Influencer marketing has been around long enough to generate great case studies—and skepticism. That’s especially true for B2B marketers. An Instagram model gushing over a new fashion product seems infinitely remote from strategies they might deploy.
Still, about 65% of brands planned to increase their investment in influencer marketing in 2018, which puts the strategy on track to top $10 billion by 2020. Yet, according to another study, only 11% of B2B companies have ongoing influencer marketing programs, compared to 48% of B2C brands.
B2B brands shouldn’t feel left out, even if they lag behind. Professional communities on social media are strong. We’ve all given and received one-off recommendations in Slack groups or via email. Those under-the-radar endorsements can influence purchasing decisions for cloud-based CRMs as much as cleansing teas.
But too many case studies tout the strategies of SAP, Salesforce, and other behemoths who have resources and networks that dwarf most companies. This post offers four B2B influencer marketing strategies that move the needle in any industry and for companies of all sizes.
1. Partner with industry experts to co-create content.
- What this strategy achieves: Adds instant credibility to your content and provides a natural distribution network.
When you collaborate with an expert in your field [. . .] the expert/influencer has a chance to connect with a new audience and you have the opportunity to bring new value/perspective to your existing audience.
This strategy is also flexible: You can select the right type of content based on your resources.
Here are several ways to co-create content with B2B influencers:
Even if you don’t have a roster of influencer-users, reach out for a quote about your product or brand. Co-created “content” can be as simple as a few lines to add social proof to your offer.
A pop-up on the cognitiveSEO blog has a quote from Bill Sebald:
Start with influencers who are already connected to your brand; the chances of getting a reply are much higher. Who follows your brand account on Twitter? Who shared your content in the past?
If manually culling a list is too much effort, use a tool like Followerwonk. With just a few clicks, you can identify the most influential users among your followers. (You can learn more about this strategy on my recent post on Moz.)
Similarly, Buzzsumo allows you to see who on Twitter shared your content:
Involving experts in case studies can help win more likes and shares—promoting the content is in influencers’ self-interest because they get to share their success stories.
You can catalyze that sharing, something Ann Smarty of Viral Content Bee does regularly:
Any time I feature influencers in my content, I tag them on Twitter, not just in my own tweets but also in updates from everyone else. This gets my influencers back to my site with every tweet.
We add the project to Viral Content Bee and include the influencers’ usernames in the project name. This way, every time the article is tweeted from the dashboard, the influencers are tagged on Twitter, driving them back to the content.
Matthew Barby, along with other well-known HubSpot employees, shared how Accuranker helped them double their traffic. Those names (and that brand) added credibility to Accuranker’s case study.
But, of course, there’s a limitation to these collaborations: The targeted influencers have to be your clients—for long enough to have gotten great value from your product and liberated from a self-imposed NDA that keeps them from sharing their story.
Video has won marketers’ hearts and minds: 83% believe that video content grows sales. But it may require some penny-pinching since videos need a generous budget (compared to, say, a blog post or whitepaper).
When Google offers video search results, they’re generally near the top of the search engine results page (SERP), even before the coveted #1 website listing.
Mots of those video results are YouTube videos, making them another opportunity to claim real estate atop a SERP.
If you’re on a shoe-string budget but still want to produce content featuring experts:
- Record a short webinar-like Q&A. I use Zoom for its ease-of-use and decent video quality.
- Live stream on Facebook or YouTube. Pick your brand channel that has the most engaged community (i.e. most followers, subscribers). After the live stream, promote the video across other social media platforms.
While production may be more demanding, it may also make it easier to find experts who will collaborate with you. Videos are among the most expensive content types to produce, so the perceived value of collaborating is often higher.
Ross Hudgens at Siege Media has successfully uses this formula. His “Content and Conversation” video series features a veritable “Who’s Who” of the digital marketing world:
There are ways to reduce production costs, too, like shooting videos at company-sponsored conferences and events. The experts are already there, so just start rolling.
Want to co-create content that will really stick with readers? Already have a cache of data? Share it with a B2B influencer to publish on their site.
In the digital marketing space, Brian Dean does this often. Most of his research is based on data provided by other companies. Here are a few examples from his recent posts:
If you need ideas of what kind of content you could create with your data, check out the post on B2B content marketing strategies, or use a tool like BuzzSumo or Ahrefs to surface popular topics.
Partnering up with experts in your field is a great way to create new and interesting content while also building relationships. But influencers aren’t the only people who can help you promote your brand.
