How do you develop a B2B influencer marketing program, and what are some of the latest influencer marketing trends for 2019 and beyond?
TopRank Marketing chief executive Lee Odden recently sat down with Rival IQ co-founder Seth Bridges for a new Data-Driven Marketers Webinar Series episode, to go over and explore some of the keys to building an authentic and successful B2B influencer marketing campaign.
We’ve gathered some of the highlights from Lee and Seth’s conversation here, to help you learn more about the power of influencer marketing.
How do you define influencer marketing, particularly when it comes to B2B brands?
B2B is very different than consumer influencer marketing, so in a B2B context I think of influencer marketing as the notion of identifying and activating individuals who:
- Are subject matter experts
- Have active networks
- People are paying attention to
- Have some degree of ability to create content
It’s about identifying and activating these people with active networks and co-creating or collaborating on content with them in a way that drives mutual value. This is really important in B2B especially, since a lot of B2B influencer marketing isn’t really about a pay-to-play sort of situation — some of it is — but there’s an awful lot of collaboration that can create value for the influencers, that they can tangentially monetize, so it’s very important from a B2B perspective to think about.
You’ve got to drive value for the brand as a result of this collaboration, but you also have to empathize with what value can we create for those influencers, and that’s how you’re going to attract the best people — those most capable of creating and promoting content to an audience that’s actually paying attention.
It depends on the size of the company, the size of the program, and those sorts of things, but one of the long-standing true benefits to collaborating with influencers is this ability to scale a quantity of quality content so it is a co-marketing sort of exercise.
There are different types of influencers of course. In B2B there are people who are subject matter experts and they have active networks, but they’re not very good at creating content. You work with them in a particular way that might be different than, let’s say a B2B influencer, who has not only created their own podcast with substantial subscribership, but also has partnered with other influencers that have podcasts, and you can literally start working with them as a network of tech podcasts, and editorially start to show up in their shows. That’s on the other end of the spectrum, where you’re actually working
with influencers in the same way you’d work with a media property.
I was thinking about this this Dell podcast series that I saw — Dell Luminaries — can you talk a little bit about that particular series and how that’s an example of them taking their networks and bringing them together.
There was this opportunity, this need to communicate in a credible way the unified message of this group of *Dell Technologies companies, and the strategy was to find some individuals who have both tech and business knowledge and expertise, and networks that could serve as hosts. Douglas Karr and Mark Schaefer are great at that — they’re very good at content creation in that format, and they also have the depth of experience and networks that are relevant to this kind of show and this type of episodic content.
Selecting them isn’t just about the fact that they can promote to their audiences, it’s about that they have the domain expertise to be credible individuals to research the questions and provide great experiences for the internal and external subject matter experts who they interview predominantly. I think they are focusing on interviewing people who are executives or individuals within the Dell Technologies ecosystem of SMEs.
What we should be going for with our influencer marketing is looking for the actual authentic subject matter expertise perspective — the expert perspective — as opposed to someone who has a megaphone who we’ve asked to say a thing.
There are opportunities to involve different types of influencers, so it’s interesting that you can work with a brandividual such as a really famous person — whose job is to be famous, and in B2B that’s a little less common than in B2C.
I think there’s an overall trend of consumerization of B2B influencer marketing. There are people who are coming out of consumer influence, or they have been students of consumer influencers and are borrowing those content creation tactics, engagement
approaches and so forth, and bringing it over into a B2B context, and I think one of the trends I’m seeing right now is video on *LinkedIn.
LinkedIn obviously allows individuals to post recorded video, and that’s seen an uptick, so you see people like Goldy Chan for example, who’s getting millions of views, posting videos every day about career advice and all kinds of business and work-related subjects. You’re attracted by her green hair but you stay for the content, and she’s engaging — she has a lot of opinions. Now that live-streaming is becoming increasingly available on LinkedIn, we’re seeing more and more people start to to take advantage of that, so we have this familiarity with the format of stories and ephemeral content on Instagram or Snapchat, now starting to find its way into a business context. Because it’s a format for information consumption that is familiar for people, and there’s no rule that says this can only be for cosmetics, or unboxing a tech gadget or something like that — it can be something that is business-focused.
You see episodic content with all these YouTubers in the consumer space, and as answer to your question and to bring it back, we’re seeing more of that episodic content in a B2B sense on video.
A lot of B2B organizations are wondering “who are we going to pick, and will they always be that person for us — what if they move to another company,” and so forth.
*SAP is doing something very interesting — they’ve created a program called Tech Unknown, and the person behind that is Ursula Ringam. She’s been at it a year now as Head of Global Influencer Marketing, and Tech Unknown is episodic sort of content in a certain way, but it’s also opportunistic. At the Sapphire conference there were influencers who were interviewing SAP executives as part of the Tech Unknown show, but at the same time there are planned interviews at a certain cadence that can happen also as part of the Tech Unknown narrative, or a library of content — it’s not tied to just one person.
