Forward-thinking B2B marketers are building relationships with influential members of the community, with the goal of providing more targeted and credible messaging to the potential buyers among their followers. When added to the marketing mix, influencers can help amplify a company’s marketing message and, in turn, reach a wider audience.
This is a natural extension of traditional marketing efforts, as B2B buyers are increasingly putting more credence in the opinions of influencers and colleagues. According to Demand Gen Report’s 2014 Content Preferences Survey, 72% of respondents turned to peers for relevant content when researching B2B purchasing decisions.
Influencers are not just for expanding a company’s reach; marketers tap into their influencers in order to help create meaningful engagement with their prospective buyers.
“This isn’t about marketing, this is about engagement,” said Jill Rowley, an influential member of the social selling and modern marketing industries, in an interview with Demand Gen Report. “Traditional marketing no longer works. You’re looking to gain trust, and the best way to do that is to engage with influencers in the circles that potential customers already like and trust.”
In order to stay atop of the constantly changing social media landscape, Rowley uses Little Bird to map out social media communities and find the key people at the center of each one.
The platform tracks any social conversations — with a deeper emphasis on Twitter — revolving around specific industries or trends. This is important for highlighting key discussion topics and members of the community, according to Rowley.
Rowley added: “You need to see where prospective customers already receive influence. Where’s the trust? You then use that information and content to create engagement and build relationships.”
Ultimately, platforms like Little Bird aim to relieve the stress of manually analyzing social media, allowing influencers and B2B marketers to spend more time engaging with one another and taking their relationships to the next level.
“Technology like Little Bird will help humans by machine handling tedious tasks like data filtering — and the humans take it the final mile,” said Marshall Kirkpatrick, Co-Founder and CEO of Little Bird, in an interview with Demand Gen Report. “They have the critical thinking that is needed to make the important decisions on who is the best influencer to connect with.”
Once automated solutions are more acceptable in social marketing, there will be an increase in marketers looking to create influencer campaigns with members of online communities, according to Kirkpatrick. “The industry hasn’t yet transitioned into fully accepting the appropriate technology for social marketing. There are opportunities to be proactive via social media in order to enhance relationships with the right communities.”
Many progressive B2B companies are beginning to see the value of influencer marketing, with nearly one third (65%) of B2B organizations currently have a digital influencer marketing program, according to a recent infographic from Marketo. Influencer marketing was also a widely discussed topic at this year’s SiriusDecisions Summit, where Polycom was honored for its influencer marketing program.
“B2B organizations need to create better alignment in order to make conversations and engagement consistent and thorough,” said Julie Ogilvie, Research Director at SiriusDecisions and presenter of the Influencer Program of the Year Awards at the Summit. “Companies are thinking about how to leverage influencers, and areas like content marketing are the major causes for this demand.”
Polycom’s marketing team created a program in which industry analysts were paired with groups of sales execs and subject matter experts to build relationships. The program eventually affected influencer reputation and company demand generation. Up to $60 million in added revenue can be attributed to the influencers who participated in the program.
“As a strategy, you’re promoting the growth of relationship and engagement,” said Lee Odden, CEO at TopRank Online Marketing. “That’s why having a long-term view on influencers focuses more on building relationships than short-term goals. This relationship helps to slowly build your own influence.”
How To Begin An Influencer Marketing Program
There are three steps that marketers should take when beginning an influencer marketing campaign, according to Odden:
Identify the influencers that show the most potential towards meeting your company’s goals;
Qualify each influencer based off their audience, content and social activity; and
Recruit influencers with highly personalized incentives.
Much like researching prospective buyers, selecting the right influencers for a campaign requires a lot of analysis and examination into your particular industry’s thought leaders. Following your prospective audience’s digital conversations — and analyzing who is creating the content or the topics of discussion — is a great start when looking for the right influencers for a specific campaign.
