Creating and fostering relationships with influencers and tapping into their engaged and wide audience, can help your brand gain awareness and increase its reach. Determining who the best influencers for your organization are and mapping out a plan that ensures both parties will benefit from the relationship can be challenging.

This week at #SproutChat, we discussed best practices for the entire influencer marketing process–from identifying the best individuals to work with to what a successful relationship looks like.

Find Influencers With Engaged Communities

Start by digging into the conversations happening on social around your industry. Make a shortlist of the thought leaders that people are listening to on outlets like Google Hangouts, Blab and Twitter. Then, go a step further and identify the people on your list who have enthusiastic and engaged audiences.

Be diligent in activating influencers you’ve shortlisted are a good fit. Take notes on their follower demographics, what makes their communities excited and the nature of the content they write and promote. If there’s an overlap with your organization’s goals, move forward and reach out.

Don’t Just Go for Numbers

Influencer doesn’t necessarily mean follower count. Many #SproutChat folks agree that it’s not all about big numbers. An influencer can be someone who has a smaller following, but a group full of zealots. Passionate followers who are primed to act are much more valuable than an enormous and disengaged group. Finding these individuals is a bit harder, but once you’ve initiated a relationship, the payoff will be worthwhile.

Build a Relationship Over Time & With Friendly Cadence

Whether you’re paying your influencer or not, it’s always wise to foster an amicable connection prior to your formal partnership. Build a relationship based on your mutual interests and offer to help your influencers before you ask any favors for yourself or your brand.

Be Straightforward in Your Ask

Be upfront about your desires. Hiding your real intentions will only hurt your relationship and damage any kind of credibility you’ve built. If you think the ask might be too much, start small and work your way up. Gain insight from other industry professionals who are connected to your influencer. Be reasonable and always be sure to offer your time in return. It’s also smart to use social media monitoring tools to track who’s talking to you on each platform.

Join us next week with special guest Sprout All Star Mandy Edwards as we discuss best practices for content curation. In the meantime, check out our Facebook community to connect with other industry professionals.