According to the 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report, 96% of B2B marketers that engage influencers consider their program to be successful and 90% expect their budget for influencer marketing to increase or stay the same over the next 12 months.
Why the confidence? 77% of marketers say their prospective customers rely on advice from industry experts with 84% engaging influencers to create brand awareness and 69% counting on influencers for lead generation.
Influence plays a role across the entire B2B customer lifecycle from awareness to advocacy and with B2B marketing going decidedly digital during the pandemic and uncertainty of 2020, the importance of peer, expert and influencer recommendations through social and digital media are more important than ever.
Without question, the uncertainties driven by economic, political and public health have affected business customers in a variety of ways from pausing on purchasing to taking more time to do research on solutions. How B2B marketers adapt to these changes is essential for success in 2021 and beyond.
So how are B2B brands like LinkedIn, SAP, monday.com and others finding marketing wins during a time of uncertainty? One way is through understanding which voices are most influential to their customers and then partnering with those influencers to collaborate on content used for thought leadership, brand engagement and lead generation.
Based on research of hundreds of B2B marketers, several best practices have emerged to optimize content with influence. The most successful B2B influencer marketing programs share certain characteristics including:
Engaging in ongoing (Always-On) influencer marketing vs. periodic campaigns
Rely on industry experts and analysts vs. purely social influencers
Use blogs as content publishing platforms
Use software to identify and qualify influencers vs. gut feel
Create interactive content with influencers
Have a centralized influencer marketing program
Have a documented influencer marketing strategy
But what can B2B brands expect from influencers? Everything from increased social reach to improved credibility of brand content to increases in leads in sales.
Working with the right influencers, you build credibility with the audience you are trying to reach. influencers can help you deliver content that solves problems, educates and inspires your intended audience. The biggest benefit is the engagement, how you can work with your influencers to create meaningful engagement that leads to the right outcomes for your brand. Amisha Gandhi, VP Influencer Marketing and Communications at SAP
B2B Influence in Action: Monday.com
When the pandemic swept through the world in 2020, monday.com identified an opportunity to help support teams that had gone from working in-office to working remotely. To help position itself as a valuable resource for remote teams, Monday.com partnered with TopRank Marketing to develop an influencer marketing program featuring remote work experts that could reach and engage teams facing remote work challenges more effectively than the brand on its own.
By engaging influencers with audiences hungry for information about remote work best practices, the Monday.com influencer program added value to the target audience and increased awareness of Monday.com’s solutions.
1,790% above goal social reach from influencer shares
300k organic brand social impressions from influences
Nearly 3k video views of a livestream featuring 2 influencers during the first week
Learn more about Monday.com’s best practices approach to working with B2B influencers in this case study.
Engaging influencers creates a competitive advantage for B2B brands.
Influencers’ industry expertise lends credibility that results in convincing and converting your target audience. Rani Mani, Head of Employee Advocacy at Adobe
Our research supports Rani’s insight with 77% of marketers saying their prospective customers rely on advice from industry experts.
What B2B marketers can do to take advantage of the influence opportunity is to decide what topics the brand wants to be known for that customers are seeking. Using topics of influence, a content marketing program can be developed that incorporates industry experts that are influential about those same topics.
Collaborating on content of mutual value provides influencers an incentive to help share that content with potential customers that are likely ignoring ads and formal brand marketing. As B2B brands continue to engage influencers, benefits include content for demand and lead gen as well as relationships with trusted voices that can organically advocate for the brand.
For many B2B marketers, the challenges of this past year have forced an even greater focus on marketing that is more in line with how buyers are discovering, engaging and acting on digital information. These challenges have also put a greater emphasis on marketing strategies that create a true return and impact on the business. Engaging with relevant, trusted influencers provides an opportunity to do both.
We’ve finally turned the corner to 2021 and like many other marketers in the B2B world, I am ready to make this year better than ever. One source of inspiration I’ve found effective are the insights from industry research. That’s one of the main reasons we conducted the first research survey around B2B influencer marketing.
Having watched the growth of influence in marketing for B2B companies closely over the past 9 years, 2021 represents a significant opportunity for marketers to connect with the trusted voices in their industry to co-create content, inspire meaningful engagement and community, motivate authentic brand advocacy and boost influence of brand executives and subject matter experts as well as the brand itself.
The data for B2B influencer marketing are compelling:
74% of marketers agree that influencer marketing improves customer and prospect experience with the brand
63% of marketers agree that marketing would have better results if it included a B2B influencer marketing program
12X more marketers are very successful who run always-on influencer programs vs. those who do periodic campaigns
60% of marketers who do not implement ongoing influencer marketing programs report not having the right skills in-house or knowledge to execute
But where should you start? Where should you optimize? What are successful B2B marketers doing when it comes influencer marketing? To help answer those questions and more, I’ve pulled out 45 key statistics from the State of B2B Influencer Marketing Research Report:
The B2B Influence Advantage
96% of B2B brands are confident about influencer marketing
90% of B2B companies expect their budget for influencer marketing to increase or stay the same in the next 12 months
77% of marketers say their prospective customers rely on advice from industry experts
84% of B2B marketers work with influencers to create brand awareness
69% of B2B marketers work with influencers to help generate new leads
78% of B2B marketers achieved increased social reach of brand content working with influencers
64% of B2B marketers increased the credibility of brand content working with influencers
53% of B2B marketers increased new leads by working with influencers
34% of B2B marketers increased sales by working with influencers
91% of B2B marketers say relevance of audience is the top criteria for selecting an influencer
“Engaging with influencers provides a myriad of competitive advantages.” Rani Mani, Head of Employee Advocacy at Adobe
See how Monday.com created a marketing advantage working with influencers to drive 1,790% above goal social reach from influencer shares of brand content. Case Study
The Engine of B2B Influence is Always On
60% of B2B marketers who use always-on influencer marketing are very successful vs. 5% of those who use periodic campaigns
34% of B2B marketers engage in always-on influencer marketing programs
25% of B2B marketers engage in intermittent influencer marketing campaigns
75% of marketers using always-one influencer engagement saw an increase in views of brand content
94% of B2B marketers using an always-on approach believe influencer marketing will grow in importance in the next 12 months
89% of B2B marketers using an always-on approach expect their budgets to increase or remain the same in the next 12 months
87% of B2B marketers collaborate on content with influencers
82% of B2B marketers engage influencers to promote brand content
66% of B2B marketers engage influencers to participate in events
58% of B2B marketers work with influencers as brand ambassadors
35% of B2B marketers work with influencers as brand advisors
“B2B brands would be wise to adopt an always-on influencer engagement approach and they look to build true brand advocates.” Garnor Morantes, Group Marketing Manager at LinkedIn
See how LinkedIn approached building a 75 strong influencer community organically with an always-on approach to influencer engagement resulting in nearly 2,000 brand mentions and 84 million in reach. Case Study
B2B Influencer Marketing Integration
90% of B2B marketers integrate influencer marketing with social media marketing
83% of B2B marketers integrate influencer marketing with content marketing
56% of B2B marketers integrate influencer marketing with public relations
50% of B2B marketers integrate influencer marketing with SEO
32% of B2B marketers integrate influencer marketing with ABM
83% of B2B marketers work with influencers to create blog posts
67% of B2B marketers work with influencers to create recorded video
64% of B2B marketers work with influencers to create webinars
59% of B2B marketers work with influencers to create interviews
52% of B2B marketers work with influencers to create podcasts
48% of B2B marketers work with influencers to create live video
“Integrating influencer content is a direct line to building trust and customer confidence.” Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer at MarketingProfs
See how Cherwell Software integrated their influencer marketing with content and social media to achieve a 342% better click through rate on content reaching a relevant audience that was 90% new. Case Study
B2B Influencer Marketing Operations
39% of marketers say their top challenge with influencer marketing is that the process is too manual
25% of less successful B2B marketers use software vs. 50% of the most successful to identify influencers
68% of the most successful influencer marketers have a documented strategy vs. 25% of the least successful marketers
76% of B2B marketers use software to identify influencers
66% of B2B marketers use software to monitor influencer social network activity
64% of B2B marketers use software to qualify influencers
63% of B2B marketers use software to measure and report on influencer campaign results
43% of B2B marketers use software to manage influencer campaigns
41% of B2B marketers use software to manage and nurture influencer relationships
“You need to come up with a strategy, plan of action and a process. All incorporate various tools and techniques and will give you the knowledge and skills to run a successful influencer marketing program.” Ursula Ringham, Global Head of Influencer Marketing at SAP
See how SAP’s influencer driven podcast, Tech Unknown was operationalized for multiple internal and external objectives resulting in a reach of 128 million from influencer shares and a 66% increase in downloads. Case Study
Whether you’re just getting started and considering a pilot project or you’re looking to optimize your existing influencer marketing efforts, you can find insights and inspiration from the State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report as well as the Inside B2B Influence interview series featuring top B2B brand marketers from companies like Adobe, Citrix, Dell, IBM, LinkedIn, Onalytica, Oracle, Salesforce, SAP, Sprinklr, Spirion, and Traackr.
In this final 13th episode of Inside Influence where I talk with B2B marketing insiders about what’s working and what’s not in the world of influencer marketing, our perspective has shifted from B2B brands to the influencers themselves.
At TopRank Marketing, we conducted the first in-depth research into B2B influencer marketing which inspired this series and Onalytica recently conducted the first research study of B2B influencers to better understand influencer marketing from their perspective.
Any B2B marketer that wants a complete picture for success with B2B influencer marketing going into 2021 and beyond will benefit greatly from both reports:
To drill down into the insights around the Onalytica report, I talked with Tim Williams, CEO. We covered:
About Onalytica as a B2B influencer marketing platform
Tim’s role as CEO at Onalytica
The current state of B2B influencer marketing
The impact of COVID-19 on B2B influencer marketing
Why Always-On influencer marketing is good for both brands and influencers
How to convince more B2B brands to focus on the experience they create for influencers as much as they do for customers
Opportunities for B2B companies to leverage both external influencers and employee influencers for marketing
B2B influencer engagement trends for 2021
What B2B marketers can do to better showcase influencer expertise in content
What B2B brands can expect if they hire an agency
What to be optimistic about with influencer marketing post-pandemic
See the full video interview with Tim Williams in Episode 13 of Inside Influence here:
Below is a highlight transcription of our discussion.
Tell us about your role and what Onlaytica does
Tim: Great. So I’m the CEO of Onalytica and I’ve always been in social media, sort of marketing communication circles and formally in public affairs. I’ve always helped build software that helps brands try and influence the influencers who obviously then in turn influence the target audience or the end consumer. That’s been my passion. I’ve spent 20 plus years helping brands communicate their audience better.
At Onalytica we have an influence marketing software. We tend to use this in influencer advocacy, employee advocacy, virtual events, account-based marketing, and social selling. Those are these use cases that we help brands with.
I see it as my role to be out there to publish content and to try and lead from the front…listen to what customers are saying and see how technology can really advance the industry.
Then in my role, I’d really just try and listen to the brand. It’s a very immature marketplace. It’s evolving. So I see it as my role to be out there to publish content and to try and lead from the front. But importantly, listen to what customers are saying and see how technology can really advance the industry.
