Influencer Marketing can play an important role to build trust in a brand. Who’s an influencer will differ – they can basically be anybody today, but what defines an influencer is the same: It’s the scale of reach he or she brings. Social media has brought a vehicle for influencers, enabling experts and celebrities alike to extend their fanbase way beyond what used to be possible. This is what to look for when defining your influencer strategy.
So what is Influencer Marketing? Basically, it’s to take the idea of sharing and word-of-mouth and turn it into strategy. Influencer Marketing is to encourage influencers to become brand advocates, but not to pay for their voice. To succeed, one has to aim for partnership, meaning that the brand already from start needs to treat influencers as the valuable voices they can become. The effort needs to be genuine, authentic, and respectful. It needs to be part of a long-term marketing strategy where influencers would be an integrated part, and it starts with aligning them to your brand.
Why should you be interested in influencer marketing? Because the influencer’s unique experience of your brand, phrased in his/her own way is considered more trustworthy than your own words. The Shelf made a great infographic covering research on this topic already a year ago, concluding that 92% of consumers trust recommendations from other people over brand content.
70% rated online customer reviews as the second most trusted source.
Excerpt from the infographic ”Influencer Marketing is the New King of Content” by The Shelf, March 17 2015.
Influencers can drive valuable inbound links to your content, thereby supporting organic search, but also help you build thought leadership, generate leads, gather product reviews, employee branding, need I say more…? They can support you with valuable access to people you’d have a difficulty in reaching otherwise, to spread news or collect product reviews. You can invite influencers to speak at your events, blog for you, co-author white papers or reports, and more, but even more importantly, if they become your brand advocate, they will offer your company a platform for continuous viral marketing.
How to identify an influencer?
Who’s a relevant influencer will differ depending on industry and will require some analysis. As a starting point, I’d suggest to look at the well-known industry gurus, journalists and bloggers, the people who are asked to speak at industry conferences, celebrities if you’re in a business where true fame would make sense, or to look at people quoted in industry-leading magazines. Depending on your industry, influencer networks such as The Shelf, could also be a way.
Next, take each name and analyse their online presence: How active are they, do they usually provide content in line with what you’d be offering them, do their posts keep a quality you’d like to be associated with, how large is their follower base, what type of people are in their follower base, Etc.? Make sure that the followers of your influencers, are the followers you’d want to reach. A large amount of followers isn’t everything. Rather focus on influencers who are trustworthy among and could reach your company’s target group.
Once identified, how do you make contact? First, make sure you are serious and see this as a longer-term effort. You’re aiming at establishing a relationship with an important person in your industry, someone who could actually influence your own company’s brand perception. Prepare to go slowly and offer value at every touch point. A good start would be to give first, e.g. by linking to their content and/or quoting them in your channels. A general advice would be not to tell influencers what to say, but rather invite them to get to know your company better: Provide access to unique information or experts, offer them education, and let them run with it. Avoid standard mails or requests to promote your product without proving any real value to the influencer. Remember it’s the influencer’s interpretation of your story, which will bring value to your brand.
I had the pleasure to listen to Amber Armstrong, Program Director Commerce, Social and Mobile Amplification at IBM, when she was talking about how IBM works with influencer marketing in a strategic manner. She said: ”We bring in influencers to influence our development. We build relation and focus on implication and reach of content.” Basically, IBM don’t just hope to get influential people to speak for them, but IBM actively work with people they have identified as potentially important influencers to enable them to engage with the IBM brand and make an impact. They give their influencers access to IBM and to IBM resources, give them the credit they deserve and treat their influencers with respect. My respect to IBM!
But is it really worth the effort?
Even at its best, one can never actually count on an influencer to be a great spokesperson for one’s brand… Therefore, goals and measurements are just as important in Influencer Marketing as for other types of activities. Goals can for instance be defined as the share of content shared by influencers, the amount of content produced by influencers, or maybe the influencer’s activation around an event. When you’re up to speed and have a good relation with an influencer, I’d also suggest to measure the viral effect of the influencer’s activities to get a good understanding of the value he/she brings to your brand.
I’d like to see more B2B companies follow IBM’s path and engage in influencer marketing. Over the last few years we’ve seen quite a few B2C brands embrace influencer marketing, particularly using celebrities such as well-known bloggers to review products. As I see it, influencer marketing is just as important for B2B companies. According to the above mentioned study by The Shelf, sharing your content through influencers increases conversion by at least a 3x-10x higher rate. Even at the lower part of the scale, 3 times the normal rate is a lot!
As B2B sales cycles might be long and customer relationships last for decades, B2B companies often relies on being a trusted partner. In this context, engaging with the most trust-worthy people of your industry and encourage them to become a spokesperson for your brand cannot be a bad investment, can it?
First published on LinkedIn March 9, 2016