Social Media Case Studies, Influencer Outreach

How to Reach Audiences and Influencers Through Their Egos

badge-guest-post-FLATTERDig deep for the cause of the worst marketing and PR, and you’ll find a rich vein of ego. It comes in many forms. A creative director pushes a campaign she came up with, even though it’s far inferior to the three her colleagues suggested. A CEO is so happy with his own Klout score, he blasts out a press release. A company starts a blog to write exclusively about itself and how amazing its products are (this is unfortunately the most common kind of corporate blog).

Letting your ego guide your marketing and communications efforts is like giving yourself an achievement award. No one cares, and you look ridiculous.

But as I was researching my new book The Social Media Side Door: How to Bypass the Gatekeepers to Gain Greater Access and Influence, I had an epiphany: Ego itself is not the problem; it’s my ego that’s the problem. Before you write me off as some kind of weirdly honest egomaniac, hear me out—because your ego is part of that problem, too, if you work in marketing or PR.

Ego actually guides some of the best marketing out there. But the trick is to ignore your own ego and embrace the egos of your audience and external influencers.

Audience Ego

Studies show that one of the main drivers of content sharing is the ego. Two out of five sharing motivations in The New York Times’ Psychology of Sharing report are in service of the ego:

  1. To define ourselves to others and to receive social validation
  2. To achieve self-fulfillment and/or to get “credit” for sharing it

33Across found that science-related content was shared at a higher rate, but read at a lower rate than other content. They attributed this to the ego:

“…people like sharing content that identifies themselves with specific topics regardless of whether the recipients are actually interested in the topic. We call this type of behavior ego sharing.”

To reach your audience’s ego, create content that helps them positively define themselves to the world. For example, Converse managed to get thousands of people to share something carrying the Converse logo because they realized the ego benefit of sharing an animated GIF of oneself attending one of SXSW’s coolest shows far outweighed any reservations one might have about the Converse logo’s appearance on the image.

Converse Fader

LinkedIn tapped into our ego-driven tendency to brag by informing the top 1% and top 5% of users by number of profile views in 2012 that they were in this ostensibly exclusive club. They made it simple to share this non-news with one’s network by placing social buttons in their congratulatory emails, complete with pre-populated braggy messages. What LinkedIn conveniently left out of those emails was the fact LinkedIn’s user base at the time was about 200 million, meaning that the a user in the top 5% shared this distinction with 9,999,999 others, and a user in the top 1% shared this distinction with 1,999,999 others. I’ll admit here that I still don’t know what to think of this campaign, except that it was simultaneously brilliant, annoying, and wonderfully instructive.

Influencer Ego

Even the kindest, most genuine influencer you know of is constantly looking out for his or her interests. That doesn’t mean these influencers aren’t great people; it simply means they are people. Like all people, they pursue their own agendas, and like all people, they have egos. Don’t ignore this fact. Embrace it!

It seems counterintuitive, but often the best way to get on someone’s radar is to ask for something. What you ask for should be low effort, of potential value to both you and the influencer, and…

  • Makes him/her feel good
  • Helps him/her look good
  • Gives him/her more of something desirable (like publicity)

When approaching an influencer with a request, focus on how it will help him or her, and use language that compliments without resorting to flattery. For example, I always find out what an influencer is keen to promote at the time of the ask. If he or she has a new book out that fits the themes I discuss on my blog, I can ask for an interview about the book. If I’ve previously interviewed people I think he or she admires, I’ll make sure to drop those names in the outreach—not only does this boost my credibility, it taps into the influencer’s aspirational ego.

Blog comments feel good. Every time you leave a smart piece of feedback on an influencer’s post, you’re validating the thought and effort they put into the piece. Do it enough, and he or she will come to see you as a supporter and be more amenable to other avenues and levels of engagement. The same goes for small interactions on the social web, including shares, “applause” (Avinash Kaushik’s term for positive social signals like +1s, likes, favorites), and replies.

Almost any piece of content can be enriched by including quotes and ideas from relevant influencers. Not only do these external POVs add a refreshing serving of intellectual diversity, they help non-influencers “draft” off of the credibility of recognized experts. The bonus is in the added distribution muscle influencers can lend to your content when they share it because you’ve portrayed them in a positive, deferential light.

