The B2B digital marketing landscape has experienced big changes in recent years. Increased competition has led to increases in paid advertising costs and decreases in effectiveness in some categories. As a result, B2B companies have become more and more creative in the ways they connect with customers, leading to the rise of B2B influencer marketing as an increasingly popular tactic. In 2018, 39% of marketers plan on increasing their influencer marketing budgets.
Customers trust one another and popular industry figures more than they trust communication from brands. Turning those with significant social followings into advocates is often a cheaper and more effective alternative for B2B companies.
However, building your own B2B influencer strategy can present several hurdles to companies that have never stepped foot in this arena before. Often, it takes some time and testing before they can find consistent processes that produce positive results in influencer marketing.
While influencer marketing is most known for its B2C applications, it may be even more important for B2B organizations. In B2B markets, the average purchase size is much higher, and the impact of genuine recommendations and referrals is more significant. 91% of all B2B transactions are influenced in some way by word of mouth. To neglect social channels and influencer marketing is to leave a huge tool unused.
Let’s dive into the things you need to know—and actions you need to take—as you put together your B2B influencer strategy:
Understand it’s a Long-Term Strategy
Building a network of influencer advocates isn’t something that can happen overnight—and it shouldn’t. At its core, a relationship between a B2B influencer and a brand isn’t unlike any other B2B sales discussion. It takes time to build reliable relationships that can be a part of an ongoing strategy. Like typical B2B sales cycles, your engagements with influencers will need time to develop before the relationship begins to generate a return.
It’s important that companies view influencer marketing within the scope of relationships. While there are plenty of platforms that allow you to buy a post from an influencer, those solutions aren’t much better than paying for your typical PPC ad. Genuine relationships and the development of real advocates will pay off for years to come, so it’s important that organizations that want to take B2B influencer marketing seriously commit to the long haul.
Because B2B sales cycles can be so long, the impact of influencer advocacy can’t be accurately measured in the short-term. An influencer mentioning your brand might put you on a prospect’s radar, but that prospect may not be ready to buy for quite some time. Still, in those situations, it was still the weight of the influencer’s mention of your brand that facilitated the interest.
Developing a B2B influencer strategy with a short-term mindset might provide some results but not a solid foundation your brand can rely on moving forward. It’s best that companies work to build real relationships with industry influencers that will serve them for the foreseeable future—and not for the short-term benefits of a mention from a popular account.
Identify Current Influencer Advocates
When B2B brands first break into influencer marketing, they often start by looking outside of their existing networks for potential growth. While there will be time for that at a later date, you should begin by identifying your current advocates.
Influencers who are already fans of your brand or product will be much easier to develop a relationship with. They already have some knowledge of what your brand brings to the table and can speak on your solutions in a more nuanced way.
Examine your existing customers, fans, and business partners for opportunities to develop advocacy on a range of social media platforms. You may find that you already have some influencer targets that will be easier to build relationships with than starting from scratch with someone who has never heard of your brand.
Remember: influencers with large followings will approach every new attempt by brand representatives to interact with them with a certain amount of skepticism. They’re approached all the time by brands offering promotional deals. Those influencers have their own brand to protect and can’t waste their time developing disingenuous relationships and accepting every promotional payment that comes down their pipeline. It takes time to earn trust, and most brands would be better served by working with people who are already familiar with their brand.
Use Your Customers as a Resource
When companies put together their influencer marketing strategies, they often start by using tools to gather lists of accounts that speak about topics within their industry. While there’s nothing wrong with that and it does give you some insight into where recommendations are made in your industry, don’t overlook input from your customers as well.
Ask your customers who they’re following on social media. What kinds of brands and influencers do they regularly interact with? Who are they consistently listening to, reading, and watching through different media platforms?
You already know that your customers fit within your target market. The influencers that they interact with are likely to have other followers who would be good fits as well.
Look beyond Follower Numbers
The main metric that most companies use when they put together their list of influencer targets is total followers. There’s no doubt that reach is an important consideration when evaluating influencers you would like to develop relationships with, but it should be far from the only metric you look at.
