Last week, at a seminar, someone asked me, “If you could give me only one piece of advice about social media marketing, what would it be?” My answer was, “Be generous. Give, give and give some more. A lot of doors will open for you if you do this.”
In this post, I’ll share with you some of the most powerful social media optimization tactics I’ve ever used.
Step 1: Make a List of the Most Influential People in Your Industry
These are the people you want to reach. They have access to tens of thousands of followers and they can help you a lot if they want. To find these people I do basically three things:

  • Search for blogs in your industry, analyze a few hundred of them and keep the ones with the most valuable (and largest) audiences.
  • Buy a few industry-specific magazines, make a list of the journalists you like and find them online.
  • Listen to your audience on forums and Twitter and pay attention to whom they talk about.

Step 2: Learn More About these People
I highly recommend using a customer relationship management (CRM) software so you can keep notes of the people you want to network with. I use InfusionSoft ($199/month) but you can use a more inexpensive tool, such as HighRise ($29/month), which I happen to like a lot as well.

Do some research about the people you want to connect with. Follow them on Twitter and subscribe to their blogs. For the first couple of weeks, just learn about them and write a lot of notes in your CRM. Your goal is to learn about them and FIND WAYS YOU CAN HELP THEM.
Once you feel you know enough about them, send them a personalized request to connect on Facebook and LinkedIn. Make sure you tell them how much you admire them and be very specific as of why you look up to them (you can mention a blog post you really liked or the fact that they do such great videos).
Step 3: Keep Your Information Organized
It’s important that you get yourself organized in order to follow up with your contact effectively. You need to separate these industry influencers from the rest of your contacts on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and your RSS reader.

  • On Twitter, you can create a list and put all the influencers of your industry on that list.
  • If you use a Twitter client, such as TweetDeck or HootSuite, you can create a column and put all the industry influencers in that column. I find this easier than doing it directly from Twitter.
  • On Facebook you can put all your industry influencers on a list.
  • On LinkedIn you can apply tags to your contacts and then filter them by a given tag.
  • I don’t know what RSS reader you use; I use iGoogle. Most RSS readers allow you to organize the RSS feeds you subscribe to in folders or tabs.

When you’re done with this process you will have a list of your industry influencers on Twitter, another list on Facebook, another one on LinkedIn and a tab/folder in your RSS reader with all their blog posts. This will make it very easy for you to keep track of them. Your CRM software will prove to be an indispensable tool when you follow more than five influencers in your industry. You should follow at least 20.
Step 4: Help Them
This is the most critical step of the process. You’re going to be helping the influencers. These are some ways you can do it:

  • Subscribe to several blogs in their industries. When you come across cool resources (articles, videos, interviews, tools, etc.), send them to the influencers. Don’t send them your content even if it’s relevant and useful (this will look self-serving). Send other people’s content instead.
  • Answer their questions. If they tweet “what’s a good shoe store in Manhattan?” research the answer and send it to them. You can even help them when they don’t ask any questions. For example, if the post to Facebook “my daughter has a headache”, send an article on how to get rid of headaches. So many people approach these influencers asking for something that if you approach them offering them something, they’ll pay a lot more attention. Again: you’re not expecting anything in exchange; you’re just helping others and building goodwill.
  • Use SocialMention to track what people are saying about them, their companies and their products. Every time they get featured somewhere, congratulate them. Every time someone says something bad about them on a blog, comment back saying good things about that person and then let the person know so they can keep track of it.
  • Use SocialMention to track their competitors. You can send your industry influencers information on what their competitors are up to and give them ideas to improve their businesses.
  • Use a tool to detect broken links and run it on your influencers’ sites every now and then. Let them know every time you find a broken link. Nobody likes having broken stuff on their sites, so people will really appreciate it if you let them know when something on their sites is broken.

Step 5: Reap the Rewards
If you were expecting me to get to the part where you ask the influencers to do something for you in return, it’s not going to happen. You don’t want to break the trust you’ve been building by asking for a “favor in return.” This shows that your intentions weren’t altruistic and that you were just being manipulative.
In my experience, if you help people for long enough, 1/3 of them will find ways to help you right away, 1/3 might eventually help you and 1/3 won’t ever do anything for you. Overall, it’ll pay off big time, but it’s important that you really understand that this isn’t about helping yourself; it’s about helping others. If you’re not OK with it, you shouldn’t do this at all. Every time you help someone, you make the world a better place. In my opinion, this is what social media is all about.