“Everyone thinks they need to get the biggest and the best influencers, but that’s not always the case,” said Geoff Nelson, Partner at Ivy Worldwide, in an interview with Demand Gen Report.“You want to gain several influencers who have relationships with your target audience. They may grow into A-list influencers, which is great, but the overall relationship is what’s the most valuable.”
While well-known industry thought leaders may have a large following, their actual influence on the audience’s buying decisions may be lackluster, according to Pierre-Loic Assayag, CEO of the influencer marketing platform Traackr.
Ultimately, a healthy mix of mainstream influencers and “up-and-comers” will provide a brand with the reach it desires, along with highest potential to have these influencers make an impact on prospective buyer’s decisions.
“It’s really important for marketers to understand that having a ubiquitous number of influencers is a fallacy,” Assayag said. “This is never the case in any influencer marketing program. Context is paramount, and you have to think about direct reach when interacting with potential influencers.”
Another award winner from the SiriusDecisions Summit was LinkedIn, which leveraged influencers to educate an audience of job recruiters who thought of the professional social network as more of a competitor than as a tool that they can leverage.
LinkedIn contracted the help of several influencers who could amplify their message from various different angles, allowing the company to reach each of their segments and maximize impact. The company saw a 424% increase in talent connections over the next three years, and 20% of last-touch content marketing bookings were driven by influencers.
The Difference Between Influencers And Advocates
Influencer marketing is oftentimes confused with advocate marketing due to how relatively new these strategies are to the B2B industry, according to Jim Williams, VP of Marketing at Influitive. The key difference is that influencers specialize in knowledge of an industry, while advocates specialize in knowledge of a specific company’s products or services.
“Advocates have a definite brand affinity,” said Williams. “While highly passionate, most advocates don’t have as wide a reach, but they speak with authority and expertise on a product and/or service.”
However, Williams noted that influencers and advocates both can be leveraged simultaneously to offer a personalized experience to prospective buyers, creating meaningful engagement whenever a prospective buyer is expecting it.
Much like qualifying leads, qualifying influencers relies heavily on the data that B2B marketers have on them. Primarily, this data focuses on the influencer’s activities within the community and how their followers respond and take action.
Some of these metrics, according to Odden, include:
The content they’re sharing, which can highlight other prospective influencers in the industry;
How often they’re publishing content and how the community is responding to the content; and
Comments and conversations created about the content, which helps provide context to what their audience is looking for.
Marketing automation has grown into a vital tool, aiding marketers in analyzing any and all data that may surpass the human eye. However, you can’t take out the human feel of buyer engagement, according to Odden. “Marketers need to manually inspect these influencers to qualify them and validate their pull in the industry, and the personalized engagement will help in the recruitment process.”
A healthy mix of automated and manual analysis throughout an influencer marketing program can help marketers begin to build relationships with these influencers and increase their potential to do business with them.
Manually reviewing influencer information also can reveal unique opportunities that can be leveraged during the recruitment process, according to Odden. “A particular influencer might be a pretty active advocate, participating fairly regularly in influencer content programs. Such an influencer might be open to a direct pitch to participate. Others may be more guarded and require some time to establish light contact, which advances to the presentation of an opportunity.”
When it has reached the stage where you have a solid list of prospective influencers, the recruitment process has to answer the one question that is at the top of influencers’ minds: What is in it for them? While it’s possible that influencers will expect a monetary incentive for their efforts, there are oftentimes larger incentives that affect the influencer’s overall presence in the community.
“Mutual incentive is the approach to co-op marketing,” Odden said. “Influencers need to see the mutual goal before they collaborate with an organization, and this incentive is often the chance to create more valuable relationships and engagement within a community.”
With the right influencer, marketers can obtain information that can be used in various stages of the buying cycle. Whether it’s aiding marketers in designing lead segments, or providing topics of conversation to generate the right engagement, the ultimate goal is that it helps the company create more than a transaction with a buyer — but a relationship.