The influencer identification, validation, and recruitment process is time consuming, resource intensive, and high stakes. Without the right mix of influencers to drive awareness, intrigue, conversation, and action, your marketing initiatives will miss the mark with your audience and fall short of expectations.
But how? How do you artfully and strategically find, vet, and entice industry experts to partner with you?
You need to do your homework—and fortunately, insights from several seasoned B2B influencer marketing experts can provide some great guidance.
Read on to get perspectives and advice from leaders serving a range of B2B brands, as well as some of our own resident experts.
#1 – Set the bar for quality—not quantity of audience reach.
Analyzing an influencer’s social reach and following is certainly par for the influencer identification and qualification course. Amplification and reaching new audiences are primary objectives for most marketers’ influencer marketing efforts.
But seasoned B2B influencer marketing leaders have some words of caution: Don’t let large follower counts be a distraction or the only means of qualification.
It’s critical to dig deeper to truly gain an understanding of who an influencer is, what they can offer your audience and brand, what they’re talking about, the kind of content they’re sharing, and the list goes on.
“Go beyond what the numbers are and see what that data really means,” Amisha Gandhi, Vice President of Influencer Marketing and Communications for SAP Ariba, shared with us. “Look at who influencers are engaging with, how many comments they receive and how long they’ve been engaging.”
And as Martin Jones, Senior Marketing Manager at Cox Communications shared: “Selection of the right influencers for your campaign will be one of the single most significant factors in its success or failure. It’s easy to get excited about a big name or an influencer with a large following, but neither of those will necessarily translate to your ultimate goal of delivering results to your organization.”
It’s easy to get excited about a big name or an influencer with a large following, but neither of those will necessarily translate to your ultimate goal of delivering results to your organization. @martinjonesaz Click To Tweet
#2 – Keep relevance at the forefront.
Relevance is a key success driver for any marketing initiative. Relevance breeds resonance, which is key to connecting with buyers at every stage of the funnel and building trust. Working with influencers who don’t topically align or lack the right expertise simply won’t produce fruitful results for either party—or your audience.
As Ashley Zeckman, TopRank Marketing’s Senior Director of Digital Strategy, has said: “First, you’re going to want to identify the topics that are most important to your audience and how they align with the topics you want to be known for. Then, you’ll need to determine what types of influencers (aligned with your target topics) will be the best fit based on your objectives. Each influencer type holds a different value for your audience and your brand.”
Here’s an example of a topical alignment score Ashley shared. (See if you can guess the “client.”)
Identify the topics that are most important to your audience and how they align with the topics you want to be known for. Then identify the right types of relevant influencers. @azeckman Click To Tweet
Influencer types include brandividuals—those recognizable experts who have an extensive network size—as well as up-and-comers, niche and internal experts, and current customers and prospects.
One great way to ensure relevance is to do some old-fashioned crowd sourcing, according to Lucy Moran, now the Senior Vice President of Brand, Digital, and BU Marketing at Dun & Bradstreet.
“Ask your customers who they follow or read,” she said. “They are your target audience and you want to be where they are.”
Finally, finding the right fit also comes down to shared values, according to Abobe’s Head of Social Influencer Enablement, Rani Mani.
“My main tip is to make the upfront investment to ensure the influencer is the right cultural fit for your brand,” she told us. “Ultimately, ask yourself pretty much the same questions as you would if you were going to hire this individual because, at the end of the day, they will be representing your brand.”
#3 – Take an always-on approach to vetting existing and prospective influencers.
As TopRank Marketing CEO Lee Odden is often quoted as saying: “Everyone is influential about something.” This means that there’s always opportunities to connect and work with relevant thought leaders—and you should be looking at those opportunities on a regular basis.
Perhaps one of the biggest opportunities in this arena is identifying and nurturing up-and-coming experts. As Lee also says: “Work with an influencer, you’re friends for a day. Help someone become influential and they’re a friend for life.”
But from an even more practical perspective, regularly vetting your influencer partners and prospects helps ensure you’re keeping your eye on relevance.
“A sophisticated influencer program doesn’t rely on a single identification method or one-time vetting process to start and maintain a relationship with an influencer, but rather develops a scorecard that gets constantly reviewed and, most importantly, evolves as this emerging field matures,” Dr. Konstanze Alex, Head of Corporate Influencer Relations at Dell, so eloquently said.
#4 – Aim to build long-term relationships, not one-time transactions.
At its core, influencer marketing is all about brands engaging and developing relationships with individuals—individuals who have relevant topical expertise, reach, and resonance that aligns with the goals of the brand. But strong, lasting relationships aren’t built in a day.
We’re big believers in growing partnerships long before you make your first collaboration ask. But the linchpin of this approach is showing influencers the value a partnership with your brand can bring.
“We’ve scaled back the scope of our engagement activities to focus on developing collaborative relationships with fewer individuals,” Angela Lipscomb, Influencer Relations Manager for SAS, shared. “That means that sometimes we focus on influencers who may not have the largest reach, but have greater engagement and subject-matter authority and the ability to inspire.”
“I want to get to know what makes that person tick, and how SAS can be of help to the influencer, and not just how they can be of value to us,” she added.
Do Your Homework, B2B Marketers
Your brand, industry, product or service, and audience are undeniably unique—and influence varies. Furthermore, it may be easier than ever to give the perception of influence. (Here’s looking at you fake follower counts.)
As a result, you need to look beyond metrics to qualitative indicators to get to know prospective influencer partners. You need to keep relevance top of mind. You need to consistently be vetting and refining your list of partners and prospects. And you need to put effort into building relationships, rather than engaging in a one-time transactions if you want to scale.
Want more B2B influencer marketing insights? Get inspiration and insight on Influencer Marketing 2.0 from our own Lee Odden.