According to the World Federation of Advertisers, 65% of multinational brands will increase their influencer marketing spending next 12 months. Mediakix reports that that influencer ad spending alone will increase from $5 billion to $10 billion in the next 5 years.
Clearly, more companies are moving into the influencer marketing world. Recent research from Traackr and Brian Solis from Altimeter group offers evidence of this momentum with the number of companies moving from experimenting to implementing tactical influencer marketing programs increasing from 28% to 47%.
While there’s a lot of inertia towards influencer marketing, it’s still early days for many companies, especially in B2B industries. Fortunately, B2B influencer content is a speciality area for us and if you’re thinking about starting or evolving your business influencer engagement and content program, here are a few things to consider:
1. Anticipate the challenges with influencers, influencer marketing agencies and brand efforts:
Marketing agencies come in many flavors from those who are specialized to full service to advertising focused to content focused. I think one thread of challenge that runs through all of them is finding the right talent to meet the needs of modern marketing – especially influencer marketing.
With potential influencer marketing agency partners, you really have to consider: How long have they been implementing influencer marketing programs in your industry, what examples can they share (with performance data) and what kind of relevant industry influencer network relationships have they built?
For B2C brands, there are increasing challenges regarding influencer legitimacy and the authenticity of their networks. There is a lot of money to be made for self-anointed and opportunistic influencers which incentivizes them to buy fake followers.
Brands have challenges in compliance enforcement, especially as FTC guidelines get more specific and the influence of GDPR reaches across the pond to affect data privacy regulations in the US, brands have to figure out their processes, disclosure policies and governance.
B2B brands are running a little behind B2C in terms of influencer marketing sophistication and have not been investing as much in technology, staff or the influencers themselves. However that is starting to change and B2B brands are making great progress on engaging influencers for content across the entire customer journey to collaborating with more micro-influencers.
Top challenges for influencers include ensuring their own disclosure and “clean” networks to earn and keep brand trust. Big name influencers are now competing against many niche influencers as brands seek to lower their costs and boost engagement levels. Those big names will need to work harder on being effective vs. just being famous.
2. What B2B and/or B2C brands get wrong about influencer marketing campaigns:
Brands who view influencers purely as an advertising distribution channel really miss the mark on the opportunity that influencer relationships can bring. Pay or play has it’s place in both B2C and B2B influencer engagements, but when brands limit their view to a transactional engagement model only, they’re often disappointed with the results.
There’s an expression I like to use: Pay an influencer and they’ll be your friend for the day. Help someone become more influential and they’ll be an advocate and friend for life. It’s important to pay for the right kind of engagement, but also focus on developing relationships with both up and coming as well as established influencers.
Short term thinking gets short term results. Tactically, brands that use a shotgun approach to invite influencers only when they need them won’t see very high recruitment rates. The same goes for non-personalized, ego-centric messages from brands that are only concerned with what the brand wants to get out of the collaboration.
3. Understand the best practices for success when managing relationships between brand and influencers:
Our focus at TopRank Marketing is B2B content and influencer marketing, so the approach and best practices are different than working with consumer focused influencers. Longer sales journeys, larger purchase decisions that are often made by committees vs. individuals make B2B a very different animal in the influencer marketing world. Also, in B2B there is less “pay to play” so the importance of values alignment with the brand and true relationships is very high.
B2B influencers tend to have more subject matter expertise than the media creation skills often found in B2C, so the approach to recruit them often has to be based on how their collaboration with the brand will create value for their mutual audiences.
Relationships are an investment. We’ve found that B2B influencers will be more invested in the brand when the brand invests more in an ongoing relationship with the influencer.
Different types of influencers have different motivations so it is important to approach them accordingly. Brandviduals play the exposure and fame game, so engaging them would be very different than engaging a cybersecurity engineer with a niche, but highly active audience.
Always-on social monitoring and engagement are essential for quality interactions with influencers on an ongoing basis and especially when you are not working with them on a campaign. Software is essential for this kind of social CRM, listening and engagement.
4. Opportunities for improvement in the influencer marketing world:
More effort to validate the social networks of influencers is important and I think social media platforms are moving in the right direction in this regard. Marketplaces that collect influencers for brands to engage need to do more when it comes to ensuring authenticity of the influencer networks and influencer disclosure of brand relationships.
Influencers actually being influential and honest about their brand relationships.
A more holistic view of who is influential to include employees, customers, partners and community – not just famous industry celebrities.
Focus on relationship over transactional approach to engaging influencers. If they don’t care, they won’t share and relationships are key for driving brand/influencer connection strength.
Improvements in Influencer marketing software including better integration between influencer marketing platforms and content marketing platforms, analytics, CRM and marketing automation platforms.
5. What is working well in the influencer marketing world:
Everybody wins is a winning strategy. When brands “get it right” with recruiting influencers who are authentically interested in both the product/service and are genuinely active in the communities of interest, it’s a win for everyone involved.
Content collaboration is an incredible relationship builder with B2B influencers. Rather than focusing entirely on engagement to build a relationship so the influencer will accept an offer to collaborate, brands that provide relevant, easy to do collaboration opportunities can see more rapid and qualitative influencer engagement. The act of creating something together that is relevant, easy to do and high exposure sets the stage for future collaborations.
Relationships lead to ROI. While many influencer collaborations focus around campaigns, it is the strength of brand and influencer relationship that inspires higher quality contributions, more effective promotion, loyalty and advocacy for the brand.
6. What the next 3-5 years will hold for influencer marketing:
Everyone is influential about something and I think in the next few years we’ll see a lot more democratized marketing through brand collaborations with their customers and community as much as they do now with micro and macro influencers.
Some of the influencer marketing platforms like Traackr, Onalytica and GroupHigh are doing a fairly good job at innovating and creating features that help brands make the most out of identifying, managing and measuring authentic engagement opportunities.
It’s possible that as AI advances, avatar influencers become more accepted and brand mascots or personas come to life to engage customers. I think there will be some consolidation in the influencer marketing software space, especially with social CRM and employee advocacy platforms. I’d really like to see LinkedIn Sales Navigator offer some influencer identification and relationship management features.
Influencer Marketing is now an established practice that has well defined best practices for influencer identification, engagement and measurement – especially when it comes to content collaborations. Hopefully this post shared a few related and additional ideas for you to benefit from as you consider entering the influencer marketing space or want to improve the pilot programs you’ve already started.