You probably won’t hear a lot about B2B influencer marketing in the media. You won’t see half-time commercials of an influencer campaign highlighting client success stories. You’ll never, ever see billboards with B2B influencers posing pretty next to a data center, either. It just won’t happen. But B2B influencer marketing is the most effective digital marketing strategy to influence B2B buyers and change brand perception.
What is B2B Influencer Marketing?
The definition of B2B influencer marketing isn’t a complicated one. It’s defined the same way, regardless of what industry or vertical you work in–B2B, technology, construction management, facilities, consumer tech, fashion, travel, or healthcare. Influencer marketing is when a company hires an individual or a group of individuals to participate in a marketing campaign in some unique way. It’s a value exchange of money for influence.
Even though the definition of influencer marketing is the same for all types of companies, the execution is different and will be unique. For consumer brands, influencers are considered to be creators. They focus more on lifestyle, fun, and cultural-related content. They use photos, filters, and short videos on TikTok, Instagram Stories, Snapchat, and Pinterest.
Business influencers have a narrower focus on creating thought leadership content in articles, blog posts, videos, and other social media platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn. They are content creators but don’t necessarily consider themselves “creators.”
What is a B2B Influencer?
There are several ways to break down and segment the B2B influencer. At the end of the day, though, they are thought leaders and industry experts in all things technology, business, and innovation. Many are subject matter experts and have worked as executives, engineers, or data scientists in enterprise companies. Here are a few technology influencers who fall into this category:
- Dr. Sally Eaves: CEO & CTO Advisor and Policy Advisor for the Global Foundation for Cyber Studies and Research. I know Sally personally, and she is highly knowledgeable about AI, Data, and Financial Technology.
- Sarbjeet Johal is a Silicon Valley technologist, and he has worked for Oracle, Rackspace, VMWare, and other tech firms. I also know Sarbjeet, and he’s an engineer by trade and has a lot of knowledge in the software industry and has established himself as an industry analyst here in the Valley.
- Rumman Chowdhury is Director of ML Ethics & Accountability at Twitter. She also worked as a Senior Principal, Artificial Intelligence at Accenture. With degrees from MIT, Columbia, and a Ph.D. from UCSD, to say she’s an expert in AI would be an understatement. I also know Rumman, and she’s a friendly and easy-going person.
- Helen Yu: Founder of Tigon Advisory, CXO-as-a-Service growth accelerator.
While these individuals might not consider themselves to be a “B2B influencer”, I know for a fact that there are dozens of PR professionals that have each one of them on a list somewhere. And, yes, they are all very influential.
A large segment of B2B influencers are also analysts for research and advisory companies, not just top-tier firms like Gartner, Forrester, and IDC. Smaller firms like Constellation Research, Everest Group, HfS Research, Aragon Research, and RedMonk are equally as influential to B2B buyers, if not more. Here are a few that fall into this category.
- Phil Fersht: Principal Analyst and Founder of HfS Research
- Ray Wang: CEO, Constellation Research
- Rachel Stephens: RedMonk Analyst
- Peter Bendor-Samuel: Founder/CEO, Everest Group
- Jim Lundy: CEO & Lead Analyst at Aragon Research
Some reporters and journalists are highly influential and can be considered a B2B influencer. ZDNet has a healthy roster of influential writers that I have been tracking for years:
- Joe McKendrick: A hybrid analyst/journalist who writes for several tech media outlets
- Larry Dignan: Editor in Chief for Celonis (previously ZDNet)
- Dion Hinchcliffe: Dion is more of a business strategist and thought leader
- Angelica Mari: Tech journalist and writes for Forbes, ComputerWeekly, Bloomberg Línea
- Charlie Osborne: Charlie also contributes to The Daily Swig, a web security news publication
The benefits of working with B2B and technology influencers are that they have diverse audiences and are trusted by their peers. Unlike influencers in the consumer space, business influencers aren’t what you would call “professional influencers” at all. Instead, they are just passionate about business and technology, and they all have very engaged audiences.
