maturity however is something that everyone can see and respect.

  23. says

    I’m happy that I came across your site this afternoon in my quest to educate myself. I’m green, like two weeks out of the box green. I think I’m pretty good communicating with people in real life, but through social media is a whole other ball game. I went into this knowing how I want people to talk to me so I figure if I’m that way with my audience then I’ll be ok. It’s nice to see that you had some pointers on here like #5, something I’m already doing. It’s a little different talking to complete strangers than your friends on social media but I am meeting some really nice people who are on the same journey as me. Thanks so much and I will be signing up for your updates. Good stuff! ~ Michelle

  24. says

    I was going to ask if Google +1’s are important, and then noticed the FB vs. Google split above. (10 more for Google at the time of posting). So I won’t because I guess they are.

    Great post, particularly like number 10. Though it’s hard not to dream big isn’t it?

  25. says

    This post is great. I have had a blog on my site for over 2 years now but I never took the time to truly think about what my “something worth talking about” was. I added it to my website because I know it was a “good” thing to do from an SEO perspective. But my interest in writing waned as I felt like I was writing for my mother and a google computer. I’m taking the time to rethink what it is that I can write about, truly what I’m passonate about before relaunching and your article has been extremely helpful in clarifying things. Thanks!

  26. says

    Very useful post. You can grab attention by being a bad egg but don’t gain any influence. Interesting view. Always have a plan, and if the plan don’t work, adjust and correct. There is no perfect plan in this world, but a plan that is flexible is perfect.

  27. says

    Creating a powerful content resource is vital. But sometimes you need to actively seek influential users in your niche and connect with them. To be honest I only realised the true power of connections a few months ago when one of my posts was shared by a highly influential user on Twitter resulting in tons of traffic to my website almost overnight.

  28. says

    I guess the don’t whine, don’t squee and don’t gossip advice can be summed up as “treat other people online as well as you’d expect to treat them in the real world”.

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