Influencer marketing is getting big. Here and there, a lot of noise is made about instagram influencers and suchlike. With sponsored posts reaching a €2,000 pricetag in France and up to £75,000 in the UK, “influence” is becoming big business indeed. Even though some marketeers are still wondering whether what they are doing is the right thing and besides some people are trying to abuse the system.
Less is known about B2B influence strategies and much can be learnt, including for the above-mentioned marketeers, from some of the very elaborate influence strategies developed for B2B and especially in the high-tech world. In B2B, it is hard to cheat. Influence is built upon business practice and knowledge, not on hearsay. B2B is also conducive to more long-term, in-depth strategies and ethics is key. This, in my mind is the cornerstone of any good influencer marketing strategy. To prove this point I have interviewed Mark Schaefer who recently co-authored a White Paper with Traackr’s Evy Wilkins entitled “The Rise of Influencer Marketing in B2B Technology”.
In this interview recorded over Skype from Mark’s home in Tennessee, the famous blogger and author has covered all the most important aspects of influencer marketing and provided tips which, in my mind, are useful to all kinds of marketeers who want to get involved in similar projects, be they in B2B or B2C marketing.
I’ve got a few questions for you about a white paper you co-authored with Traackr, which is entitled “The Rise Of Influencer Marketing In B2b Technology”. Are technology companies ahead of the bunch?
As far as the people I talked to are concerned, they really are. In fact, it was quite inspirational to me. Because like you I’ve been working in the influencer space for a long time. I wrote an early book, maybe the first book on social influencer marketing that was published in 2012, so I’ve been keenly interested in this and I’ll tell you it was so inspiring to hear how sophisticated this has become and how integrated this has become into mainstream marketing strategies. This was a very energizing exercise for me.
As you mentioned in your introduction, a lot has changed in the B2B world which is leading in fact to this increasing importance of influencer marketing, can you please describe these changes?
One of the most exciting things is, I mean when you and I were growing up in business, how would we become known? We’d have to be in the newspapers, we’d have to be on television and that would have to be for something good and not something bad. But today people have this opportunity to create their own influence by publishing consistently good quality content and the power has shifted to us who are known for our content.
We do have impact, we do have influence and it makes sense for companies to want to connect with people like us. I think the other thing that’s happening is a lot of the traditional media, a lot of our reliable channels, are drying up. People, I mean, never see ads on television. I watch streaming video, I watch stuff on Netflix and Hulu and other streaming channels, I subscribe to satellite radio and I don’t hear ads on the radio. I subscribed too for online newspapers and I don’t see ads in newspapers.
In America, about a third of Americans have ad blockers and on their phones they’re not even seeing digital ads so the availability of attention for traditional ads is drying up and it only makes sense to look at how we move things forward today and to an increasing extent, this is done with the help of influencer marketing.
In your White Paper, you described six trends in influencer marketing let’s review all six starting with number one, the emergence of micro-influencers.
Early on, people were really concerned with numbers: how many followers, how much reach… As the sophistication in this channel has grown, people are really digging into this to find who are the people even in the small places that are having an impact. And we do need to dig deeper, and in more advanced ways and that’s what’s happening. I’m not sure that ‘micro’ is really the best term to use because these people having the biggest impact may not have the largest audience.
There are three categories of influencers. One is like the celebrity influencer marketing which has been around since the early 20th century and the early sports and movie stars. Then with the Internet we have people who were able to create their influence through their content. The third category are these true advocates who just can’t get enough of you. They love you, they’re talking about you they love your products and they don’t need to be paid, they don’t need to be convinced, they’re out there already telling your story. So, finding, nurturing and rewarding these people is really a big part of influencer marketing today that’s growing in importance.
Number two is the necessity to lead with purpose versus promotion, what do you mean by that?
Many of the movie studios are involving their influencers not just in the promotion of movies but actually having them in the movies. Here’s an anecdote: the advertising agency had this calendar of promotions and they said “Okay, on this Tuesday morning the influencer has to promote this content…” and the influencer said “I never do that! I never promote on Tuesdays!” and they said “No, you have to do it!” So, he complied yet nothing happened and then he said “let’s do it my way”, with his content, his voice, on his time frame and it was a big hit.
