According to author Josh Steimle, influencer marketing, which has long been popular in B2C, will grow in use by B2B marketers during 2017. Thought leaders in various industries continue to grow dedicated followings, especially because of the rise of live streaming and podcasts.
Livestream reports that 81 percent of internet views reported viewing more content in 2016 than the year previous, and 67 million Americans reported that they listen to podcasts monthly, which is an increase of 14 percent in one year, according to Edison Research and reported on by Convince and Convert.
The increase in B2B influencer marketing has been a steady increase: last year we published a news article in reporting many B2B marketers are looking to increase their budgets for influencer marketing.
It looks to be the same this year as well.
These new forms of online media, combined with massively popular business blogs and social media, can serve up valuable opportunities for B2B marketers.
While influencer campaigns have become much more competitive in recent years, there is still tons of opportunity in B2B influencer campaigns, which most businesses aren’t doing yet.
Pitching influencers to work with you is an art form in and of itself, but the Art of Email blog has some good email templates to get you started. I’ve also seen businesses reach out on social media through direct messages if the influencer is already following them.
Some major influencers (like well-known authors) may have agents or a team that fields requests, so make sure you’re following the best chain of communication when it comes to pitching.
While the ways to find B2B influencers has already been covered on our blog, here’s some of the following areas where you can target influencers and their audiences to gain awareness and drive sales.
Publishers Wield Influence
The business world has long been in a close partnership with the publishing world– business often revolves around the latest news of what’s happening in the industry. B2B marketers can take advantage of this by partnering with B2B publishers on content or promotional campaigns.
If an industry publisher has a large digital presence in social media and online, think of them as one big “influencer.” Instead of a single individual running a popular blog or social media presence, publishers often have a bigger staff and broader network that allows for more collaboration.
Think outside of traditional banner ads and consider branded content, sponsored reviews, or social media posts on the publisher’s outlets.
For instance, the Wall Street Journal has an entire partner portal where they showcase exclusive sponsored partner news:
This story from accenture on digital disruption is a great example of B2B branded content that is also interesting and useful to most WSJ readers.
Here’s another good example of B2B branded content from Business Insider, which admittedly doesn’t always lean toward strictly business content, but is a powerful publisher that gets millions of pageviews daily:
Many of the larger business news publishers also have large social media followings, podcasts, and webinar or online video series that make it easy for B2B marketers to pick and choose what would work best for them.
Target Authors and Speakers
When trying to find B2B influencers, it might be difficult to know what group to start with. Steimle mentioned in the aforementioned Forbes piece at the beginning of the post that targeting authors and speakers is a good place to start.
Authors and speakers are a good group to target because they may have no affiliation to other brands, if they are self-employed. This makes it easier for them to collaborate with a variety of different brands on influencer campaigns if it’s a good fit. And because authors and speakers are often looking to boost their visibility by attending events or appearing on outside social media networks, videos, or podcasts, they may be more likely to say yes to a collaboration with your brand.
It’s important to note that even though visibility is important to authors and speakers, they shouldn’t be expected to work with your brand for free.
Do some research on average influencer campaign costs and make sure you are pitching a collaboration that has benefits for both sides. There’s a Quora discussion that highlights some ranges for different levels of influencers, but it largely depends on their audience size and how often they collaborate with brands.
Some influencers may be more selective and limited in what they choose to promote. This can make them more expensive, but also more appealing to work with, as only a handful of brands fit into their quota of promotions.
Look at some of the most popular books in your industry on Amazon or the New York Times Bestseller list to start rounding up names you can pitch to.
As mentioned, high-profile influencers like authors and speakers may work through an agent, so make sure you are going to the right person.
Personally, I’ve often found that simply using a high-profile author or speaker’s contact form on their website gets my query to the right team member.
Once you narrow down the types of influencers you want to target, it’s time to start considering what type of content you want to collaborate with them on.
What Types of Content Are Best for a B2B Influencer Campaign?
Almost any type of content you are creating can be combined with an influencer campaign to make it better. Online reviews through blog post or video, awareness campaigns, or even presentations are all different ways you can work with influencers in your niche.
If you have a new product coming out or need to drive awareness for a seasonal campaign, consider utilizing influencers for social media collaborations. Have them post about your software, products, or services on the platforms your target audiences uses most.
— B2B CMO Insights (@b2bcmoinsights) April 21, 2017
— SignRequest (@SignRequest) April 7, 2017
With any sponsored content, make sure influencers follow proper FTC disclosure guidelines.
