You’ve built a great product and an authentic brand around it to match. You’ve started to see brand advocates give unsolicited testimonials, and creating content that reinforces your brand’s positioning.

Good job! But how will you keep this momentum going? It takes time and attention to nurture these budding influencer relationships and maintain them over time. And it’s over time that these relationships will pay off. That’s why finding creative and valuable ways to recognize your brand’s influencers essential.

Thank Them

It seems obvious that the easiest, most cost-effective thank you would be simply to acknowledge and thank your brand influencers for their mentions. But many brands don’t seem to notice—or care—about these mentions. This lack of acknowledgment is a HUGE missed opportunity.

When someone is a big enough fan of your brand to spend their time, for free, to create content that mentions you, you need to make it a priority to reply to them! This acknowledgment can be as simple as a comment on a blog post, or a social reply when they share the content. To make sure you’re on top of mentions, you can use a social listening platform.

Share Their Content

Again, this seems like a no-brainer, but not many brands share influencer-created content unless it’s sponsored by—or exclusively about—the brand. Influencers can be an excellent source of relevant and engaging content that’s relevant to your audience. By sharing their content, not only are you helping them increase their audience, you’re showing that you’re tuned-in to YOUR audience and their content interests as well.

Give Them an Insider’s View

Wouldn’t you jump at the chance to get an inside look at what it’s like to work and play inside your favorite brand’s workplace? While it’s not practical to invite all your brand influencers to shadow staff, what about hosting an exclusive happy hour or open house that allows them to mingle with your employees?

In addition to making them feel like an extended part of your brand family, it’s entirely likely they’ll create content about their experience. This sort of behind-the-scenes content can be incredibly valuable to employer branding efforts.

Make Them Brand VIPs

Do you have a customer advisory board? If the influencer is a regular product user, they may be a good candidate to round out your group. However, be conscious of the reality that customer advisory groups often have competing organizational demands for their attention. In that case, creating a formal external brand ambassador program might be a better way to give influencers VIP status and recognition.

For example, I’ve been invited to a number of brand advocacy communities over the years that have used Influitive to create targeted opportunities to involve brand advocates in promoting brand activities. Sprout Social has gone in a slightly different direction. They’ve created an exclusive Sprout All Star program (which I’m part of).

As a Sprout All Star, I have access to a private Slack group where I can network and collaborate with other All Stars, keep apprised of the latest product changes, and have a direct line for feedback or questions. All Stars also have an opportunity to work with Sprout on co-created content, and frequently have their content shared with and elevated by the community. The All Star program is an exemplary example of recognizing influencers and providing them with something valuable in return for their ongoing support.

Ask Their Opinion

When someone is a passionate brand fan, chances are, despite that love, they still have many ideas about areas of improvement for your product and services. So get them involved! Involve them in your BETA testing and give them sneak peeks of or early access to new products. It can feel incredibly rewarding to see your suggestions make it into everyday use of a product you love.

Help Influencers Build Their Business

If you’re struggling to identify the best way to recognize an influence for their brand advocacy, there is one guaranteed tactic you can use: ask them what you can do to help them grow their career or business.

Their replies could be anything from an introduction to potential clients, giving them access to an influencer they are looking to build a relationship with, or even 1-on-1 time with a key executive in your organization for an hour to help them think through a vexing business issue. You may not be able to accommodate all the requests from each of your brand’s influencers, but it’s very likely these conversations will give you some insights into your influencer community-at-large that you can apply more broadly.

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Although the term thought leader has become a bit cliched, becoming a trusted and respected industry expert is at the top of many influencers professional development list. How can you help them achieve that? You can provide them with speaking opportunities at your annual conference or regional networking events, or even co-present with them at an industry conference.

If public speaking isn’t their thing, you can make a point of featuring your influencers in your content, and put a budget behind promoting that content, including mentions of that influencer.

Influencer recognition needs to reflect both your company’s unique culture and the depth and value of the influencer relationship. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to influencer recognition. Try out a mix of these approaches, then ask influencers for feedback, and see if these tactics have the desired result. And don’t forget the power an unexpected handwritten note accompanied by a piece of branded swag or another thoughtful token gift can have on making an influencer’s day.

To learn more about creating and building on your relationships with influencers, download Erika Heald’s on-demand webinar and read her recent Content Chat Recap about building an audience with influencer content.

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This post was originally published on this site on November 3, 2016. We republish relevant content on Saturdays, in case readers missed them the first time around.