I’m not keen on us just taking a passive look at the industry and trying to sort of build more revenue with customers. I think that technology is often like a challenge and solution for the industry to mature. So I guess I see my role as just helping in whatever way I can to progress and really just help brands connect with influence communities to create inspiring content.
You and your team at Onalytica recently conducted a comprehensive B2B influencer research study. At a high level, what is the current state of B2B influencer marketing?
Tim: Well, interestingly, it was off the back of the TopRank Marketing research report. Obviously TopRank are a great, leading agency in the field and producing lots of research and obviously you and I talk about research and have done quite a lot over the past few years. We’ve done some state of the industry stuff before with brands, but we really wanted to flip it to be able to give a 360 degree view on top of your research to people out there.
[Influencers] do make a big difference if brands are partnering with them in the right way.
I think what was really interesting is that it confirmed a lot of the beliefs in your report that the state of the industry is that influencers do give that third-party opinion. They do make a big difference if brands are partnering with them in the right way. It also showed up a lot of the gaps and a lot of the challenges for marketers on where the industry is going to head and what needs to happen for the influencers to feel like they’ve got a positive experience.
A lot of the people doing influence marketing now don’t have influencer marketing in their job description. It’s something that they’re just inheriting and running through pilot programs.
I thought it was really interesting. I was very encouraged by the results, the gaps. Some of them do still surprise me with the way some marketers approach influence marketing, but I think that’s just natural because a lot of the people doing influence marketing now don’t have influencer marketing in their job description. It’s something that they’re just inheriting and running through pilot programs. I just think it’s a natural outcome of people experimenting and I think the learning and the improving is really what we’re seeing now.
What do you think the impact of COVID has been in terms of the state of influencer marketing for B2B?
Tim: In April to May this year I think a lot of influencers were extremely worried, especially the ones that were flying around the world and getting paid a lot of money. They were probably having very lucrative retainers or one-off, gigs with brands and I think that work obviously immediately dried up and they had to pivot their proposition into virtual events. I’ve seen some influencers do that very successfully now.
I think it was a bit of a shock from April to May and I think in terms of the social media consumption and the influencer output on channels like LinkedIn and Twitter, we saw an increase in that social media activity and consumption. I think the biggest change was that we felt that the end consumers of the B2B to C, because everyone’s obviously a person at the end of the day, increased.
The appetite for influencers increased in a few months like it would over a five-year period…influencer marketing in B2B has been better for it.
The appetite for influencers increased in a few months like it would over a five-year period. Even though the budgets weren’t there from brands because everyone was pausing their budgets, I think the underlying factors have really advanced. So what we’ve seen is that from July onward, so in H2 of this year, influencer marketing in B2B has been better for it. I think it’s almost helped the industry rather than just being too like “marquee event driven” where influencers are paid a lot of money to speak all around the world.
The Onalytica research of B2B influencers found several similarities with TopRank’s survey of B2B marketers. For example, Always-On campaigns were described as far more successful for both influencers and marketers. You and I understand the reason for that, but how do you explain it to marketers stuck on campaigns?
Tim: I always see influencer relations as like there’s two parallel strategies. I think there’s the content or the events that you’re trying to run in campaign mode. Then there’s the longer term relationship building and building of great experiences for a campaign that you might run in three or four quarters time.
I think that the brands that are starting off and just like activating with a one-off mindset, they just don’t put as much effort into the long-term game. So the influencers by default then just invest less themselves because they don’t know whether they’re going to have anything in the future. So I think it’s just natural.
I think that it doesn’t matter whether you’re just starting out with influencer relations, you can do a few things that make a big difference and build long-term relationships.
I think that it doesn’t matter whether you’re just starting out with influencer relations, you can do a few things that make a big difference and build long-term relationships. First impressions can last for, you know, 20 or 30 years.
I think it’s hard, especially when brands are in quarterly budget cycles. Both of us working in global tech a lot and the restructuring is a major challenge because people do move around in roles. So I think everyone gets it, but I think when you show the results of a longer term attitude are better than a short term, then I think that’s when people can invest a bit more.
We’ve both talked about the importance of the experience that brands create for influencers and the impact it can have on an influencer marketing program’s success. Your research reinforces this in several areas from the need for quality outreach to who does the outreach to quality of the brief. How can we get more B2B brands to treat the influencer experience as important as the experience of the customers we’re trying to influence?
Tim: I think it’s a key area that the industry has to improve on. I think it’s about how much input you need to get the output that you’re wanting as a marketer. So, if you’re having to invest five hours to research an influencer that you don’t really know, that you’re not quite sure what output they’re going to give you, I think there’s a disproportionate amount of effort that marketers won’t invest in.
I think partly, agencies solve that problem, like yours. Obviously you know a lot of the influences and there’s sort of the trust of working with them. At Onalytica we built relationships with thousands of influencers and we know the ones that you can trust and there’s an element of credibility and time-saving there.
I think there’s also the ability to get to know someone within 10 or 15 minutes. This is really a technology solution where you can know what books they’re going to publish, what motivations they have and what days they like to work. I recall speaking to one influencer at Social Media Marketing World and they told me, “on Monday I write my blog posts, on Tuesday I do my research, on Wednesday I look after my kids and on Thursday I do this,” and I’m thinking, “how could a brand approach that influencer and really know what makes them work without hearing it directly from them?”
Influencers also have to make it as easy as possible for people to get to know them and what they want.
So, I think it’s a technology solution, which we’re trying to solve where if we showcase profiles that show what really drives the passion and motivations of influencers, then brands can quite quickly say, “Oh, there’s a great connection with what we’re trying to do here.” Then they have the confidence to reach out and it doesn’t feel like this kind of matchmaking dating where you don’t have a clue what they they’re actually interested in. It’s agencies, technology and I think influencers also have to make it as easy as possible for people to get to know them and what they want. And I think if we all close the gap, then it’s going to translate into a better experience for the influencers.
Influencers are not limited to industry experts as you know – employee are influential too. What opportunities are there for B2B brands to be more effective at engaging both to achieve marketing goals?
Tim: I think this is where the real magic happens for us when we’re talking about integrated advocacy. When we talk about employee advocacy, we see them as four segments.
We see them as the topics execs which need to show leadership. They need to be out there on social, creating content. There’s intrinsic value in what they say in the marketplace. So the execs are part of the employee advocacy for us.
The next level down is the subject matter expert. Say, in the tech industry or environment, it might be talking about AI or sustainability or supply chain procurement and any of the important topics that might be driving the thought leadership. So, you’ve got various different employees that are thought leaders, but maybe not driving as much impact externally for your brand. There’s a wonderful opportunity out there.
The third segment are sales. So, social selling or social enablement of salespeople as some people like to call it is really important. That’s the third category.
Then the fourth one is everybody else like your general employees. There’s lots of employee advocacy tools to help develop the general employees.
What we like to look at is the execs as subject matter experts and the salespeople. To give you an example of what we think works really well, it could be a LinkedIn live session with an external influencer. You might also bring in an industry expert into this who wouldn’t call themselves an influencer, but just has really deep expertise in your particular area. And then you could invite one of your subject matter experts internally to be part of that discussion.
Now, the subject matter experts might not feel initially comfortable with putting themselves forward, but then they start speaking on a peer to peer level with the external influencers and they realize that they get on, they have a lot in common, they love the subject matter that they talk about. Guess what? That relationship continues on LinkedIn, Twitter, offline, on WhatsApp, like whatever form of communication that they have.
It’s really powerful when you can start transforming your content through the voice of your employees and external influencers.
If you think about that one example and you amplify that through all of your workforce, your employees are the biggest asset that any brand has. It’s really powerful when you can start transforming your content through the voice of your employees and external influencers. That’s what we describe as the kind of dream integrated advocacy model. In terms of actually making that happen, because some brands have 300,000 employees and across different business units, markets and languages, obviously it’s a massive transformation change. But I think if you look at them as different segments, you can activate them in different ways, that’s a really, really powerful operation.
B2B brands engage with influencers in different ways from event activations to content collaborations to advisory councils. What engagement trends are you seeing going into 2021?
Tim: I think you touched on something really interesting. The advisory role as an independent analyst is often a bit of a hidden fact within the marketplace. I know a lot of influencers that were asked to create some content, but then suddenly they’ve started writing strategy documents for really large brands about how they should tackle certain challenges or innovation within the marketplace. They’re kind of ghost writing a lot of the strategy of companies.
The advisory role as an independent analyst is often a bit of a hidden fact within the marketplace.
I found that really interesting and shocking because I thought that it was the actual company that was writing their own strategy, but then it was an influencers actually shaping that. But I thought it was really cool because some of these influencers have so much experience that they’re taking on different personas.
I do think that’s something that is changing. And I think that when we talk about influencers a lot of people think that we’re talking about just the professional influencers that work on a paid basis and they’re on a retainer sometimes. They’re great at creating content and they’ve got big social networks. We see that this is a much larger community of people from industry experts that would never call themselves influencers: the independent analysts, advisors, consultants. Then you’ve got the events speakers, key opinion leaders in the industry. That’s where things are evolving.
I don’t think people are in love with the word “influencer”.
I don’t think people are in love with the word “influencer”. I think it’s got a really bad rap from the B2C industry. I think that influential experts is more where we’re trying to go, but there’s, there’s many different personas. So I think how brands are leveraging the different personas and who owns it as a brand is really the cause of key trends going forward.
Content is most often the output from influencer collaboration but subject matter experts are not always expert content creators and many B2B brands are not really pushing the boundaries of effective content formats either. What can B2B marketers do to better showcase the expertise of the influencers who have collaborated?
Tim: I think it’s a really good question. Some of the influencers are content creators and they’re specialists at that. So actually having an influencer interview some of the subject matter experts is one way in which brands haven’t leveraged that enough, I don’t think. It’s interesting who should interview each other because you see both forms of that.
People are fed up of advertising…people are just not in the mood for product being pushed down their throats.
I think that the trend that we’re seeing is that people are fed up of advertising. They’re fed up with brand generic messages. There’s just so much content even since the pandemic. The content has spiraled even more so. I think people are just not in the mood for product being pushed down their throats.
I think the subject matter experts are the people that can personalize the content and I think that brands are investing in the platform to help develop the social profiles of the subject matter experts. I’ve seen a big increase in investment into that. I don’t think there’s any shortcuts. I think it’s about enabling them to feel comfortable maybe in video, like sitting down in a more traditional way, but then translating that into social bite sized video content.
Subject matter experts have the expertise, they just don’t know how to translate that into wonderful sort of social communication channels.
I know that you do a lot of interactive and visual content. I think the subject matter experts have the expertise, they just don’t know how to translate that into wonderful sort of social communication channels. I think that’s the job of marketers and communications professionals to be able to connect those two together. I don’t see any magic wand. I don’t know whether you’ve got any ideas or what you see from TopRank.
Well, this is a problem we solve every day for companies. When a brand does make the effort to invest in high quality content from industry experts or industry influencers, they can take that content and make something the contributors will be proud of. Something so good it will inspire them to want to make it even more successful.
Tim: Yeah, I completely completely agree with that. And obviously the end customer is what we’re all working to influence and impress. I think that the activation of subject matter experts comes down to behavioral psychology of whether they want to develop their profiles, what their fears are and how to motivate them.
I think what has changed is that a lot of topics execs or subject matter experts traditionally speak to 20 people in a room or 200 people or 10,000 people in a marquee event. Now they’re seeing that they can actually speak to 20,000 people every week through social. I think that takes a couple of examples to really get through. So they have that light bulb moment and I think marketers and communications professionals, if they can help them switch that light bulb on in their heads, then suddenly they will invest a bit more effort into the content that they put out on social.
What are you most optimistic about when it comes to influencer marketing?
Tim: I think one thing is personalized, relatable content. I have a massive passion to just break out of the boring B2B into the inspiring, personalized content. But to be able to do it in a way that doesn’t feel hard.
I am very passionate about bringing technology to solve problems. And I know that there is friction – it seems easy. Like we can just pick up the phone to five influencers, create some content and then a couple of weeks later, you should have some great content and it can be that easy.
But in reality, some brands take three or four months and struggled to get to that outcome. So what I’m passionate about is the quality of content to improve. And from a technology standpoint, we want to try and reduce the friction so that people can create this content. And it seems not as easy as paid media and hitting a button, but it doesn’t seem like it’s too much effort for them to start off.
As with most marketing, there is no silver bullet to B2B influencer marketing but there are some essential best practices and strategies that have been proven time and time again. To uncover that secret sauce of working with B2B influencers, Episode 12 of the Inside Influence Show features Paul Dobson, Senior Director, Social and Influencer Marketing at Citrix.
In addition to a few highlights from the 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing report, we discussed Paul’s experience working with influencers at Citrix as well as:
Where influencer marketing fits in the mix at Citrix
Tips on being great at influencer marketing for a B2B technology brand
Influencer Marketing vs. Influencer Relations
The impact of influencer marketing on customer experience
Advice on starting an influencer marketing program at a B2B brand
How to get executive buy-in to an influencer marketing program
How to decide which influencers to work with
Examples of influencer engagement
Opportunities to grow influence with B2B brand executives
How agencies can be most helpful to B2B brands with influencer marketing
Predictions of influencer marketing in 2021
See the full video interview of Inside Influence Episode 12 with Paul Dobson here:
Below is a highlight transcription of our discussion.
Tell us about your role at Citrix and where influencer marketing fits?
Paul: I’ve been on quite a journey through Citrix. I started off in the PR side of things. So, to some extent I’ve always been working with with influencers. The media, then went into analyst relations, so the Gartners and Forresters of the world and now social and influencer influencer marketing as well. I really enjoy this aspect of my role and, you know, sitting in corporate communications means getting good exposure to a range of influencers that have gotten me here in my career. Being head of social media means that I also have a lot closer ties to the marketing organization and how we execute that. So it’s really the best of both worlds as far as I’m concerned.
Influencer marketing is an interesting split sometimes between PR and comms or marketing. You seem to be in a sweet spot.
Paul: Absolutely. So it’s kind of interesting the way that we’re approaching marketing, et cetera now is we’re really evolving it somewhat. The barriers between the teams are starting to break down a little bit more effectively. We’re really forming pods and tiger teams around certain campaigns and projects. It helps to be able to understand what’s going on elsewhere and it is a real sweet spot because obviously the influence has come from many pools, not just a traditional B2B influencers.
In the 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report, you were named as one of the top 20 influencer marketing professionals. What does it take to be at the top of your game when it comes to B2B marketing? With influencer marketing?
Paul: It’s an interesting question because I think as far as influencers are concerned, everything has to come back to the corporate strategy and what you’re trying to achieve with what you’re doing with influencers. Everything has to go back to that when you’re designing your program. For us, it was reaching out and attracting new audiences.
I’ll talk about HR as one audience which is not a typical audience for an enterprise B2B technology company. We wanted to showcase our technology in a very different way that correlated with market trends around something called employee experience. And that’s very important when we’re all sitting at home and working and still trying to do our jobs.
Part of the benefit of working with influencers is that they have a different lens on what’s happening in the world and what’s happening with your company.
So, think about what the corporate goals are and then try and work out what you want the influencers to be able to do. For us, it was social amplification to a certain degree, reaching their audiences with content that we’re working on together, presenting at events when events still existed and potentially may exist again in the future, and then content generation as well.
Part of the benefit of working with influencers is that they have a different lens on what’s happening in the world and what’s happening with your company. You’re giving a different perspective to your audience as well as, as their audiences. That’s how we, in a nutshell, started off with the program and then developed and grown from there.
What are you most excited about when it comes to working with influencers?
Paul: It still is super exciting. I mean, I’ve been working with influencers now for over 20 years, so it’s most definitely something that gets me out of bed in the morning.
To the point we were talking about earlier on, your personal career is your own. It shapes how you think and how you react in certain situations. And as a marketer you end up responding, probably subconsciously, to a situation based on those experiences that you’ve had.
The best influencer campaigns come from the sparring that goes on between what they think and what you think.
But collaborating with influencers to me means that you’re able to temper that to a certain degree and the best influencer campaigns, in my view, come from the sparring that goes on between what they think and what you think. And then it kind of comes out to be something in the middle. It helps you grow as a person in your career.
What I love most about working with influencers is the kind of range of “aha” moments that you have as you go along. And you work with them to form and build campaigns. Because the plans that you start off with, they kind of wiggle a bit. But you get there in the end and they change ever so slightly based on the interactions that you have with your influencers.
What’s your preference: influencer marketing or influencer relations?
Paul: Most definitely, I would say influence relations. You have to build the relationship with your team of influencers in order to do effective influencer marketing.
Influencer marketing is a subset of influencer relations because without the relationship, it just becomes a series of tactical campaigns.
Influencer marketing is a subset of influencer relations because without the relationship, it just becomes a series of tactical campaigns involving somebody else, other than people in your organization. Being able to build out and bring relationships with influencers means it can go anywhere and you can come up with things that you possibly wouldn’t even thought about before.
You talked about the value of relationships and our research study showed that 12 times more marketers cited themselves as being very successful with their influencer marketing that ran always on programs, relationship-driven programs versus those that were doing intermittent campaigns. So there’s ROI in those relationships.
Paul: I also think that when you build a degree of familiarity for your audience with the influencers that you’re working with, there’s a certain comfort that they get from recognizing the people that you work with and the information and the insights that you bring. We’re starting in 2021 to incorporate our influencers, not only in the awareness elements, but also further down the funnel as well to make sure that people see them as their journey goes on.
Our research discovered that 77% of B2B marketers say that their prospective customers rely on advice from industry experts and 74% agree that influencer marketing improves customer and prospect experience with the brand. Do you find this kind of optimism with Citrix?
Paul: I would definitely agree with that. There have been a couple of instances where our influencer program has helped us resonate more with certain audiences that we’re trying to connect with. It’s reduced the amount of time that would take to strike a chord with a certain audience and build appeal with those audiences that we don’t necessarily have a natural affinity with.
It [Influencer Marketing] has reduced the amount of time that would take to strike a chord with a certain audience and build appeal with those audiences that we don’t necessarily have a natural affinity with.
I don’t have the statistics in hand, but our brand tracker shows that with a specific audience, we had a much higher unaided recognition in 2020 than we did in 2019. So, it’s a great way of building our brand with new and existing audiences. As we become more of a use case focused organization versus pushing product, getting out those use cases and having them explained with a slightly different lens with that third party voice is very valuable to give that viewpoint to our customers.
It’s proving to be very important. I think the customer events that we had in the Fall, were an example of where we were able to leverage influencers to really give that additional lens to our consumers.
Based on your experience with influencer marketing at Citrix what advice can you share for other B2B marketers who are thinking of starting their own program?
Paul: So, interesting question. When we started off our formal influencer program above and beyond what we were doing with the press and with the analysts, what we were thinking about is what we were trying to achieve and what our corporate and marketing goals were going to be. For us it was about reaching out to new audiences, showcasing our technology in a way that really correlated with the trends in the market, and educating senior level executives. Traditionally, our technology was seen as a very enterprise and kind of in the guts of the organization. We wanted to make sure that they were aware of the benefits of the technology that they, in some cases, had already bought.
That’s one thing that really shaped the content aspects of what we were trying to do. Then we wanted to think about when it came to the engagement with the influencer team. We had three things in mind, which was presenting at events virtual or otherwise, creating content and social amplification.
When it comes to the execution, think about what it is that you want your influencers to do, Maybe something experiential as where you’re going from your organization. Those were the three pillars that we started off with.
Don’t build a team of like 20 influencers because if you’re trying to build a relationship with 20 people all in one go it’s, it’s not going to be the easiest thing to do.
I think also it’s important to not go out too hard with influencers. Don’t build a team of like 20 influencers because if you’re trying to build a relationship with 20 people all in one go it’s, it’s not going to be the easiest thing to do.
We started off with a program of five to get them off the ground and get really strong results and demonstrate the results that we could build the program on and ask for more funding. Then we wanted to hone in on the areas that we felt were most appropriate for us.
The strongest relationships come from the interplay between your in-house team of influencer relations managers and the team of influencers that you build for the benefit of your organization.
The final piece of advice I would give as you get up and running is not to be too prescriptive. I think we talked about some of this before our discussion, the strongest relationships come from the interplay between your in-house team of influencer relations managers and the team of influencers that you build for the benefit of your organization.
So, there’s gotta be something in it for the the influencers as well. They need to build their business and their brand as much as you need to build your business and your brand. Otherwise, I think you end up with cookie cutter, corporate marketing campaigns and activities that are presented through the lens of the influencer. I don’t see the value in necessarily using them as a direct corporate mouthpiece. The value comes from the breadth and variety of opinions and views.
Without question the digital age we live in is marked by remarkable advancements as well as ease of information creation, distribution and proliferation. As they say, we live in an age of information overload. What can B2B marketers do to stand out? Simply create more “useful content”?
For 2021 and beyond, the bar for stand out B2B marketing is much higher than utility. Our guest, Marshall Kirkpatrick on episode 11 of the Inside Influence Show featuring B2B Marketing Insiders, has some smart insights on how influence can play a role in creating symphonic thinking and connecting the dots between the kinds of insights buyers are attracted to, that drive engagement and action.
Marshall is the founder of Twitter influencer platform Little Bird which was acquired by Sprinklr where he is now Vice President of Influencer Relations, Analyst Relations, and Competitive Intelligence.
Marshall’s evolution from the first blogger at TechCrunch to founder of Little Bird to VP at Sprinklr
How Dan Pink’s Symphonic Thinking translates to being a B2B influencer marketing thought leader
Insights into working with B2B influencers
B2B influencer activations that actually work
Opportunities for B2B brand executives to build influence
How to unlock influencer potential from executives who are not natural to social engagement
Advice on outsourcing an influencer marketing effort with consultants or agencies
What’s most exciting about B2B and influencer marketing in 2021
See the full interview with Marshall Kirkpatrick, check out the Inside Influence Episode 11 video below:
Below is a highlight transcription of our discussion.
