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Influencer marketing for B2B: Savior or shiny object?

Lee Odden, CEO of TopRank Marketing, shares three of the most important things B2B marketers need to know about influencer marketing

Judging by the marketing media, the world is on fire with influencer marketing. Increased competition in the B2B marketing space along with challenges posed by buyer numbness to advertising has business marketers looking for new solutions. As a result, influencer marketing is finding its way into more conversations about how to invigorate B2B brand connections to new audiences in more credible ways.

As with any hot marketing tactic, B2B marketers should answer a few important questions before jumping off the bridge of influencer marketing. Here are three of the essential questions (and answers) to consider.

Harnessing the power of influencer marketing in B2B

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Harnessing the power of influencer marketing in B2B

What is influencer marketing, exactly?

Definitions of influencer marketing abound on the web and often focusing on the practice of engaging with famous experts in a way that helps promote the brand.

As influencer marketing expands, it’s important to look at influence as something everyone has to some degree. In fact, niche influencers have been found to be even more effective than well-known “brandividuals” with massive social followings.

Here’s my definition: Influencer marketing is the practice of engaging and collaborating with internal and industry experts that have active networks to help achieve measurable business goals.

Why would a B2B company use influencer marketing?

From problem identification to research, selection and implementation, B2B sales journeys typically occur over a long time period of time and often involve multiple people in the process. Third-party sources of information that are trusted and influential can create substantial advantages for B2B companies ranging from shortened sales cycles to larger deals to an increase in leads and revenue.

By developing relationships with industry influencers as well as internal subject matter experts, influential community members and clients, B2B companies can tap into resources that provide numerous benefits, especially when it comes to collaborations on content and events. These benefits include:

  • Adds an authentic “non-marketing” voice to content
  • Taps subject matter expertise not present in the marketing department
  • Helps increase the amount of content a limited staff can create on its own
  • Increases the reach of brand content to coveted influencer networks and communities

Companies like IBM and LinkedIn collaborate with influencers for many of their content marketing efforts and have been able to realize many of these advantages as a result. 

Fundamentally, how does influencer marketing work for B2B companies?

Influencer marketing has varied applications, ranging from periodic content collaborations to ongoing engagements with influencers obligated to do events and create content on a regular basis. 

With influencer marketing programs, companies typically identify topical areas of importance that represent the intersection of brand interests and the needs of the target audience. Then they identify, qualify and engage with influencers to collaborate in some way. When it comes to content co-creation, these collaborations could be as simple as providing quotes, interviews and blog posts to authoring ebooks, assisting with events and media.

Influencer contributions to brand content add credibility and when influencers promote that content to their networks, it can increase reach to new buyers that are difficult to engage through traditional means. 

How do you find B2B influencers?

The mistake many influencer marketing programs make is to select influencers based on “who we know” and their social media popularity. To find influencers that are topically relevant, and engaging with a significant audience in a meaningful way, it’s useful to use specialty software and services.

There are nearly 100 influencer marketing platforms and tools, so here is a short list worth checking out:

  • Followerwonk
  • BuzzSumo
  • GroupHigh
  • Little Bird
  • Onalytica
  • Brandwatch
  • Traackr

As with any B2B marketing endeavor, measuring success of influencer marketing starts with goals and the key performance indicators related to the tactics you implement as part of your strategy. I’m a fan of an Attract, Engage, Convert model for keeping content accountable and it applies easily to influencer marketing programs as well.

B2B companies that implement influencer marketing programs should look at both short-term campaign-level measures of success like downloads, demos and business inquiries as well as long-term relationships with their influencer network. There is no better form of marketing than word of mouth and advocacy born out of a solid brand and influencer relationship can pay dividends over time that far outweigh results from short-term campaigns.

Disclosure: Traackr and LinkedIn are clients of my agency, TopRank Marketing.