Influencer marketing creates real value for B2B brands—if it’s done right. According to recent research, 78% of marketers credit influencers for increased social reach, while 64% say they help increase the credibility of brand content, and 62% believe they help increase share of voice.
Not surprisingly then, 90% of B2B marketers expect their influencer marketing budgets to hold steady or increase in the coming year. If you’re managing or conducting B2B influencer marketing efforts, how can you make sure that money is well spent?
This presentation from Twin Cities Startup Week starts with clarification of how B2B influencer marketing works (and how it differs from the B2C type), ends with a case study, and in between details a dozen key do’s and don’ts for achieving success.
(The first minute of the video is a little dodgy due to issues with the Hopin virtual event platform. Shindig is a much better alternative.)
What is B2B Influencer Marketing?
There are four key aspects to keep in mind.
First, influencer marketing is about developing long-term relationships. It’s not about one-off transactions or one-time campaigns. In fact, according to recent research from TopRank Marketing, 60% of marketers who manage influencer marketing as an ongoing program say they are highly successful with it, versus just 5% of marketers who treat it as a one off.
In other words, if you view this as an ongoing part of marketing, you’re 12 times as likely to be successful with it.
Second, it’s mutually beneficial. If you’ve ever been in a personal relationship, whether a friendship or romantic relationship where one person was self-centered and made everything “about them,” you know those relationships aren’t any fun. They are unstable. And they don’t last. So figuring out how to benefit both parties is vital.
Third, it’s about connecting with key influencers in your specific industry segment. That group is different for every vertical market. So, doing research to find the most relevant and engaging influencers in your market is a critical part of the process.
Finally, keep in mind the primary goal of influencer marketing is expanding brand awareness, followed closely by establishing brand credibility or a positive image. Certainly, you can generate leads from this, and you should measure those of course; just don’t make lead gen the primary metric for success.
For the influencers, the goals are similar: they want to expand and enhance their personal brand so they get more readers, speaking gigs, and accolades. They enjoy working with big companies because of the credibility that confers.
But, they also like working with startups, because they want to be seen as on the cutting edge. They want to talk about innovation, about what’s new, and that is the value startups bring to them as influencers.
B2B vs. B2C Influencer Marketing
As with marketing in general, there are some similarities and several key differences between B2B and B2C influencer marketing.
B2B influencer marketing is not this. Now, there are some similarities between B2B and B2C influencer marketing. In both cases, influencers are people who are perceived to have subject matter expertise, whether that’s in camping equipment or enterprise software. Influencers also tend to be charismatic and active on multiple social media platforms.
But there are key differences as well. B2B influencer marketing is driven by valuable content, not so much imagery—so, text, diagrams, infographics, etc..
Second is the difference in scale: an influencer with 100K followers is on the low end for B2C, but huge in the B2B world. For very specific, esoteric topics like in-memory databases, an expert may be influential with less than 10,000 followers.
And third, B2B influencers are driving deliberative, research-based decisions by buying teams rather than individual consumers.
How B2B Influencer Marketing Works
Here’s one approach to influencer marketing. Obviously, an actual influencer marketing plan would have a lot of detail behind this, and this is by no means the one and only, definitive influencer marketing framework – it’s just one roadmap that can work well.
Note that after you’ve done your research and built your initial influencer list, it’s important to break the ice before doing your outreach. People are generally more willing to do favors for acquaintances—even if they don’t know them well—than for complete strangers. And quite frankly, asking for a favor immediately upon meeting someone is…awkward.
Ice-breaking online as part of influencer marketing program serves the same function as networking in real life. Give to get. Provide value before you ask for anything. Follow your influencers on Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, mention them, share some of their content…this approach is much more likely to get you a “yes” when you do your outreach.
It’s also important to maintain these relationships. Like content marketing, influencer marketing is a practice that provides increasing value and results over time. It’s not efficient or effective to treat it as a one-off, one time activity.
B2B Influencer Marketing Do’s and Don’ts
Here are six keys to being successful with influencer marketing, along with six bad practices to avoid.
As noted above, influencer marketing is about building relationships; it’s not a pure numbers game. Automated outreach is tacky, easy to spot, and a bit offensive. It’s likely to damage your brand rather than enhancing it.