2. Turn loyal, influential clients into brand ambassadors.
- What this strategy achieves: Builds word-of-mouth referrals and cultivates a community of user-advocates.
If someone tells you that building relationships with influencers is a piece of cake, they’re either:
- From a well-known company that influencers are eager to work with;
- Have never never done it themselves.
Persuading influencers to collaborate is anything but easy. Get ready to be ignored by hundreds of them. It’s just a part of the process—if you thought to reach out to them, so did dozens (or hundreds) of others.
Loyal clients may be an easier target, especially since you don’t need to “sell” your brand; they’re already sold. So how do you get them to share their experience with your business?
Here are options to turn happy clients into vocal supporters:
Special community programs
Moz was among the first digital marketing companies to create a bonus system (“MozPoints”). For various activities—like a “thumbs up” for your blog post comment—you receive a certain number of points.
SEMrush has also invested in their community, building something similar to motivate people to participate and engage with their brand:
The gamification can motivate users to engage with your content or to help other users on your product forum. That engagement, in turn, may help you create and identify your champions.
Nick Dimitriou, Head of Growth at Moosend, highlights other benefits of loyalty-type programs:
- Stay ahead of the competition;
- Reduce your advertising spend;
- Increase customer retention;
- Move existing customers further down the funnel;
- Identify brand evangelists;
- Find customers who have influencer potential for your brand.
Make your customers feel truly special by adding them to an exclusive group. Many companies have closed Facebook groups to help clients feel more connected to their brand. However, you can go a step further and create a VIP group accessible only to hand-picked clients. (A community feature can also be added quite easily to your site.)
This will streamline conversations about your product/service, help you collect feedback, and—most importantly—allow you to share special offers (e.g. beta access, company swag) and invite influencers to your community meet-ups.
Engaging with loyal customers is an affordable strategy to earn endorsements from clients whose opinions carry weight in the industry. But clients may not be your only die-hard fans. Your brand might already have loyal influencers.
3. Organize offline events to develop relationships.
- What this strategy achieves: Builds brand awareness by celebrating others and creates the personal connections you need to execute influencer strategies.
Establishing personal connections at offline events is key to building out your influencer network. But it’s also important to give your new contacts an easy way to get in touch with you after the event, which is where branded links come in handy. Distributing a short, memorable link (e.g. YourBrand.is/Better) at the event can continue the conversation long after it’s over.Davide De Guz, Founder of Rebrandly
I know tons of people that I’ve never met in person (but would love to meet one day!). Thanks to digital marketing conferences, I have been able to grow many of those digital-first relationships.
An old-school, face-to-face chat can’t be beaten, even by video calls. My team knows this, which is the number-one reason we host our own annual event, Digital Olympus. Even if you’re not in a position to run a conference, there are some options to consider:
Closed VIP events
For instance, SEMrush Summer Jams brings together the very best digital marketers. Being a part of this event is a big deal. Or take SEOktoberfest, organized by Marcus Tandler from Ryte. Even though it costs quite a lot to attend, it remains an invitation-only event with a feeling of exclusivity.
If there’s no award in your niche, it could be your chance to start one! Recruit a group of trustworthy experts to act as judges (Influencer Engagement Opportunity #1). Then, promote submissions for Best XYZ and celebrate the winners digitally or, if you have the budget, with a one-night award ceremony (Influencer Engagement Opportunity #2).
Existing award programs highlight best practices. For example, Search Awards are well-known in the digital marketing niche. I was a part of Search Awards a few times, and I think they’re so popular because:
- Even being shortlisted is a huge benefit to brand awareness.
- It’s a great opportunity to meet experts that you’ve known on the web for ages.
- Shortlisted companies invite friends and influencers to their tables to build stronger bonds.
If experts see that your award benefits them, they’ll be more willing to participate and maybe even help organize or sponsor the program.
Parties before or after big events
This is a shortcut if you’re on a tight budget and can’t afford VIP events or awards. Search for an existing event and announce that you’re running a pre- or post-party for it. (Lots of companies, for example, run BrightonSEO pre-parties; some are “official” parties, sponsored through the conference.)
Face-to-face communication will always be the best way to catch up with loyal influencers, whether they’re clients or experts. Now, let’s see how to identify more of those people for future collaborations.
4. Keep hunting for new influencers.
- What this strategy achieves: Grows your network of potential influencers and opens the door to new or expanded strategies.
The game never stops. As with other marketing strategies, a one-off approach is least likely to work. Keep in touch with people you already know (through, for example, the aforementioned VIP groups), but always seek out new connections.