You are an OG when it comes to influencer marketing. Can you share with us a little about your experience starting Little Bird and how you got to Sprinklr?
Marshall: My background is actually in blogging first and foremost. I was a tech blogger covering startups and ended up using tools to break news stories and was the first blogger ever hired over at TechCrunch.
I saw in that experience that when you’re in an influential position online, people bring you a lot of information. Lots of startups were always coming to us and saying, “Oh, look at this cool new thing. Here’s my perspective on the market.” And that was really an educational experience for me. And so, as I developed in my blogging career, I wanted to start looking around to find other influential people who were also receiving a lot of inbound information so that I could know who to watch and listen to in order to break news stories quickly and learn through watching them.
I wanted to start looking around to find other influential people who were also receiving a lot of inbound information so that I could know who to watch and listen to in order to break news stories quickly and learn through watching them.
So I built some research tools for discovering the most credible experts, the most influential people in any industry that I was covering as a journalist and in time ended up productizing some of those lessons learned in the form of a startup that we named LittleBird. LittleBird ran for five years and it did exactly what I was looking for as a journalist for marketers.
It said, let’s find the people in your target market that are being followed by the largest number of other experts and specialists in a particular field. So, especially good for B2B.
It focused on discovery, so five years after we founded it, LittleBird was acquired by Sprinkler, which is now the world’s leading customer experience management platform. Born of social listening, the technology listened to the keywords and people’s content in order for brands to manage relationships with customers and crises and opportunities. It was a really good marriage of our small startup that specialized in discovering experts and influencers and now this whole big suite of tools for actionability that Sprinkler has built in social listening and beyond social now as well.
It’s just a perfect fit for it. I’m not working on the product anymore. LittleBird has been turned off now for some time, but I get to see emails come through about big new deals with global brands that have purchased a wide swath of different sprinkler capabilities and products. Quite often I get to see in that announcement and included in the deal was Sprinkler influencer marketing and I got to feel some pride as a result of that.
In the 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report, you were named as one of the top 20 influencer marketing professionals. What does it take to be at the top of your game when it comes to B2B influencer marketing?
Marshall: I think that part of the challenge is that sharing valuable, interesting information in a time of information overload is tough because there’s no shortage of information out there. And the bar is quite high to rise above the noise. The way that I go about that is by engaging in a lot of what Dan Pink calls, symphonic thinking, where he says that in the emerging economy that we live in, one of the most valuable ways for knowledge workers to generate value is through symphonic thinking or the creation of connections between seemingly disparate people and ideas and initiatives.
One of the most valuable ways for knowledge workers to generate value is through symphonic thinking or the creation of connections between seemingly disparate people and ideas and initiatives.
When you create a connection between things, it’s like you light up a circuit and it’s a really generative kind of process. So I make a conscious effort to form connections between people and concepts and topics.
Furthermore, in order to do that one layer lower, I build systems to deliver a stream of interesting things to connect to one another. So, in addition to using Sprinkler to listen to thought leaders and conversations and all kinds of different industries, one of my favorite new tools is I’ve got a Twitter list that I maintain of just amazing, fascinating people. And I don’t just watch all of their tweets. Instead, I have bookmarked the search results page for a search inside of that list of people for any time they use the words, amazing, new, innovation or learning. It’s just a steady stream of amazing new, innovative things being learned by amazing, innovative people.
It’s a really high signal to noise ratio of a stream of information because of the care put into the source selection and then the creation of the interface. It’s like a little conveyor belt of amazing things to pick up and connect to other things on to try to generate value.
What are you most excited about when it comes to working with influencers?
Marshall: Well, for me, it still comes back to the same themes around discovery. I’m a very awe driven person and I find that really influential people, especially in B2B, are a constant source of awe for me.
One of my favorite examples is some work that I’ve done recently with John Hagel who was, by our metric when he worked at Deloitte, the most connected guy in all of Deloitte, the giant consulting firm, an incredible organization. In a social graph analysis of Deloitte people on Twitter in particular, he was the Deloitte person most followed by other Deloitte people. So you want to follow that guy, right? So I sure did.
I spent hours and hours reading John Hagel content: reading his blog posts, reading his books. And then I produced a podcast with him. The podcast was really fun and it was really nice to get to connect with him face-to-face. Then I created some derivative content based on that podcast. Then he went and he shared it out with his whole network of people.
The part of that process that has driven the most business value for us as well as been most exciting for me, was the very first step in the process when I was spending hours and hours reading John Hagel content.
But the part of that process that has driven the most business value for us as well as been most exciting for me, was the very first step in the process when I was spending hours and hours reading John Hagel content. That put all of his experience and knowledge and insights into my head s0 that I could deploy entirely behind the scenes at work and connect it to other projects and other initiatives that we have going on publicly and privately. That’s really where the lion’s share of value was available from. The advocacy that occurred in the end was overshadowed by all the business value available just from reading his work.
What are the characteristics that make a great B2B influencer?
Marshall: That’s a question that I have explored in a lot of different ways over my career. Currently, my standard or my criteria are three:
First, I look for people that have influence. Not just generally, not even just inside of my industry or our target market, but specifically for people who have influence with our existing customers and people like our customers. We’ve got a quantitative way that we can make that assessment. I pull out that yardstick whenever I consider engaging with an influencer. At Sprinkler it works really well.
It really requires a good amount of emotional energy invested to cultivate these relationships over time and keep them moving forward, if you want to make them authentic and sincere.
The second thing that I look for are people who are smart, that I feel like I can learn from. Because otherwise it’s easy to kind of peter out. It really requires a good amount of emotional energy invested to cultivate these relationships over time and keep them moving forward, if you want to make them authentic and sincere. And especially if you’re perhaps working with a more modest budget and it’s not just a big transactional kind of thing.
And the last thing that I look for are people that I like, because if I don’t like someone, then it’s not going to be much fun to work with them. And I want it to be fun. That ends up being the most effective work.
So once you find an influencer and you’ve defined what it is you’re looking for, what is it that you do with them? What do your activations with influencers look like?
Marshall: I’ve taken a lot of different forms. I’d say that one of the most heavyweight plays that are in our playbook has been a combination of a webinar, blog post and then private advisory phone call where we have anyone on our staff that wants to come and participate in a private phone call with one of these influencers, come and ask questions off the record and learn from their experience. You get the demand gen from the webinar and the blog post and then the more foundational value from the private advisory phone call.
One of the most heavyweight plays that are in our [influencer activation] playbook has been a combination of a webinar, blog post and then private advisory phone call.
I am very sympathetic to Forester’s perspective when they say that the most savvy brands in influencer marketing are not looking to influencers for reach because often that ends up in disappointment. But where influencers really shine is their ability to create high quality, high relevance content that breaks through the noise of this era of information overload. When coupled with paid media, then you’ve got a really awesome combination. It really works well when the brand brings the budget for the reach and the influencer is the source of the high quality, authentic, high relevance content.
That’s probably the most heavyweight of capabilities or plays in the playbook. But I do a lot of small stuff as well.
Yesterday I was watching some teammates prepare a presentation for the analyst firm, Gartner. I was providing some feedback on their presentation and watching which parts of the platform they were emphasizing, more or less. During a break I went and I opened up my list of amazing things mentioned by amazing people and Dion Hinchcliffe had posted a link to a survey that he had just published the results of, that said the number one thing that CIO’s are looking for today, especially in the pandemic around digital transformation, is a combination of automation and workflow management.
I thought that was really interesting because there was a big component of that in the Sprinkler story that we were preparing to tell Gartner. So I took that and went immediately inside the company and said, Hey folks, let’s elevate that part of the story. It’s really on trend right now and we’ve got a strong story to tell.
My favorite kind of influencer engagement: a kind of earned media and learning focused engagement that can be pretty lightweight [effort].
So thank you Dion, an influencer for that information. Then I re-shared that post of his publicly and some other folks then came in and engaged and affirmed that they had similar perspectives and I continued to learn and get more data points. And Dion came back and said, thank you so much for sharing it. And our relationship took another step forward.
Over the years, I’ve just learned so much from Dion. That’s my favorite kind of influencer engagement: a kind of earned media and learning focused engagement that can be pretty lightweight.
While much of influencer marketing has been focused on external experts, there are many opportunities for B2B brands to grow influence from within. What’s your take on opportunities to build brand executive influence?
Marshall: I think there’s a lot of opportunity for it. And yet, it’s a challenge for the ages. It is something that I think many of us have aspired to unlock for a long time for the executives that work at the companies. It is a great opportunity because so many of those executive leaders have tons of contact with customers and many times they’re great storytellers. They spent a lot of time with customers, they interface with other executive leaders and so are really efficient, high impact communicators.
[Executive influence] is a great opportunity because so many of those executive leaders have tons of contact with customers and many times they’re great storytellers.
The challenge I think, is finding ways to tap into that executive insight and flow of knowledge and access to information, much of which can’t be shared publicly. Some of it can and it requires a different sort of muscle memory, a different kind of workflow and often multiple sets of hands to help say, “Hey, let’s remember, let’s go unlock some of those stories that we get to hear, you know, in company meetings. Uh, let’s, let’s find some that are appropriate to share publicly because they’re such incredible stories.”
I know that’s the case for our executives at Sprinklr. The stories that we get to here inside the company walls are just amazing. The giant brands that we get to help solve really interesting problems for. When we’re able to reference those, either named or blinded, and do so publicly, they’re just great stories. They’re the kind of content that rises above so much in a world of information overload.
In the 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report, we found that the things B2B marketers outsource most often to agencies include: identifying influencers, managing relationships, developing strategy and measuring effectiveness. What have you found to be most useful when it comes to using outside help?
Marshall: We have been the outside resource a fair amount ourselves as a search technology on, uh, uh, management technology. And then we do a lot of our own internal influencer relations. I am real happy to do that for ourselves, but many times when working with brands that don’t have that experience or talent in-house, especially for the relationship cultivation and the practical management, well, frankly I refer them to you and your organization.
You’ve done an incredible job of building brand equity and a demonstrated track record of success around that. I don’t know anyone who has come close to the kind of thought leadership and track record of success that you and the folks that TopRank Marketing have. So congratulations on that.
I appreciate that. It’s a great team and that’s where the magic happens.
I guess I would just suggest that people find good partners to work with and do it in a way that helps build your own capacity and learning instead of just outsourcing it.
Find good partners to work with and do it in a way that helps build your own capacity and learning instead of just outsourcing it.
It makes me think about something that Jean bliss says when she advises executives that are thinking about taking jobs in customer experience, but I think it’s good advice for almost any field. She says, when you go and you talk to a company about leading their customer experience, you should speak to the other leaders at the company and see how they talk about customer experience. Is it something that’s everyone’s job and that they are going to partner with you on? Or is it something that they’re going to outsource to you and then wash their hands of?
Because you really want to avoid being in that latter situation. You want to look for those partnership types of organizations where everyone is going to be participating and up-leveling their skills as they do, even though it’s one person’s bottom line responsibility. I just love that model.
What has you excited most when it comes to opportunities with influencer marketing in 2021 and beyond?