Embracing the Ego

The right kind of ego-driven marketing doesn’t seem tacky, cynical, or crass. If anything, it seems more approachably human than marketing that seeks to ignore or bury such a universal and fundamental drive. As a means of access to audiences and influencers, the ego-driven is tops. Just remember whose ego you’re working with.

Editor’s Note: As a bonus, we’ve included an infographic on how to reach journalists using a targeted approach and a free excerpt from The Social Side door from Ian Greenleigh. You can download the excerpt here:

You Are a Source

Facebook Comments


  1. says

    Hi Ian,

    At times people forget that influencers are people.

    Only the enlightened get beyond the point of not caring if people pat them on the back.

    Leaving comments on blogs or helping influencers out in any way possible causes these people to take notice.

    Think about anybody’s career; we all like to be helped and tend to remember people who help us.

    Whether we have 14 followers or 1.4 million, we live when people help us.

    Good tips!

    • says

      Spot on, Ryan. Anyone can find ways to help anyone else. Social media helps us break up the boundaries that used to prevent us from doing so, and that’s a truly beautiful thing!

  2. says

    Interesting article. I’m going to leave a comment here to boost your ego now. 😉

    I think we’re all really driven by ego – especially due to social media. As much as I pay attention to the effect of ego, I still watch my Twitter follower count. Every time someone invites me to connect on LinkedIn, I feel validated that I’m making an impact and strangers are taking notice – when really they are probably just trying to grow their OWN network to boost their OWN ego.

    When producing content, I’m definitely going to think more about the egotistical reasons behind why someone would share or comment though. I think likes and shares can be driven by a number of reasons, but when it falls under this category it seems even more likely to receive engagement.

    • says

      First off, thanks for your honesty. Yes, we do care at least a little bit about metrics we know are kind of silly, like follower counts and other “ego metrics.” It’s perfectly OK to simultaneously 1) pay attention to that stuff, 2) feel good when the numbers go up, and 3) know that those numbers have very little significance day to day. They are proxies and clues.

      This piece (and lots more in my book) is part of an effort to reconcile the imperative we hear all the time for companies to be more “human” with the fact that humans have motivations and behaviors that we don’t like to talk about. We need to talk about this stuff to define the boundaries and to find ways to connect on human levels with audiences.

      • says

        Interesting insight on brands becoming more human. I think it’s absolutely true that when a brand portrays a less desirable human characteristic, we are quick to point fingers. However, when a brand admits fault, most are quick to forgive. That’s connection on a human level, in my opinion.

  3. Jake Parent says

    A lot of people think it’s weird to play to people’s egos. But there’s nothing wrong with wanting to make people feel good about themselves-as long as it comes from a place of sincerity.

    In fact, that’s what building a community is all about!


  4. says

    A CEO is so happy with his own Klout score, he blasts out a press release.
    *crawls into corner*
    *curls into fetal position*
    *cries self to sleep*
    That is the most pathetic thing ever. Ever.

  5. Russ_Somers says

    Good post, Ian. l don’t know why the myth that people were “taken in” by the LinkedIn campaign exists. Everyone knows that 5% is one out of twenty and 1% is one out of 100. Not everyone knew the user base size. But if they thought it was small enough that top 5% or top 1% were rare and exotic birds, they would see little networking value in joining, so they would not be LinkedIn members. No one can credibly claim to feel surprised or duped. So what happened?

    My belief: they thought the notice was cool and sent the braggy tweet (as I did). Their friends mocked them for it (as mine did…there was quite a bit of backlash against perceived elitism). To cover their embarrassment, they said “I can’t believe I fell for that!” and blamed LinkedIn for deceiving them, even though they cannot claim to have been deceived.

    Not me, though. I responded by creating a “One Percenters Only” LinkedIn group and mocking the people who weren’t in it. Join us, Ian…I am sure you qualify.

  6. Scottie Leonard says

    Hey Ian, I really like your article. It’s unique and moreover must read article for any business people or normal people. Everyone should know the perspective of their ego whether it’s beneficial or not.

  7. JimYoungPRBrigade says

    So true, Ian. You’ve hit this spot on – people share content because of what it says about them. They want to be funny, intelligent, the first to know, etc… and they share the content that makes them look like that. Thanks for the article.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *