close up of microphone, in focus, with blurry crowd beyond
PHOTO: Kane Reinholdtsen

Influencer marketing is getting a bit tainted in the B2C world as the discipline matures. Brands are figuring out what’s valuable, and in some cases what’s true and what’s fraud, and learning to treat it like any other paid media advertising channel. 

It’s slightly different in B2B, especially with big ticket purchases where the relationship between the buyers and those that influence them is more intimate. The transaction, with all the career risk, is more fraught with emotion than when a buyer would buy something for themselves. 

In many ways, B2B marketers (especially in technology) have been doing influencer marketing for years. Only we called it "Analysts Relations" as we tried to woo Gartner, Forrester, IDC and a host of other smaller folks that have influenced the buyer. It’s the same in many other B2B segments, where analysts, trade press and various intermediaries have held influence over the buyer.

1. Ask Why You Are Doing It 

Just because someone in the C-suite heard everyone is doing something, doesn't mean it’s right for your B2B business. Take a moment to ask why. I apply this to everything, whenever a new idea, tool, tactic or any new doohickey pops into the marketing office. 

How will an influencer marketing campaign deliver against the business objectives you’ve set for marketing? Will it, for example create growth through awareness, revenue and trust?

Related Article: Choosing the Right Influencers to Market Your Business

2. Define the Ideal Influencers

Before you invite Seth Godin to headline your next customer conference, think about the ideal profile of your influencers, much in the same way as you would define a buyer persona. 

Create these profiles, consider their needs (not just cash), how they will contribute to your goals and what segment of your audience of buyer persona they would influence. Consider why they would engage with you — what’s the quid pro quo?

Define tiers of influencers, from the rockstars in your industry, the regional rulers who are more influential in the geographies you are selling to, the subject matter gurus who will be the heroes to the practitioners that use your product and the micro-influencers who talk about the thing you do.

3. Choose Influencers Carefully

How are you going to decide who are your ideal influencers? You could just choose the noisy people with the most followers, but with all the fakery, the follow/unfollow shenanigans, the buying of followers and likes, you need to look deeper than vanity metrics.  

Look for evidence that these folks will deliver against your goals. You might be surprised when you scratch at the surface of these big follower numbers and number of tweets to discover very little engagement. 

The theoretical reach of these people needs to be balanced with relevancy and relatability to your audience and activity that demonstrates credibility and engagement. Ideally, you codify this into a scoring model, to keep this process objective. This objectivity and scoring is essential, as a marketer you know everyone will have an opinion and the decision on who you choose needs to be defendable. You will also want to continually evaluate the performance of your influencers.

Related Article: Marketers Beware: Influencer Marketing Fraud Is Real

4. Create an Engagement Catalog

What can you offer these folks commercially and what can you do for them as professionals? As a marketing organization you may be able to offer an influencer something more valuable than cash, especially when you look at your lower tiers of influencers. 

You could help them get speaking engagements at events you are sponsoring, you could provide their content a bigger audience, give them access to your client case studies to make their research more credible, think creatively about how you can help these people.

Your influencer marketing program needs to be embedded in what you are doing across marketing, not just a side project, so you can take a broad look across what your marketing organization are doing and what you can offer influencers. 

Related Article: Content Marketing Content Hubs, A Safe Space to Meet Your Audience

5. Nurture Influencer Relationships

Sure, sometimes this will be a commercial transaction — you have an event, you decide on a keynote speaker and you book them. But even in this situation you will get more value from the relationship if you nurture it. Engage the speaker personally, introduce them to your brand. The influencer might do a little more to promote the event, they might hang out at the event a little longer than the contract states and you may find the commercial bit actually becomes the start of an ongoing relationship. 

Develop a nurture program for each of your influencers. Decide how you will develop and maintain a sustainable relationship with each of them. For example, introduce yourself by taking an interest in their work, sharing their content and doing your homework. 

Just because you can send an InMail to anyone on LinkedIn, doesn’t mean you should. Well … not straight away.

6. Be Human

That pretty much sums it up. Sure, there is a bit of cold cynical commercialism in an influencer program, it has to deliver against business objectives and the influencer will have their own targets and agenda. But be human about it. You are creating a personal relationship, often between you (the marketer) and the influencer, as well as with the brand.