Marshall: I’ll tell you one thing inside of our company on one thing outside of our company.
I’m really excited about some of the new research and analytics capabilities that are being built inside of Sprinklr on top of influencer discovery in order to get early high quality insights into topics of interest to influencers and their communities.
Everybody says that they do artificial intelligence and machine learning, but Sprinklr has been doing a gargantuan amount of artificial intelligence for almost 10 years now.
Everybody says that they do artificial intelligence and machine learning, but Sprinklr has been doing a gargantuan amount of artificial intelligence for almost 10 years now and so has a really deep corpus of knowledge about a bunch of different, specific industry verticals. That means that we can discern what’s going on in conversations, especially in B2B, faster and better than any other source when monitoring influencers or discussions at large. So I’m excited about that.
For me personally and outside of the company context, I think this is a pretty nerdy answer, but I’m really excited about taking my notes from reading and learning from influencers and putting them into a startup called Rome research.
Rome is a note-taking app for networked thoughts. It’s a place where every note that you take is linked out to every page across the corpus of your notes, where the same words appear. It makes it really easy to jump from reference to reference of interrelated thoughts. And it’s just wonderful.
So, the incorporation of enterprise class influencer discovery and listening and understanding with last mile, human in the loop discernment of key lessons learned and insights and perspectives and filing that away in a note-taking system that gets automatically linked up to all the related notes from other influencers and other readings on that given topic, creates what some people call a second brain. It’s the ability to, upon reflecting on any topic, snap your fingers and say, Show me all of the things that I have read and take a note of on this topic, and put them all in one place, allow me to filter them, et cetera. I’m excited about unlocking more value from that this year.
2020 saw the continued rise in influencer marketing’s scope and success in both B2C and B2B industries. This continued an explosion of interest in the practice over the past several years, and with more practitioners than ever now going all-in, influencer marketing has continued to be a primary focus on our blog throughout this extraordinary pandemic year.
We’re lucky to have a wealth of talented B2B marketing professionals contributing to the TopRank Marketing blog — which will celebrate its 18th year in 2021 — including our CEO Lee Odden, Joshua Nite, Elizabeth Williams, Anne Leuman, Nick Nelson, Debbie Friez, Birdie Zepeda, the author of this post, and Alexis Hall, among others.
As an industry approaching $20 billion annually, influencer marketing is now far from a shiny new object to sophisticated marketers. The insight and expertise our team has acquired helping some of the top brands in the world including 3M, Adobe, SAP, LinkedIn, and Oracle plan, implement and measure influencer marketing programs has often made it here to our blog. To help our blog community grow their influencer marketing knowledge, we’re thrilled to offer this list of our most popular influencer marketing posts of 2020.
Of course, collaborating with influencers is something we do daily for clients and ourselves, and during this pandemic year influencer engagement has become even more central to our B2B content marketing solutions, alongside social media marketing, SEO, and other forms of digital advertising.
The influencer marketing posts that proved to be our most popular of 2020 based on web analytics and social media data are listed below. We hope that they will help you ask the right questions and provide truly best-answer solutions to some of the most important challenges we’ll all be facing in 2021.
We give a massive thank you to all of our blog authors for their work in advocating influencer marketing best practices.
Our Most Popular Influencer Marketing Posts in 2020:
Our CEO Lee Odden wrote the most popular influencer marketing post of 2020 on our blog, which is fitting, as he was also the primary author of the groundbreaking 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report, 45+ pages rich with survey data, case studies from B2B brands of all sizes, insights from top B2B marketing experts, plus a list of 20 top influencer marketing practitioners from B2B brands.
If you’re looking for a single definitive article about B2B influencer marketing, you can’t go wrong with this excellent piece by Lee and the accompanying report. Check out all of Lee’s 2,600+ posts here, and follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.
Lee also wrote our second most popular influencer marketing post of the year, offering up 25 inspiring B2B influencer marketing campaign and engagement ideas. As Lee noted, “Implementing just a few of these could help a company with a substantial amount of influencer program activity,” which is why this article has seen significant traffic and why its campaign ideas have had continued implementation among the B2B marketing community.
From conducting a series of video interview with influencers or engaging an influencer host on a brand podcast, to inviting influencers to provide content for an interactive content experience, Lee dishes out a vast array of B2B influencer marketing campaign ideas to infuse your own efforts, whether you have an established strategy in place or are just starting a pilot B2B influencer marketing program.
With a stellar group of 20 top influencer marketing professionals to follow and learn from, our third most popular influencer marketing article of the year was also penned by Lee, and together he and industry experts including Ursula Ringham of SAP*, Rani Mani of Adobe*, Jen Holtvluwer of Spirion*, Garnor Morantes of LinkedIn* and 16 others explore both the significant optimism and many unrealized opportunities influencer marketing offers for B2B companies.
In the fourth most popular influencer marketing post of 2020, I shared top predictions for 2021 from 14 industry expert including Ann Handley of Marketing Profs, Brian Solis of Salesforce, Ryan Bares of IBM Systems, Judy Tian of LinkedIn, and many others. This article gives you helpful expert takes on what B2B influencer marketing will look like in 2021, and where it is most likely to take B2B marketers and brands when a post-pandemic world eventually arrives.
What are the 5 key traits of the best B2B influencers? Popularity isn’t enough, and in our fifth most popular influencer marketing post of the year Lee shares how top B2B influencers also use proficiency, personality, publishing, and promotion to drive measurable business goals.
Featuring seasoned influencer marketing leaders including Brian Solis, Tamara McCleary of Thulium, CTO advisor Keith Townsend and others, Lee’s post reveals how mismatched expectations are not helpful for anyone, and encourages readers to think about the 5 Ps to evaluate and nurture your own influencer community, and to consider where of each ideal influencer needs to score on the 5 Ps in order to be a good match for the kind of activation you’ve got in mind.
With 24 essential B2B influencer marketing statistics, in our sixth most popular post of the year I wrote about the compelling story statistics are able to tell — one of trust-building, credibility, and the more personal touch that influencers are able to offer brands.
Even if you’ve already developed an influencer marketing strategy, the wealth of information coming out about its power to build trust and inspire action has grown, as shown in this collection of 24 significant B2B influencer marketing statistics to strengthen your future campaigns.
Can you guess which three marketing tactics will outlast the pandemic? Make a mental note, and check out Lee’s insightful list of three enduring B2B marketing tactics in our seventh most popular B2B influencer marketing posts of the year.
As Lee notes, “The challenge many B2B marketers are facing is to understand how to navigate both the short term changes in what works for customers in the current environment as as well as in the long term, post-crisis,” an assessment that may be even more relevant as we move ahead into 2021.
What’s the difference between B2C and B2B influencer marketing? Plenty, as Lee shows in our eighth most popular post, including why seeing B2B influencers as only content distribution channels or advocates for hire is a misplaced B2C-centric expectation.
Lee digs in to how influence plays a role across the entire business customer life-cycle — from awareness to advocacy — and how the best approach to collaborating with B2B influencers also spans the spectrum of customer engagement.
In our ninth most-popular B2B influencer marketing post of the year, I ask why top B2B brands LinkedIn, Adobe, Dell Outlet*, RateLinx* and AT&T* are using always-on influencer marketing, and share helpful examples from each of these companies.
I also take a close look at how B2B influencer marketing drives brand authority and increases trust and engagement, especially during uncertain times.
How can B2B marketers replace the benefits lost due to cancelled real-world events? B2B influencer marketing is an ideal way for brands to drive digital conversations during the global health crisis, and in the tenth most popular influencer marketing article of the year, I share 13 key benefits for brands, including insight from Brian Solis, author Bernard Marr, Tom Treanor of Treasure Data*, and members of our own team including Lee, our president and co-founder Susan Misukanis, account manager Elizabeth Williams, influencer marketing strategist Debbie Friez, and others.
There you have it — an especially powerful selection of our 10 most popular B2B influencer marketing posts for 2020.
Additionally, we publish several influencer lists every year, and we wanted to share them here as a helpful way to find and follow some of the leading digital marketing influencers:
Another important resource for B2B marketers to learn more about crafting a successful influencer program is our recently-launched Inside Influence series, featuring interviews with top industry experts such as the latest episode with Ryan Bares, Global Social Programs Lead: Social Influencers & Employee Advocacy at IBM Systems.
We published dozens of posts this year specifically about influencer marketing, and we plan to bring you even more in 2021, so stay tuned.
Please let us know which influencer marketing topics and ideas you’d like to see us focus on for 2021 — we’d love to hear your suggestions.
Many thanks to each of you who read our blog regularly, and to all of you who comment on and share our posts on the TopRank Marketing social media channels at Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.
*SAP, Adobe, LinkedIn, Dell Outlet, RateLinx, AT&T, Spirion, and Treasure Data are TopRank Marketing clients.
I have always believed that everyone is influential about something and that sentiment is certainly true within B2B companies. In the B2B marketing world, we’ve all come to understand that buyers trust individual voices more than formal marketing and advertising messages, so finding ways to optimize influence internally is becoming a key area of focus.
To drill down into the intersection of employee advocacy and influence, this 1oth episode of Inside Influence features my discussion with Ryan Bares, Global Social Programs Lead: Social Influencers & Employee Advocacy at IBM Systems.
Importance of senior B2B execs to grow their influence
Optimism about influencer marketing at IBM
The difference between B2B and B2C influencer marketing
How IBM Systems engages with B2B influencers
Advice on starting an influencer program at a B2B brand
Integrating influencer content with other marketing tactics
Opportunities for the future of influencer marketing
Below is a highlight transcription of our discussion with the full video interview embedded below.
Tell us about your role at IBM Systems and how you’ve been “blazing a trail” in the world of influencer marketing.
Ryan: Great question. I’ve been in the IBM Systems business group for the last five years and sort of started this influencer and employee advocacy program there. This was one of the first at IBM in general. We used to bring influential people who had great Twitter reach to our events, but we wouldn’t really talk to them for the next year. Then we realized that we needed something more consistent and about building relationships. So we changed our focus a little bit on building relationships and on employees: how do we get them involved and how do we get them to become influential themselves?
In the 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report, you shared a prediction about an increased focus on employees as influencers. Can you share more about that?
Ryan: Yeah, I’m kind of in this interesting position of having a focus on both of these things which is great. I think when we started, roughly five years ago, the focus was really on the external influence or those people that are thought leaders with great reach on social that can connect with our target audience.
We realized that at IBM our employees are also great advocates for our brand. They understand the products and the offerings. @ryanbares
We still love those relationships and we still develop them, but I think over the last maybe year and a half, two years, we realized that at IBM our employees are also great advocates for our brand. They understand the products and the offerings at a really great level. So we’ve spent some time building training and enablement for those IBMers because it’s not natural for a lot of people to go and be active on social right away.
Content coming from an employee gets eight times more engagement than content coming from a branded channel. @ryanbares
We’ve realized that with the coaching, enabling the ROI is there, especially when getting our IBMers to advocate for our brand to engage on social in the right ways. We know that branded content on social media in general, is reduced. I think there’s a stat out there that content coming from an employee gets eight times more engagement than content coming from a branded channel.