Why is B2B Influencer Marketing Important to the Buyer Journey?
According to Gartner, B2B buyers in enterprise software spend 27% of their time researching information online. This provides several opportunities to use influencer marketing to reach potential customers and the larger target audience.
And while the majority of B2B marketers spend most of their time at the bottom of the funnel trying to convert leads, there are some additional benefits of building a B2B influencer marketing campaign at the top and middle stages of the sales funnel:
- Boosting brand awareness by reaching the influencer’s audience
- Driving website traffic and follower growth on social media
- Building brand reputation across new audiences
- Increasing brand awareness among new community groups
As I have already stated, influencer content consistently ranks high in Google. So after a marketing campaign ends, as long as you ask the influencer to create long-form content, you will reap the benefits of that engagement for a long time.
The Differences Between Influencer Relations and Influencer Marketing
Influencer relations is a different way of saying media relations. It’s when a PR professional treats industry influencers the same way they would treat a journalist. To be more specific, they would pitch news and stories to influencers by sending them an email or calling them on the phone. There is no money exchange for any services rendered or stories written. It’s 100% earned media and all about influencer relationships. Influencer relations is a critical function that falls within the public relations team.
Are You Measuring Influence The Right Way?
The first and most critical step in measuring influence is using data and analytics to identify the most relevant influencers. And that means you must understand how influence is measured. If you get this wrong, your entire influencer marketing strategy won’t perform as expected, and you’ll have a lot of explaining to do to senior management. I have seen this happen on several different occasions, where marketers would rush through the process of influencer identification and launch a marketing campaign just to meet a deadline. The program may not fail miserably, but you won’t get the results you expect, nor will you experience a marketing ROI of a thoughtful and well-planned B2B influencer strategy.
Measuring influence is subjective. Too many marketers rely solely on the outputs and reporting of influencer marketing platforms. It’s a good start but only tells a very small piece of the story.
Here’s why. Typically most platforms use three data points to measure influence:
- Reach: The size of their social community
- Relevance: How often are they talking about a topic
- Resonance: The engagement they get from posting and creating content
These B2B influencer marketing tools do an excellent job at this because it’s counting numbers. That’s it. And even with different algorithms, most tools are consistent with each other when ranking topical-based industry influencers. The three data points are just weighted differently.
The one last step in measuring influence is reference. Reference has two equal parts. First, it measures how often (if at all) the media or other influencers reference the individual in question. In other words, are they being mentioned in articles, reports, blog posts, podcasts, or social media?
The second part is how often a specific audience mentions the influencer, like developers, security engineers, or CTOs. Again, this can be a manual process unless you have access to a social media intelligence platform that can save you time and money.
Here’s why reference is important.
Imagine you were analyzing 5G influencers and have identified the top five that you plan to work with. They all have huge communities, they all talk about 5G, and when they talk about 5G, they get excellent engagement from their followers. Four out of the five influencers have all been mentioned in the media, other influencers, and various audiences. The question is: do you work with the one influencer that hasn’t been referenced by anyone else? It depends.
Everyone defines and values influence differently. Some view reach and engagement as the ultimate data point when activating influencer marketing campaigns. Others are more rigorous with data and demand to see how a B2B influencer program delivers business value through sales and leads. The key is to align your influencer marketing strategy to the B2B sales funnel.
How to Identify the Right Influencers
The 1:9:90 influencer model segments influencers and social audiences across topics, industries, markets and is a valuable model that can inform a B2B influencer marketing strategy. A market is a place where buyers and sellers gather and exchange goods and services and can be defined in many different ways–SaaS companies over $100M in revenue, enterprise security software, big data companies, or more specific markets that cater to DevOps, AIOps, or Robotics Process Automation (RPA). Baby diapers and wedding fashion are also markets.
The model is broken down by the 1%, the 9%, and the 90%.
