Image: Matthew Loffhagen
A few years ago, I found myself on the busy streets of Hong Kong on a hot weekend afternoon. The noise of the city drove me crazy – there was construction work, loud vehicles and huge crowds of people shouting across market stalls.
In the midst of this commotion one woman drew my attention. She was selling a product – I forget what, but I think it was some kind of kitchen appliance – and she was doing a fantastic job of making herself heard over the deafening background noise of the marketplace.
I’ve thought about this woman a lot since. It’s a real skill to be able to make your voice heard in an environment like that. While the online world is generally far quieter, it’s even busier than a Hong Kong market stall, and it’s far more difficult to make your voice be heard.
So, where possible, I prefer to rely on people who’ve already succeeded at creating a large audience.
Think about the number of commercial products that rely on celebrity endorsements. My bank sponsors sports stars, my iPod came with a free U2 album. My wife chose a new moisturizer for me simply because Hugh Laurie was advertising it.
Marketers refer to this phenomenon as ‘Influencer Marketing’: it’s the process of convincing people with a large following (influencers) to lend you their credibility. Your message goes out to a large audience, and because the messenger is somebody who people trust, they’re more likely to respond favorably.
One of the most popular video games of 2014 was Flappy Bird, a simple yet difficult game which was downloaded by millions of fans last year. The success of the game is mostly attributed to a popular YouTube gamer named Pewdiepie, who highlighted the game in a video. His review of the game (which, I must warn readers, is full of incredibly colorful language) has received over 28 million views, leading many to experience a game that they otherwise wouldn’t bother to play.
How to get influencer endorsements
But how can authors convince online influencers to share their books with a larger audience? While it may sound implausible, often all it takes is to ask. It doesn’t hurt at all to send an email, a tweet or a message to somebody you admire, asking for their help in spreading the word about your novel. In fact, in my experience, doing so is the single most effective way of growing an online audience.
Influencers aren’t just established celebrities – they include reviewers, bloggers and website editors. Around a year ago, I started messaging some of my work to big name bloggers who specialize in my work’s genre – several were very eager to help, and I’ve developed good friendships with a few, swapping not just advice on online marketing, but parenting advice as well.
Have a think about the big names online that could share your work with their followers. The best place to start is blogs and websites that you use yourself – if you’re a fan of these sites, there’s a good chance their other readers will like the same stories you do.
If you write steampunk stories, try sending some of your work to steampunk blogs or online groups (I’ve also seen some personal success with these communities). Reach out to as many people as you can, and not only will you see your work travel further, but you’ll also make new friends along the way.
Other authors are a fantastic place to start. Hugh Howey, author of the bestselling Wool series, is known online for his eagerness to use his internet fame to give other authors a chance at gaining a wider readership. Consider reaching out to your favorite authors online, and ask them for advice and marketing help.
It may seem rude or impolite to email strangers asking for help, but in my experience, most influencers are more than happy to talk to a fan, or a fellow creator who needs a little help in developing their following. If somebody asked you for help, you’d no doubt be happy to assist, and the large social influencers are no different.
That said, in reaching out, be sure to target the right audiences. Asking a blogger who specializes in gritty crime drama for help in promoting your fantasy comedy might not be the best fit, and you’re less likely to get help. But if you think an influencer will enjoy your work, feel free to give it a try – you have nothing to lose.
The internet is a society, and most people are generally friendly. Just be sure to pass on the love to other creators that you think could do with a helping hand!
Have you ever asked an online influencer for help? Has any of your work gone viral, and how did it happen? We’d really appreciate hearing your experiences in the comments section below.