Influencer marketing has been a hot topic in B2B for the past few years, and we’re seeing some interesting trends with our own clients. There’s been an evolution around the formats marketers are using, how they’re integrating influencer content into their strategies and how they’re thinking about influencer content beyond just the top of the funnel.
Last month, we gathered our expert strategy team for a roundtable to discuss some of the exciting new developments we’re seeing in B2B influencer strategy. Here’s a recap of that conversation with Tonya Vinas, VP of Content Strategy and Services; Alicia Esposito, Senior Content Strategist; and Brenda Caine, Senior Content Strategist at Content4Demand.
Maturing the B2B Influencer Strategy
Our clients have gone beyond the one-off asset and are thinking about influencer campaigns in a more integrated way. In the early days, lots of B2B companies were curating expert insights into a big-rock E-book or white paper. Now, we see more organizations thinking more carefully about how to maximize the reach and value of influencer input.
Alicia Esposito led the team that collaborated with Bottomline, whose strategy has expanded since we began. Last year, we created a successful big-rock influencer E-book that generated a great deal of excitement and web traffic. This year, they’re building on that success and making the new E-book into a more extended foundational piece for the business as a whole.
They’re using more channels and building the influencer content into more campaigns for greater value. Their plans include taking every opportunity to reuse and repurpose the content and share extensively through social channels. We recently aired a webcast that dives into how Bottomline turned its influencer campaign into its top driver of web traffic and a key source of MQLs.
A few years ago, we worked on several big influencer initiatives for Bing that included creating a content hub experience where users could self-select the resources that interest them. An influencer podcast series featured interviews with experts and served as an anchor for that hub experience. Bing selected specific influencers to help target buyers in particular industries, and their insights were also carried into the blog. The influencers were the linchpin that connected all the dots in a larger campaign.
Oracle has devoted intense effort into weaving influencers into multiple blog campaigns, and they amplify those efforts with their own communities and social channels. One influencer even turned his insights into a podcast series.
One division of Oracle is collaborating with the PR team and other divisions to cross-pollinate different sites to gain synergies and amplify content to broader audiences with GIFs and social media posts.
Avoiding the Pitfalls
It’s common for marketers to get stuck on follower counts when they’re working on a B2B influencer strategy, but that’s a mistake. Niche markets in particular are suffering from influencer overload as multiple companies vie for attention from the few big-name influencers that dominate their spaces.
We’ve actually found that influencers with huge numbers of followers are often less valuable in the B2B space than experts who truly specialize in one area you’re eager to reach. These micro-influencers may be less visible, but they often wield much more persuasive power as a result of their laser-focused specialization and the level of trust their followers place in them.
Another common mistake is to treat influencer relationships as transactional. Approaching them as human relationships is more productive, and the resulting content is much more authentic. Nurture influencer relationships, and make sure they’re mutually beneficial.
Powering ABM with Influencers
Alicia points to influencer ABM campaigns she’s worked on with Access to market their document management solutions. Access used one campaign to target HR professionals, incorporating influencers who could credibly speak to the benefits of their solutions in their industry. Readers could quickly see that Access was in touch with HR trends and understood the key challenges they faced.
Oracle took a similar tack with an influencer campaign promoting its supply chain solutions. Brenda Caine helped them identify the target’s key watering holes and uncovered a good mix of analysts and supply chain practitioners to share their takes.
Brenda also describes how SOC Telemed took the ABM influencer route to promote its acute and post-acute telemedicine solutions at the beginning of the pandemic. This required a very specific type of expert influencer to reach a sophisticated audience with its message about how its telemedicine solution helps hospitals continue to provide important services while limiting exposure of both patients and clinicians to the coronavirus and other contagions.
The campaign helped them gain traction in an industry that was much more familiar with customer-facing telemedicine solutions and helped position them as thought leaders in the space.
Taking B2B Influencer Strategy Deeper in the Funnel
Influencer content has certainly demonstrated its value as lead-gen at the top of the funnel, but some of our clients are discovering that it can be just as valuable in the middle and late stages—and even as post-purchase content.
