An Introduction to Influencer Marketing for B2B and B2C Companies
According to a recent study by Tomoson, businesses are making $6.50 for every $1 invested in influencer marketing.
It’s the fastest-growing channel for customer acquisition, and stands alongside email marketing as one of the most cost-effective digital marketing activities.
With 47% of American and 39% of British web users regularly using ad blocking software, there’s ever-more emphasis on reaching audiences through those which they follow organically. These individuals wield considerable power, having graduated to a position of authority and trust among their audience.
Startups can utilise this following, but they need the right approach.
In this article, I’ll explore what influencer marketing means, what you should be looking for in influencers, and how to use influencers in your content marketing. I’ll look at some of the challenges of influencer marketing, some common mistakes, and how to use data to inform your influencer marketing strategy.
What is Influencer Marketing?
Influencer marketing is a term on everybody’s lips in 2016. According to Google Trends, the keyword is experiencing growth of more than 5000%, putting it firmly in its “breakout” territory. But what exactly is influencer marketing, and how can it help your startup?
Referral Rock’s guide to influencer marketing describes an influencer marketing as the following:
“It is when someone who is considered an ‘expert‘ in the field, has a high reputation and helps you market your product. These people may also be considered popular in certain markets and may then be seen as a knowledgeable source. Influencers typically have a sway over the things their followers buy.”
Although influencer marketing as a term is relatively new on the scene, as a concept it’s based on a tried-and-tested marketing tenet; word-of-mouth recommendations are invaluable, from friends, colleagues, and those in a position of authority. Extrapolating this concept into an increasingly digital world, brands are turning to key influencers within their sectors to promote their products and services, and to leverage the influencer’s following as a ready-made and engaged audience.
When influencer marketing is done well, it is based on an arrangement of mutual benefit to both the company and the influencer. The business gains a trusted informal spokesperson with a loyal following that is willing to receive the influencer’s recommendations, and the influencer gains support in creating engaging content and growing their own personal brand.
In many cases, influencers will receive financial compensation as part of the deal, but this isn’t strictly necessary in all circumstances.
How to define an online influencer
In a simplified model, an influencer has been defined as an individual with a substantial social media following in a given area. For example, a beauty blogger with thousands of followers on Instagram and Twitter. However this definition needs to be reexamined.
In order for an influencer to have a substantial positive effect on both brand awareness and ultimately sales, you need to consider more factors when choosing someone to collaborate with. The number of followers is not the be all and end all.
What to look out for
A good influencer builds strong relationships with their following, regardless of the platform. You’re looking for a candidate that invests in their connections, creating high quality content and interacting with their followers on a regular basis.
A good influencer is also regarded as an expert in their field, they will have built a reputation as knowledgeable and trustworthy in their area of expertise, and will be part of a wider community of thought-leaders.
For a B2B model, this can look a bit different to the most visible examples of influencer marketing. For example, it could be profiling a highly regarded industry blogger at an event and then subsequently partnering with them to coauthor posts for their platform or conduct interviews for your site. Essentially, the concept is exactly the same.
It’s important to remember that while B2B marketing does operate differently, the same rules apply when connecting with the decision-makers at the businesses you’re targeting. A direct recommendation from a well-known and trusted voice can go a long way to giving your brand leverage.
Using data to choose influencers
In this excellent podcast, part of a series called Influence Pros, Rustin Banks of TapInfluence discusses how to use data to choose the right influencers for your brand. He talks about his comprehensive study in partnership with Nielsen, and the proven effectiveness of influencer marketing as a core practice.
On the topic of social media influencers, one of his main pieces of advice is this;
Focus on the audience of an influencer in great depth, rather than choosing based on number of followers and whether you like them or not. It’s about levels of engagement on their sponsored posts (as well as organic), and selecting influencers based on performance metrics and cost-per-engagement. The “power of the middle” influencers sometimes represent a better ROI – these are the people with followings of between 10k – 2 million.
