James Creech has a unique perspective on influencer marketing. As co-founder and CEO of Paladin, he oversees the B2B marketing of a B2C influencer marketing tool.
What’s more, as host of the long-running All Things Video podcast, he’s an influencer himself. So who better talk to about the similarities and differences between B2C and B2B influencer marketing?
Recently, James did a founder’s interview here, telling the story of Paladin. We extended that interview with three questions that take a deeper dive into influencer marketing platforms as well as the similarities and differences between influencer marketing in the consumer and business worlds.
Here’s the rest of that conversation.
The Best Influencer Marketing Platforms for B2B and B2C
Tom: Excellent, I love that. So, a few questions related to the business of influencer marketing. I do a fair amount of influencer marketing on the B2B side, which is a very different beast from B2C. I think and talk and work a lot on the “big four” of the social networking world: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and YouTube.
Obviously, there are a lot of other platforms out there. Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, and of course Clubhouse has been getting a lot of attention lately. In your view, what social networks beyond those big four should B2B marketers be paying attention to, if any?
James: One of the things we’ve been following as a macro trend that I think is really interesting to highlight is this move away from the “social media 1.0” public broadcast models.
YouTube famously used “Broadcast Yourself” as its tagline: taking television, putting it on the internet, disintermediating the barriers so that anyone could create their own programming, build an audience, and monetize it. Same thing for Instagram with photos and now, of course, all content formats: TikTok, Facebook, Twitter, they all follow that same playbook.
Now you’ve got “social media 2.0,” which tends to be more community-oriented. They’re kind of playing on that exclusivity factor, going after niche audiences.
So the things that come to mind are Discord, buy the Discord servers. You and I might love fishing, or arts and crafts, or photography, or yoga—for anything that we have a passion or an interest in, you can create siloed Discord communities.
The same is true for OnlyFans. It’s got a bit of a stigma around the adult content today but I think it has potential life and it’s going to grow beyond that. You’ve got Community, which just raised $40 million. And they’re doing SMS, which is fascinating.
Everyone kind of shied away from email marketing for a while, and now it’s coming back as newsletters are growing. And the value of an email marketing campaign has come back into fashion.
I think the same is true for SMS. We’re all inundated with notifications on social media. But the one thing we’ll pick up as soon as we get that Pavlovian response of an alert is a new text message. “I’m gonna pick up my phone and see what’s going on.” So SMS is really powerful. Community is interesting. In fact, according to statistics, 98% of SMS advertising campaign messages are opened.
How do we apply that through the lens of B2B? In what context could B2B marketers take advantage of these platforms? I love LinkedIn. I’m a big fan of what they’re doing. We could talk for hours about some of my concerns, post-Microsoft acquisition, about things they’ve done that have watered down the platform. But it remains a very valuable place for professional networking.
Five years ago I could basically connect with anyone and just say, “Hey, I think what you do is really cool. I’d love to get coffee sometime if we’re in the same city,” or, “I’d love to call you up and pick your brain for 10 minutes.” And a lot of people responded, “Yeah, let’s do it.” Because it was this whole idea of early adopters and let’s chat, share, and we’ll learn from one another.
Now, there’s so much spam on LinkedIn that it’s harder to build these casual connections. Still, LinkedIn is really powerful and they’re leaning into the creators with the recent announcement of creator mode. They’re getting more into other formats like video, and encouraging people to share insights on the platform.
Clubhouse is a tricky one to call because it’s so early. I was excited about it when it first came out, and spent a lot of time there. My enthusiasm has faded a little bit, given there’s so much competition now.
Facebook is launching three competitors on its own. Twitter Spaces has a pretty compelling value proposition. There are a lot of other social media incumbents and startups trying to tackle the audio space, which is awesome. I’m a big believer in the audio format and where it’s going.
But as a B2B marketer, I’m going to put my time and my money on LinkedIn. And YouTube, for sure, I think it’s underutilized for B2B. Twitter is compelling for certain verticals, news, politics, sports. You have to be on Twitter. I don’t know that it’s necessarily right for every B2B business, but there’s a case to be made and it’s worth doing your homework.
And then this is kind of weird, but I would say check out TikTok. It’s so interesting for a few reasons. First, the viral growth coefficient is so powerful right now. The organic reach you get on TikTok is unparalleled anywhere else, especially when you combine that with its massive user base.
And surprisingly, there’s a lot of B2B content on there. There are people talking about stocks or sharing best practices. In fact, Brendan Graham, a guy I follow because he’s got a lot of interesting things to say about digital media, started a TikTok and grew to 50,000 followers in a matter of months just by experimenting and sharing some really cool stuff. So I’d encourage people to spend some time and play around with TikTok, too. But I’d be curious, Tom, what you recommend for people as well.