Engagement is the more important metric, according to the 88% of influencers who use it as the primary measurement of campaign success. A small but engaged following can have just as a big of an impact on your business as a larger but less engaged one. Understanding the types of relationships that influencers have with their followers is critical for finding the right partners, particularly when payments are involved.
Source: Influencer Marketing Hub
Social isn’t the only way that an influencer can interact with their audience, either. Influencers include people who are speakers, authors, podcasters, and presenters in other forms of media as well. Not all influencers are active on social media or have a broad following on any of the popular platforms. Engagements with them will be different but can be just as fruitful as developing relationships with a social influencer. They probably receive fewer inquiries as well, which can give you a better chance of a positive outcome after approaching them.
Build Profiles for Influencer Targets
As you put together your B2B influencer strategy, information is your best friend. Put together detailed profiles for each influencer to better understand them and the audience they speak to. Look at it as if you were developing relationships with prospects for the first time—you’d want to know everything you can about them so you can speak about things that they care about.
A basic profile for your influencers should include things like the social channels that they use, engagement statistics, topics covered, hashtags used, locations, and information about their best performing social posts. The more you know, the better you can tailor and personalize your approach to each influencer.
Find Innovative Ways to Get on Their Radar
While cold outreach can result in positive outcomes when it comes to building relationships with influencers, they’re often overlooked due to the sheer volume of messages that influencers receive from brands. Only 24% of influencers accept more than 50% of the offers they receive. To gain the attention of the largest influencers in your industry, you’ll have to find creative ways to get on their radar.
Sometimes gaining an influencer’s attention can be as simple as mentioning them on your blog post, podcast, or other media and letting them know about it. But don’t be afraid to try something new. Send them direct mail. Give them a gift. Send them a personalized video. The more you’re able to stand out, the better chance you’ll have.
Educational Is Critical
When you first begin to work with an influencer, they probably won’t know a whole lot about your company. You have to spend time educating them about your company, product, and industry so they can speak to their following in an honest and direct way. Doing so is a win-win: You don’t want them getting important facts wrong about your business, and they want to make sure they’re delivering knowledge to their following that’s accurate and honest.
Unfortunately, most companies are so excited to bring a new influencer into their program that they overlook this step completely. Setting aside the time to educate influencers before beginning your partnership doesn’t just ensure that they’re able to speak accurately about your products—it also helps to strengthen your relationship.
The best influencers are passionate about your industry, and your partnership will help them deepen their understanding.
Find Opportunities to Collaborate on Content
Influencers are in the business of content creation—they can do more than give you a social media mention. Good influencers aren’t just there to parrot your message, and you should avoid those who do.
Co-creation with influencers garners opportunities that are mutually beneficial. By collaborating on joint content campaigns, you increase the visibility of their brand while creating content that benefits them as well. Teaming up for a blog post, podcast, or webinar is much more influential and persuasive than simply a Tweet that mentions your company.
Provide a few ideas for how your two brands could collaborate, but give the influencer the opportunity to pitch their ideas as well. After all, an influencer’s brand is unique to them. They might not want to get on board with a content initiative that your team puts together. If their audience is the main audience for whatever piece you decide to work on together, their input is the most important consideration. They know their audience. They know their brand. They know what kind of content offerings will work and what ones will fall flat. Co-creation should be a collaboration, not just a campaign that your marketing department designs.
B2B Influencer Strategy Relies on Relationships
Influencer marketing isn’t just another paid advertising channel. It’s about building genuine relationships with influential people in your industry, and building these relationships takes time. A well-rounded and forward thinking B2B influencer marketing strategy places the focus on building those relationships over the long-term, and not on short-term gains.
Like any B2B conversation, you’re more likely to find success when you know your targets and their audience well. Compiling a detailed profile on each influencer that you would like to work with can help you to approach them with personalized messaging that speaks to their biggest concerns.
As you build your B2B influencer strategy, find creative ways to capture the attention of the largest influencers in your industry, but don’t be afraid to build relationships with smaller influencers or look to influencers outside of common social media platforms.