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How to reach out to influencers and thought leaders in your field

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 10/03/2016 Margaret Olatunbosun

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It is most writers, freelancers, coaches' dreams to be able to post pictures of themselves and their favorite entrepreneurs on Instagram. You want to brag about your friendships with popular people to your friends, family members...even your email list. You also want to enjoy the surge in profits and media interviews when they recommend you to their audience.
But you don't know how to connect with them.
This post will show you how to you can organically increase your visibility and reach out to the thought leaders in your field.
Step 1: Find your heroes online
The first question to ask you would be who your admirers are, your heroes, those you look up to as the Yoda in your chosen field.
Now follow them online. Stalk them...ethically, of course. Take a peak into their network. Weave yourself into their network.
Fortunately, this is relatively easy because most professionals now hang out on social media. Just a few weeks ago, I was able to reconnect with my Human Resources Management professor on LinkedIn and exchanged pleasantries.
Step 2: Hangout in their spaces
The next step to reaching out to influencers successfully is to hangout in their spaces.
Ask yourself questions like, "where do they regularly meet? Do they meet occasionally or regularly? Can I just pop in there and say hello? Is access restricted? and so on?"
This is part of ethical stalking so yes, you should know where their hangout spaces are...online and in person.
You can also attend professional conferences. You are not too young or too old to start attending conferences. One of my biggest breakthroughs came from attending a parent-teachers' meeting at my sister's high school--an event my mother forced me to attend.
Now, it wasn't really specific to my field of study but she knew the power of conferences, and sure enough, I met my mentor who introduced me to the world of tutoring. It was through my experience tutoring 9th graders that I came to the realization that coaching and mentoring is a calling worth answering.

Step 3: Connect with them regularly

Don't just stop at hanging out in their spaces. Interact with their audience. Connect with them. Compliment them or ask them questions. I can guarantee you that this would make them feel appreciated and inspire them to be of more relevance to you.
Now a few words of advice when you reach out initially

Don't say "Can I pick your brain, sir? This is seriously outdated and will deflate anyone listening to you. Ask for clarity, ask for marketing advice, ask for business advice, ask about graduate school options. But do not ask to just pick their brains.
Here's the thing: influencers are busy and generous enough to lend you precious time. The last thing you want to do is communicate that you don't know what you want to talk about. If you're picking their brains for a resume critique let them know that it is about resumes. Don't make them guess by being vague and don't make them send another email to draw out your questions!
If you are sending emails, keep your emails short and sweet. There is no need to send a story about your life, tears, struggles...especially with no paragraphs.
Think about your USP (Unique Selling Proposition)--what makes you unique, and communicate that in your emails. There is nothing wrong with selling yourself when you reach out to your thought leaders. However, when you reach out to them, think about what makes you unique and how you can serve this person.
So, how do YOU become attractive to thought leaders and influencers?

You become attractive by creating a compelling personal brand. I love talking about personal branding for a lot of reasons but the most important reason is because when you get this wrong, no number of ivy league degrees can save you.
You see the 3 steps above? Those steps to reaching out to influencers isn't branding. Those are strategies.
So what is branding? Branding is an emotional response to an action. Branding is how you are perceived by others, and it may or may not be influenced by those strategies. I do one-on-one coaching on how to brand yourself and position yourself as a leader but in this blog post I will provide you the simple formula to a compelling personal brand.
So what's the formula?

Authenticity + Selectivity = A compelling personal brand.
You might get the authenticity part but "selectivity?" Well, it means exactly that.
Selectivity means strategically shaping your reputation by managing your impressions. It means that your personal brand can be strengthen or weakened by impressions.
Do people need to know about your love for pink shoes? Maybe, maybe not. Do you really want others to know about last night? Maybe. Maybe not.
But YOU are responsible for shaping YOUR reputation. This is the key to whether you'll get a positive response from your favorite influencers or not. If you want people to perceive you as a caring and loving person, you need to package your skills, talents, and personality to show just that. If you want to be known as a serious executive at a tech start up, telling strange or sexist jokes will destroy your reputation. If you are an aggressive person, the way you package your skills, talents...and even your presence will tell.
So, selectivity comes through when you deliberately remove anything that can dilute or destroy your brand.
Now I have told you how to make yourself attractive to your favorite influencers and given you steps to connect with them.
How are you going to reach out to your favorite online personalities?

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