The rise of the connected consumer has radically altered the marketing landscape, with the growth of influencer marketing being one of the most visible changes. It's no longer necessarily the most effective strategy to have a well-known spokesperson or subject-matter expert represent your company in the mass media. Today's consumer is skeptical toward messages coming directly from companies in the traditional manner, and far more likely to trust the word of an influencer, someone who affects people's decisions by posting on social media. Influencer marketing is much more personal than the old approach, and it operates on a trust already established.
The B2C applications are fairly obvious, but B2B influencer marketing works differently, and companies that neglect it or don't use it optimally are missing out on vast opportunities to convert trust into engagement. With an authoritative individual or other business voicing your company's merits on social media, you're much more likely to foster a sense of B2B brand-connectedness that generates leads and sales.
When devising your strategy, you should bear the following points in mind:
Businesses shop more deliberately than consumers.
In B2C, sales often occur after only brief exposure to a product, with little or no research by the customer. Sometimes only a few social media posts--or even just one-- can generate significant business. Most B2B transactions revolve more around long-term goals and presuppose a certain amount of commitment, so the sales cycle tends to be longer. Potential B2B buyers routinely make inquiries among peers and perform extensive research before even making direct contact.
The B2B influencer is extremely important in this context because his or her social media presence can be a significant part of that research in addition to being a form of peer input. If your influencer is consistently keeping your message alive in potential buyers' minds, you'll be in the picture at decision-making time.
IBM created a masterstroke of credible influencing with sustained content from a large aggregate of influencers who know its products best: its employees. Considering the diversity of IBM's clientele--financial services, banking, the tech industry, and all levels of education, among others--finding one team of influencers for across-the-board promotion was no small accomplishment, but encouraging employees to post on social media provided broad credibility and consistency.
B2B influencer marketing differs from B2C in being more about educating your audience. The best advice I can give to B2Bs is that your edge lies not in keeping your intellectual property under wraps but in out-educating your competitors.
Businesses usually respond better to a different kind of social content.
Another difference between B2C and B2B is in the type of content customers find persuasive. In B2C, the interests and tastes of the everyday customer prevail. Lifestyle posts and humor may play a large role. With B2B, the decision-makers tend to be tightly focused on the particular needs of the business, and characterized by the skepticism that accompanies making a decision with long-term consequences in the workplace. A trusted third party is especially important to people in their position.
Amex considered the concerns of small-business owners and partnered with one of their peers--a peer with a large following. The Love My Store campaign was for helping small businesses let their customers know they accepted Amex, and featured Grace Bonney, a small-business owner whose daily blog, Design Sponge, has a monthly audience of more than 2 million. She created a series of eye-catching window stickers designed to appeal to small businesses, with another influencer, design blogger Emily Henderson, giving advice on how to use signage to attract new business. The result: 5 million impressions on social media.
One of the beauties of that campaign was that it did have an element of lightheartedness and lifestyle interest. B2B social media can be fun--liveliness and personality appeal are good--but always make sure you're not distracted from the key point of explaining what makes you a leader in your field. Remember to educate.
Pure expertise means more in the B2B influencer space.
B2C influencer marketing often utilizes a prominent consumer, or a local influencer who is geographically nearby or at least among your followers and friends. B2B influencer marketing depends more on the authority and authenticity of someone who has definite, impressive expertise in your niche. If a celebrity likes your product, that's excellent but not especially relevant. You're better off with someone in corporate life who has purchased your product for an entire department or company, for instance. In the B2B world, influence comes from expertise.
Time Warner Business Class went that route with video testimonials from customers among small and medium-sized businesses, including Spectrum Enterprise and Green Dot Public Schools. The customers praised Time Warner cable as essential to their success, and the videos appeared on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. Each ended with a call to action asking viewers to download an eBook, Mighty Mid-Market, which provided more information about what Time Warner Business Class connectivity can do for businesses.
What to look for in an influencer.
So expertise is paramount, but expertise doesn't count if no one is paying attention. Reach is critical: How large a presence does your influencer have across all channels, and how many followers are expanding a story's exposure?
Engagement is also crucial. An influencer with a large social media community and little engagement from viewers might be less valuable than one with a smaller community and more responses. You have to decide which is most important in your situation: reach or engagement.
Relevance is also key. Does a potential influencer post frequently and on pertinent topics? An occasional spectacular post is inferior to a steady stream of applicable posts keeping your message fresh in viewers' minds.
In evaluating potential influencers, look at who your customers interact with on social media. This helps you determine whether someone has the needed relevance and engagement.
Big bonus: If other influencers are sharing or liking or commenting on your potential influencer's activity, this could promote your story with exponential effect.
Hold onto your brand.
Although there might be times when you need to tailor your content to your influencer's needs, the objective should always be to build the brand you've already established. Yes, listen to your influencer's expertise and learn from it where possible, but don't allow the relationship to cause deviation from brand values. Make sure those are clear from the beginning, and partner with people who know about and care about the same things you do.
One of the beauties of marketing via social media is that its effectiveness doesn't depend on the size of an advertising buy. The smallest company can exert a high impact--and maybe stop being small--by using influencers to connect with potential buyers.
Despite the differences between B2C and B2B influencer marketing, the core idea is the same: to build your efforts around the fact that people care more about what's relevant to themselves than what's relevant to your business, and that they respond best not to some faceless entity, but to other people.