At any point, your most vocal influencers might move on to collaborate with other brands. There are many ways to find new potential influencers:
(Too) many round-ups are average at best; there are exceptions. For example, Robbie Richards’ round-ups are valuable and rank well. His article on the best keyword research tools earns more than 600 organic visitors a month:
Richards’ round-ups are successful because of their structure and those involved—the experts he includes help him promote round-ups effectively and win links back to the posts.
For your next round-up post, start with a question that’s likely to yield insightful answers. Here are some that I’ve used in the past:
- What’s an outdated strategy in [industry]?
- What’s the best thing you’ve ever done to improve [topic]?
- What’s the best tip you’ve ever received about [topic]?
- What’s your favorite piece of software for [task]?
- What’s a new strategy you’ve uncovered recently to improve [topic]?
Any question that tackles an area of expertise and asks for an actionable tip will generate meaningful answers. That said, avoid topics that are overused in your industry. (In digital marketing, for example, no one needs another round-up on “how to write a blog post.”)
This post can help you find motivated influencers who are eager to participate in a round-up.
Top XX experts posts
These posts are, essentially, a type of round-up (a round-up of names rather than ideas). However, I strongly recommend that you connect with the experts you want to feature in your post beforehand. That will help ensure they promote your piece once it goes live.
Here are a few examples to inspire you:
- 100+ Awesome Women Marketers You Should Follow;
- 140 Top SEO Experts You Should Be Following in 2019;
- The Top 50 Social Media Marketing Influencers in 2019.
Link to experts’ content
Pick who you want to build a relationship with and link to an article on their site, not a guest post they’ve published elsewhere. You might want to connect with your potential influencer to see if it’s okay to share a link to their new post. (The answer is almost certainly “yes,” but it’s a frictionless way to break the ice.)
A modest amount of personalization can go a long way, as Right Inbox co-founder Sujan Patel notes:
As someone who has received plenty of the generic, “I linked to your article” emails, I’m much more likely to connect with you if you’ve taken the time to check out my content and link to it.
To be more strategic about it, see who links to your competitors. The authors of those posts likely contribute to many sites, which makes them valuable targets for your outreach. Here’s a great post that shares how to find them.
Support influencers on your social media channels
Promote content that needs (and deserves) promotion. Obviously, if an expert writes a new post for Moz, it will do well regardless—the author isn’t likely to notice if you share it. That story may be different when they publish on their personal blog.
Take the time to make a custom, visually appealing social media shoutout for the influencer’s content. People love visuals, and the 10 minutes you spend to make a nice image on Canva or Venngage—especially if the influencer didn’t do the same for their work—may earn their attention.
Invite guest hosts to Twitter chats and webinars
You’ll have better luck convincing an influencer to host if they have some history with you. Spend time warming them up—include them in a round-up or ask for a quote—then move on to webinars and chats.
Send company swag$
You don’t even need to know the person to do this. Just send some swag to their company, with the package addressed to them. (Still, sending gifts to people you know is better—they’re more likely to share their excitement on social media.)
This works well for event promotion. For Digital Olympus, we made cookies with the logo and sent t-shirts to our friends. That campaign was a definite success.
Congratulate influencers on life events
The life events of influencers provide opportunities, too. Catalog personal details in a CRM-type system (in a non-creepy way) and set reminders.
Small but memorable gifts work well. For example, Deepcrawl sends the cutest onesies for newborns:
B2B influencer marketing has carved its own path. Success is less about the one-and-done “viral” efforts common in B2C marketing and more about generating a regular undercurrent of interactions with industry influencers.
The biggest benefit of that strategic bent? It makes influencer marketing accessible to nearly every business. You may not crash your servers with a successful campaign, but you can build credibility for your content, product, and brand.
As Michael Sadowski, founder and CEO of Brand24, summarizes it:
B2B Influencer Marketing has become one of the most effective customer acquisition channels. However, it’s not easy to implement. Building relationships with the industry’s most influential voices takes time and skills.
In our humble experience, the best solution is to give maximum value to these power users, ask for nothing in return, and let karma do the rest.
This way, we managed to build a lasting connection with dozens of influencers that brought hundreds of thousands of users to our product.
There are so many ways to get started:
- Working with established clients;
- Organizing events;
- Networking with respected industry figures;
- Co-creating content, and so on.
Ideally, you’ll implement multiple strategies to reach more people. Pick those you like most, but go out of your comfort zone and try something new, too.