When a marketer sends the same “introductory” email two, three, even four times (yes, that happens), it’s obvious they aren’t reaching out in a personalized, professional manner.
There are a number of helpful influencer marketing tools (like Heepsy, BuzzStream, and Klear) that can help automate the research phase of influencer marketing, that is, identifying influencers and building your list. And that helps with efficiency. But be very careful using tools for outreach.
If the influencer has a website or blog, take a close look at it before reaching out. Some bloggers don’t accept guest posts. Those who do often have specific guidelines to follow. If the influencer has specific instructions or requirements for outreach, be sure to follow those—you may not get a second chance.
The Follow Up
Influencers are busy people. Sending multiple emails asking “Did you see my last email?” within a short time frame is a great way to annoy them—but not a great way to achieve your objectives. Leave three to four days between messages and, after your initial outreach, send two follow-ups at the most.
Of course, the easier it is for the influencer to respond, the more likely they will do that. For example, a two-to-three sentence answer to one question, or a 20-minute podcast interview, is easier to say “yes” to than contributing a guest post. Want them to tweet out something for you or share something on LinkedIn? Send a pre-written post they can just copy and paste.
Be authentic. Your first objective is just to establish a human-to-human connection. If the influencer has recently received some sort of award or industry recognition, congratulate them. If you attended the same school, or you’ve been to some of the same events, or you have common connections, mention that. It all helps.
Again, make your outreach natural, as if it were face to face. If you wouldn’t launch straight into a sales pitch in real life (and you shouldn’t), don’t do it on LinkedIn or Twitter.
There are a couple of keys to getting the “ask” right. The first is to understand each influencer’s preferred format. Some bloggers accept guest posts. Podcasters or people who do video interviews and put them on YouTube or LinkedIn are often looking for guests: you may be able to pitch yourself (or you client) for one of those spots.
The second is to understand the influencer’s level. Those who are just starting out and trying to build their reputation will be most likely to say “yes,” even to a non-trivial effort like writing a guest post; they want the exposure. Those who are somewhat established but still trying to grow their audience will likely say “yes” as long as it doesn’t require too much effort.
A-listers are the most challenging; your “ask” has to be very easy, and it has to benefit them in some way. Many (though not all) will contribute a short bit of wisdom to expert roundup posts (as long as the number of experts is limited; 6-12 is probably the ideal range).
But if you want Gary Vee or Seth Godin to write a guest post for your blog…that’s probably not going to happen.
Bad grammar, misspelled words, obvious cut-and-paste (you know, where the fonts are different styles and colors) and other kinds of errors make your outreach look really bad. Shoddy writing reflects poorly on your brand.
Most professional marketers would never do such things, of course, but…they may be tempted to hire a cheap firm, or virtual assistant, or someone off Fiver to scale up their outreach. None of those are good moves.
Your outreach should be polished, like a resume or a sales letter. That reflects well on you and also shows respect for the influencer – that they are important enough for you to put in the effort.
Recall from the definition above, mutual benefit. Your outreach has to provide value for the influencer as well as you. So if you are writing a guest post, think about the interests and knowledge level of the audience.
If you’re pitching an infographic, put some effort into both the research and the design. If you get an opportunity to be a podcast guest, do your homework and be prepared to provide insightful answers.
B2B Influencer Marketing Case Study: G2Planet
So – what can influencer marketing do for your brand? Here’s a quick case study.
G2Planet, a company that develops enterprise-level event planning and production software, started their influencer marketing program by doing research to find the most influential people in their industry—though obviously people who were NOT competitors, so: event planners, corporate event marketers, event agencies, sound and lighting companies, complementary software vendors, consultants, venue managers, entertainment bookers, keynote speakers, bloggers, podcasters…
Then they engaged with these people and helped them promote themselves, through social media, interviews, expert roundup posts, and resource lists. It was all about great content for G2Planet and great industry exposure for the influencers.
In two years, the company built up an army of supportive influencers, which not only greatly increased their brand awareness but also drove tangible business benefits, as shown here.
You can read more about the G2Planet experience in section 4 of this article on the B2B benefits of influencer marketing.
That’s it! What influencer marketing is, what to do – and not to do – and just one example of what influencer marketing success can look like.