In today's hyper-connected world, the title of "influencer" is fairly broad. It's no longer reserved for members of royalty, Hollywood darlings, or corporate elites. Because digital technology and social media have made it easy for people to access massive, global audiences, almost anyone now has the ability to grow his or her influence and make an impact. Personally, I prefer "impact" to influence, having worked with many b2b brands as a brand ambassador myself. 

Done correctly, influencer marketing can yield a much stronger ROI than traditional advertising. 

Meet the connected consumer: She's idealistic, yet discriminating

In a study conducted by the Zen Media team, Marketing to Gods: The Definitive Guide to Reaching, Engaging, and Retaining the Modern, Empowered Consumer, we found that the connected consumers we surveyed expressed mixed feelings about following a celebrity or well-known social media personality for advice on what to buy. 

True to the paradox of connected consumers being both idealistic and discriminating, their reactions varied between a sense that a piece of content produced by an influencer was paid-for, and therefore inauthentic, and a wholehearted, genuine and trustworthy endorsement.

If the recommendation felt like an ad (scripted, overproduced, canned, or inauthentic), our connected consumers wanted nothing to do with it. The more genuine an endorsement was perceived to be, however, the more likely they were to form a favorable impression of the product and factor the endorsement into their purchase journey--that is, of course, if the endorsement didn't initially close the deal.

So, how exactly can B2B marketers work with social media influencers to make sure they are authentically showcasing their authenticity? Here are three ways.

Don't focus too much on the initial numbers

With followers in the hundred-thousands or millions, it may be tempting for B2B marketers to automatically connect with high-reach influencers but it may not always be the best choice. Yes, your marketing campaign may need to reach a certain amount of people, but don't let the numbers blind you into working only with mega- or macro-influencers who have large audiences.

With smaller, but tighter-knit, communities, micro-influencers (1,000-100,000 followers) and nano-influencers (1,000-5,000 followers) consistently gain higher engagement rates than mega- or macro-influencers. 

See how people engage with that person (beyond simply Liking their content, as this metric may be coming to an end), and observe how and when the influencer responds. The more involved influencers are with their communities, and the more authentic their engagement, the better your chances of reaching people who are (or will become) truly interested in your product or company. Also, influencer marketing is not instant. A solid recommendation or review from a respected influencer may not always result in instant sales (especially in a B2B environment where the sales cycle may be longer) but it will prove fruitful over a period of time.

Target wisely

If an influencer isn't the right fit for your brand, you risk sponsoring content that will likely fall on deaf ears. While you may get increased exposure, you probably won't gain the leads or business you were hoping for.

As marketers, we always work to fully understand the audience we need to reach, and that same targeting strategy should also be utilized when considering which influencers suit your brand's product, style, vibe or message.

An example of this being done well is when popular dog-focused Twitter account WeRateDogs tweeted an ad for Dumbo.

From first impressions, this collaboration doesn't seem to mesh well. A Twitter account about dogs promoting a movie about an elephant? But the authentic, wholesome, well-written copy for the tweet (playing on the fact that Dumbo is "not like other dogs") actually gained a lot of praise and affection. Some responded with photos of their own dogs. Others joined in the imagination that Dumbo is pretty much just a dog with a long nose. The result: 9.4K Retweets, 79.4K Likes and a whole lot of replies.

Allow the Influencer Free Reign 

Some brands approach influencer marketing in the same way they do traditional advertising and that's a mistake. An influencer has a relationship with their greater community. One of the reasons for this relationship is the creativity in which they present their material. By creating too many rules and regulations, you may stifle the very thing which makes them authentic and allows them to sway their audience. 

Beyond close family and friends, endorsements by influencers we admire can inspire us to make a purchase (almost one-fifth of American consumers have bought something because of an influencer), or at least, include a product for consideration in our purchase journey. But in order to build true long-term, sustainable success with influencer marketing, brands will need to strive for genuine authenticity and creativity. 

Published on: Jun 21, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.