The 1% creates new models, ideas, and innovations and tells compelling stories through blogs, webinars, videos, and articles. They are quoted in the media, guests on podcasts, and many have their own media platforms.
The 9% can be referred to as a specific audience group. For example, the audience can be a group of engineers, developers, or IT managers. They repackage influencer content, provide their own context and share it with their social communities. They are highly vocal online, have large audiences, and are influential.
The 90% are what I refer to as lurkers or, in some cases, the “general market.” All they do is consume content and information. They Google everything, ask their peers and friends for recommendations, read G2 reviews, and rarely create content. As a result, they are highly influenced by both the 1% and the 9%.
The 1:9:90 Model of Influence works exceptionally well when looking for topical-based influencers, such as the top cybersecurity influencers or an audience talking about digital transformation. Since the model uses reach, relevance, resonance and reference mentioned above, the common denominator for building an influencer list is the actual topic being discussed, which is relevance.
Another way to find influencers is to first build an audience of potential customers. You may also want to include existing customers as well. For example, if you were marketing to software developers, you would build an audience and then mine the data to see who influences them. Nine times out of ten, it’s not who you think it’s going to be. In my opinion, this is probably the best way to find the most relevant and impactful influencers for any brand and most small businesses.
Integrating B2B Influencer Marketing Campaigns Across All Media
There are several ways to integrate influencers into an influencer marketing campaign and program:
Start with Organic Influencer Engagement
As previously mentioned, influencer relations is closely aligned with traditional media relations. The approach typically involves sending influencers certain products or giving them instant access to executives, product managers, or a piece of software. And then hoping that they create 2-3 social media posts, record a video on TikTok, write a blog post, and then tell all their friends through a series of content creation and posting on their social channels. This is a solid influencer marketing strategy for consumer brands, and it should always be included in a more extensive marketing campaign.
Organic influencer engagement is taking it one step further but it’s fairly easy to do. It involves following influencers, adding them to a Twitter list, subscribing to their blogs and YouTube channels, sharing their content, tagging them and Retweeting their content. There’s very little effort or participation needed and it costs nothing. That’s it.
Real-time Influencer Content Engine
This approach can replace all organic social media if it’s done right.
Organic influencer marketing combines data & analytics with content marketing and storytelling that positions your brand at the center of relevant conversations with people that matter.
To recap, you’ll need to identify the most impactful B2B influencers using the 1:9:90 Model of Influence. The number of influencers will depend on your goals, but it’s typically between 25 and 200.
From there, you’ll want to add the influencer’s social handles into a real-time listening panel and create filters using the topics and keywords that are important to your business.
This is where the engagement starts, but it’s more than just following influencers on social media and liking their content. It’s about making the influencer the hero of the story and giving them credit for their perspective.
At the same time, it serves as an opportunity to provide unique context on essential topics to your business. It’s a form of thought leadership but letting influencers take the lead, supplemented with a creative digital asset (animated video, gif, static image) and promoted to a larger, influential audience.
Once you identify the right influencers and add them to a real-time listening panel, the content engine works something like this:
Two paths can be taken based on your marketing strategy. The first path requires no action other than reporting and making recommendations. The second path requires immediate action to activate the real-time content engine.
Reporting, Recommendations & Influencer Insights
- Monitor the influencer conversations in real-time to see what’s trending.
- Provide daily, weekly, or monthly influencer insights.
- Recommend activation opportunities based on the insights.
- Provide content recommendations for employees and executives for employee advocacy programs and executive activation.
- Monitor the influencer conversations in real-time to see what’s trending.
- Provide daily, weekly, or monthly influencer insights.
- Scrum with a team of analysts, creatives, community managers, content strategists, and paid social experts to brainstorm influencer content and activation opportunities.
- Create the shareable digital assets, usually an animated video, gif, or digital asset. In some cases, a blog post could be produced.
- Post & amplify the content with strategic paid social targeting larger audiences.
