B2B Influencer Marketing 101
Influencers are everywhere — and they get results. You can’t scroll a social feed without seeing a sponsored post, from Real Housewives promoting sunglasses to DIYers endorsing power tools. Last year, the global market for influencer marketing grew to $16.4 billion, up from $13.8 billion in 2021. But how does this marketing trend translate to the less camera-friendly world of B2B companies?
In B2B, influencer marketing’s popularity is growing. Over half of the respondents in a TopRank Marketing Research Report from last year predicted their budget for influencer marketing will increase over the next twelve months, and 85% forecast greater interest in influencer collaborations over the same timeframe.
Creative B2B marketing approaches have become a differentiator, making now a smart time to branch out into influencer programs. While many B2B brands remain hesitant, those that take action can set themselves apart. If you want to elevate your marketing strategy, protect against future industry disruptions and expand your organization’s reach, influencer marketing may be the answer.
What Is B2B Influencer Marketing, and How Does It Differ From B2C?
Typically, B2B influencer marketing uses a consistent, long-term approach, leaning on owned content like blogs or podcasts to establish credibility and keep your strategy nimble. The result is two notable value adds:
- A stable source of positive brand affiliation
- Flexibility for your overall social program
As opposed to trendy B2C names, B2B influencers are typically former industry leaders or veteran journalists who produce (often industry-specific) thought leadership on a variety of owned platforms. B2B influencer programs leverage that content to promote brand awareness and create positive affinity.
This can look like partnering on thought leadership, having the influencer host a sponsored panel, or even create a content-focused podcast promotion. Instead of promo codes or instant clicks, B2B campaigns excel in long-term brand association and advocacy on the influencer’s platform.
Why Should Brands Consider Influencer Programs?
Leading the Social Media department at a B2B marketing agency, I speak with many marketers looking to boost awareness for their brand. Whether the brand fills a niche, industry-specific need or exists in an oversaturated market, standing out from the crowd can be a challenge in B2B social media marketing. This is where influencer marketing campaigns can come into play.
B2B influencer marketing, like in B2C, leverages the existing audience relations an influencer has cultivated, creating brand trust by association. Building an audience through organic social takes time and patience. But industry thought leaders already have an audience, enabling your brand to benefit without having to start from square one. Furthermore, a journalist’s or thought leader’s audience trusts the influencer more because they’ve already built a reputation as a reliable commentator. Your brand immediately establishes both awareness and credibility through association.
Influencer relations also contribute to a more flexible, decentralized social strategy. In the age of platform ownership changes, congressional hearings, and overnight algorithm shifts, influencer engagements are valuable jewels to have in your crown. Much of B2B influencer content is owned by the influencer and distributed through platforms like LinkedIn, Substack, or even the influencer’s blog. If a social channel is deprioritized, you can rest assured that your influencer initiatives will maintain stability. Social moves quickly — having a presence outside the ever-changing algorithms offers valuable stability.
What Does a Good B2B Influencer Marketing Program Look Like?
I’ve already talked about the trust between an influencer and their audience. That trust needs to be front and center in any B2B influencer marketing strategy. The marketing should be content focused, not ad focused. Influencer marketing requires a softer sell, for example, a blog about workplace communication sponsored by a messaging solution or a podcast interviewing small business owners during tax season, paid for by an accounting platform.
If the sell is too in your face, it risks alienating the audience and harming both the influencer’s and brand’s reputations. Remember, B2B influencers are thought leaders, not advertisers. A subtler approach allows for longer-term partnerships, which build credibility. And since it’s not primarily built around product launches or the success of an individual post, the value is less volatile.
Brand awareness content also enables more variety. In addition to a blog or a podcast, influencers can sit on a sponsored panel, attend a conference with your brand or even collaborate on products. A subtle strategy promotes the dual B2B influencer marketing benefits — stability and flexibility.
Is My Brand Ready for an Influencer Relations Program?
If your brand has very little owned content or is still establishing its marketing commitment, the answer is no. I don’t suggest a brand or a B2B social media agency start with influencer marketing campaigns. Remember, influencers offer credibility and awareness, but if the audience interacts with your brand and your owned marketing is lackluster, that credibility will mean nothing. When users see an influencer mention your brand, your social profiles should invite them in and fill in the gaps.
At Walker Sands, we recommend influencer marketing to companies that already have an established owned marketing presence. If you have a robust program that includes elements like weekly posts, varied content and compelling branding, B2B influencer marketing can amplify those efforts and make your work go further.
Often, brands have a robust social program but struggle to increase share of voice in a sea of competitors. These brands are ideal candidates for a B2B influencer marketing program — they’re able to use influencers’ platforms to reach new eyes and enter fresh conversations.
When Should B2B Brands Launch Influencer Programs?
It’s never too early to start an influencer program. Every day the B2B marketing landscape becomes more creative and more varied. As our lives have become more digital, people are talking about B2B brands online in the same way they talk about consumer brands. With B2B social media marketing at the mercy of algorithms and some of the biggest channels facing an unclear future, the value of B2B influencer marketing provides stable new ground.
The key to success with influencer programs? Don’t be afraid to get creative. Big risks can translate to big rewards — and not every strategic move has industry precedents. If you’re interested in finding out how influencer marketing could work for your brand, reach out to start a discussion.