But how can brands dig into the following of an influencer? As Rustin says himself, it’s not always easy. You need to use third-party tools such as StatSocial or Demographics Pro to create meaningful data sets on your potential targets.
With many influencers requiring financial compensation, it’s important to measure their effectiveness in numbers. Be aware of the increasing levels of fraud in purchasing followers. Overall, it’s never recommended to base compensation offers on follower count.
On the contrary, focus on consistent and predictable levels of content engagement.
Challenges for influencer marketing
In theory, influencer marketing is simple. But when you look deeper, it has subtle considerations that separate the good campaigns from the bad. There are some challenges in doing it right to maximise ROI. Here are a few things to consider.
Creating the right kind of content
Creating content exactly as you usually would and then recruiting an influencer to share it undermines the value of “native advertising”. Influencer-generated content needs to be in keeping with their channel’s usual output, but also needs to differentiate itself from the barrage of advertising consumers see day to day.
This can be achieved by real collaboration with your influencer, not just retweets and direct recommendations, but co-created content that will really engage followers.
Achieving maximum reach
When working with influencers it’s important to set clear guidelines for content creation and for your expectations of that content. For example, if you are sponsoring an Instagram post from an influencer, be very clear on format and on the tags you expect to be included. Ensure you follow up with re-posting on the business accounts for maximum reach.
Investing in your influencers
Payment for influencers is always a controversial topic. Influencers are providing a service by acting as brand ambassadors, and the return they get on their time investment can be financial, or it can be a mutual promotion swap. It could involve access to exclusive content, involvement in product development, and much more.
Time and energy goes into creating and publishing their promotional content, and this work will inevitably be recognised with compensation. From the brand’s perspective, this always stretches beyond cold hard monetary payment, and should involve an investment in relationships, real-world meetings, and added value.
The challenge comes in first choosing the right influencers, and then measuring how much to compensate them. Later in this article, I discuss using data to help these decisions.
Integrating influencer marketing with other activities
As with any marketing activity, influencer marketing should not just be a bolt-on to your existing marketing plans, instead it should be integrated into your activity and you should be actively looking for crossover content in all areas.
A broader approach to influencer marketing means that your output will be less constricted and you will have more opportunity for creativity in the content you create.
There are some commonly-occurring mistakes that marketers make when doing influencer marketing. This article by Convince & Convert outlines three, which I’ve summarised below.
Choosing the wrong influencers
To avoid this, writer Devon Wijesinghe recommends screening potential influencers as if they were employees; background checks, response rates, brand responsibility, etc. It’s not just how many followers they have, it’s what they talk to them about. Don’t go in blind.
Staying authentic is incredibly important, at every stage. Authenticity should be at the heart of your influencer campaign from the moment you plan your targets. Great influencers are those in which you believe in, and vice versa. Personalise your outreach messages, and keep a genuine conversation going.
A chaotic background won’t endear you to the influencers you’re trying to get on board. Ad-hoc requests and pushing content out-of-the-blue won’t work. Set strategic expectations, and meet them as agreed. Organise your measurables and goals, and review regularly.
Another useful piece about influencer marketing pitfalls was published by Keenan Beasley on the Forbes blog. Here’s a summary of two key points.
It’s not about you
It’s about them. Think outside the box when approaching influencers. Rather than sending them a product sample, offer them a remarkable real-world experience. Make an investment in your influencers, and make sure they know you truly value their involvement. Keenan uses the example of Jose Cuervo tequila, who took a group of online personalities to Mexico.
This might be out of range for your startup, but the point stands. Be innovative!
Beware of outdated tech
Few marketers would pursue MySpace influencers in this day and age. When zeroing in on influencers in specific realms, consider the long-term potential. On a dying platform, you won’t have longevity. If there’s a flash in the pan, make sure you’re there when it matters.
