How can marketers build trust with B2B influencers and buyers, and how can brands begin a pilot or expand an existing B2B influencer marketing program?
Luckily, our CEO Lee Odden spent time with Dr. Ai Addyson-Zhang as a guest on her Social Media Marketing Live Streaming Show, exploring the increasingly-popular use of influencer marketing among B2B organizations.
Together Lee and Ai came to a number of fascinating conclusions, and shared helpful take-aways for those looking to learn more about B2B influencer marketing.
Let’s jump right in with 10 insider tips to build trust with B2B influencers and buyers.
1 — The Foundations Of B2B Influencer Marketing
Influencer marketing is about the practice of activating people that are external to a brand, but also those internal to a brand who have active and engaged communities — people who are publishing and who have communities of people listening to them.
It’s important to collaborate and co-create content with influencers in a way that creates mutual value for the influencer and the brand in a way that is measurable — with a measurable outcome.
2 — Micro-Influencers & The Voice Of The Customer
Gone are the days of having to just go after true celebrities, inviting them to do something, and hoping for massive engagement — instead, influence has been democratized, Lee noted.
Everyone is influential at some level. We’re all empowered to connect with like-minded individuals to create our own communities, and people are paying attention to what we have to say.
We’re publishing fairly regularly, and we are creating influence, which really is something that one can view holistically in 2020.
Going for a little bit from a lot of different people — that’s the niche, the micro-influencer approach is increasingly more relevant as a way to create advocacy and co-create content in a way that’s really close to the voice of the customer.
It’s definitely not some pre-packaged thing that a brand made and just copied and pasted and gave to a celebrity and said, “Here, publish this.”
3 — The Nature Of Influence Is Changing And Evolving
TopRank Marketing did a study with data-driven influencer marketing platform Traackr and Brian Solis at Altimeter Group a couple of years ago, and at that time only some 11 percent of B2B brands were actively engaged in influencer marketing. Now that number is more likely somewhere around 50 percent.
One of the big changes in the last couple of years is the advent of the E.U.’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and in the U.S. the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), along with pending updates to FTC guidelines around influencers and working with them.
This means that brands really need to take compliance seriously, with disclosure and that sort of thing — it’s not something to mess around with or leave to chance. There’s got to be some level of governance, especially when you’re paying influencers.
There are clever brands like Adidas that have started to use dark social — social that can’t be tracked publicly — as a way to connect with influencers, using SMS and text messaging.
They’re creating things called Tango Squads (see “How Adidas is using WhatsApp as a direct marketing channel”) — clusters of youth that are advocates around soccer, and around the world they share things with them. It’s not public — it’s all through text messaging, or WhatsApp or similar apps.
That’s becoming more of a problem, as more brands are starting to understand that their audience isn’t necessarily engaging in the same way publicly as they might through private messaging, Lee noted.
4 — In Influencer Marketing Specificity Rises To The Top
If someone wants to know about this one thing, they know they can get all of it from the right influencer.
Today we have so many more options for engaging with people that already have influence. If you can find ways to create value for them, even if it’s just giving them relevant kudos, giving them feedback on something that they wrote about, giving them a reaction, or inviting them to contribute.
Ask a group of people just one question, and then create a round-up post.
If you can create value for people in a relevant way, you’re going to start to become more influential yourself. When you can help other people become influential — as you rise in your career as an influencer — if you help other people who are coming up in the world to become influential and give them exposure, that is even more powerful at creating influence for yourself.
Most of the time brands will have a fixed budget, and go “Look, this is how much money we have. Are you in or not?” However compensation comes in different forms.
5 — Identifying Influencers & Their Topic Of Influence
It’s important to identify your own topic of influence. What is it that you want to be influential about that your customers also care about?
You can use search engine optimization (SEO), customer relationship management (CRM), and social data to get an understanding of what it is that people are thinking about relevant to the brand and customer connection. That intersection of topics can then be used to go find the right influencers.
First it’s key to look at topical relevance. Next is resonance — the degree to which that topic resonates with their audience.
Once you’ve used data to identify a raw list of people that are candidates, you literally have to manually inspect their accounts to make sure that they are who they say they are, and that their publishing cadence is good, and not someone who hasn’t tweeted in two years, for example.
6 — What Are The Maturity Levels Of Influencer Marketing Programs?
It’s important to know where a company is in their maturity of working with influencers and influencer marketing, Lee urged.
