Influencer marketing – a useful tactic for b2b companies?

March 19th, 2018

Influencer marketing, as we all know, is about enlisting the aid of tech savvy individuals, who have built significant audiences on YouTube and Instagram, via their smart and engaging videos and recycled pop culture GIFs, to promote your brand.

Except of course there is a lot more to influencer marketing, not least in the fact that it is now becoming a strategy that is gaining more traction in the b2b world.

It is maybe because for some marketers b2b marketing has become ever more complex. Which are the best platforms to use? Is there a still a case for building audiences on Facebook when even before the algorithm change people seemed reluctant to share work-based posts? And what about emerging and niche platforms? Is it right to worry about Medium, Reddit and even Quora?

In common then with the b2c world, influencers, at first glance anyway, promise to make life simple. Get a person onside who knows, understands and regularly communicates with your audience and you can ensure that the superb content you have created is seen.

Except of course it’s not that simple, but a well thought out b2b influencer campaign can yield significant dividends for brands. It is a strategy that the likes of LinkedIn and Microsoft, as well as countless startups, have been using for a while. First of all let’s define terms. What exactly is a b2b influencer? My definition would be a person who has built up a defined and subject-driven network, invariably via social media, who is willing to work with brands to achieve measurable business objectives.

About a decade ago people used to describe these archetypes as mavens – leaders who are able to shape and colour a debate through their knowledge of, and experience of, a particular topic.

Why work with influencers?

So why would you want to work with them. The obvious answer is that they deliver instant credibility – they act as validation for your brand or the campaign have chosen to run. Most influencers, especially in b2b circles, have very carefully constructed audiences and can often be very choosy about the brands they work with. Making a wrong move can undermine their credibility and might lead them to being sidelined. So if they work with your brand it is a very real validation of your approach.

There are numerous ways that brands work with influencers. The most obvious one is via co-creation of content. This has been going on in PR circles for decades. Companies produce reports, surveys etc which they have worked on with an individual who has authority, often an academic.

Perhaps the best value for b2b marketers from influencers is in helping distribute big ticket content, similar to the the old PR tactics, but quotes, blog posts, video appearances are also significant opportunities.

Influencers can extend the reach of a brand, or more particularly the content that it creates, by giving a third party endorsement to it on social channels. They can also prove to be useful challenging a brand’s views and perceptions and helping to shape that content.

Increasingly too we are seeing influencers used at events. On a basic level this might be as an expert who is rolled out to give an industry-wide perspective on an issue that the brand is addressing. Invariably b2b’s brand relationships with influencers will encompass both offline and online activities. Sales journeys in the b2b world are often lengthy, and ongoing relationships with influencers can help to validate brands and work to keep them in the public domain, over extended periods. In theory nudging people and companies towards the dotted line.

Choosing an influencer

How then do you choose an influencer? Firstly roll back a little. The question has to be asked ‘are you sure that using an influencer is the right way to achieve your business objectives?’ Might it be better to explore other options, such as targeted, paid for social advertising on LinkedIn, Twitter etc.

If you do opt for an influencer programme the big mistake that most companies make is to deploy someone they know, or look for a person with a large number of followers on social media. There are many more sophisticated ways of gauging who is influential on topics, and you can explore these via a range of tools such as Brandwatch, Buzzsumo and Little Bird. It might sound obvious but look for a person who has credibility on a topic and not be blinded by number of followers.

Finally, as if with any b2b campaign, influencer marketing needs to be rooted in defined and measurable business objectives. What bangs for your bucks are you getting from your chosen influencer. Are they enabling you to hit your targets for new business acquisition, brand awareness or whatever it is that you aiming for?

If done well b2b influencer campaigns can be very powerful and help brands achieve their business objectives. More brands should consider exploring them.

Ashley Norris, Consultant Editor, The CMA

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