The goal of real-time influencer engagement isn’t to be relevant to everyone. It’s to be highly relevant to your audience. For example, everyone remembers the Oreo Tweet in 2013 during Super Bowl XLVII. Since then, many brands have tried to “hijack” cultural moments to insert themselves into an existing narrative and reach a broad audience. Sometimes it works, but most times, it doesn’t.
This is where real-time listening to influencer conversations becomes valuable. Rather than trying to align your brand with everyone, this approach leverages the target influencers that are most important to drive relevance with your brand. As a result, this approach delivers significant value to influencer marketing for B2B brands.
Paid B2B Influencer Marketing
A paid B2B influencer marketing campaign can just about guarantee that content will reach the desired audience. When COVID 19 happened, B2B and technology brands had to cancel customer and industry events, which crippled their sales pipeline. They had to innovate and continue to do so. Below are four ways to activate influencer programs virtually and still generate the same level of business impact.
- 1:1 Topical-Based Interviews: Pre-recorded or live conversations between influencers and executives or subject-matter experts discussing technology, trends, and predictions. The content can be cut into smaller digital assets for distribution on brand channels, given to influencers to share ad promoted with paid.
- Collaborative Content: Co-creation of long-form digital assets where influencers provide unique perspectives on a topic or trend. The content can be cut into smaller digital assets for distribution on brand channels, given to influencers to share ad promoted with paid.
- Guest Blogging: There are two ways to think about guest blogging. One approach is to invite influencers to write a blog post on the corporate blog and give them complete editorial control of the content. This process would include asking the influencers to share the post on their personal social media channels. The other approach is asking influencers to write a blog on their own social media platforms and giving them specific instructions on where to place hyperlinks to the corporate website. This method will have a long-term positive effect on the organic search results.
- Virtual Panel Discussions: Pre-recorded or live conversations between a group of influencers, partners, and executives discussing trending business topics of the day. The content can be cut into smaller digital assets for distribution on brand channels, given to influencers to share ad promoted with paid.
- Social Chat Activation: Enlist influencers to moderate and participate in planned chats about a specific topic or trend in technology. Seed all questions with participating influencers, ensuring an adequate and timely response. The content can be cut into smaller digital assets for distribution on brand channels, given to influencers to share ad promoted with paid. The content can be cut into smaller digital assets for distribution on brand channels, given to influencers to share ad promoted with paid.
The Integration of Employee Advocacy & B2B Influencer Marketing
Employee advocacy is a marketing program meant to train, deploy, and support employees to participate in industry-related conversations, promote and defend the brand and build personal thought leadership. In this context, employee advocacy accounts for employees who work in specialized job functions, executives, and the sales team.
We already know that the B2B buyer spends a lot of time online researching products and services and participating in social media discussions. They are consistently seeking out third-party validation throughout the entire buyer journey. They are very active on social media and trust peers and colleagues more than marketing.
Smart brands are integrating employee programs with B2B influencer marketing by facilitating strategic technology discussions on public social media channels like Twitter and LinkedIn or within a branded online community, similar to what SAP created years ago and the recently launched Brandwatch Community.
The result is a fruitful conversation seen and participated with by influencers, buyers, and other members of the technology community. These conversations are also indexed in Google and have a lifespan of forever.
Additionally, there is a practice called executive and influencer mapping. It’s very similar to the real-time influencer engagement mentioned above, but instead of the activation coming from branded channels, it comes from the executive social media profile.
Using Influencer Analytics to Inform a Content Strategy
Below is an example of how to use influencer analytics to identify the most influential people talking about data science. Below, you’ll see Kirk Borne’s influencer profile. He is one of the most influential data scientists on the planet. You’ll also notice several data points representing different variables about Kirk’s topics the most.
The most critical data point supporting Kirk’s status as an influencer is reference, as mentioned above. In 2019, he was mentioned well over 176K times by a social listening panel of 10K self-identified IT decision makers. This means that the resonance of his content over indexes against a very influential ITDM audience.