So, we just naturally shifted our focus little bit more from the branded content and the @IBM channels and more on the SMEs, those subject matter experts and some of our other developers at IBM that really have deep knowledge about our products and offerings. I think that they can really connect great on social and through content with our target market, our customers or buyers or business partners.
How important is it for senior execs at B2B brands to develop their own influencer footprint?
Ryan: Yeah, I go to that stat of 8X. Eight times more engagement. I think senior level execs are great because they speak on behalf of the brand. We’ve actually leveraged them for some of our events to get out and drive awareness. We see the results when it comes to getting our senior level executives on board and the team around them to help amplify and drive some of the messaging we want in the marketplace, at least on social media.
We see the results when it comes to getting our senior level executives on board and the team around them to help amplify. @ryanbares
I also advocate for anyone that is a subject matter expert to be active on social in the right way. They, as you mentioned, could be influential in one way or another. You don’t have to have the largest reach on social media. You don’t need to have the biggest connection number on LinkedIn. It’s really just about, what can you talk about? How can you create interesting content?
Then we’ll use other people, maybe an external influencer, to help amplify that and get them to the right markets or other pieces of media, email or digital that we can leverage to make sure that our customers or prospects are connecting with the stuff we’re talking about and doing at IBM.
Connecting in a meaningful way.
Ryan: Yeah, meaningful is definitely important. You want to be authentic. You want to be genuine. And I think having an IBMer or an employee or whatever company you’re at, that naturally brings authenticity to what they’re talking about is important.
Meaningful is definitely important. You want to be authentic. You want to be genuine. @ryanbares
Think about yourself and scrolling through social media. You might not be buying some high-tech piece of hardware from IBM through your Instagram, but from my experience, scroll past the brands at times. But I tend to stop when I see somebody I trust or when I seen other human. And so, as a human element, I might stop and listen to what they’re saying about what kind of product that may be exploring or describing. And I tend to want to engage more that way.
What advice might you give to help other people at brands that want to help their employees or senior execs get over the reluctance to be active on social and become more influential?
Ryan: That’s a great question, because I do hear that a lot from whoever’s on the other side of the zoom call. Hey, we think it’d be great if you’re active on social in these ways. Then they’re like, yes, that makes sense. I want to go after more customers or white space or develop deeper relationships with our customers we currently have, but how do I do that?
We realized with senior executive leadership, it’s the team around them that is really helpful. For example, maybe they have a communications person or an executive assistant that really helps keep them focused.
I’ve also realized that they tend to want to have content that’s unique to them. So, figuring out a way when curating content for them to share or for them to create while also making it unique to them as an executive or senior level executive versus maybe something that all the rest of your staff is sharing is important.
They want to feel special, so finding outlets that are particular to them and through their training and through their knowledge is key. “Hey, I can share this, I can amplify this, or I can build off of this piece of content that I saw from a third party outlet and give my own spin.” It doesn’t always have to be about IBM. I think it’s also key to talk about what you’re interested in. That could be your kids’ sports and how does AI relate to that. It doesn’t have to be hitting on IBM content all the time.
Our research discovered that 77% of B2B marketers say that their prospective customers rely on advice from industry experts and 74% agree that influencer marketing improves customer and prospect experience with the brand. How does this optimism about influencer marketing line up with your own experience?
Ryan: I love those numbers. It helps me kind of showcase the importance of what I do and where this B2B influencer marketing trend is going.
IBM as an enterprise has a renewed focus on influencer marketing and a cohesive direction that we want to go. @ryanbares
I haven’t ran data myself at IBM on customers and how are they engaging with some of the stuff we’re doing with influencer marketing, but I know through people in the industry and through what I’m seeing from IBM Systems that IBM as an enterprise has a renewed focus on influencer marketing and a cohesive direction that we want to go. We’ve set up influencer councils recently and explored whether that’s internal or external and explored ways that we can sort of build playbooks for the entire enterprise.
We find value and reach new audiences outside of our branded channels and we can leverage our employees to do that. @ryanbares
I know that we find value and reach new audiences outside of our branded channels and we can leverage our employees to do that. We can also leverage external influencers to do that. So I definitely agree that those high numbers in the 77% and 74% are hitting our customers and they are finding value in that.
I go back to my story about the scrolling and these ads, right? I personally, and I think a lot of people feel the same, that will stop on a person, like someone they trust or someone who is notable in that industry, whether an analyst influencer versus something the brand is saying through paid advertising or branded posts on organic social.
People join people. They like to follow people. Then the organization, the company, the brand follows. @ryanbares
People join people. They like to follow people. Then the organization, the company, the brand follows. But I think again, we’ve been kind of talking a lot about the human to human, the personalized and the authenticity that really translates, from my experience as a consumer, scrolling through my feeds to the B2B space. There is a lot of intersection.
Can you share some of the ways you’re engaging with influencers at IBM Systems?
We really are focusing on relationships. That’s always been my go-to. That’s the platform, that’s the base, that’s the foundation of my program from the beginning – relationships over time.
I’ve really tried to avoid the one-off sort of campaign style activations or campaigns with influencers. What we’re doing is a lot of the content creation. So that could be blogging, that could be inviting individuals to events in the future. Some of our marquee events like IBM Think, video interviews, podcasting, you know, that sort of realm. That stuff lives in a variety of places. It can be on our IBM owned property like an IBM blog. It could definitely live on the influencer’s blog or their LinkedIn page, wherever the traffic is.
We take a lot of direction from the influencers. We believe that they are the experts with their audience and the way they create content. @ryanbares
And we take a lot of direction from the influencers. We believe that they are the experts with their audience and the way they create content. It’s definitely a collaboration of how can we get the most bang for your buck to drive responses, drive interests, drive website visits, whatever the KPI is for that activity. Content is King for us right now even though we try to do less with more. So content is what we’re doing, blogging, videos.
Drawing on your experience with influencer marketing, what advice can you share for other B2B marketers who are thinking of starting their own program?
I reflect back on my time at the beginning, which has not been that long because this B2B influencer marketing is not old. I think for me, it is focusing and starting small with your program.
Where I started, it was like, I want to have X amount of people in our influencer program that have 2 million on reach on Twitter. Like, just made up numbers. And I went and did that and realized quickly that having that many people in a program, you’re kind of constantly trying to juggle and building relationships. It just becomes really hard for one person to do.
I would recommend identifying four, five, or six individuals that really have a strong affinity for your brand, for the technology or the industry you’re in and build relationships. @ryanbares
So I would recommend identifying four, five, or six individuals that really have a strong affinity for your brand, for the technology or the industry you’re in and build relationships with them. Set goals with them and kind of build this sort of advocacy program and grow it from there. That might take a year. That might take a longer time, but you have to be okay with that. And don’t rely on their reach. Don’t rely on how many connections they might have on LinkedIn. It’s more about the person and can they be a great advocate for you and your brand?
What has you excited most when it comes to opportunities with influencer marketing in 2021?
When we talk about relationships, and those are great over Zoom and email and email, but getting face to face – I am definitely excited about that for hopefully later next year. For me, it’s really just to improve in the same vein, improving on the digital events for next year.
You know, this year was the year of pivoting and trying things out, figuring out what works and what doesn’t work. What works with your network, your brands? Influencers like doing what they’re good at so I’m really excited about how can we adapt those learnings and hopefully perfect them next year in 2021.
I’m just really excited about what IBM is doing in this space and focusing on influencer marketing. @ryanbares
Also personally, I’m just really excited about what IBM is doing in this space and focusing on influencer marketing. Up to this point it’s been kind of up to the brand channels and the different teams. If you have the resources, if you have the interest and time, go figure it out. But now there’s really some direction from across the enterprise on the best practices. These are the best individuals, this is how you can build a program. So I’m really excited about that personally.
To see the full interview with IBM Systems’ Ryan Bares, check out the Inside Influence Episode 10 video below:
According to our research in the 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report, 74% of marketers surveyed believe that influencer marketing improves prospect and customer experience for B2B brands. If there’s one industry expert to tap on the topic of customer experience, I can think of few more qualified than the author of X: The Experience When Business Meets Design, Brian Solis.
As an 8 time best selling author, keynote speaker, analyst, futurist, digital anthropologist and Global Innovation Evangelist at Salesforce, Brian is a longtime friend that I’ve been able to collaborate with numerous times on marketing topics.
In a time of darkness, chaos, or confusion, B2B brands have an opportunity to be the light. @briansolis
Brian has a lot of inspiring insights when it comes to the intersection of experience and influence. Not only did he author the Influence 2.0 report that we partnered with Traackr on to research, but he contributed to the introduction of the first research report dedicated to B2B influencer marketing: The 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing. Here’s an excerpt:
“In a time of darkness, chaos, or confusion, B2B brands have an opportunity to be the light for their customers and customer’s customers. Meaningful customer engagement starts with discovery. When someone begins their discovery process, what do they find? How do they react? Does your content resonate in a relevant and empathetic way or does it push customers elsewhere?
B2B marketers now have an opportunity to reimagine engagement to ignite a new type of connection with customers. Beyond designing for and measuring the potent for engagement, design for humans and their intentions, needs, and desired outcomes. Engagement becomes a function of intent and purpose.
This is where influence and thought leadership transcend marketing to become partners to drive business growth.”
I recently had the opportunity to connect with Brian to record this latest episode of Inside Influence to talk about a range of topics based on Brian’s experience as an analyst and as one of the most sought after and respected influencers in the business world.
In our discussion, we covered:
Brian’s role at Salesforce as a Global Innovation Evangelist
The importance of Always-On Influence and creating value for customers
What B2B brands should expect from influencer marketing
The closing gap between B2B and B2C influencer marketing
What B2B executives should consider when incorporating influence into the marketing mix
What B2B marketers should expect from influencer marketing agencies
Most rewarding experience with a B2B brand as an influencer
The role influencer can play for B2B brands during times of uncertainty
Tips for B2B executives on becoming more influential (and why)
Below are some of the highlights of our discussion with the full video interview embedded below.
You’ll be coming up on a year into your role as Innovation Evangelist at Salesforce in a few months. Tell us about the work you’ve been doing and what you’re looking forward to in 2021.
Brian: A lot of what my role is what we’re going to be talking about. The word evangelist at Salesforce means something deeper than simple evangelism. It really gets to the core of what you and I have been talking about over the years, which is true influence.
We think about [influence] as adding value to people who need to make decisions about the future of their business. @briansolis
Influence is something that we don’t think about in terms of marketing. We think about it as adding value to people who need to make decisions about the future of their business. Therefore, taking the insights, thought leadership, and ideas to help them do something in a new, different, or better way. So it’s essentially bringing influence down to cause and effect. What is the effect or what is the outcome that you want to see and how you share content, ideas, or whatever package that is, to help that individual or help that organization move forward in ways that they couldn’t have otherwise, without hopefully seeing your work.
When we talk about B2B influence, let’s take out the, “How many followers do you have?” or “How many impressions are you going to drive?” and let’s look at it for what it is, right? A business or an executive needs help in these times of great transformation and disruption. And where do they turn for that when there is not a playbook about building the future? That doesn’t exist, right? What do you do? Where do you turn? Who do you listen to? Right? That’s the role of someone who adds value to the conversation.
