How would you define an influencer? More people are asking this question than you might think. Is influence self proclaimed? Is it earned or assigned by others? Is it permanent or variable? Is being popular really the same thing as being influential?
Expectations drive meaning. Consumer brands often expect influencers to play a part as a charismatic personality and content creator capable of also being a product or service evangelist. B2B brands often think of influencers as individuals with deep domain expertise who can provide analyst level insight and thought leadership or heavily respected opinions about solutions in the industry.
In a general sense, I think a relevant description of “influencer” is a person with subject matter expertise that creates useful information consumed by an active, relevant network.
An influencer is a person with subject matter expertise that creates useful information consumed by an active, relevant network.
Everyone has some degree of influence including employees, customers, partners, members of the media, academics, celebrities, industry leaders and even prospective customers. The trick is identifying, qualifying and engaging the right influencers for the right type of content, audience and outcome.
As for the value of influencers in B2B marketing, I like to think about it from the buyer point of view.
Self directed B2B buyers pull themselves through the buying journey with content. Those same buyers trust content from peers and experts more than content from brands. Collaborating with influencers opens doors for brands to connect their value messaging to an audience that is actually interested.
From the B2B brand perspective, Influencer content collaboration can help B2B marketers create more quality content about topics that actually represent the interests of the target audience.
Imagine if a small B2B brand marketing department had a VIP group of 20 relevant and engaged influencers to help them create content? That would add both content creation and distribution resources to the mix since most influencers will promote content they help to make to their own communities.
True influencers don’t work for free. Whether you compensate influencers with money or a combination of exposure, access to people or resources and boosted credibility, there is a value exchange happening. Those who see influencer engagement as transactional are missing out on what’s most valuable about working with B2B influencers: relationships.
Creating long-term relationships with influencers sets the stage for some of the most valuable outcomes a brand can hope for, especially loyal brand evangelists.
There are a finite number of the most effective influencers and therefore competition for their loyalty is high. Long term relationships create an opportunity for the influencer to align with the brand, truly understand the solutions and become a loyal advocate. At the same time, it takes time for up and coming influencers to reach a tier one level.
Brands that nurture those niche influencers in a mutually valuable relationship will earn their loyalty which can be very powerful against competitors who wish to recruit them away.
Short sighted marketers engage influencers to boost social media KPIs that don’t actually impact business goals. The truth about working with B2B influencers is that relevant influencers can create value for B2B marketers across the entire customer lifecycle. For example:
Attract — Influencers can promote brand or co-created content to highly relevant and targeted audiences that ignore B2B brand messages and advertising.
Engage — Many influencers have media creation skills that can produce more engaging content that buyers actually want to see and consume.
Convert — Trusted experts connected to your brand can inspire more confidence amongst buyers considering a purchase.
Retain — Influential employees or industry experts can create useful, trusted content that creates value for existing customers, reinforcing retention.
Advocate — Influential customers used in case studies can contribute to advocacy of the brand in ways that are more trusted than unknown customer brands.
The time to engage influencers is not when you need them. Many companies think about working with influencers in the same way they view ad buys, so they don’t think about engaging until late in the development of a campaign. Bringing influencers into a marketing strategy early on creates many more opportunities.
Influencers who have deep industry and domain expertise can share insights about content discovery, format and engagement preferences of the buying audience that can be very helpful when creating a content plan.
Also, influencer selection should be a strategic decision, not an afterthought. Choosing influencers after content has already been created in the hopes that they will promote is one of the biggest mistakes B2B brands make. There’s no motivation for the influencer to share, even if they are paid.
In contrast, when B2B brands involve relevant influencers in the program from the start, they will often be more inspired in the contributions and the promotion of the final product.
B2B Influencer Marketing programs come in all flavors, so here are seven examples of engagements we’ve worked on at TopRank Marketing.
Oracle Marketing Cloud boosted visibility of their Tales of the Customer Experienceebook by included 20 stories and solutions from marketing industry experts. In part because of influencers sharing the ebook on social networks, the average views exceeded all previous ebooks by over 2,000.
SAP engaged 32 industry influencers in an interactive microsite highlighting digital innovation expertise. 100% of the influencers shared the asset and the site has had over 21 million organic impressions.
Cherwell Software engaged a group of influencers in an integrated, award-winning campaign involving an ebook, blog posts, social content and email resulting in substantial increases in views, engagement and 22% of all sales pipeline revenue for the entire year.
Prophix wanted to find a more innovative and engaging way to present the findings of their Financial Planning and Accounting research. A group of FP&A influencers were engaged to provide insights that were used to create a quiz on an interactive microsite using a “Candy Crush” inspired theme, something not common to the Finance industry. The microsite attracted 600% more views than any previous marketing asset and accounted for 4% of all website traffic.
DivvyHQ engaged specialized influencers for each campaign in a series of 5 that included an industry survey, an ebook on content strategy, a series of videos on content planning, an ebook on content measurement and an interactive microsite on content marketing industry best practices. The overall program exceeded all visibility KPI and lead generation goals.
Dell Technologies wanted to drive engagement and brand recognition at the Dell Technologies World conference. In total, 33 influencers were activated and attended the event including Tamara McCleary who’s Facebook Live interview with Zak Brown, the CEO of McLaren, became one of the best performing organic social posts for Dell with 196 engagements and nearly 9,000 views.
Content Marketing Institute realize the influence of their speakers at the Content Marketing World conference present an incredible opportunity to create mutual value for attendees and speakers alike through pre-conference content. Over the past 7 years, CMI has engaged various speakers to collaborate on preview ebooks that follow each year’s conference theme to promote individual presentations and the overall conference. The most recent campaign in 2018 included an ebook with a retro video game theme and a series of 5 promotional videos featuring influencers as 8-bit video game characters.
Are B2C and B2B Influencer Marketing really that different? In partnership with Traackr and Altimeter Group, TopRank Marketing released the Influence 2.0 study with some surprising insights about influencer marketing for B2B vs. B2C.
Most notably, B2B marketers are very much behind their B2C counterparts when it comes to influencer marketing. 48% of B2C marketers run ongoing influencer marketing programs, a sign of maturity in the practice. Only 11% of B2B marketers were running ongoing programs.
Since that report came out, I think there’s been a flood of B2B influencer marketing programs but it’s still early days.
Where do we go from here?
The future of influencer marketing for business to business is evolving fast. And in the way consumer experiences are creating expectations for business applications, more B2B influencers are coming on board to “play the game”.
What’s important for B2B brands to understand is to be true to business goals when engaging influencers and not to get too intoxicated by the superficial social promises made in the spirit of B2C influencer engagements. Yes, more B2B influencers are charismatic content creators with active networks, but there are more types of influencers to consider when it comes to creating impact across the entire customer lifecycle.
I would encourage B2B marketers to think holistically about the role of influencers as marketing partners and the intersection between influence and other disciplines including SEO, social media marketing, content marketing and online advertising. An integrated approach delivers “best answer” content to customers who trust experts, are engaged by their insights and make decisions based on their recommendations.
This article originally appeared on LinkedIn.