How to use influencers in B2B
Firstly, use the tips already mentioned to identify the right influencers. Thereafter, devise content themes that will appeal to their values, and reach out for their input. This could be limited to a quote, or perhaps their collaboration on a full section of an ebook or whitepaper guide. As influencers, they’ll enjoy the exposure, and will share your content once it’s published.
Reach out to a select group of expert influencers, and invite them to a webinar. This could be conducted on Google Hangouts, which is simple enough to operate. Have a free and open discussion about some hot topics in your industry.
Gather the most impactful quotes from your list of influencers into one neat place; perhaps a blog post, SlideShare presentation, or animated video uploaded to YouTube. Share their expert insights, and @ mention them when you do.
A video mini-series
Not quick or cheap, but with online video absolutely killing it at the moment, it’s definitely worth the time and monetary investment. Create a mini documentary series about a key topic within your industry, and invite influencers to interview and contribute. This will maximise reach and ensure that your startup is taken seriously.
Quote on social media
Regularly engage with your target influencers on social media, and don’t be afraid to quote and repost or retweet what they say. It’s a fine balance though, as you don’t want to appear too needy or stalker-like.
The article highlighted just some of the many ways that you can include influencers in your content creation and distribution. You could also consider the following.
Involve influencers in the process of product development, seek feedback and input on launches, and ideas for the future. Encourage emotional buy-in.
Offer your services pro-bono to help them with a problem they’re encountering. Monitor their social media updates to spot an opportunity where you can be of value.
Influencer marketing for startups
There’s no denying that the startup world operates very differently to the world of big business in many ways. Generally, at a startup, you have the advantage of being able to work in an agile way and react quickly with marketing activities that maximise impact.
The other side to this is that you’re in the early stages of building your brand profile and reputation. As a consequence, you may not offer as attractive a proposition to your target influencers when it comes to potential increase in their following. However, this doesn’t mean that effective influencer marketing is beyond your reach.
Increasingly, the power of ‘micro-influencers’ is being recognised, and companies are looking more towards working with people who, while well-regarded in their (usually niche) area, have a lower number of followers than a traditional influencer. This reflects what Rustin Banks said about “the power middle”, mentioned earlier in this article.
For these influencers, although their reach may be lower, their engagement is actually higher when compared with that of most ‘macro-influencers’ and they will likely be more willing to collaborate with fledgling companies.
Influencer marketing vs. others
Influencer marketing is often confused with other similar avenues. Here’s a quick overview and comparison.
A commission-based agreement between a business and an affiliate. The affiliate sends leads or sales through to the business. For sales, the affiliate will receive a percentage of the transacted amount. For leads, this commission will be based on the typical conversion rate of the business, to ensure profitability for both parties.
Broadly speaking, advocate marketing is the practice of engaging loyal fans, followers, and customers with the aim of raising brand awareness and increasing reach to those who might not know the business or product.
This involves the encouragement of existing customers and brand advocates to refer their friends, followers, and business contacts to your business. These programs are often incentivised, and can be highly effective in driving positive word-of-mouth.
There may be a place in your strategy for all the above, but in order to determine the effectiveness of each, you should engage in iterative low-risk testing. This is the case for measuring the effectiveness of all your digital marketing channels, organic and paid.
As a startup, it can be difficult to gain traction in a highly competitive market. Generating awareness is essential, and starting from scratch takes time. Influencer marketing gives your brand a leg-up, by leveraging existing audiences and extending your reach beyond what would normally be possible.
First and foremost, it’s important to find influencers that will amplify your message correctly. This means that they should believe in what you’re doing, whilst enjoying the fruits of a mutually-beneficial relationship, whether it’s for financial gains or otherwise. Do good work and align your brand with their values, and you’ll attract the right sort of ambassadors.
Integrate influencer marketing with your existing content marketing strategy for the best results. Align key themes, and ensure that your output is consistent and cohesive, whether it’s being created and shared by influencers, or through your own channels