There’s an argument to be made for beginning a pilot program. Get your feet wet in terms of understanding what it’s like to work with influencers, and collaborating with them.
Always-on influencer marketing doesn’t take as much effort as you might think, and it all starts with a strategy.
If you only have one interaction with an influencer and then you don’t ever see that person until the next time you need them, that leaves the influencer feeling very transactional, and not very special.
7 — Influencers Should Feel Special When Your Brand Works With Them
A lot of brands are transactional, and the result is one-off campaign situations, which arises because they failed to see the value of relationship building.
Relationships require care, and it’s important that you do some fundamental things to make them effective, but also in order to make it easy for you.
8 — Repurposing & Dripping B2B Influencer Micro-Content
What we like to do at TopRank Marketing is to leverage the power of repurposing, Lee noted. We plan to repurpose influencer content before we ever capture it. Then we structure influencer engagement and the topic distribution amongst a group of influencers in a way so that we can make it into micro content.
You can ask influencers 10 questions each, as an example, and then tag each of those contributions with keywords.
You can collaborate with influencers and create content such as an interactive micro-site, which is a specialty area for us. We use a lot of interactive content, ebooks, video series, and podcasts.
Some examples of interactive experiences we’ve created to inspire action in our client’s target audiences include:
- Adobe’s Reshaping the Customer Experience
- Cherwell Software’s Digital Transformation
- SAP’s How to Solve the Experience Economy Equation
- Prophix’ Adapt & Innovate
You can take that micro content and start dripping it out there for months after the original thing has launched.
Think of that micro content as ingredients in a recipe or seasoning. You can season blog posts with quotes you got four months ago. You can also season a newsletter, presentation or a contributed article to an industry publication with quotes or tips that you got months ago. These will then show up on the influencer’s radar, because they’ve all got monitoring going on for their own names. Influencers know what brands are talking about them.
9 — The Power Of Showing Influencers Love Between Campaigns
You can use these methods to programmatically show influencers some love in between your campaigns with them.
Find a way to communicate with them periodically to let them know what’s going on. It could be through a Slack channel, a Facebook group, a Twitter DM — whatever it is that works for your group of influencers.
- If they’re consultants, give them gigs
- If they are a potential book, author, turn them onto an acquisition editor
- If they are consultants, refer them to work
- Make this all part of a solid relationship
“Interactive content can augment your ability to move your audience down the purchase funnel, by engaging them more deeply, and guiding them on the path to the next answer they crave in their purchase journey,” Elizabeth Williams, TopRank Marketing account manager observed.
It’s also very important that you communicate expectations up front in terms of, “Here’s what, when, why and how,” and, “Here’s the knowledge you’re going to need,” and, “Here’s what we’re expecting from you,” Lee noted.
Give a potential influencer an example of what you’re looking for. Give them a timeline, and the format you expect. It’s about educating them about what it is that you actually want.
10 — If You Don’t Make It Easy — You’re Making It Hard.
If you’re not making it easy for your influencers, you’re making it hard. You can do things such as creating a graphic showing photos of all the people who contributed. That way the influencer can humbly say, “I’m so proud to be a part of these other esteemed professionals in this really cool asset that is going to benefit you. Please check it out.”
Especially in B2B, where you actually have to be an expert to be an influencer — you can’t just be good at making videos or tweeting or social messaging, as is often the case in B2C — in B2B you need to be an expert.
If you want the content to be better, go ahead and invite that scientist, that engineer, that educator, that or academic to share their perspective. When they do that, it’s going to lift the quality of your content and help make it great. A part of that greatness of course, does come through visibility, because even the best content in the world isn’t very good if no one sees it.
Third party voices add a lot of social proof and credibility to brand content. Companies need to allocate an equal amount to creation as they do to distribution.
Taking Your Own B2B Influencer Marketing To The Next Level
We hope the B2B influencer marketing issues we’ve explored here, taken from Lee and Ai’s interview, will help inspire and ultimately bring success to your own efforts, whether it’s your first such program or your 100th.
To learn more about B2B Influencer Marketing trends, best practices and predictions for the future, be sure to access the all new 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report http://download.influencermarketingreport.com which features insights from hundreds of marketers surveyed as well as expert analysis by the TopRank Marketing team and contributions from top B2B influencer marketing professionals from SAP, LinkedIn, AT&T Business, Adobe, Traackr, IBM, Dell, Cherwell Software, Monday.com and more.