No kind of customer is quite like the word-of-mouth referral customer. For starters, they only get referred in the first place because they’re already in the market for your products/services. More importantly, though, they’re also being referred by someone they trust -- meaning that they’re that much more likely to walk through your door and purchase your products/services.
When it comes to the online world, though, word-of-mouth referrals are generated mostly by influencers. After all, influencers are essentially micro-celebrities who’ve attained their micro-celebrity by being (1) in-the-know, and (2) trustworthy when it comes to their opinions on whatever niche topic they’re an influencer for.
It’s no surprise, then, local influencers represent a significant opportunity for local businesses. After all, their opinions and reviews hold sway with a targeted audience (i.e. target market), and what they say about your products and services can help to significantly expand your customer base. So knowing how to find, reach, and engage local influencers is something that should be part of every local marketers toolbox.
Step 1: Optimize Your Local Listings
Now, I know how excited you are to start reaching out to local influencers, show them how great your products/services are, and get them to endorse your business in one way or another. However, before you do that, you have to make sure that your own local footprint is in order.
After all, what would be the point of leveraging influencers if there’s nowhere (online) for them to channel all their ‘influence’ toward?
So the first thing you’ll want to do is optimize your local web presence. This means claiming and completing your Google My Business and Yelp profiles, as well as removing any duplicate listings. And if you’re dealing with multiple locations (possibly across multiple cities), tools like Yext and Vendasta can help you streamline and manage that entire process.
Step 2: Find Your Local Influencers
Once you go your own house(s) in order, it’s time to start reaching out to said local influencers. Of course, this begs the question(s):
- Just who are the local influencers (for your industry)?
- And how do you find them?
Well, the answer is simple: Start with Yelp.
Now, of course, your business will benefit from reaching influencers on other platforms, such as Instagram and Snapchat. But those those platforms are not specifically local like Yelp is.
For instance, Yelp has 26 million mobile app users, 73 million mobile web users (i.e. coming through via mobile search), and 84 million monthly desktop users. And these are all users who are actively looking for local products/services.
This, of course, begs the question: how do you find influencers on Yelp?
Well, for starters, Yelp gives their best users an “Elite” status. And you can search for Yelp Elite members on Google using the following query:
site:yelp.com/user_details "elite 2016" "[city-name]"
Just simply replace the "[city-name]" with the location of your business, and you’ll be presented with search results for Yelp Elite users (i.e. the most influential Yelpers) in your area.
And now, you’re faced with the challenge of actually contacting them. Well, that’s as simple as expanding on the Google query in the following ways:
site:yelp.com/user_details "elite 2016" "[city-name]" "my blog or website"
site:yelp.com/user_details "elite 2016" "[city-name]" twitter.com
This will generate search results with users who have included a website, blog, or Twitter profile, and you can then use those coordinates to reach out to them directly about (somehow) working together. And the great thing about Elite Yelpers is that reviewing local businesses is what they do. So if you invite them to try your products/services (perhaps for free ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ), they’re extremely likely to review your business on Yelp (and possibly Google Places, too).
Step 3: Involve the Influencers
So now that you know who your local influencers are, and you know how to get in touch with them, you gotta figure out what you’re going to say to them once you do. After all, it’s nice enough to turn that influencer into a one-time customer who (maybe) leaves a (hopefully positive) review, but doing so hardly capitalizes on the potential value that an influencer has to offer. Besides, all the leg work of tracking them down and reaching out to them is probably not worth a just single sale.
This is why you have to involve them. Not just knock on their (digital) door, shake their hand, and invite them over for a beer, or coffee, or pedicure. But actually involve them in a meaningful way where you can leverage their influence (and audience).
There are are a few ways of meaningfully engaging/involving local influencers, and each of them has to do with contributing to their community. In other words, by giving something to them and their audience, your business can enjoy some of the trust and influence they’ve built with their following.
1. Sponsor a Contest
Offering influencers merchandise or gift certificates for a contest or giveaway is one of the simplest ways to leverage influencers and their audience. First, it allows influencers to grow their audience because they have something to offer their followers. Secondly, it benefits their followers because, well, #freestuff ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. And finally, it benefits your business because (1) you get your products/services and brand not only in front of their existing audience, but the followers they gain as a result of the giveaways.
And contests can be run across a few platforms. A blog contest is great for generating an email list and producing backlinks that are great for SEO. A Facebook contest is good for increasing (both of) your Facebook audience(s) that you can continue to reach well after the content is over. And Instagram contests are perfect for generated user-generated-content (UGC) that tags both your business and the influencer.
The point is that by sponsoring contests in conjunction with influencers, you can create a win-win-win situation that benefits your business, the influencers in question, and their followers. You can also reap the benefits of email sign-ups, backlinks, or Facebook or Instagram followers that you can leverage in your future marketing efforts.
2. Host an Exclusive Event
Of course, there’s no better way to engage local influencers and to show them you care than to bring them together and do something special for them. This is hosting an exclusive event for a preselected number of influencers is a great way to (1) get to know them, (2) showcase your products/services, (3) build relationships, and (4) generate UGC around your brand and location.
And regardless of what kind of local business you have, there are no shortage of ways to do this. If you’re a cafe, restaurant, or bar, you can host a tasting. If you’re a nail salon, you can host a mani-pedi party. If you’re some kind of B2B service, you can host a workshop.
The point is that hosting an exclusive event is a way to get to know influencers, show them you care, promote your products/services to them, and generate UGC and any number of reviews. Just be sure to plan in advance, give them sufficient notice, and set a budget for the event to be sure to dazzle your guests.
3. Co-Sponsor a Yelp Event
Of course, hosting an ‘exclusive’ event is a lot of planning and work. There’s managing the guest list, organizing the space, and dealing with all the setup and teardown. All this can amount to a costly undertaking, and represent a significant distraction for any business that doesn’t have a sizeable and dedicated marketing team.
However, there is strength in numbers.
In many cities, Yelp has a team of community managers who regularly bring together several businesses to co-sponsor a single event for their Elite Yelpers. For example, an event might be hosted in a bar, catered by a separate restaurant or cafe, and feature entertainment from an additional local business.
So getting in on one of these events as a co-sponsor can be a great way to (1) engage with Elite Yelpers, while (2) mitigate much of the organization and costs, and (3) benefit from the considerable amount of UGC and reviews that come out of them. And all you have to do to get in on co-sponsoring one of these events is to setup or claim your Yelp profile, and then reach out to their marketing team and inquire into ways you might be able to work with their local community managers to participate.
Go Local or Go Home
As the old adage goes: it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. And local marketing is no exception.
Engaging and working with local influencers is a great way to tap into local audiences and leverage a degree of trust that would otherwise take months or years to accumulate. Of course, you still have to know how to find the right influencers, and you still have to be willing to give something back to them (and their followings). If you can manage that, however, your local business will be well on its way to building the kind of trust with a targeted community that should generate foot traffic (and ROI) for the foreseeable future.