When I started working at IBM many year ago, I had three minutes to interest a prospect enough that they’d agree to a demonstration of my product. The emphasis was on matching a key product benefit to the most important need the prospect had. Later, as IBM evolved into a marketing company, we estimated we had about 30 minutes to engage with a consumer (through live chat, outbound telemarketing, e-communications, and online content). That’s when we encountered a challenge: to drive long-lasting, deep engagement, the marketing messages had to shift from an easy-to-understand single idea to a series of compelling stories from credible experts. That’s when influencer marketing took shape.
There’s no denying that when it came to influencer marketing, most B2B companies were late to the game. While B2C brands were busy establishing relationships with mega-influencers, the B2B brand I was working for was barely using social media.
Now, however, the practice of partnering with social media contributors and content creators has become commonplace — and, if done right, a proven method of boosting brand awareness and driving sales.
The problem is that today’s connected buyer is too sophisticated to rely on mega-influencers; everyone knows that celebrity endorsements are paid. The instant credibility that was once guaranteed by engaging a high-profile influencer is no longer a sure thing and may not be worth the cash outlay to secure it.
And yet, many B2B companies seem to be stuck using what are either outdated or audience-inappropriate influencer marketing strategies—and then find themselves at a loss when their campaigns don’t deliver expected leads.
Keys to Developing an Effective Influencer Program
1. Develop an influencer eco-system
Fill it with industry bloggers, solution specific experts, internal (a.k.a. ‘owned’) thinkers, channel partners, and forward-thinking market analysts.
What makes an effective influencer?
✓ Customer segment and industry expertise
✓ A referral source and trusted advisor
✓ Savvy across popular social media channels
✓ Has a network of followers
✓ Maintains an independent point of view
2. Exploring working with micro- and nano-influencers
Instead of assuming your brand needs to go after influencers with hundreds of thousands of followers, consider partnering with smaller ones. Even though these micro-influencers (5k-10k followers) and nano-influencers (1k-5k followers) have much smaller audiences, those audiences are almost invariably far more engaged than those of mega-influencers. Not only that, but a partnership with a micro-influencer will be a whole lot easier on your marketing budget. Also, they’re usually more accommodating toward working within the parameters of your influencer program.
One of the advantages of selecting micro- or nano-industry influencers is that they intimately know their audience. This market understanding can be the difference maker for the writer to both promote the brand by sharing a story and, in the end, deliver a better customer experience.
3. Emphasize storytelling and education.
Brands have long known that their customers want a valuable content exchange – one that teaches them something or delivers value in return for their time. This is why we’ve seen so many companies, both B2C and B2B, focusing on extolling their brand’s history, promoting its values, and creating educationally oriented content.
Team up with writers who have first-hand knowledge of the product, solution or brand attributes you’re promoting. It is always more effective to share first-person experiences. The same can be true with the influencer relationships you’ve maintained. Instead of relying on promotional advertorial content, guide your influencers to work your product or service into a story or experience.