By now most are familiar with influencer marketing. It’s a trend that came to prominence over the last few years and shows no sign of slowing down. To this point, influencer marketing is projected to be a $10 billion dollar industry by 2020. So what is this buzz-worthy strategy that’s become a fixture in digital marketing? In short, an influencer is someone with the audience reach, credibility, and aptitude for salesmanship to sell a product.

Influencers often ply their craft on social media platforms, and their followers and subscribers are their audience. By now we’ve all seen the young woman with the Instagram account who showcases new beauty products. Or there’s the guy with the unboxing videos on YouTube who reviews new tech gadgets. If they have enough eyes on them, then brands will happily pay them to influence their audience in favor of their product.

But that’s in the consumer-facing space. In the B2B sector the idea of influencer marketing is more nuanced. This is for the simple reason that the same sales tactics that appeal to your typical consumer often do not appeal to B2B buyers. The purchase path for B2B is longer, and those buyers are not looking to Youtube and Instagram personalities to hard-sell them on a new cyber-security framework, data-analytics solution, or industrial HVAC equipment.

Where are they looking? To start, they’re looking at companies on Twitter and LinkedIn. But they aren’t limiting themselves to social media; they’re also looking to industry experts, live events, and content like white papers, trade journals, and case studies. That means there are different subsets of influencer marketing, which include:

  • Social media influencer marketing

  • Content influencer marketing (sponsored content, videos, etc.)

  • Live-event influencer marketing

There are other subsets as well, such as competitions/giveaways, social media “takeovers,” and more. But for today’s purposes we’re going to focus on five of the most effective influencer marketing strategies for B2Bs and how marketers can leverage them to greater success.

Create influencer profiles

Any solid digital-marketing plan is going to involve creating buyer personas. This is how businesses can most effectively determine their target audience and then use that profile info to create the perfect ad campaign. It stands to reason, then, that if a company wants to know the identity of its audience, they should know the identity of the influencer appealing to that audience. Enter influencer profiles.

Before signing on with an influencer, create a detailed profile for each of your top candidates. This will naturally include basic info like the social media channels on which they are most active, the location in which they’re based, and their main post topics. Look at their common hashtags and what relationship they have to their best performing posts. Select the right influencers and you’ll be better primed to create effective marketing campaigns.

Take GE for example. With their #GEInstaWalk campaign they allowed influencers inside their R&D facility and they in turn broadcast their experience over social media. It was a fun and visual way to give GE’s target audience a peak behind the curtain and see the cutting-edge technology responsible for their products.

The result was that within the first 48 hours, GE’s influencer campaign generated 200 enthusiastic engagements, which made that hashtag a demonstrable success.

Focus on engagement, not followers

In this day and age it’s common for influencers to falsify their social media audience reach by purchasing fake followers and likes. Thankfully, this black-hat tactic isn’t as common in the B2B world for the simple reason that B2B influencers are typically known quantities within their sphere of influence, be they journalists, business heads, industry experts, etc. It’s easier to vet their authority.

Still, the relative ease in which anyone can game this system reveals the fallacy of focusing on social media followers as the sole metric of reach and success. Instead, any marketers should focus on audience engagement. Is your potential influencer engaged with their followers? Do they respond to questions and do they share followers’ comments?

The takeaway is that an engaged influencer with 1,000 social media followers will be more effective for you as a brand ambassador than an influencer with 40,000 followers who doesn’t take an active role in his or her social media presence.

Appeal to employees

You’re going to save a lot of time and avoid a lot of frustration if you first reach out to influencer who are already advocates as opposed to those who aren’t and whom you’ll thus have to sell on your company. Even better, you don’t even have to look outside your own house to find effective influencers. For many companies, employees fit this advocacy role perfectly.

Take multi-national consulting and financial-services company Deloitte, for example. Since 2013 they’ve been focusing on employee advocacy via an ambassador program. This system transforms company employees into brand advocates by allowing them to post company-approved content across their social media platforms.

The results speak for themselves. On average, companies who leverage their employees as content influencers see a number of benefits. These include:

  • 39% increase in brand awareness

  • 40% increase in engagement

  • 106% increase in the reach of social media ad campaigns

As for Deloitte, their investment in over 7,000 employee influencers has generated more than 700,000 clicks and 400 million impressions.

Align with influencers who share your core values

One crucial aspect of an effective influencer campaign is selecting an influencer who will maintain a united front with the core messaging of the brand in question. In short, choose an influencer who shares the core values of your business. Just as important is defining those values beyond narrow definitions of customer service and product quality.

To whit, younger generations of buyers are placing more of a premium on environmental and sustainability issues. According to stats, a whopping 88% of business students believe that environmental and social issues are integral to commerce today. But it’s not just the next generation; 90% of CEOs right now agree that sustainability is critical to success.

Brands who capitalize on this trend will find themselves at the vanguard of a movement. This is the very essence of thought leadership: taking bold positions on current issues and galvanizing an audience through marketing. It’s just what Deloitte did with their Global Impact Campaign.

By positioning themselves as a B2B company with a green mindset, they were able to pair with influencers who shared these values. Deloitte could then disseminate an on-brand message of sustainability and making a positive impact in the world. The result of this bold marketing plan was that the company generated over three million new followers on LinkedIn. Moreover, they were engaged followers, leaving comments on the page posts.

Many B2B brands will likely get cold feet at the thought of jumping into a realm such as environmental issues that they understandably feel is outside their purview. There are two main reasons B2Bs will likely be hesitant:

  • Fear of alienating potential customers

  • General perception that B2B buyers are only interested in products

These are reasonable considerations. However, over the last few years the lines between B2B and B2C companies are becoming ever more blurred. Nowadays the purchase paths for both are similar in that they typically begin with online searches. So if your B2B audience is now engaged on social media, then it only makes sense to appeal to their sensibilities by addressing the issues of the day.

Leverage live events for influencer marketing success

This is crucial in the B2B world, as you can really boost brand-awareness with a single great exhibit at a well-attended trade show. SAP, a developer of enterprise software for companies, understood this concept perfectly. For a long time, they’ve invested heavily in outside business consultants, authors, academics—anyone with the authority to influence B2B decision makers. They also utilize these influencers at live events.

SAP organizes an industry conference each year in Orlando. In 2016 they decided to broaden their reach by using 11 influencers with differing areas of expertise who would do interviews at the event and livestream it over social media. The gambit paid off, as the interviews reached about 80,000 people who couldn’t otherwise make it to the event.

Another boom was when SAP got an event hashtag trending on Twitter. As a final coup, they were able to repurpose the aforementioned interview footage later as blog posts, which boosted their content marketing. Pretty savvy.

Conclusion

So you’ve found your influencers and settled on a marketing plan. There’s just one more crucial thing to do: leave your influencers be. They know their audience and how to reach them; it’s why you chose them. If you force influencers to be overly promotional with content or strategy, their audience will smell the inauthenticity a mile away and your efforts will be all for naught. Give your influencers the creative freedom to execute the plan of attack, and you’ll enjoy runaway success in the form of higher returns on investment and a boost in brand awareness.

Ryan Gould – Vice President of Strategy and Marketing Services of Elevation Marketing

Ryan brings extensive experience with a wide range of B2B clients. He skillfully architects and manages the delivery of integrated marketing programs, and believes strongly in strategy, not just tactics, that effectively align sales and marketing teams within organizations. LinkedIn.

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