A Guide To Influencer Marketing. Interview with Olga Andrienko, SEMRush

Influencer Marketing is probably one of the biggest content marketing trends in 2017. If you’re wondering how to create such a program, you’ve come to the right place. Olga Andrienko, Head of Global Marketing for SEMRush.com kindly shared with us her secret sauce on how to build long, lasting, and fruitful relationships with influencers. So, here it is.

Content Marketing vs. Influencer Marketing

Before we dive deep into the how-to’s of Influencers Marketing, it’s important to first look at the relationship between these two terms.

If you’re a Content Marketer, you can consider the Influencers Channel as a distribution channel, much like Email, Social Media, Guest Posting, or SEO. As Google Trends shows us, more and more people see the potential of this channel.

Google Trends | "Influencer Marketing" Topic
Rise of the “Influencer Marketing” Topic over the past 5 years (Image Source: Google Trends)

SEMRush’s community of friends

SEMRush managed to establish itself as a well-renowned brand in the overly crowded SEO tools space. If you attended a digital marketing event in the past few years, you probably heard their brand mentioned on the stage at least once. The product is great and SEO experts love it.

In Olga Andrienko’s eyes, these people aren’t “influencers”. They are now true friends. What began as names on a list, are now people she constantly works with, meets at events, and shares memories with.

Her work in building one of the most engaged communities in the industry is something to admire and learn from. That’s why she was my first choice when I decided to dive deep into the weeds of a successful Influencer Marketing program.

Q: You had a lot of experience working with Influencers. How important is such a program for a company’s success and how should managers invest in it?

Olga Andrienko: Connecting with local experts is a great way to penetrate new markets. They know something you don’t, so what you have to figure out is what you can offer in return. We built everything based on being open, assisting, and giving space for people to shine. In return, we offered them a free account. Not every company can offer something similar, in which case it’s better to ask what favor you could do in return.

I wouldn’t advise getting into paid cooperation because, if you do that once, everyone knows you pay to be mentioned. We never did.

If a company is in for quick wins and also lacks human resources, Influencer Marketing might not be the right choice. I’d suggest that the CEO would chat to experts regularly on relevant forums or social platforms because experts respect equals and being a part of someone else’s community helps as much as building your own.

Q: How did you get started on Influencer Marketing?

OA: I don’t like to call it Influencer Marketing. What we really did was actually build relationships. What differentiated us at first, in my opinion, was the fact that we really cared. SEMrush allows its people to remain human, although, of course, it’s business at the end of the day. The management realized this was something of great value and would have a long-term impact, even though it will be hard to measure.

That’s why we started seeing results from connecting and building relationships with thought leaders only after 1-1,5 years. Not every company can invest so much time and resources, but true friendships don’t happen overnight.

Q: How did you define “influencers” at first?

OA: We started by segmenting thought leaders into 4 categories:

  1. Speakers
  2. Bloggers
  3. Professors/teachers
  4. Authors

Some experts were blogging and wrote books, others fell into all 4 categories, but those were super celebrities and we, honestly, never focused on them. Celebrities often don’t have time for you, and their inbox, social media, and all other channels of communication are packed with quote requests and pitches. We were willing to work with people who were experts, but “not-yet-celebrities”. They were professionals with hands-on experience, who hadn’t invested time in their own branding. These professionals grew with us, we gave them more exposure, and they provided feedback to our developers. At the same time, they started sharing knowledge with our audience.

In my experience, connections that are built with people earlier in their careers tend to remain stronger.

Q: In your opinion, what are the main steps a marketer should take in creating and managing an influencer program?

OA: Friendship is not a campaign. At least for us, we never thought of it in terms of “campaign”. But there are steps in connecting and initiating relationships:

  1. First, think of WHY you would need to connect to influencers? What goals do you have?
  2. Define who is an influencer for you, the level of engagement they have, how big their community is, what topics they cover, etc.
  3. Collect them as a list. Use Twitter lists (private), list them on Facebook (if you follow them there), and if you’re using Nimble.com or a similar platform, group them with tags.
  4. Craft a message. Whatever you do, please DO NOT do “round up” posts. In case you seriously consider a round up post, remember that there are already 10 similar unread quote requests in their inbox. So I’d suggest checking out what influencers already said on the topic you’re covering and using their existing quotes. We used 42 references to the old content in this post and every single expert shared it because contributing to the post required no extra effort.
  5. Instead, reach out to experts with customized messages
  6. Always use a secondary platform to follow up immediately when you sent email/tweet/message. When I connected on LinkedIn, I sent a tweet. When I sent the email, I also tweeted. People need reminders these days. They are not arrogant, they are just busy.
  7. Follow up and achieve your goal, whatever that would be.
  8. Say “Thank you” and send a link/info about the results.

Q: What are the biggest challenges in working with influencers?

OA: The biggest challenges are the inability to measure results and also the long-term ROI.

Q: You’re probably dealing with a lot of people and you have many tasks and conversations to track. What are your secrets to keeping yourself up to date?

OA: I wake up and open my Facebook feed. In our niche, people add others on Facebook easily, and also I know a lot of them personally now. So I check the latest news, trending topics and also posts with many comments – checking who is chatting with whom. Also, it helps me personalize emails, because I know who’s birthday is, who went on a vacation recently, what conferences they are attending, and so on.

Q: Can you give me a few examples of companies you look up to when it comes to influencers marketing?

OA: Hootsuite is a good example. They are sending swag to people that like them and they are gathering loyal experts offline to engage and update on the recent news and developments. Also, the Russian company GrowFood.pro (B2C) has an amazing ambassador program.

Q: What are the 3 things you do on a regular basis that help you be successful in your job?

OA: Curiosity, integrity, and long hours. I like Gary Vaynerchuk’s quote: “I don’t know everything, I just do everything”. I believe that most of the opportunities are simply hard work. It takes hours to check the feeds, take part in discussions and even find relevant ones in the first place. But human interaction is crucial.

People trust people, that’s why influencers exist in the first place.

If you enjoyed this interview, let Olga and I know by commenting below.

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Irina Nica

About Irina Nica

I’m a SaaS marketer always happy to read & talk about all things inbound, SEO, storytelling, design, and literature. Currently based in Dublin, Ireland. Working @HubSpot.

  • Very helpful post Irina! Influencer marketing is definitely on top of the game. I was wondering, how do you decide which influencer to choose? is it base on the number of following?

    • Irina Nica

      Hi Emmerey! That’s a great question. In fact, it really depends on who you target. If you’re looking to work with the established stars, you will easily spot them based on their following (also, for B2C, finding influencers is a lot easier than in B2B). There are tools out there that can automate this search so you don’t have to do a lot of digging yourself. However, things get trickier when you want to work with rising stars. You’ll have to build your own criteria for spotting the right ones and the number of followers might be just one piece of the puzzle. This requires a lot more “manual work”, but as Olga said, it pays off to build a relationship with people as they become influencers.