One of the lessons is that we can never ever jeopardize the trust that these influencers have built with their audience. They have a purpose, they’re passionate about what they do and they’re experts in in their areas. We need to negotiate a new mindset maybe even a new corporate marketing culture that understands that we cannot ask these people to sell what they cannot.
Number three is the importance of expert voices and their relationship with brand voice. Does it mean that businesses are going to have to stop working with their traditional tone of voice?
I think that there is a trend toward humanizing brands. How do we connect people in our companies, how do we make people more effective on the Web? I’m working with a company right now – a large fortune 500 company – and they said to have an effective social media presence today is a basic skill and if more of the employees have that skill “we will win as a company”. Isn’t that an amazing and a powerful statement?
We need to empower individual voices. That’s more important than the brand voice. So many companies today are seen as distant cold institutions that they’re difficult to relate to, but we can relate to people and we can love people.
Can businesses run the risk however, of letting somebody create content to an extent that they’re going to criticize the brand?
There was a comment in the research that we did, and the person said you can’t just look at someone’s interests, you also have to look at their values. Do the values align? Is that somebody what we want to work with now? In any event criticism is going to happen whether it’s an influencer or not so that’s just the fact of the world today. If you work with an influencer and your values are aligned then criticism may be a wonderful gift.
Number four is that we have to transition from campaign-driven activities to “always on”
Let’s look at this from a very high level: with a campaign, we usually have an idea, we get it approved, we get it funded and we bring in the creative people and we execute. And as we spend the money, the awareness goes up. When the money goes down the awareness goes down. Influencer marketing involves a different mentality.
When you build relationships that can’t just go away and so there’s this tension on a number of fronts. The number one tension is that advertising agencies aren’t built for that and many marketing departments aren’t built for that either. They’re built for campaigns and so they’re almost maintaining the problem. Number two, by relationships I mean the relationships I have with companies, not with a logo or a slogan, but with people and it has to be consistent over time.
Now I’ve been very lucky with the companies I’ve been working with I’ve had relationships with individuals at those companies for four or five years and that’s probably pretty unusual.
A key idea that I heard in this research from these amazing thought leaders is that said we don’t even want to call it influence marketing we want to call it influence relations just like media relations.
Number five is the demolition of silos in favour of cross-functional collaboration. I must admit I have had a bit of a tough time with that one.
Well I’ll let you in on a little secret, I don’t agree with that heading either! I have a background in organisational development and I know it’s almost impossible to demolish silos so I’m actually agreeing with you that I disagree with that headline, but if you read the content under that it does make sense. Yet, if you demolish a silo, you make someone’s job go away and people don’t want that. Influencer marketing today can affects so many different parts of the company you have to work together and the most successful companies that I witnessed and that I interviewed for this report they don’t have infighting, they recognise we have to have a single point accountable person but we have to have the involvement of everyone and we have to collaborate and work together with these influencers.
Influencers today are increasingly influencing the R&D departments, engineering customer service, it’s more than just PR and awareness. If you’re only working on PR and awareness you’re not really doing influencer marketing or influence relations because these people they’re industry experts and they are touching many parts of your organisation.
Number six is the evolution of measurement from reach to outcomes. OK, reach doesn’t mean anything, but then, what are we going to replace it with?
Well you know, reach of course comes from the old advertising days, it’s back to ‘impressions’. In some ways, we’re our own enemy. We’re holding to the term because we’re comfortable with it. What companies are increasingly doing, is looking at qualitative measures as well as quantitative measures and I like this idea. It might be hard to tie this to Sales leads or revenue might be hard but what about a referral? What about getting a new employee? A new supplier through an influencer, a new idea that helps create a new product?
So, more and more people are looking at what are the real qualitative benefits of relationships. The ROI of that is actually huge, yet it’s not easily measured. Small business owners like us know they don’t have a marketing team of dozens or hundreds, so we don’t spend our time thinking about what’s the ROI of a social media relationships.
I’m not saying “don’t measure”, what I’m saying is that you have to expand your mind to also include qualitative measures that are difficult to measure. Otherwise you might be missing most of the value of social media, of content and of influence relations.