In your B2B marketing initiatives, are you only engaging with prospective customers on social media?
If that’s all you’re doing, you should broaden your horizons.
Of course, nurturing your leads through multiple touchpoints in your sales funnel is paramount. However, don’t ignore influencers—respected industry leaders, celebrities, bloggers, consultants, authors, and academics—who can turn out to be some of your biggest fans.
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As a B2B marketer, engaging with influencers in your market can translate quite easily to building the prominence of your brand. The influencers themselves, once they’re in a mutually-beneficial relationship with you, will happily promote your content and spread awareness of your brand to their followers. That means one thing: potential new waves of leads for your company. When considering a purchase, 72% of B2B buyers refer to peer opinions. Meaning that those who reach out to peer influencers as part of well-constructed campaigns, are primed to succeed in their broader marketing initiatives.
In this article, we’ll discuss some best practices to follow as you supplement your B2B campaigns with outreach to influencers.
Define both general and specific marketing objectives for reaching out to influencers
Before reaching out to anyone and everyone with the slightest amount of fame in your industry, you’ll want to know why you’re embarking on an influencer marketing campaign. This way, you’ll know what you want to get out of it, and how to track the value of those new relationships in your overall marketing strategy.
Some of the broader goals might be as follows:
- Spread brand awareness through consumer advocacy. Influencer relationships are a great way to achieve solid brand recognition within your market. For example, if you, as a marketing manager for a software development firm, are freely sharing content with well-known bloggers and leaders in that industry, one or more of those influencers might soon share a case study from your company because it resonates with their audience. The bloggers in this case become willing brand ambassadors, subtly advocating for the value of your products and services—all based on the strength of the relationship with little or no nudging on your part.
- Increase brand presence on specific social channels. Influencer relationships can help you tap into segments of your audience, via social networks, that you wouldn’t have had a competitive stake in before. For example, if the expert you’re reaching out to is one of LinkedIn’s hand-picked Influencers, or is known for hosting lively discussions on Google+, that person’s connection with you can open up a willing and ready audience to your inbound marketing collateral.
You can also set your sights on achieving highly-specific marketing objectives through influencer marketing. If your organization has defined goals using the SMART system—that is, goals that are “specific, measureable, attainable, realistic and time-bound”—you can design your influencer marketing accordingly. For example:
- If you want to claim 10% market share in a new vertical within the next year (perhaps owing to a new product your company has developed and launched), you might pick 3-5 popular influencers in that new market to connect with.
- If you want to double content marketing ROI over the next 6 months, once you’ve established some reciprocity, you might encourage influencers in your corner to share some helpful blog posts or a short whitepaper to their thousands of interested fans.
Influencer marketing works, but only if you have a clear sense of purpose going into it. Once you develop a clear vision as to why you want industry leaders on your side, you’re ready to meet those people.
Find out who the influencers are in your industry
The next step in your influencer marketing journey is to find out who those influencers are. Fortunately, many experts have a strong web presence and are highly active on social media, so finding great prospects can be fairly straightforward.
Here are a few methods for finding the most compelling influencers in your market:
- Start with a simple search engine query. If you search for “influencers in [your market]” or “[market] thought-leaders,” relevant top bloggers and authority figures will be listed in the first few pages of the results. You might even find curated blog posts listing luminaries in the field, along with links to their influential content. From here, you can start a big list of people to whom you will reach out that you’ll narrow down.
- Search within social networks. To find more influencers, go to social media and repeat your searches. The advantage here is that you’ll instantly see which influencers have an active and thriving presence on the likes of Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and which do not.
- Dig a little deeper. If you’re active in social communities, such as LinkedIn Groups or Google+ Communities, make note of the most prolific contributors of helpful content. Look into your local colleges and universities for faculty who might be teaching on industry matters—professors often seek to build a personal brand through writing and consultation, and might be easily accessible. Check out sites like Quora to find experts who are actively dispensing their knowledge to help people in your field.
Now that you have a list of influencers, it’s time to vet them. Not all of them will be ideal for doing business with. Narrow down your list by asking yourself the following questions about the individuals on your list:
- Are they approachable? You can tell if influencers are open to talking if they include reasonable means of contacting them via social media and their own blog presence, and if they’re already consistently “social” in their fields. Do they respond in a timely manner—or at all—to blog comments and social media posts? Are they so famous that it’ll take an inordinate amount of time and effort to get their ear? Does a friendly tone infuse their content and publicly-viewable engagements, or do they tend to be short and abrupt?
- Do they publish a high-volume of quality content? Influencers by definition have something to say, so it’s important to see whether the experts you’ve found are saying important things. Are they actively publishing informative blog posts that go beyond self-promotional? Is their content and social presence up-to-date? Are their ideas truly original and innovative, or are they just repeating and repackaging common knowledge?
- Is their influence growing? Does the influencer have a very large and growing fan base? Are they sought out by media outlets and other influencers?
The above might seem like a lot of questions, but they’re necessary for narrowing down your list to the very best prospects for engagement. You only need 3-5 strong prospects to start.
Begin following and engaging with influencers via content and social channels
Finally, you have a handful of industry insiders that you’re ready to begin building a relationship with: the foundation for new and greater things in your marketing initiatives. By proceeding with a willingness to give before receiving, and letting the relationship unfold naturally, you’ll find your connections with influencers will lead directly to more powerful and efficient marketing overall.
Here are a few steps to initiate influencer relationships:
- Start with the channels the experts are most active on. Is your influencer constantly on Facebook? Follow him or her, and send a message or make an introductory comment via your Company Page. If on Twitter, do the similar—follow the person, introduce yourself with a non-promotional and friendly message, and begin to Retweet and mention the influencer’s handle in your Tweets when it makes sense. If the influencer’s vehicle of choice seems to be his or her blog, leave insightful comments on substantial posts, with questions that will engage the writer in deeper discussions with you.
- Be helpful. You’ll definitely want to monitor what your influencer says, and social listening is invaluable for this purpose. By keeping tabs on what the person is talking about through blogging and social media, you’ll know when a relevant discussion topic—one that you just happen to have great content pieces on—comes up.
- Develop the relationship. Continue reaching out to influencers to build a friendly networking relationship. Share their content. Consider conducting mastermind groups and webinars together—a win-win for all involved. If the expert exerts supreme influence over your audience and your interests overlap enough, you might even choose to develop new web properties for joint ventures, invite the influencer to networking events where they can share both your products and their own, or propose the creation of new products and services within your company that leverage the influencer’s knowledge and personal brand.
Every relationship with an industry influencer will unfold differently. But by tending to each one, the benefits—in terms of increased leads, and greater brand recognition among prospects—will begin to manifest.
Track your influencer relationships as you would your marketing campaigns
Finally, remember that your influencer marketing strategy is part of a grand design. You’ll want to track how well your relationships with thought leaders are improving your KPIs and your overall marketing ROI.
To measure the success of your influencer marketing, check all of the typical metrics you would with other marketing campaigns. Using your social media management tool, track increases in social engagements, likes and follows, as well as website traffic and conversions, that result directly from your influencer marketing.
Over time, you’ll be able to determine ROI directly from individual relationships, and you’ll see which ones are worth investing in further—especially if said relationships are moving towards advocacy and partnerships—and which others you might spend less time on building. In the latter case, it’s still worthwhile to be friendly and cordial. You never know when an influencer’s personal branding might take off, bringing new waves of prospects to your doors.
In the end, influencer marketing can only mean great things for your brand. Be sure to take full advantage of this tactic using the steps above, secure your standing among the best and brightest experts in your field, and your new customers will thank you for it.
Cover Image via @Scott Anderson