There is a lot of opinion/discussion around influencer marketing programs, and for certain industries – especially in the consumer space – it definitely makes sense. It’s not the only option, but it works, and in Asia, where celebrities are valuable influencers, the results speak for themselves.
But I’m a B2B person and when I read about influencer marketing success, it’s almost always in the B2C space, with the majority of B2B brands struggling with how to get it right.
Of course, there are articles like this – Influencer Marketing for B2B: 4 Examples That Prove It Can Work – and the ideas are great, but I’m not bought into these four examples as being the best for us to reference. All excellent. But it must go deeper and there is a long way to go still.
Every conversation I have about this with marketing leaders, I immediately put myself in a potential influencers’ shoes and ask: why would I say yes, if the target was me?
Remember, when it comes to B2B, we’re not talking the Kardashians here. We’re usually talking senior business buyers or professionals who are extremely passionate about something – the sort that show up every day on social media, to share a real passion or desire to teach and inspire. It’s not usually for money either, or even esteem. It’s ultimately an act of service, which is why they become influencers. Their audience believes in them.
So that’s the first hurdle for brands. Why would someone who is genuinely passionate about their topic of expertise, agree to do something for your brand? What’s in it for them? And is it good or bad for their credibility?
However, another important point is these potential influencers have a very strong social presence, but not necessarily in the hundreds of thousands or millions. A B2B influencers power lies in the respect and credibility gained with their audience, over a long period of time – no matter how big or small that audience is.
I’m often asked to look at lists of potential influencers, and rarely do I see anyone worth investing in from an influencer relationship point of view. The number of people in this category is also painfully low. In some industries, there is basically no one you could call an influencer.
I see two problems or challenges
- Companies are struggling to understand B2B influencers and the true power they wield. More importantly, with their personal integrity central to what they do, even if their audience is small, their power is considerably more meaningful and impactful on their community, especially when comparing to B2C. But if it’s small, another challenge is scale and this makes it harder to control too.
- What can you offer an influencer – who has built their brand with integrity and honesty – that will make them want to do something for you in return? I say no to offers all the time, because I rarely consider endorsing brands for a benefit. I only endorse brands because I really value them. This is important to me, and it’s important to a lot of other micro-influencers I know. We are just not motivated the same way as people building a consumer-focused influencer brand.
It’s a massive challenge and while I’m not saying it doesn’t work, I think there needs to be a different focus on it.
In the meantime, why the hell are brands ignoring the best influencers they have? The employees?
So, let’s get focused
Employees know the customer. They know the customer challenges. They know your business. They understand the problem you solve. They know your partners and what they offer. They know you and love you (hopefully.) They are the most motivated influencers in your arsenal to get real business results, because they’re measured on real business results. And most importantly, they want to get involved.
I’ve worked with thousands of employees in large enterprises and they want to do this. They just want to do it well. None of them want to do the wrong thing or be annoying to their audience.
The biggest struggle is where to start?
I’m going to focus on businesses today, and you start by empowering your employees to be social leaders, for themselves first. If you are encouraging (and rewarding) your employees for only sharing company information, then you are missing the whole point, and the employees are not winning respect in their communities.
I always encourage employees to share company information as part of their personal brand, but the majority of sharing must be on what they want to be known for.
The topics employees want to be known for covers so many different fields. Some like to talk about solving customer challenges, or inspiring customers to embrace new ideas to transform their business. Some like to talk about team work, leadership, or transformation. Some want to be known for health, mindfulness, spirituality, and so on.
The topics people are passionate about are so varied, but if you can help them identify their true passion (which makes them powerful), and then own their voice on that topic on social media, the results are astounding.
But what do we get in return? How do we grow our business if someone just wants to talk about health and wellness all the time?
There are tangibles and intangibles here, but here’s some to start with
The big goal is results linked to business outcomes – and this happens as momentum is built. This cannot be approached as an overnight investment or if you’re seeking quick wins.
And yes, it works. I live and breathe it. But it doesn’t happen after a blog. Patience, persistence and grit is the order of the day.
While momentum is growing, what can you achieve and what subtle messages are you sending to market?
- Our employees understand the customer and address the challenges our customers are facing and care about
- Our company is a desirable place to work, as its people are empowered digital leaders
- Our company employs smart, inspired and digitally savvy people, who are passionate professionals
- Our employees feel empowered and are more engaged in the business and feel more in control of their careers
Here’s some examples from IBM in Asia Pacific – and I love all of them
- Shamini Raj – How does being one of Malaysia’s foodie bloggers benefit my company? – it makes IBM a super cool company to work for
- Sinisa Nikolic – Eclipsed by my Son – who wouldn’t want to work for a company with leaders as cool as that?
- Eric Schnatterly – Whistleblowers Rejoice – wow, a senior leader in the IT industry that knows how to tell a great story about something technical, and they can solve my problem too? I’m in
- Sunny Panjabi – Equilibrium – what an incredible perspective. IBM is really empowering its people on social media
- Shalaka Verma – Can Prayers Heal? Can it be proved? Shalaka is passionate about Noetic Science – such a brilliant topic – but she’s also writing incredible technology blogs on LinkedIn too. What a powerful perspective for customers
- Tara Moody – One surefire sign you’ve lost it…and how to get it back – who talks about motherhood, work life balance, health and more. IBM is way cool
I could have shared 64 other examples, across a whole host of topics, coming out of IBM right across the Asia Pacific region. It’s incredibly inspiring to see people jumping on this and taking advantage of the opportunity to build a meaningful and powerful presence on social media. By default, they’re building IBM’s success too, because IBM hires the best people.
To achieve this
- The business must be flat. It is not only the top people who have a voice, everyone does today and employees are far more trusted than brands. Maximize on that
- Train and empower your employees – encourage them to find their true voice and become known for it – your business benefits off the back of their brand, no matter what it is (well almost anything)
- Be careful with social media rules, because they make people fearful. It’s best to encourage your employees to align their presence on social media to your corporate values
- Get set up for success and measurement. Trust me, this is the hardest bit and I’m still trying to find solutions in some areas. If you want to design some new software, talk to me, I’ve got a few ideas
We are all sitting inside our personal bubbles of trust. The people who get inside our bubbles of trust are our human communities. It’s not brands or politicians, and celebrities aren’t trusted much either. So, let’s empower the people that can have the most impact. Our employees. Unleash them and stand back and watch them fly.
I’m going to follow-up with some more ways to succeed here, so stay tuned. There are many aspects to this discussion.
Are you empowered? Is your company trying to get you to embrace being a social leader? Or do you think they just want you to be a mouthpiece for the brand? If you’re not starting, tell me why? Hopefully I can answer it.
Going viral marketing image courtesy of Shutterstock.
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