Seven-Step Guide: What B2B CMOs Need to Know About Influencer Marketing

May 16, 2019

The influencer craze is spreading. You can’t escape it. And it is not just for B2C companies. In many ways, B2B influencer marketing holds greater potential than B2C marketing. After all, the average purchase in B2B is typically much larger than the average purchase in B2C, and usually these deals are due mostly to word of mouth or referrals. We know this because there have been a few studies, including a study by the Alliance Business Academy that found about 91% of B2B transactions are influenced by word of mouth, and Forbes found that 87% of B2B buyers give more credence to content created by influencers in their industry.

You’re intrigued, but you have a lot of questions: How can B2B brands utilize influencer marketing? How do you find influencers? What does success look like?

A couple of great examples of success come from two B2B technology leaders: Dell Technologies and Cisco Systems. Dell launched “Trailblazers,” a podcast that highlights stories of innovation and disruption with former CNN CEO Walter Isaacson, a well-known and widely respected writer and journalist, he is also a professor of history and renowned biographer.  By having him front and center of this content, they are using an influencer to sponsor the series, thereby subtly pitching Dell’s agenda to a large audience. his landed Dell a spot on the NewsCred Top 50 content marketing brands list. The second example is from Cisco Systems, which created “The Cisco Influencer Hub,” an exclusive community that hosts content that is completely user-generated straight from the mouths of Cisco customers (many of whom happen to be industry influencers).

So, now that we know how important B2B influencer marketing is and that you should be doing it, the question is “How?” We’ve developed a seven-step guide to creating an influencer program using data and research-driven content strategy that will help you get started. Please keep in mind, that it is more effective to not go to an influencer empty-handed. Whether you ask them to co-create content or you ask them to sponsor a piece of content, your company will need to create something they can get behind. Steps #1-3 will provide you with a strategy on how to create content that resonates with influencers and start conversations and the remaining steps will show you how to connect with them and open collaboration opportunities.

Step 1) Identify prime, relevant search keywords

We use our own tool to research high-performing keywords and research for specific industries, but if you don’t have your own proprietary research tool, Google Keyword Planner is a great start. The goal here is to find keywords that decision makers would search to find your solution/product.

Step 2) Develop content blueprints or mapping around identified keywords

This is something that we do in-house, but the crux of this is to create keyword groupings that make up big topics and derivatives. For example, for DevOps, you might have a group of keywords related to infrastructure management and another group of words related to cost optimization. All of these DevOps-related keywords would have their own sub-keywords.

Step 3) Create specialized content based on keyword blueprint

Now that you have all of your keywords mapped out, it’s time to create ideas or briefs for high-value content. This will provide a foundation to start a conversation with an influencer on what they will be writing about or potentially, in some situations, promoting pre-written content, so it has to be well thought out, and well-executed. Within the content creation process, you’ll want to optimize the copy for search, bake in the keywords, and leverage popular links that influencers might routinely contribute to. Therefore, the less self-serving the content, the more likely an Influencer will want to promote it. Good examples of content that forges influencer relationships are educational, industry-specific pieces, studies or in-depth research, or live appearances and lectures at events.

Step 4) Create your list of target influencers

Create a list of 50–100 influencers that would be right for your program or campaign. Add them to your Twitter list and subscribe to all of their individual articles/blog feeds. Follow all of them and add around 20–25 to your list per week. Designate someone to engaging regularly with these people. They should be sharing, commenting, retweeting their content, and building a relationship with the influencer to the point where your brand has made itself known to the influencer.

Important tip: When it comes to finding the right influencers, you’ll want to look at the 4 R’s: Reach, Relevance, Resonance, and Reference.  

  • Reach: How large is their social community across all digital channels?
  • Relevance: How often are they contributing or mentioning topics and keywords that align with your business or industry?
  • Resonance: When they create content, how much engagement does it get?
  • Reference: How often are they referenced by other influencers?

Step 5) Start to reach out to influencers and ask them keyword-rich questions

This step is really critical. How you approach the influencer is what will ultimately move the needle. Realistically, as soon as your list has been created, and you’ve followed most of the influencers on your list, you can begin to reach out to influencers who have engaged with you and are a good fit for the piece of content you’re trying to promote. Start to educate them on what you’re looking to accomplish with influencer marketing and why. Provide them with a small list of keyword-rich questions (related to the content). For example, if they are an influencer in the AI/ML space, you’ll want to ask them with thought-provoking questions using industry keywords that potential viewers would look up in a search database (such as voice recognition or language processing). The idea is that you get someone influential to comment to a frequently asked question by your target audience, and your company gets to be the one that provides that high-value answer. Then wait. They will either pitch ideas or answer your questions. If they ask you for ideas, then you can always promote your standard list of collaborative content:

  • Guest blog post (written by your company or written by them)
  • Guest podcast or webinar speaker
  • Speak at an upcoming event
  • Free access to your service or product in exchange for promotion
  • Cross-promotional content
  • Ask to use your hashtag in their Twitter or LinkedIn post for a relevant event

Step 6) Collaborate or incorporate

If they gave you content ideas, ask them what it would take to collaborate on one of their ideas. When you give influencers the freedom to concoct their own content initiatives, the results end up being more impactful and persuasive.  

If they answered your questions, you now have influencer quotes that you can incorporate into your content. Ask them if you can quote them and if they would be interested in sharing a post once it’s live.

Step 7) Promote and repurpose content

Once you have your influencer content, it’s time to build a solid media plan. Encourage your influencer to share your post links in their own social networks. Depending on the reach and performance, consider repurposing content using other high-performing keywords so that it’s seen by more audiences. On average, you shouldn’t expect results from a B2B influencer marketing program for at least six months.

More than anything, influencer marketing takes great sophistication and high-value content ideas to bring these programs to life. CMOs who spend the time and budget will see great returns from influencer relationships and with their customers—returns that will help to drive desired business outcomes.  

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