You’re essentially building a community around people who are helping one another invent forward, right? To break convention or break mediocrity.
I want to thank you for writing an introduction to our 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report – the first dedicated study of B2B influencer marketing. You mentioned that the need for influence is Always-On. Can you drill down into that?
Brian: Influence never sleeps because people are always in need of information. There’s always something new. There’s always a new opportunity. There’s always a new way to do something differently moving forward. And so this is an opportunity to build an infrastructure within your organization that is constantly adding value to business customers as they seek it in a variety of contexts in their journey.
Influence never sleeps because people are always in need of information. @briansolis
If we think about customer experience in the B to C world, one of the biggest transformations that I hope we’ll see is we’ll see organizations be always on and always connected from within so that the back office and the front office then facilitates a much more intuitive, always on and personalized customer journey.
The same is true for business to business. Business customers are going through that journey. There’s different stages all the time, and they’re always in need of insights, information and engagement. That means the opportunity to engage, the opportunity to provide content, the opportunity to guide their journey is always on. That takes influencer marketing.
We can help that business customer at every stage because of the influencer program that we’ve put in place is designed to add value. @briansolis
Maybe this isn’t so much about influencer marketing as it is about influencer experience. We can help that business customer at every stage because of the influencer program that we’ve put in place is designed to add value. That takes the concepts of influencer marketing, content, and product marketing and essentially creates this much more powerful alliance of ways in which we can think beyond, “Hey, how many views did we get?”, “How many impressions did we get?”, “What was the reach on that last piece of content we created?”
Then we can start measuring things by how many questions we answered, how many people we drove towards the stage to want to know more. And how did we change the thinking among executives and really start to get to a much more meaningful place where influence is essentially a code word for helping people?
A few years ago we both worked (much more you than me) with Traackr on the Influence 2.0: The Future of Influencer Marketing research report where there was quite a gap between B2C and B2B influencer marketing adoption. Has that gap closed much in the past 3 years?
Brian: You know, I don’t have the data around me, but I have to imagine that you had a big deal to do with closing that gap because you’ve been a champion for B2B influence for a really long time. You’ve been a pioneer in actually making this a formal construct within companies. That report that we worked on was our way of not only showing the discrepancy between the two, but actually showing the need for them to be actually more similar than dissimilar.
Influence 2.0 is a concept that was introduced to help marketers think about influence differently than the way that it’s still largely thought about, which is a broadcast mentality or what I call a drafting someone’s social capital. That’s when a person has street cred within an industry and brands want to partner with them so that they can draft their credibility and attach it to our brand.
That’s all fine, but if you’re consistently adding value through strategic partnerships, building trust, and also becoming an influencer yourself, I always believed brands needed to become influencers as well, then we actually can forge an ecosystem, essentially a community of belonging together to make that community stronger for one another and for the market.
I always joked when I spoke to B2B audiences, I specifically loved to use the best B2C examples. I mean anything besides the traditional stuff where we see influencers getting free products and they put it on Instagram. That’s to me, the same as celebrity endorsements, I’m talking about influences outcomes. Like, “I trust you. I value what you’re thinking. You’re guiding me in my decision-making.”
I want to push business to business forward to remind them that there are human beings on the other side of that screen. @briansolis
Whether I’m a consumer or whether I’m a business customer, that’s what I talk about with influence. I want to push business to business forward to remind them that there are human beings on the other side of that screen, right? If you could humanize something, then people will find it more relatable. It’s not like as a business customer, they’re not consumers. It’s not like they say, okay, I’m done shopping for headphones and now I have to look at B2B enterprise systems here, so I’m going to forget what it was like to be treated as a human being. I actually think that humanization is what can make B2B even stronger.
Our research found that 77% of marketers say that their prospective customers rely on advice from industry influencers and yet 60% say they do not have the skills or expertise in-house to execute influencer programs. Of course many of those marketers trust outside experts like agencies to help. What do you think B2B marketers should expect from agencies or consultants when it comes to influencer marketing programs?
Brian: I hope that agencies think of themselves as partners in trust-building. Because it changes the conversation from marketing. Part of the challenge is, what’s the brief or what’s the remit? And how does someone respond to that?
I think for thoughtful organizations on the outside, you should probably consider influencing the decision makers as well. Meaning, that you should become an influencer in helping your customers understand that what they’re buying from you is not just the ability to connect them with people who have a lot of followers or audiences or networks or proven track record of content. But you’re actually partnering with them to build a market of trust, to build a community, an Always-On community. When I research the decisions I need to make it happens at midnight, you know? Influence never sleeps, right?
You have to find the things and the trusted voices when you can and you want them to be recent. You want them to be contextually relevant, which means I can’t just find an article. Maybe I want data visualization. Maybe I need a video, whatever it is, right. I need to find it my way. So, I actually think that this is an opportunity for agencies, partners, or consultants to influence their buyers so that the briefs now start to ask for bigger, better things.
This is an opportunity for agencies, partners, or consultants to influence their buyers so that the briefs now start to ask for bigger, better things. @briansolis
I wrote, I think, the first industry report on digital influence back in the day about 2011 and in that, I talked about authority and popularity and what I see, especially in B2B, we see it in B2C too, the authority part of this was always under appreciated. Authority essentially says, I not only know what I’m talking about, I know what you’re going through. So therefore, that’s what’s inspiring a lot of my work and hopefully I can earn your trust because that’s the consideration set I’m bringing to the table.
That’s the work that external partners need to do to help internal partners who are caught up in everything that they have to deal with beyond influence – everything that they have to constantly substantiate and try to justify all of the work in the investments that they’re making. Those things will become much more valuable within the organization if they can tie it to business outcomes or to customer lifetime value or to things that actually have an impact on the business.
I can tell you after doing this for so many years, tying my work to those things, that’s all a customer is looking for: real help. And a business is looking for outcomes and the two are mutually beneficial. So let’s help those decision makers think beyond influencer marketing and more about influence.
The pandemic and many other forces driving a feeling of uncertainty and change have created an environment where there are new challenges, yet also opportunities. What role do you think influence can play in helping brands during these “uncertain times” better connect with customers?
Brian: I think ultimately, yes. It’s not that it’s never not been important. There’s just a lot of uncertainty right now. There’s also a lot of fear, anxiety, stress, and anger. These are just human, natural human feelings that exist. These are things we’re dealing with. We’re coping. We’re not just working from home or trying to work from home during a pandemic with a whole bunch of other stuff like remote learning or whatever it is in our households. Right?
So that importance of light that we talked about in the ignite moment, that’s more important than ever. Add to that the digital distractions that everybody’s dealing with that’s now compounded more because we have to be digital first. Those opportunities to deliver value and build trust are more important and actually more valuable than ever before.
Those opportunities to deliver value and build trust are more important and actually more valuable than ever before. @briansolis
That’s what I think we want people to think about here leaving this conversation. If I had to reinvent my definition of influence and my approach to it because of 2020, what would I do differently? If I could set aside 20 years of work in March and start all over again, you can do it, because it only makes you more relevant and better. That’s ultimately all we want to do and that’s ultimately what people are looking for.
Any tips you can share with senior B2B brand executives on becoming more influential themselves?
Brian: There are individuals that I think do a really amazing job within brands, whether they know it or not, that make that brand trusted and much more influential within the customer community.
Talk to Paul Greenberg for example. Paul’s a dear friend and an incredible, Godfather of CRM, an incredible analyst and also an incredible human being. He empowers individuals who feel like they want to change within organizations to go and change within these organizations because they know it’s what’s right for the community.
So, I think the first part is caring. You’re not just trying to be an influencer and run an influencer marketing program, because you care about the fact that customers are struggling to find information. They’re frustrated because they couldn’t previously do the things to make the impact that they really wanted to make. Influencer marketing or influence in that regard just becomes a means, a mechanism of which to activate a community.
What does it take to be a thought leader? Well, you have to be a thought leader. @briansolis
So that part is about caring, which is actually a rare, rare gift out there. The other piece is, what does it take to be a thought leader? Well, you have to be a thought leader. And that means you have to actually know what is happening out there, what people are struggling with. And you have to care so much about solving that, that is the heart of everything that you do. Then, hopefully it inspires you to see a different path forward of which becomes your unique voice.
Ultimately, what influence means is, “What impact did you have?” @briansolis
Of course, the mechanics of making that voice heard is not just about how loud you are or how you put fear into people or how popular you get. Ultimately, what influence means is, “What impact did you have?” I think those things are where businesses need to focus and where business leaders need to rethink what it takes to build that brand, that trusted brand out there.
To see the full Inside Influence Episode 9 interview with Brian Solis, check out the video below:
To connect with Brian, you can find him at BrianSolis.com, on Twitter and LinkedIn.
Improving Customer Experience is one of the top priorities for B2B marketers today. With the challenges of real-world experiences from field marketing to in-person tradeshows all but gone, B2B marketers are focused on figuring out how to maximize digital experiences.
Working with influencers has proven to be an effective solution. In fact, 74% of marketers agree that influencer marketing improves customer and prospect experience with the brand according to the 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report. But how are B2B brands working with influencers to create those experiences?
To find out, I reached out to Srijana Angdembey, Director of Social Media Marketing at Oracle for this 8th Episode of Inside Influence – Interviews with B2B Influencer Marketing Insiders. During our talk, we discussed:
How influencer marketing for B2B has changed
What it takes to be a top B2B influencer marketing professional at a B2B brand
Top challenges and opportunities for influencer marketing during the pandemic
How influencer engagement impacts customer experience for B2B companies
An example of a successful influencer marketing campaign
Advice for B2B marketers that are considering working with influencers and what to expect
Trends in influencer content
Criteria for identifying and partnering with business influencers
Measures of success for a B2B influencer marketing program
Influencer marketing after the pandemic and future predictions
Below are some of the highlights of our discussion with the full video interview embedded below.
How did you first start working with influencers and how has it changed?
Srijana: The funny thing is I actually started in policy and working with politicians and policy makers. I was working in government affairs and in a way, I think I’ve always worked with influencers. I’ve always kind of known who are the people of influence or who could influence things to accomplish my goals. So when I jumped into the role of CX marketing, it just so happened that I also got influencer marketing. I felt very natural coming into it. I think the way things have changed now from when I started, is influencer marketing was very much for B2C. Now we’re seeing more B2B companies really embracing it. That’s been the major change that I’ve seen.
What do you think are some of the top challenges and opportunities for influencer marketing posed by the pandemic?
Srijana: Honestly I wouldn’t say that I’ve seen any or it’s not been much of a challenge. We’ve definitely had to tweak our strategy because we rely on influencers for our event marketing. For example, we’ve worked with Matt Heinz on a road show that we did, which was awesome. So we were continuing to do something similar this year before the pandemic, but when it hit, we realized we had to really pivot.
We were doing all these virtual shows and including influencers, hosting and attending, speaking and that was fine. We were also thinking about how we could be more helpful and make our content more relevant for our audience right now? I wouldn’t say that was so much of a challenge, but it was sort of like the guiding principle behind picking up influencer marketing this year and really seeing and working with those influencers who kind of got that.
