No doubt, your marketing department is working with “influencers” – the credible bloggers, online personalities and passionate enthusiasts who command powerful followings. Influencers typically have formal agreements with brands that require them to authentically promote your brand in exchange for compensation or co-promotion by you. Those of us in Analyst Relations have traditionally focused on industry analysts; now we’re starting to see the value of also investing in “influencer relations.”

Obviously, the people who have followers that would engage with your product or service are important people. To your customer, they may be even more important than analysts. Why? Customers understand that analysts offer third-party objectivity, but influencers offer a taste of how your product or service works in real life – invaluable data to a prospective customer. Likewise, influencers can bring nuanced customer data back to you.

Influencers engage conversations with their followers, present their experience with your brand and gauge how the market perceives and receives you. Building a relationship with them is key to maximizing the value they bring. So how do you go about building that relationship?

Start with your marketing team. Get in on the early stages of choosing influencers and make your goals for the relationship clear to marketing. If they are already engaging influencers, have the marketing contact person introduce you to the influencer. Just beware that the influencers marketing engages may not be the influencers that will be most valuable to you in the long-run, so you may want to do some research on your own to identify influencers.

Set expectations and boundaries. Influencers need to know your expectations for the value they can deliver. They don’t want to be dictated to, but they do need parameters and accountability. They also need to know how a relationship with you benefits them. Be open and heartfelt in communicating how partnering with you is a win-win, set expectations for transparency, and focus on getting to know the influencer as a person, not just for what they can offer you.

Build an on-going dialogue. Set regular times to check in with them, meet and discuss what they’re learning and what they’re working on in their careers.

Be continually valuable to them. How can you bring insight that will benefit them? Perhaps you have info on trends or can connect them to people who will help further their careers. Think creatively and ask them how you can be of most value, then deliver.

Give the influencer a voice on your team. Invite them to share their insights with your team or executives, create opportunities for them to be a valued voice – in front of your internal and external customers. Giving them exposure they wouldn’t get on their own is often more valuable than any other form of compensation.

Of course, like any relationship, it takes time and effort to build the connection and grow trust. Adding non-traditional influencers to your realm will create a more holistic image of the customer, your competitors and give you a greater basis to help guide your company’s future.