Alicia suggests that more marketers consider expanding influencer- and community-driven content into the later stages of the buyer’s journey. How does the B2B influencer strategy evolve as we get into the middle or the bottom of the funnel, and into post-purchase? And how does the definition of influencer change as we think about the ways we integrate trusted experts into content for those later stages of the buyer’s journey? There are lots of opportunities to go deeper with influencer pieces.
Tonya Vinas suggests that events are another great place to consider influencer content.
“Those are the places where buyers are kicking the tires,” she says. And of course, these days, that means you should consider podcasts, webinars and other digital events.
Tonya echoes the suggestion to think about new ways to integrate experts, citing an example where Oracle used a customer as an influencer to demonstrate the benefits of a financial-software solution that helped the customer smoothly navigate a merger of three separate companies. Oracle had previously leveraged the story in marketing materials, and the customer’s high profile as the VP of a global financial organization stood out as influencer-worthy in this newer campaign.
Finding B2B Influencers
You don’t always have to go far to find great influencers. Tonya suggests looking at your existing content. Instead of getting hung up on number of followers, look at their level of expertise in the industry you’re trying to reach. The outside viewpoint is what your buyers are looking for, and you can find that with customers and channel partners who can speak credibly as a third party.
Your goal is to get people engaged and maintain their trust as you encourage them to actively use your solution in the late stages and post-purchase. Alicia recommends turning your brand into a source of community with like-minded people coming together to share success stories. Customers want to hear from experts and peers who have driven change or helped their teams see success with hacks, systems or best practices. Spotlight those influencers, and you deliver clients a trusted guide to optimize their investments.
Amplifying Influencer Insights
In earlier days, influencer content was typically proscribed to E-books and other one-off big-rock assets. Smart marketers are expanding their options as they think through a more holistic B2B influencer strategy. It’s more common now to see influencers incorporated into blog posts, podcasts and events.
“We’ve tapped our clients and partners for webinars,” says Alicia, “and I’ve seen more virtual roundtables and fireside chats that are more conversational and casual.” These settings are great for best practices-oriented conversations. The same goes for content hubs, where brands are integrating disparate conversations into more robust experiences.
Tonya suggests including influencers in newsletters and other content you publish regularly to existing clients to educate them and deliver something extra. Buyers want their vendors to continue to educate them post-purchase, and that’s a great place to incorporate influencer commentary.
Another fresh idea is to take advantage of new tools available in social platforms. Alicia points to LinkedIn Live as a promising channel for hosting intimate conversations with influencers and experts that can reach a much larger audience. And while Instagram isn’t exactly a key B2B channel right now, it could still be a good idea to take a closer look at Instagram TV, Instagram Live and Instagram Stories as new point of entry, whether paid or organic.
Measuring Success of a B2B Influencer Strategy
Most marketers measure influencer success in the ways you might expect: webpage views, downloads, social shares and the reach of paid search campaigns. Some get more granular and include email open rates, click-throughs and even MQLs and sales-accepted opportunities.
But we’re also hearing more about the value placed on building long-term relationships as companies are beginning to recognize the value that influencers can bring to the table—particularly when you consider that influencer strategies typically take an investment of time to build and to deliver results.
Evolving Your Influencer Strategy
It’s important to recognize that influencer programs in general are starting to mature, so more tier-one and even lower-tier influencers expect to be paid. That’s a challenge for those without deep pockets, who may need to consider using fewer influencers or redefining influencers to use more internal experts, channel partners and customers with the right characteristics.
Now that influencer content has evolved into larger strategies, it’s a mistake to charge in without a plan. Take a creative approach, and find new ways to reuse and amplify influencer voices. Bring new, lesser-heard voices into the fold.
Always be looking for the fresh voices that can share your message. Stay engaged with your buyers so that you know who they’re turning to when they want to learn more, get trusted guidance and forecast for the future.
You can watch the entire panel discussion here. Or let us know if you’d like to speak directly to one of our experts about your own influencer marketing challenges or ideas.
Holly Celeste Fisk is an accomplished marketing pro with 20+ years of experience in B2B and B2C. She’s responsible for Content4Demand’s internal marketing efforts, managing everything from content creation and email marketing to events and sponsorships, blog publishing, website management and social media presence. When she’s not working, you’ll find her sliding into third at softball, buried in a book or practicing her Italian.