Influencer mapping is more than just a beautiful data visualization. It’s a critical approach that maps the connective tissue of a group of influencers. It visually shows relationships of data that you couldn’t see in an Excel document. This data type can surface new B2B influencers, narratives, topics, and audiences.
Influencer mapping can be done in several ways, depending on what you are looking to do. In some cases, the connection can be based on affinities, interests, and characteristics – what brands they follow, what industries they work in, or where they live. It can also be found on topics – what themes, narratives, and issues they talk about publicly. It can be based on audience – which groups of people they influence and the connection points of each audience. Lastly, it can be done to identify new individuals to identify “who” is influencing your group of influencers.
Once you’ve identified the top influencers, it’s important to focus time and effort on influencer analytics and research. It involves adding the group of influencers into a real-time listing panel and mining the conversations to understand what topics are most important to them. It’s critical to look at historical discussions because it can help spot older trends and predict new ones. Influencer intelligence can surface several actionable insights like the following:
- Conversational trends over time can help uncover what topics of conversation that have become more or less important this group of influencers
- Conversational trends in real-time (mission-critical for organic influencer engagement) will show what trending topics are happening among the group of influencers
- Conversation analysis will uncover the hidden narratives and topics that influences really care about (e.g., yes, artificial intelligence is a hot topic, what exactly is the context)
- Sentiment analysis will show how influencers really feel about products, brands, technology news and specific issues that may be culturally important
Here’s an example of influencer trends analysis that tracked ten security influencers and their conversations over a 12 month period. You’ll notice the fluctuation in certain topics and how they increase/decrease in certain time frames.
Influencer marketing data like this will require you to access the B2B influencer marketing platform but, please don’t invest in the first vendor you hear about. You’ll want to make sure that you invest in the right influencer marketing software to meet your business requirements and help scale your program when you’re ready.
Think of a real-time listening panel as a custom search engine. In Google, when you type in a query and hit “Enter,” you will get the most relevant results back based on your search term. A listening panel works the same way. But in this case, when you type in a query, the results will be precisely what the influencers are saying about the keywords and phrases you are searching for.
Most social media monitoring tools can do this. So, once you find the top influencers, you add the social handles to a dashboard (some social platforms call it a query) and use filtering to mine the data. This methodology is also effective for real-time content marketing and audience analysis.
Choosing the Right B2B Influencer Marketing Platform
There is a shortage of B2B influencer marketing platforms in the marketplace. Sadly, most of the software is meant for influencer programs for consumer brands. There has been very little innovation in this space.
For B2B and technology brands, there are three software platforms that I would recommend taking a look at since their capabilities most closely align with B2B:
Traackr used to have the best B2B influencer capabilities available in the market, and they continue to add new features. They can search for influencers in several different ways:
- Bio search. How influencers self-identify within their social profiles.
- Content search. What topics and narratives are top of mind.
- Bio & content search. Combing the two is where it gets powerful. Imagine looking for influential developers talking about DevOps or security. The bio search would be something like “programmer, engineer, software developer,” and the content search would be #devops, #infosec, #secops, and #devsecops.
- By audience. Looking for influencers that reach audiences interested in a specific topic like business or technology.
- All of the above. Bio, content, and audience are compelling and typically return unexpected influencers.
On a scale of 1-10 for reporting, I would rank them a 7. There’s not a lot of flexibility on the data and no filtering. One major drawback is that Traackr doesn’t export influencer profiles until they are added to a project.
Onalytica is similar to Traackr, with a few differences. One, they support complete Boolean logic when searching bios and content. This is a massive differentiator for power users like myself but may alienate those new to data and analytics.
Second, their analytics and reporting suite is a lot more robust. The data can be sliced a lot of different ways allowing for multiple cuts and exports of the data. They also give users the ability to export influencer handles within the discover portion of their software. They also recently launched an influencer marketing marketplace and connects brands to B2B influencers.
Audiense is more of an audience intelligence platform. As mentioned above, the most effective way to find the relevant and impactful influencers is to build an audience and see who influences them. You can do this with Audiense.
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