We also realized that influencers were more accessible now and maybe more available to work to make sure that we have that equal value partnership. So we’re not taking advantage of them but being able to get something done that was of value for our audience.
According to our research presented in the 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing report, 74% of marketers agree that influencer marketing improves customer and prospect experience. In what ways do you believe influence has an impact on CX?
Srijana: Gosh, when I think of influencer marketing the first thing I think about is trust. Trust is the currency that makes the experience economy go around, right? We’re all trying to be more more human in our approach to marketing. We’re trying to come across as more friendly and not trying to push our solutions and products as much. But how do we do that?
When I think of influencer marketing the first thing I think about is trust. Trust is the currency that makes the experience economy go around. @srijanaa
I really think that influencer marketing helps fill that gap because now we’re working with individuals that our audience trusts and look up to us as experts. I think that’s the key. I think that’s how influence drives customer experience. Working on anything, content marketing or events with influencers just helps build the trust factor. It also adds credibility and makes everything so much more authentic.
Our research found that 96% of B2B marketers implementing influencer programs are successful in some way. Even with that optimism, 60% of B2B marketers say they don’t have the skills in house or expertise to execute. What advice can you share for marketers considering working with influencers?
Srijana: I think the first thing I’d say is you may not realize, but your company might already be doing some form of influencer marketing. A lot of times I don’t think people know for sure. When I was doing influencer marketing here initially at Oracle, I was surprised to find how many other people were already working with influencers. But maybe you don’t have that strategy in place yet or an official program.
If you set your goals for working with influencers and what you’re trying to achieve with the influencer marketing program, then you can start really slow and small. @srijanaa
I think if you set your goals for working with influencers and what you’re trying to achieve with the influencer marketing program, then you can start really slow and small. It could be as easy as just reaching out organically and trying to build that relationship with an influencer. That’s where you start and really start studying and understanding if this is the right influencer that you want to work with. What content are they producing? Who are their audiences? How are they engaging with them? So I would say start there.
B2B marketing and content expectations increasingly demand experiences, including with influencer content. What are you seeing in terms of recorded and live video, stories, podcasts and even interactive content with influencers?
Srijana: Tik Tok is a great example, right? As far as pushing the boundaries of content.
That’s another thing about working with influencers. I think they’re so good at that. Maybe I have restrictions and boundaries or maybe I don’t have the resources in my company. Maybe I have brand guidelines that restrict me from doing certain forms of content. I’m loving what I see from Brian Fanzo do for example. He has such good stuff like with virtual events that he’s doing. I love that.
Influencers know that the content needs to be very engaging and it needs to hold the attention of the viewer. @srijanaa
When working with Shep Hyken, for example, this year on one of our events, I was just blown away by the technology that he had and the ability to pull in things when he was speaking. He had slides up and had stats pop up and I was so impressed. I think that influencers know that the content needs to be very engaging and it needs to hold the attention of the viewer.
I’m just finding that we’re just getting more and more innovative and as we are exploring newer forms of news and new kinds of social media, for example, it just pushes the boundary even more.
What do you think will be different about influencer marketing for B2B companies post-pandemic? Any predictions for the future?
Srijana: No predictions, but I definitely don’t think we’re going back anytime soon to how things worked or how we were doing things.
One thing that this pandemic really did was make us all pause and kind of look at our (influencer) marketing in a more prescriptive way. “Is this going to add any value?” @srijanaa
One thing that this pandemic really did was make us all pause and kind of look at our marketing in a more prescriptive way. “Is this going to add any value?” I think even more so than ever, it kind of made that really clear to us.
I think even with influencer marketing, we became very focused on, is what this person saying aligned to our values and what we want? Post pandemic, I think that’s going to continue. For example, we want to work with a diverse range of influencers, right? Maybe that was already top of mind before, but now it’s even more top of mind because of the current situation.
I think we’re going to be more prescriptive on how we do things and who we align with and make sure that person is not just what they’re saying on social media, but also that they are good people to work with and that our customers really look up to.
To see the full Inside Influence interview with Srijana Angdembey, check out the video below:
If you would like to connect with Srijana further about B2B influencer marketing, you can find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.
Next up on Inside Influence, we’ll be talking to Brian Solis, Global Innovation Evangelist at Salesforce about how influence and thought leadership transcend marketing to become partners to drive business growth.
Be sure to check out our previous Inside Influence B2B Influencer Marketinginterviews:
My prediction is that we’re moving into an anti-marketing, influencer marketing world. No one has time for the deluge of commercial content coming their way these days on every platform. The pendulum has swung to where the obviously-solicited and carefully-curated feedback is flooding our inboxes and social feeds.
The trick is finding authentic advocates and keeping the content short, sweet, timely, and targeted! 2021 is going to be all about the real vs. the ideal.
1. A long-term approach to influencer marketing growth is the Miracle-Gro B2B brands need. Influencer relationships have increasingly been about building long-term partnerships — not short-term, one-off collaborations. This has been evolving for a while… but in 2021 it’s critical. One-offs are choked off so true partnerships can thrive.
2. Purpose-driven partnerships become a thing. It’s not the size of an influencer’s audience — it’s what they stand for. Brand, ethos, character, relatability, affinity… it all matters.
3. A B2B brand will create the first viral TikTok video in partnership with a TikTok creator. (Why not?)
3 1/2. Instagram stops updating its platform in annoying ways that repel users. (Wait. Now I’m just making a Christmas wish list…. Never mind.)
If the pandemic has taught B2B marketing anything, it’s that trust, relatability, and TikTok matter more than ever.
3 — More B2B Influencer Marketing Professionals Will Move the Needle
Ryan Bares Global Social Programs Lead: Social Influencers & Employee Advocacy, IBM Systems
2021 will be the year of focus for the influencer marketer. B2B brands should now see the fruits of their influencer marketing labor, but is that really moving the needle?
Influencer marketing professionals – a position that will have more headcount in 2021 – will be expected to show results and focus on the right influencers engaging with your target audience vs. trying everything and seeing what sticks.
Influencer marketing for me is about relationships.
Between you, as a part of your brand, and a person — an influencer. Sure, there is some kind of relationship between an influencer and the brand, but still, in the end, it comes down to personal relationships between particular people.
Many of us build it using real-life meetings, a cup of coffee or a beer. What could be better than face-to-face conversations?
It abruptly stopped in 2020 with COVID, and my guess is it won’t be back soon. I don’t want to use a cliche — the world won’t be the same again — but it might be partially true.
What could replace real-life conferences and personal meetings?
The obvious answer — online ones. I think in 2021 a lot of influencer marketers will look at online events as arguably the strongest influencer marketing tool. We will be arranging virtual conferences with the major goal to “steal the soul” of our influencers. Saying so, remember what is the best way to please your influencer/speaker: have a big, engaged audience.
Influencers are becoming more savvy about brands they partner with and why. Organizations and marketers have to work harder to nurture key relationships and ensure we aren’t just asking for content or activation, but rather find a value sweet spot where both parties benefit and win. That means meaningful content, authentic voices and deep engagement.
With the pandemic, we’ve seen a massive rush online, and many of these new habits will continue in 2021 and even post-pandemic.
Because of this, the importance of online influencers has only increased. Expect to see brands increasingly working with influencers in B2C and B2B environments. The smart money will go after influencers on the rise, so look out for up-and-coming influencers who are seeing some success in the platforms your audience prefers, as well as who align with your brand’s values.
Brands often engaged influencers around events, and that is where they were able to get budget. With so many events going virtual, I see brands reassessing this tactic. More brands are striving to engage influencers throughout the year and look to have an always-on program. Thus, the budgets and alignments are changing.
Additionally, virtual events are not new, but their importance and sophistication is already radically improving. 2021 will continue to see more influencers upping their game around lighting, microphones and cameras to have the best experience for their audience. I’m excited to see how influencers will develop their video and audio presence to help companies share information.
10 — Network and Credential-Building Activities in a Maturing Influencer Industry
Paul Dobson Senior Director of Social and Influencer Marketing, Citrix
Here’s what’s been on my mind while I have been thinking about planning for 2021. With the ongoing discussion about misinformation in the media, I think that B2B influencer teams are going to be looking for a solid balance between the influencer’s network and their credential building activities that continue to build on their reputations as a strong voice in the industry that they represent.
With the influencer industry maturing, and mindspace on social media shrinking, there is going to be increasing competition to find the right person to help promote B2B brands and brand messages.
I predict two key trends happening in the B2B influencer marketing space in 2021. The first one will be the continuation of brands’ focus on nurturing existing relationships and building new long-term connections.
At Nimble, we believe in treating business relationships the same way we treat other important relationships in our lives. Long-term cooperation with influencers is our number one priority because it’s a win-win for everybody.
Both we and the influencers we work with invest time, energy, and resources into every campaign we run. We only reach out to people who we want to build a long-lasting relationship with. The end goal with our influencers is to eventually turn them into Nimble power-users and life-long brand advocates.
The other thing I think companies will be focusing on in 2021 is “fishing out” the micro-influencers from the deep waters of their existing base. It’s much easier to deepen the relationship with someone who already loves your product, turning them into an evangelist, than it is to teach an influencer the product after you’ve spent months — sometimes years — nurturing a new relationship.
In our 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report, 80% of B2B marketers agree that influencer marketing will be more important in the coming year and 80% expect their influencer marketing budgets to increase or stay the same. As the pandemic has driven B2B marketing activities decidedly digital, influence will continue to play an increasingly important role in the B2B marketing mix and here’s how:
Experiences – 74% of marketers believe working with influencers improves the experience of prospects and customers with the brand. That trend will continue as more influencers are engaged creatively to partner with brands on messaging and trusted content. The definition of influencer will broaden enabling brands to activate more of the individuals internally and externally playing a role in delivering the best experiences for customers.
Business of Influence – More professional influencers will come on the scene in the B2B world to provide brands with everything from analyst level expertise to turn-key research and promotions projects, professional media and content creation that are accountable to more than just “potential social impressions.” Business influence in 2021 means accountability to the bottom line, not just superficial KPIs.
Agency Influencer Networks – As more B2B brands come on board the influencer marketing train, they’ll want to fast track the most difficult part: identifying, qualifying and recruiting influencer partners. Specialist agencies will maintain relationships with networks of industry specific influencers and be able to provide new clients with near-immediate connections with experts that might otherwise take months to nurture.
Brand Influencers – Employee advocacy can tip the scales in favor of the B2B brands that are able to activate their staff and this trend will continue. Additionally, more B2B brands will invest in the building of influence for their key executives. B2B brands that both harvest relationships with top industry influencers and build the influence of their key execs and subject matter experts could see a multiplier effect on warming the market, building trust, thought leadership, and credibility when it comes to the confidence needed to make purchasing decisions.
Putting 2021 B2B Influencer Marketing Trends to the Test
2021 will see B2B marketers taking influencer marketing into not only a new year but a new more mainstream era of wider adoption among major brands, and the insightful predictions we’ve examined here are sure to play out in altogether new and sometimes unpredictable ways.
* Prophix and Treasure Data are TopRank Marketing clients.