When Influencer Outreach Crosses the Line – And How to Cross Back Over

Content Marketing


I love people.

No, really. I do.

I’ve dedicated a large chunk of my nearly 38 years on this planet to meeting people, networking, and generally getting to know other human beings.  Building relationships with anyone – influencer, co-worker, colleague, family member, friend, anyone – takes time. It takes meaningful interactions – not just a few tweets or Facebook posts here and there. Experiencing meaningful interactions is something I genuinely love, which has helped me connect with “influencers.”*

*I put the word “influencers” in quotes because I think it’s kind of a silly word. We all have influence, right? But “influencer” is a term most people can relate to, so…I use it!

Part of my role as Marketo’s digital marketing evangelist is to manage influencer relations. I’ve been able to leverage my connections in the industry to get key quotes and blurbs for our Definitive Guides. My business and personal relationship with Ann Handley has led to blog posts like this one. I recently asked some of my smart marketer friends to submit lead generation tips … and they did!

Suffice to say, this whole influencer outreach stuff has been working.

But while my job is to create “more Marketo content,” my passion is building real, face-to-face relationships with some of the smartest, most influential (and some of the nicest) people in the marketing space. I’m honored to call many of these folks friends.

Here’s the thing: once the line between an “influencer/outreach” relationship and an actual friendship gets blurry, my job gets both harder and easier. On one hand, my friends want to support me, so when I ask for guest blog posts, or Definitive Guide quotes, or video tips, or other content pieces, they’re more likely to say yes. But on the other hand…

Fear of Crossing the Line

Nobody wants to be a demanding, high-maintenance friend. At Marketo, we create a lot of content, and I’m always worried that my next “ask” will cross the line. Sometimes, after I hit the “send” button, I imagine this reaction: “Oh, great. DJ is asking me to help with yet ANOTHER project.”

Personal friendships mean more than any business relationship. Personal relationships can last a lifetime. Business relationships come and go.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned about relationships, it’s that if you aren’t sure, just ask. Recently, I found myself sending out three requests to my list of influencers in a single month. My gut feeling was that this was too many. So I swallowed my fear, and attached this note to my email:

And by the way, I know I’ve been sending you a bunch of “stuff” like this lately. I hope that’s okay. I’m doing my best to only send requests for things I think would be interesting/fun/easy for you. If you’d rather NOT get these sorts of emails, let me know. Trying to find that fine line. Ha!

It was hard to write – and even harder to hit “send”. To be honest, I wasn’t sure I wanted to know the answer.

Shortly after I sent the email, this response came back from one of the most influential marketers in the industry:

 What you’re sending out are lots of requests to have your friends act as marketing for Marketo. I’m not saying that to be angry or mean, but you’ve got to realize that a lot of asks in a row all to support a company with the onus being on us to be creative and with “exposure” being the reward ends up being a little wearing after a while.

We say yes because we like YOU and want to support YOU, but how many asks do you think before you get more silence than replies?

Completely and utterly wouldn’t write a word of this above if I didn’t like you. If I didn’t like you, you’d hear nothing.


My gut feeling was correct. The words stung.

I sat on the email for a few days before replying. I read it. Again. And again. And again. The email was direct, to the point, and absolutely true. It reminded me of the golden rule of marketing – and, in fact, the golden rule of life: BE HELPFUL.

I’d made a rookie marketing mistake. I wasn’t asking these influencers how I could be helpful. It was all me me me Marketo Marketo Marketo. I’d forgotten the importance of reciprocity. Luckily, it wasn’t too late to cross back over the line.

So What’s Next?

Over the next few days, I shared the email with my co-workers at Marketo (told you I was an open book!). We all agreed that I (and we) need to do a better job of constantly asking how Marketo can help. But we also hit upon a revelation: why not actually ask influencers if, how, and how often they wanted to hear from us. I know, crazy idea, right?

But that’s not all. We’re going to use marketing automation to take things up a notch. My plan is to email everyone on our Influencer Outreach list (yes, we have one) and ask not only if and how often they want us to communicate with them, but also what sort of requests they’d like to be considered for. Do they want to write guest posts? Do they want to contribute Definitive Guide quotes? How about poetry anthologies? Do they want to write a song?

None of the above? All of the above? You get the point.

Does this sound familiar? If you are an email marketer, it should. We’re essentially setting up a communication preferences center for our influencer outreach. This way, we can preserve the human side of our business relationships, without crossing the line.

As we move forward with this plan, I’m looking forward to not only seeing the results of this idea, but to sharing them with you.

And as always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on anything mentioned above. Please drop your comments below!