Influencer marketing is hardly something new.

From Mark Twain’s name and image being featured on two different brands of cigars in the nineteenth century to Kellogg’s partnering with Michael Jordan throughout the nineties, we’ve all got examples in mind of brands using celebrities to promote their products.

The brands that historically have embraced the power of influencers’ endorsements to reach consumers have been mainly active in the B2C space, but we are now witnessing a shift, with more and more B2B companies taking a similar approach.

Tech giants like Salesforce and ‘new kids on the block’ like Canva hired evangelists Vala Afshar and Guy Kawasaki respectively to explain to the world how their products change people’s lives. Similarly, smaller brands with savvy B2B marketers in their ranks are putting more value in the currency of influence by building relationships with their industries’ leaders.

To replicate these brands’ success for your own business, the first step is to understand what we actually mean when we talk about ‘influencers’.

Who are influencers?

According to Ryan Williams, creator of The Influencer Economy, an influencer is “someone who can create a movement around their idea through collaboration, community passion and a shared vision”, and “can change a small idea into a world-changing idea, seemingly overnight”.

To do so, influencers regularly create and share content on their social channels that can shape the thoughts, behaviours and actions of numerous people.

This is a gold mine for B2B brands because when a company leverages an influencer’s channels to authentically connect with audiences, the impact they bring can be much more effective than other marketing efforts.

Why? For two key reasons; influencers operate with the universal currency of trust, and trust, to put it simply, converts into brand engagement.

As consumers, we probably all agree that we trust humans far more than faceless corporations, and this applies to B2B brands too. On the other hand, potential B2B buyers who feel a “high brand connection” are 60% more likely to consider, purchase and even pay a premium than “low brand connection” competitors.

How can you get started?

While engaging with influencers may seem like a daunting task, the following five steps can help you get started, regardless of what your budget is:

1. Build the story you want to tell

To leverage the power of your influencers, the first thing you need to do is to build your own values and messages. This is what's called brand storytelling, and it involves articulating the narratives of your company: Why did you set up the business? How did you get started? What is the product or service you’re selling and who is helping you build it?

When building your brand story, it’s important you keep your customers in mind to reflect how your mission fits into their lives. If you’re unsure of where to start from, watch this inspiring Ted Talk by Simon Sinek on the importance of the ‘why’.

2. Find the right influencers

Once you have your brand’s unique story, it’s time to find the right influencers. These will be the people who share your passion and expertise across key categories that relate to your business.

For example, if your product is a social selling platform, look for people who are expert on the topic and have first-hand experience with social selling either as salespeople or for having implemented successful social selling programmes at their company.

Another great way to find relevant influencers is to look at whom your customers are engaging with on social media. The more you listen to their conversations and understand what they care about, the easier it will be for you to figure out who they (and your prospects in the same industry) will find influential.

Finally, something important to understand is that influence is not about vanity metrics like followers, likes or impressions. In fact, most of the potential influencers in B2B environments are highly niche-focused. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but it may be more effective to spend time looking for the right influencer than to pay a stellar celebrity that has no direct experience in your industry to endorse your product.

3. Learn to listen, before you ask

Once you’ve matched your brand values with those of an influencer, create content that is going to get their attention. It’s possible you’ve already crafted these messages for your customers, and that their interests coincide with those of your influencers, but it’s also very likely that they’re completely different.

Therefore, it’s absolutely key that you spend time understanding what your influencers care about, and that you use this information to fine-tune some of your messages to their interests. Otherwise, it will be difficult to get them to spread the word for you.

4. Focus on adding value

A great way to connect with your influencers without making a big dent in your marketing budget is by engaging with them on social media. Start by liking their content, sharing it and commenting on those posts that are relevant to your business and audience.

You can also ask them whether you can share their insights with your customers and audience. A great way to do so is to create content like infographics, quote cards or videos based on information they’ve shared, and to ask them whether you could include it in your next newsletter or social media post.  

Once you’ve built a rapport, and provided your content is relevant to them, they’ll almost certainly begin to engage with you back.

5. Nurture a culture of sharing

When you have established a relationship with an influencer, consider empowering your whole team – especially your most active salespeople – to share the content you have created around the influencer’s activity (whether it is an interview on your company blog, an infographic or a simple link to their latest article).

This will help you generate additional reach for your company’s content, while increasing the influence of the industry expert you have built a relationship with in a very ‘human’ way.

In a nutshell, an influencer marketing strategy should start from your own brand. Make sure your values are clear, and your mission is articulate. Once you have this, find people who are actively and passionately talking about the issues your company cares about, and make sure you and your team engage with them through relevant content on social media.

For more on this topic, check out these Econsultancy resources:

Maz Nadjm

Published 25 August, 2017 by Maz Nadjm

Maz Nadjm is a founder of SoAmpli and a contributor to Econsultancy. 

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