Similarities and Differences Between B2C and B2B Influencer Marketing
Tom: Again, I’ve been focused mostly on those “big four” platforms. I haven’t really thought about TikTok. I have seen some success on Instagram for a number of clients in the event marketing space. It’s B2B, but it’s a more visual business. You’ve got these these amazing venues or wonderful catering spreads put out, and entertainment acts. It’s a very visual kind of business, so it works well in that sense; enterprise software, not so much. In the right verticals within B2B, Instagram works out.
Another question, related to your experience with both the podcast and with Paladin. I’ve actually written about this but I’m really curious as to your thoughts. What do you think are the big differences and similarities between B2B and B2C influencer marketing? How do they compare and contrast?
James: Real quick, I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention Pinterest. I think what you said about visually appealing B2B brands on Instagram translates just as well, if not more powerfully, to Pinterest. And I’m really excited about what they’re building and the opportunities on that platform. So that’s another one for your listeners to check out.
When it comes to B2B versus B2C marketing, the number one difference is audience intent. Think about when and where your audience is spending time, and what they are going to that destination for.
You can probably relate anecdotally to people sharing pictures of their kids on LinkedIn. That’s cute. It’s not where I want to see that content. If you want to share that on Facebook or Instagram, be my guest, but LinkedIn really isn’t the platform for it. So think about intent and what your audience is looking for. And then reverse engineer that.
The same is true for B2C. If you’re a product marketer who wants people to download your new app or buy your products, is TikTok right for you? Is that where your audience is spending time? If your audience is older maybe that’s not the case. Or maybe they will be there eventually and you want to build it out before they come in.
Think about what your audience is looking for and who they find influential. What are the formats that speak to them? Then reverse engineer what will be meaningful to your audience. Also, there are probably fewer types of content formats for B2B where you have to think about, “Okay, am I going to be informational or educational in my content? Am I going to be entertaining?” But somehow relate it back to the professional context we’re operating under.
I find that the most successful B2B influencers are talking about the realities their product or services create and not about the product itself. Maybe this goes back to Stewart Butterfield from Slack’s famous blog post on Medium where he talks about, “we don’t sell saddles.”
We’re not in the business of just selling this productivity application. We want to convince people there’s a world where they’re not so reliant on email and that they can create more seamless communication and dialogue within their organization, and create this native knowledge base where it’s not siloed, but everyone can communicate and find information effortlessly.
So he uses the analogy that “we’re not selling saddles, we’re selling horseback riding.” We’re selling this lifestyle. We’re selling this this ideal. B2B marketing should do that successfully just as much as a B2C marketer could. It’s really more about leading with value.
So in our case, for Paladin, it’s not just about selling a tool that helps B2C marketers find influencers, or a feature that helps with reporting, or saving time on outreach. We can quantify the ROI. That’s all well and good.
But what do the best influencer campaigns look like? How do we talk about empowering marketers to create more successful campaigns and learn from successes and failures and share that knowledge as an industry so we get better together?
We could probably underscore more differences and similarities between B2C and B2B influencer marketing, but that gives you a bit of a sense of the way we approach it.
The Packaging of Influence in B2C and B2B Marketing
Tom: My thinking is, with regard to influencer marketing, the B2C side seems more packaged, mature, organized, whereas in B2B, it’s a different world. It’s more about building relationships than buying X number of Instagram impressions.
And I think your platform is a reflection of that because I don’t think there is anything that’s really comparable on the B2B side. It’s as though B2C influencer marketing is selling cars, while B2B influencer marketing is selling kits from which you can build a car. What do you think of that?
James: You’re not wrong. And the B2B space is so broad. So the influential personalities could be journalists, authors, bloggers, consultants, whoever is relevant in your space. They might have a big social media following. They might not. They could be influential on other platforms or for other reasons.
Blogs, LinkedIn, and Twitter still hold a lot of power in the B2B space. Less so in the B2C space, which is pretty well defined by, “Who are the most successful influencers on YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok?” So I think you’re right that it’s a little bit more clear cut. There are well-defined roles, definitions, and audiences know what to expect. They’re getting a sponsored integration, or watching a pre-roll ad before a piece of content.
B2B influencer marketing is really more about being an advocate. It doesn’t happen with an initial point of purchase. Your value in the purchase price is generally much higher. So it’s more about guiding that customer journey. It’s giving them a lot more information and helping inform their decision.
And, of course, you’ve been there throughout the journey and you’ve been a source of knowledge and inspiration for them. So hopefully, they are considering your product if you have a good offering. But it’s really more about being a voice as part of that consideration process. Not just saying, “Hey, here’s some merch,” or, “Hey, go buy that product because I think it’s cool and I think you’ll like it too.” It’s much more long-term and involved sales cycle.