How Many Bloggers Should I Contact?

Or, “Don’t measure influence by the pound.”

Every day when we talk to our clients about reaching their “online influencers”—those people who the members of their target market know and trust—we get two questions:

  1. How many should we contact? and
  2. How do you know who they are?

I’ll take the “how many” bit today.

First, it’s great to be in an industry where “the old days” were last year. In the old days, if a client wanted to reach 200,000 working moms in Tallahassee to promote a new product, we would determine the top 10 mommy bloggers/Tweeters/influencers/forums/groups in Tallahassee and put together a plan to reach those 10. Then the client would say, “10? I want to reach 100, (or 1,000 or 10,000).”

There were all sorts of theories we were all testing at the time- and one was around the number of influencers we needed to reach.

Don’t get me wrong, the number of influencers is just one of three factors that determine the success of a word of mouth marketing campaign (the other two being goals and message).

So in some cases, we’d reach out to 10 influencers. We’d read their blog/Tweets/web site thoroughly for months, we’d comment and retweet, we’d answer questions their readers asked, we’d connect with them on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. We’d do all of this before we would even mention a cleint’s new product or service. We’d get great results. Bloggers wrote great things, the message spread virally and by targeting 10 influencers, we’d reach hundreds of thousands of buyers, voters, donors, employees or whoever else was in our target.

In other cases we treated social media outreach more like a cross between direct mail and media pitching. We crafted what we believed to be an on-target message that clearly stated the value of a product or service, and then put it into a shotgun. The idea here went something like, “If reaching 10 influencers doubles site traffic, triples sales and lands 15 media pickups, then reaching 100 must get us 10 times the results.”

Okay, you know where this is going; we were wrong. There is no such thing as  an “on-target message” that works for 100 people. Even really bad bloggers get pitched a lot. Bloggers don’t subscribe to the same legal and ethical guidelines as reporters do. If you pitch a reporter poorly, she just won’t write about you, but hell hath no fury like a blogger who just got a bad pitch. The risk for a public relations nightmare is much bigger with online social media outreach than it is with traditional media relations.

One last note. You may be thinking… why not combine the two? Build great high-quality relationships with 100 bloggers instead of 10. Here’s what the math taught us. There is almost no efficiency gained in building these relationships. That is, it takes just as much work to build a relationship with your first blogger as your 100th. So in terms of time, resources and dollars, reaching 100 bloggers takes 10 times more than reaching 10. But, and here is where it gets interesting, for most targets, you aren’t reaching 10 times as many consumers, voters, donors or other members of your target market. That is, those top 10 influencers may connect to 90% of your target market. The top 50 may only get you 92% of your market. And the top 100 may only get you to 93%. The lesson? Find the best and most important influencers and build great relationships with them.

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