It's not surprising to see that influencer marketing is gaining traction with business-to-business (B2B) marketers. People at work want to hear more about the products and solutions that can help them — not necessarily from brands themselves, but from credible voices of independent analysts, bloggers, commentators, industry leaders and peers they trust. In other words, influencers.
With B2B marketing generally moving away from "let’s target" to "let’s educate, engage and enrich" our audiences, influencer marketing, done right, can help build real brand preference over the relatively longer B2B sales cycle.
But straightforward as it sounds, influencer marketing is not as simple as paying someone to tweet about your brand. These 10 commandments cover all the bases and should serve as a good checklist to drive concrete results from influencers in 2022.
The 10 Commandments of B2B Influencer Marketing
1. Influencer Marketing Is About Co-Creating Value
While similar to endorsements and advocacy in some aspects, influencer marketing is neither. Endorsements are more transactional (someone is paid to say what the brand wants them to say), and advocates are usually internal stakeholders such as employees, customers, channel partners or community members (who may be incentivized to advocate).
Influencers, however, are independent industry experts who have invested time and expertise to create their own niche and following.
With influencer marketing, brands and influencers combine their unique perspectives to co-create something that audiences value. Sarah Stephenson, associate director of social media at The Marketing Practice, a growth platform for B2B tech brands, said the best policy is to be realistic and have mutual trust.
“Some of the most successful influencer content we have seen has come from honest conversations [between brand and influencer], where no talking points were off the table and all involved were able to jointly discover the best outcome," she said.
Related Article: DAOs Can Turn Customers Into Brand Advocates
2. Influencer Marketing Has a Spectrum of Use Cases
Influencer marketing is super-versatile — it serves use-cases like:
- Talent acquisition
- Product marketing
- Generating leads
- Building thought leadership
- Establishing brand credibility
- Expanding audience reach
- Evangelizing new product or solution categories
For example, emerging solutions, such as privacy or consent management platforms, could have credible industry voices educate users about the value of these technologies. It's important to look at all of the use-cases available to you and decide on which best fit your overall goals.
3. Pick the Right Influencers
Now it's time to find an influencer, and the obvious starting point seems to be looking at the number of followers they have. But David Wing, founder and marketing director of Wing Digital Marketing, a B2B influencer marketing consultancy, said that in the B2B context, while follower count is relevant, it shouldn’t be the only consideration.
Instead, consider how "influential" they are in terms of audience engagement and relevance. The element of reach versus engagement is pertinent when deciding between micro- and mega-scale influencers, explained Michael Feldman, director of B2B influencer marketing at Viral Nation, an influencer marketing advisory. However, he suggests the right starting point is always the audience and their needs.
You may even find that not every influencer is a social media influencer — some are equally if not more effective in real life, especially if seeking geographical or niche impact.
4. Commit to the Long Haul
Stories and relationships take time to be crafted. No doubt, B2B influencer strategies require longer timelines than B2C brands — maybe six months or more before results are seen.
Conduct reviews to see if you are on the right track, but give it time. What’s more important for more predictable results is a clear plan for the influencer through the year of engagement, with enough flexibility to adjust based on audience responses.
5. Keep Your Influencers Engaged
Influencers need to engage your audiences, but you need to engage your influencer. Their belief in the brand or the problem it is solving has to shine through the content. While co-creation is important, said Wing, you should allow your influencers to take the creative lead at times.
Feldman agreed, saying influencers need to feel respected and a part of a brand's mission for a collaboration to be successful. Regular product training, help with improving content creation and distribution and including influencers in content planning are all useful.
Related Article: 4 Tips for Building a Winning Brand Engagement Strategy
6. Authenticity Is Key to Making Influencer Marketing Work
Audiences need to see that the influencer truly understands the product and is familiar with it. That said, it's important to let them tell the story in their own voice — the one that won them all those followers and their trust in the first place. What they are saying and how they say it should not sound out of character.
Influencers are also a great medium for your brand to venture into new places. For example, TikTok is growing in popularity as a B2B content platform, especially for reaching small and mid-size businesses or millennial-corporate audiences.
Feldman cited influencers like Alex Su (@legaltechbro) and Sarah the Corporate Mama (@thecorporatemama) as prime examples of influencers scaling their corporate influence through typically B2C platforms. Wing added that experimenting with influencers in the metaverse is worth exploring now, too.
7. Drive Optimal Value From the Influencer Program
Extend the value and returns from each content or interaction for both — the brand and the audience. For example, said Wing, including influencers in the sales cycle can be interesting. “Think about those hot-leads that your influencer program has delivered, now imagine including your KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders) on the sales calls. This is going to change the sales game”.
“Bring the influencer into the brand's ecosystem by aligning content campaigns across channels,” advised Feldman. In other words, don’t restrict an influencer to one social channel — find ways to let them engage across the spectrum: YouTube, industry whitepapers, newsletters, events and more.
8. Think Quantitative and Qualitative Success Measurement
B2B influencer marketing ROI can use the typical conversion metrics — reach, leads, deals. But qualitative metrics are gaining traction, with more B2B enterprises taking a “relationship-first, engagement approach,” said Wing.
While proving ROI with social posts and blogs (that have no "direct" link to a product) can be a challenge, the power of human partnerships is hard to deny. “This power to influence business decisions on a human level can create a strong ROI in itself,” added Stephenson. Feldman called it the metric of "credibility" and the long-term halo effects that accrue to the brand as a result.
9. Use Software and Automation When Needed
Because there’s an app for everything, right? Influencer marketing solutions help manage influencer marketing tasks at scale, like content and native advertising campaign management, campaign analytics, influencer logistics and more. Wing, however, cautioned that when it comes to evaluating influencer fit, there is no substitute for genuine conversations.
Related Article: Customer Experience Automation and the Human Touch
10. Set Yourself Up for Success
Influencer marketing comes with its risks and challenges, such as scalability, disclosure and conflicts of interest. The program needs to find a sweet spot between structure and responsiveness, or the messaging can easily go all over the place.
Much of this has to do with "setting the right expectations" at the start, said Stephenson. Planning is important to smooth out workflows, but regular interactions with influencers are key to building rapport and fine-tuning the tone of voice.
Marketers need to acknowledge that influencers can "influence" their audience, said Feldman, and should value collaborative conversations rather than defining too-strict parameters for execution.
Influencer Marketing: Good for the Bottom Line
Brands can use influencers in many ways, and the benefits are undeniable. Beyond all of the use cases mentioned above, data from Influencer Marketing Hub shows influencers are simply good for a company's bottom line, with each dollar spent on influencer marketing yielding an average return of $5.20.
The 10 B2B influencer marketing commandments above will help you successfully step into a growing market and realize all of the potential benefits.