Content Marketing Partnerships
Consider partnering with a well-known business blogger or influencer in your niche to create long-form content, such as downloadable white papers or webinars. Audience members will come to learn more from the influencer, and you’ll be able to gain leads and awareness when you act as sponsor or co-creator.
Another way to leverage influencers in your niche is to allow them to cover industry conferences or trade shows. They can blog, review, and take photos of the event, and name your business when posting photos and content to their own network. I’ve also seen bloggers also write a recap for their sponsor’s own blog in addition to their own, which doubles their presence as a collaborator with the brand.
Some influencers may also agree to cover an event in exchange for a press pass, which is the case for several conferences and shows like South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi) or Pubcon. This appeals to influencers because they not only get to attend the event, but they can use it to promote their own services and online presence.
ImageThink at SXSWi is a good example of this. While the terms of their arrangement aren’t disclosed anywhere, ImageThink puts some of the graphic recaps they draw live for some SXSWi sessions on their blog:
This not only gives them a chance to promote their own work but also to share their involvement in SXSWi, which is one of the biggest technology and marketing conferences of the year.
The options available to sponsor live streams by placing ads on or around the stream itself are still growing (for example, as of press time, Facebook didn’t allow brands to sponsor live streams on their platform), there are still many other ways you can get involved with an influencer live stream.
YouTube live streaming allows influencers to stream live from their YouTube channel, and ustream, Facebook Live, Instagram Live, and others make it easy for the influencer to collaborate with your B2B brand through the content they are actually creating on the stream.
Put more simply, live streaming could be used to review your products and services (some live platforms even offer desktop sharing so the influencer could walk viewers through a SaaS dashboard or website) and to also promote events that are happening in real time, such as a conference or tradeshow that’s mentioned above.
I’ve also seen businesses interview influencers the businesses’ YouTube channel in order to grow their influence within their industry:
While the above examples are recordings, they could’ve easily been done live and then saved and shared as a permanent video afterward.
As mentioned in the introduction, podcast audiences have continued to grow steadily in the last few years, after a lull in the years between then and their inception. With many podcasts publishing new episodes on a daily or weekly basis, it can be easy to find a few that are in your niche to sponsor.
What’s more, podcast listeners are usually very loyal and will listen to their favorite podcasts (that they’ve subscribed to on iTunes, Stitcher, or other listening platforms) whenever a new episode comes out.
Podcast sponsors usually get their product or brand mentioned a few times throughout the episode: the beginning, middle, and end, depending on what type of deal you have with the podcast creators. The rate for sponsoring an influencer’s podcast usually varies depending on their average download rate per month or per episode.
A good B2B podcast sponsorship example is FreshBooks accounting software’s collaboration with Being Boss. This is a popular podcast that also hosts live events, which Freshbooks also partners with them on:
Besides sponsoring a podcast, your brand could also collaborate on the content. Maybe the influencer could agree to have one of your employees or executives on an episode as an industry expert for an interview, or they could agree to review your product or service as part of an episode.
Webinars are online training opportunities that hold a variety of influencer collaboration opportunities. You could work with the influencer to have them present a webinar for your own audience (which you promote through your networks and email lists), or you could work together to appear on the influencer’s webinar as a presenting partner or sponsor.
Much like podcasts, what an influencer is going to charge for a collaboration usually depends on how many registrations and signups they receive on average for each webinar. To present on your channel, they will likely ask for some variation of the speaking fee they normally charge to present at a live event.
Publishers are also a good niche to go after when it comes to webinars are well. If a large industry publication in your niche has a webinar series, consider reaching out to present or do a sponsored webinar.
For instance, my former employer Search Engine Journal offers sponsored webinars to businesses hoping to get exposure and leads to SEOs and other digital marketers.
Here’s an example of a sponsored webinar I moderated for Marin Software:
In this instance, Marin Software was able to showcase their employee’s expertise, while also gathering leads and visibility from Search Engine Journal’s audience. Likewise, the SEJ audience got some good content about turning searchers into buyers from the presenter.
Act-on makes a great point when they argue that B2B businesses are warming up to the idea of influencer marketing because it helps them reach audiences they otherwise may not have had access to.
A wider audience combined with a more organic approach can lead to more natural visibility of your brand, even when it’s disclosed as a paid arrangement.
Influencers bring trust and credibility to what you’re trying to promote online, and when done in an honest and engaging way, it can bring about valuable traffic and leads for your business.
All screenshots taken April 2017 by author.