The Rise of B2B Influencer Marketing
By: Kristina Libby, SoCu
November 3, 2017
We are nearing a time where anyone, anywhere could make money from influencer marketing—and that represents a great opportunity for your brand.
For the past half-decade, the focus of influencer marketing has been the social media star. Whether this was a celebrity like the Kardashians or a more niche icon like Michelle Phan, companies turned to external voices to become the face of their brand. With little marketing training, these influencers were expected to sell, promote and generate creative ideas for a price.
And, for many brands, it worked. The consumer space became rife with influencer marketing and, as always happens, the enterprise and B2B spaces followed suit. But as many B2B brands are quick to point out, the cool social media influencer of yesteryear is not the right person to promote truck tires, the cloud or new healthcare infrastructure products.
There are, however, hundreds of thousands of people who are the right fit to promote those products. These are the B2B influencers of tomorrow. They are your employees and your executives and soon, they could be asked to promote products by other brands.
The mechanism is the same: A brand researches and finds relevant influencers in their sphere, works with them on a promotional campaign and rewards them with product, money or opportunity. This individual can then repeat the process multiple times over with other brands.
And they can do it behind the back of your company or with your full acceptance.
Why You Should Encourage the B2B Influencer
Right now, your company likely has no plan in place if an employee, at any level, starts to recommend other brands and products personally or on their professional social networks (primarily, Twitter and LinkedIn).
While it’s true that growing an internal roster of B2B influencers helps your organization, those people need training and education on how to effectively promote your brand—and how to respond when other brands approach them. For most mid- and senior-level employees, the knowledge of how to authentically promote something online is missing.
For years, companies have worked to control the social media channels of their employees. Yet, doing so has limited the company voices to be predominately those of the C-suite. As a result, the company’s image is the C-suite—less hip, less interesting and generally harder to identify with. This is especially true for companies hoping to sell products to millennials.
Companies that have opened social media to a broader team of employees often direct them to speak about the company first, last and only—rarely, if ever, are they encouraged to talk about other brands, competitive, collaborative or irrelevant. Yet, those employees who do have successful social handles in specific niche verticals are actually incredibly influential to the audiences they serve.
In all cases, you need to elevate and engage more social voices. But you also need to train them, as you would any speaker, to be effective stewards of your brand. Then, you need to train them to grow—their growth will help your company’s footprint to grow.
Creating a B2B Influencer Strategy
On Twitter, which has the highest educated and the highest paid audience, people often pick up tips on what to buy, where to buy it and how much to spend. Yet, they often disregard those influencers who only promote a single brand.
For progressive marketers, encouraging your internal influencers to promote your product plus share products they feel strongly or loyally about actually increases their potential influence. And if your employees haven’t been approached yet to promote a product (paid or otherwise), chances are they will begin to be in the next year.
Companies need to have a strategy in place for identifying their most influential B2B influencers and what those influencers are allowed to do. My company has recently been approached by a number of brands who are just beginning to see this occur and are concerned about how to address the potential issue.
Here’s how to get started:
- Determine if you have a process in place for B2B influencer marketing—either hiring those influencers or allowing your own employees to be hired.
- Determine if you have a training program in place for how to grow your personal influence and what impact that has on personal and professional brands.
If you are creating a strategy, it should audit your employees and practice, train and provide a comprehensive program for these influencers. It should also continue to support them following this training as they look at and grow their person brands successfully. This is a training process we have started using with mid-tier and enterprise brands and expect to see a number of other companies focus in this space within the next two years.
If your company has five to 10 people with significant social influence in core business verticals, you may not need to hire outside social media influencers. You will have already hired and trained the best people to drive sales and awareness because they are the people who know your brand best.
Kristina Libby is a professor at the University of Florida and the co-founder of SoCu, a PR, social media and influencer marketing platform in Dallas, Texas. She recently published her first book “You Don’t Need Social Media Unless You Are Doing It Right,” and has written for and appeared in publications like Cosmopolitan, Entrepreneur, More, Forbes, the Los Angeles Times and others.
Follow Kristina: @KristinaLibby