Influencer marketing is a well-established strategy in the B2C sphere. That’s a given. We’ve all witnessed the success consumer-facing brands have had when a stylized product image is placed in an influencers’ Instagram feed.
But if you think influencer marketing isn’t a viable strategy for B2B, think again. Increasingly, B2B marketers are experimenting with influencer marketing, but—truthfully—they’ve been doing it for years. Think of all the customers that have contributed perspectives to your case studies or speaking panels. Think of the brand advocates who have contributed to a white paper or co-presented in a webinar.
For years, B2B marketers have trusted and benefitted form the core principle of influencer marketing: an independent, trusted third-party has a great and genuine ability to connect with your audience in a meaningful way.
Shifts in traditional marketing tactics will only continue to make influencer marketing more important. As paid advertising becomes more expensive, and, in some cases, less effective, companies of all shapes and sizes are turning to earned exposure through influencer marketing.
And I would argue influencer marketing is more important for B2B than B2C. The average purchase size in B2B typically dwarfs that of B2C. Thus, there is greater risk associated with B2B decision making, and when risk is higher customers seek to avoid mistakes by doing their homework. The impact of referrals and word of mouth are more critical to your organization’s success: Ninety-one percent of B2B purchases are at least influenced by word of mouth.
While the tenets of influencer marketing work similarly for B2B and B2C, the strategy takes a slightly different form in B2B. Here are the differences you need to keep in mind:
- Expand Your Definition.
When most people think of influencer marketing, they think of Instagram. Yes, there are influencers on Instagram, but they are also on YouTube. There are influential bloggers and vloggers. Influencers run private Facebook and LinkedIn communities. They are your current customers. They are your partners, and they can be your employees. The truth is they are everywhere.
Influence does not correlate to a particular social network. Influence is about the ability to create a community. Thus, an influencer is a person who has built an engaged community through content that aligns around ideas, questions, and goals.
- Stretch Your Time Horizon
Because B2B purchase decisions are often more nuanced and comprehensive than consumer purchases, the impact of B2B influencer marketing takes longer to root. Further, because most B2B purchases involve a number of decision makers, it will take longer for the impact of B2B influencer marketing to touch those people. Incidentally, this is why, we should all use more influencers in cooperation with account-based marketing.
At Convince & Convert we estimate you shouldn’t expect results from a B2B influencer marketing program for at least six months, and you should seek to work with B2B influencers for a year at a time. This differs a lot from B2C influencer programs, which can be as short as a month in duration.
- Focus on More than Social Strength
Social media reach is often used as a key measure of influence, but it isn’t the only way to gauge influencer marketing strength. Some of the most powerful influencers in the world are not active at all in social media.
When creating an influencer marketing program, consider people who may not be social mavens but are respected thinkers, authors, speakers, podcasters, and researchers. Using social reach as the primary criteria makes it easier and faster find influencers, but doing that alone will miss influential people your customers respect.
- Emphasize Co-Creation
B2B influencers aren’t supposed to repeat your talking points or retweet your account word for word. If that’s the game plan, just buy some ads. The more influencers have a chance to put their own take on the benefits of your products and services, the more impactful they are on your behalf.
The best way to make a mark with an influencer is to find the right people and educate them. Clearly explain what you are looking to accomplish and why it’s important. Then, listen. Give your influencers an opportunity to come up with ideas on how to create interesting content, how to engage with key customers, how to enable your sales team, and more.
- Be Acutely-Aware of Conflicts
B2B influencer marketing programs are more likely to have circumstances where a proposed influencer cannot participate, or at least can’t participate in the way your business believes is ideal, due to existing relationships, company partnerships, or job restrictions.
Many B2C influencers make all or part of their living recommending products. This isn’t the case with B2B influencers. In the B2B sphere, influencers have a day job and are influential in part because of that position. That day job is typically a reason a B2B influencer yields influence.
This is yet another reason why you need to give yourself enough time to find and activate B2B influencer marketing programs. Sixty days is the minimum lead time necessary to research and approach influencers and determine what type of program is feasible without the risk of conflict.
While the principles of influencer marketing are similar in B2B and B2C, the practice of this marketing discipline is not. For a B2B marketer, the programs, approaches, timeline and mindset are all distinctive to your customer and their journey. Understanding how to put those differences into practice can help you drive greater visibility and credibility and convert trust into engagement.
Jay Baer is the founder of Convince & Convert, a Hall of Fame keynote speaker and emcee, host of the award-winning Social Pros podcast, and the author of six books including Talk Triggers: The Complete Guide to Creating Customers with Word of Mouth.
Check out more blogs from Jay here!