Influencers are actually contributing as hosts in interviewing brand executives under this brand — or micro-brand if you will — for SAP, but at the same time Ursula herself might be a host who is interviewing people in the industry and it’s still part of the Tech Unknown program. There are different kinds and classes of influencer, that most people probably don’t think about when they think of influencer marketing.
One of the things that people ask about a lot is whether influencer marketing is going to continue to be hot, or is it important for everyone.
It’s not that influencer marketing is going to be a thing as big as content marketing, it’s that the role of influence itself is the thing to think about, and in one of the endeavors that we undertake with our clients — and advice that I like to
give — is this empathy for the buyer of our segment.
What are the influences for that buyer — so in terms of information discovery — who are they listening to from a thought leadership standpoint, who are their peers, what are the special interest groups, forums, and publications they are reading, and that also translates to things like the social conversations that are part of the channels where they spend time. What are they searching on, what ads resonate with them, and then painting a picture of those different types of influences around a particular customer segment.
You’ll be able to identify who are the most influential people around the topics of interest to you who are actually on your prospect list, and then invite them to collaborate on content together.
We’re recognizing the fact that you have actual evidence of authority on this topic — here’s a subject area opportunity for us to collaborate together to solve an industry problem, an information problem of value to all — and this gives you good exposure, and a “together we can make our world or industry a better place” kind of situation. As a function of that collaboration, they’re going to learn more about your company, about what you really like, and when you can operationalize that sort of thing in a meaningful way.
If you can do that programmatically — make the inclusion of prospects part of your influencer program — you are starting to create warmer relationships faster, and the net effects are things like shortened sales cycles, greater order volume, the inclusion of more influencers, and more prospects as buyers.
This co-investment — or this kind of co-creation of content — is an opportunity for both sides of the equation to get some value from the engagement.
One of the things that’s really driven our journey into creating more interesting content formats connects with that idea of “What can we make? What opportunities can we create for the influencers to be a part of?” — that really showcase them in their talents, that amplify them in the best possible light, and make a more impressive impression on the world. With a lot of the influencer content programs that we’re doing in B2B right now, our content includes interactive infographics, interactive eBooks, and we’ve even gone so far as to work with another business called SAP Ariba to create a virtual reality influencer experience. I don’t know of any other company that has created a virtual reality influencer content campaign, and it’s amazing.
How do you actually go about finding these people?
I think you’ve got to first understand what topic represents what it is that you want to be influential about — the topic that is in the mind of your customer, and the topic on the mountain that represents the solution that you’re providing. Ultimately, if you became more influential and relevant about this thing, you know it would move your program, your company in the right direction.
Once you identify those topics, you then need to find people who have influence around those topics, and depending on the situation, if you’re lucky enough to have access to a platform like Onalytica or on the low end, BuzzSumo — just using Twitter data and people who are blogging. There are also other platforms that crawl social data and organize it by topic in the form of search results, so if I want to find people on Twitter who are relevant for enterprise resource planning software, I find people who’ve identified that in their bio, who are tweeting about it and so forth, and that’s one way to find relevant people certainly.
If you’re lucky enough to have more of an enterprise platform, such as Traackr, they literally work like an influencer search engine, so you input your topics and there are the search results — the individuals. But it’s taking into account the topical relevance of what it is that you’re searching for, the reach, their network size, and most importantly the resonance of that topic among that community and that network. Then we can understand, “OK, I need to find people who are not only topically relevant for the idea that I want to be influential about, but I need to make sure that when they talk about that thing, their community will respond favorably to it, and that their community is used to them talking about that topic.”
I need data to help me know that this person is not just pontificating, but that they are also affecting change in thought and action among their community, and that they are relevant to that topic.
Then you have to manually inspect the content that they’re creating to make sure that they’re creating it at the right cadence, and that they’re not being crazy or weird or whatever other values aren’t aligned with your brand. Then you start to reach out say “Hey, I see you’ve done this kind of thing before. We’d like to invite you to work with us.”
Additionally, the low-hanging fruit is if you can use a social monitoring tool to identify individuals who are already talking about your brand in a favorable way, or in a helpful way that’s also relevant to the topic you have interest in. That’s probably the quickest way to find the the first group of influencers that you might want to invite to co-create something with — people who are talking in a either helpful way or in a favorable way about your brand, also in context with the topic that you want to be influential about.
You could literally go search Twitter and find that kind of thing, or any search engine that exists within a social platform, to find some people. You can talk to the front line salespeople, you can talk to customer service, or product marketing managers, or some executives, and try to brainstorm some names that way, and you can start — once you identify a couple of people who are legitimate influencers for you — asking them who they know who is similar. But to scale, you’ve definitely got to use software.
You can watch Lee’s full video webinar with Seth here:
You can also catch Lee on July 17 when he’ll be presenting a live Content Marketing Institute Webinar. Mark your calendar today, and look for time and more details as we get nearer to the event date.
In the meantime you can learn more from Lee and others on the TopRank Marketing team by connecting with our award-winning marketing blog.
* Dell, LinkedIn, and SAP are TopRank Marketing clients.