B2B influencer programs rely more on good old-fashioned relationship building than many of the mass influencer marketing programs B2C brands use. As such, working with B2B influencers falls squarely into PR’s purview—it’s all about identifying and building relationships with trusted experts who can help you amplify your message. This is similar to the “traditional” PR practice of connecting with media influencers (a.k.a. journalists), applied to industry and other micro-influencers, who play just as important a role in expanding the reach of your brand and helping generate earned media.
Influencers, influence marketing and influencer relations
Let’s start with a few definitions. Generally, an influencer is someone who has reach and credibility with a target audience. In recent years, “influencer” has often come to refer to someone like a fitness guru on Instagram with a million followers and an eye for good lighting. In this case, we’re talking about the more general definition—a person who influences.
We should also differentiate between influencer marketing and influencer relationship management (or influencer relations, if you prefer). A lot of digital ink has been spilled writing about influencer marketing and how to scale a paid influencer campaign. But influencer marketing campaigns are typically run by B2C companies looking to reach large, new audiences. How does this work for B2B companies?
That’s where influencer relationship management comes in. This refers to a brand’s longer-term, more strategic relationship development process with influencers of all types. In fact, you might just call this PR. Journalists are one type of influencer, but as more and more of our work has moved online, there are millions more potential influencers we can engage with to generate earned media. The role of PR in organizations has evolved as our list of potential influencers expands beyond traditional media to social media, online communications, specialized trade publications and beyond. The future of PR is digital, and influencer relationship management is one component of that.
So what does this look like for B2B brands?
Influence in B2B companies
B2B sales cycles are typically longer than B2C sales cycles; cost and organizational complexity mean it takes longer for a prospect to become a customer. And many B2B products aren’t as easily Instagrammable as B2C products. If you’re selling software or technical manufacturing components, your customers probably aren’t sharing a ton of organic pictures of your product, so a paid influencer marketing campaign that relies on this tactic wouldn’t work.
A B2B influencer will have a very different sphere of influence when compared to a B2C influencer. First, they’re unlikely to have millions of followers on Instagram. In fact, they may not even be on Instagram at all. You’re more likely to find influencers with LinkedIn and Twitter profiles, along with a blog or website.
It takes a long time to build a relationship with a B2B influencer—it may even take months. You can’t just send 100 copies of your cloud software to a group of influencers and hope they post a picture of it on Instagram. You have to establish trust and build a real relationship with most B2B influencers, and doing this well takes time.
Working with B2B influencers
Start your B2B influencer outreach with some simple, non-invasive air cover techniques, so that when you reach out, they may already be familiar with your brand. Get your brand and content in front of them; follow them on Twitter; subscribe to their blog; run paid ads to audiences they’re in. This requires a close partnership with your marketing and social teams.
Engage with their thought leadership on behalf of your company. Comment on their blog, react to their social posts, amplify their content. Read what they’re writing and get to know them. Your goal is to build up a strong, reciprocal relationship where you’re both comfortable when it comes time to ask for something.
Think carefully about your goals with influencers. Are you interested in getting them to write about you, share some of your content, attend an event, provide a testimonial? This may or may not be a relationship based on monetary compensation, so consider the value you can provide in return for their influence. With a journalist, you’re providing an interesting story for an article (and hopefully tons of page views and engagement). What can you provide other influencers? Remember that some influencers do this for a living and expect to be paid, especially for a social post or speaking engagement, while others may find different things valuable.
Influencer relations should live with your communications team
The job of the PR professional relies on relationship building; PR pros know the importance of establishing a relationship before sending a pitch. A journalist is just one type of influencer, so everything you’ve been doing for years applies to this newer world of social and other influencers. PR pros are in the best position to ensure a consistent process around the B2B influencer relationship management process. You likely already have the tools and process in place to identify potential influencers, track their engagement with your outreach, and measure their results to inform further outreach.
Driven by the evolution of an increasingly digital PR world, influencer relationship management plays a long-term, strategic role for the future of communications in B2B businesses. Don’t miss out.