The influencer marketing industry is hot and it’s not cooling down. Despite the concerning headlines — the Fyre Festival influencer saga, an Instagram star with 2 million followers failing to sell 36 t-shirts, and an influencer crying at the thought of a 9-5 job when her Instagram account was suddenly deleted — brands are expected to spend as much as $15 billion on influencer marketing by 2022, up from $8 billion in 2019, according to Business Insider Intelligence.
While consumer brands and Instagram, YouTube and Facebook influencers have been the catalysts of influencer marketing’s rapid growth, business to business (B2B) companies are catching up, carving their niche in the market. While B2B influencer marketing is based on the same fundamental principles, it has its own nuances that can either make or break your campaign. Follow these five steps to develop a successful B2B influencer marketing strategy.
1. When identifying B2B influencers, it’s not about the number of followers or likes.
While identifying the influencers that might be a good fit for your brand, consider the relationships that you have in the space. Are there other founders or CEOs who are successfully using your product? Or maybe there’s a researcher or market analyst that you liaised with before who has expertise in the space and has platforms where they share their opinions and insights. These opinion leaders are likely to have a certain following in their own niche, but it might not be anywhere near the multimillion following of Instagram influencers.
Before riding a potential influencer out, consider the following factors: their expertise in the space, their credibility and relevance, their circles of influence, the platforms they use to communicate with others, and their levels of engagement. It’s often not about the quantity but about the quality of the connections that the person has and how they can benefit your brand.
2. Look for an authentic fit.
When it comes to working with B2B influencers, the authenticity of the endorsement and the overall relationship should be the most important factor to take into account. Industry leaders would have spent decades to develop their knowledge and build their personal brands, and they do not associate themselves easily with any company that is ready to financially reward the partnership.
Brands should exercise a similar approach by identifying individuals whose views are aligned with those of the brand, who have the right expertise, who can connect with the audience and convey the message in a compelling way, and who are authentic in what they do and what they can offer as a part of the partnership.
3. Educate and learn.
B2B products are often more complex than consumer products, and it’s important that you have an approach where you can educate the selected influencers about your brand and product. It would not be enough to give the person a brief and expect that they run with it. Make sure to spend enough time with the influencer in order to educate them about your brand and product, whether it be making them part of specific meetings, taking them to a factory floor, or including them as a part of a project post-mortem. Learning does not happen overnight, so allow enough time for the relationship to form and for the opinion leader to immerse themselves in your brand in order to learn it inside-out.
Throughout this process, stay curious and pay attention to the influencer’s learning curve: What questions do they have? What challenges are they experiencing? Is there anything about the experience they find offputting or inauthentic? You can learn from this experience, too!
4. Co-create rather than dictate.
Once the B2B influencer has developed substantial knowledge about the product and brand, explore the content that can be created as a part of the partnership. And rather than “feeding” pre-made content to the influencer (which is an acceptable practice in the consumer market), consider co-creating it with them. Can you develop a whitepaper, organize or co-host an event or run a webinar to start with?
Take it further by giving the influencer some freedom to come up with content ideas that they would bring to you for discussion. While it might be an attractive and familiar approach to dictate the messaging and the narrative, trusting the influencer’s process and flow might return much better results which you would not come up with yourself. After all, the reason you are collaborating with an influencer is to expand your reach, expand the brand’s horizons and create the impact that would not be possible if you were to do it all by yourself.
5. Build long-term relationships.
Social media marketing has shaken up the traditional user funnel, meaning that consumers are more likely to skip the traditional steps and purchase a product following a single Instagram post. In the B2B space, there are a few outliers, but generally, the process can take months, as the decision-making and purchasing process is more complex. B2B marketers, therefore, need to take into account this timeline and aim to build long-term relationships with the influencers. For this matter, it might be tricky to “test the waters” and do a one-off project with a B2B influencer before you commit to a long-term collaboration. Consider this a marathon rather than a sprint.
The B2B influencer marketing space is expanding, and as more companies dip their toes and try it for themselves, there will be more successes and failures to learn from. In the meantime, practice an open mind when it comes to B2B influencer marketing. An industry analyst is not the only influencer you might want to work with. Consider your own employees, partners, clients and investors; they have direct experience with your brand and their own circles of influence that you might tap into. But don’t stop there. Consider which leaders might be in alignment with your brand and your mission, and see if you can co-create a new world with them. Remember that time Salesforce’s Dreamforce conference had Michelle Obama as a guest speaker? That’s B2B power-influencer collaboration in action!