Bringing B2B up to speed on influencer marketing

Scrolling through social media reveals a growing trend of users posting photos of (allegedly) favorite products ranging from household cleaners to clothing brands. But these posts are not totally organic. As social platforms’ clout continues to grow, more brands are stepping up to the plate with influencer marketing tactics by presenting offers to well-established users. Adopting influencer marketing can stimulate brand awareness and lead to increased web traffic, e-commerce sales and, of course, social media followers and engagement.

What’s influencer marketing?

First, the bare essentials – influencer marketing involves a company building a partnership with a targeted user characterized by a strong online following and interests relevant to the brand. They ask the user to try, review or otherwise serve as an advocate for the company’s product or service. An influencer can be a member of various online communities including Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn, technical forums and more. The goal is for companies to reach more audiences through social media influencers they already trust. When an influencer posts about a product from a company with similar brand goals, it’s likely a sponsored post meant to utilize influencer marketing tactics. 

For example, take Conor McGregor promoting an online gambling service on his Instagram page.

Finding the right influencer

Effectiveness is tied to authenticity. Does the brand’s desired content match what the influencer would normally post? Does it align with the interests of their audience? If the answer to those questions is yes, then the brand can expect strong results. Take the aforementioned McGregor example – fight fans gambled more money on his recent fight with Mayweather than any boxing event in history, so the partnership makes sense. This is why an influencer’s quality is not solely based on the number of followers. It’s also important who those followers are and where their interests lie. Additionally, other leaders like subject matter experts (SMEs) can be influencers in specialized fields like technology. Partnering with an SME who will then post about a company’s technology can be a way to gain valuable viewership in a brand-focused community. Thanks to an SME’s posts, a company can potentially gain more product support, brand authority and an enhanced company reputation.

While paid Instagram photos from an influencer might boost a company’s likes, developing a lasting partnership with an influencer is more worthwhile and projects more credibility. This turns a simple Instagram post into an evergreen marketing tool with ongoing payoff.

Influencer marketing in action

What do the influencers get out of this? Gaining cash while still maintaining creative freedom is a driving factor that pushes influencers to create sponsored media.

Or in an ideal scenario, the sheer enjoyment of the brand can make an influencer marketing match made in heaven. Take Casey Neistat – Emirates Airlines noticed his name on the flight list and deliberately upgraded his seat to first class on a flight from Dubai to New York because the airline was aware of his influencer YouTube status. Neistat is a known filmmaker and technology influencer with a thriving YouTube channel and his viewers might become the next digital influencers of the world, a potential audience Emirates likely considered when moving Neistat to first class. Neistat enjoyed the luxury cabin so much that he made a whole video about his experience that garnered over 46 million views.

Emirates’ decisive choice to upgrade Neistat brought the airline media attention and recognition — without even recruiting Neistat for the social boost. As a result, the airline was featured in AdWeek, GQ and Huffington Post, enjoying powerful, earned media attention from a calculated move with a big payoff.

What about applying this in the B2B space?

Influencer marketing is a common practice in consumer-oriented markets, but what about B2B? How can the world of logistics, oil and gas, finance and software leverage influencer marketing?

Microsoft is a great example. The company created a campaign entitled “Change the Odds,” to encourage young women to pursue STEM careers and #MakeWhatsNext in fields like science, mathematics and engineering.

They teamed up with the ultimate photography influencer, National Geographic, to get the campaign message across. Both National Geographic and Microsoft are titans in their own respective fields, so a partnership between the two was a win-win. National Geographic acted as the influencer for the campaign and utilized its resources and connections with world-renowned photographers to create content to further Microsoft’s message by depicting real women working in STEM to promote the field to young girls. The campaign included about 30 photographs posted across five different National Geographic Instagram channels. The pictures gathered more than 3.5 million Instagram likes and kick-started the conversation on why girls should pursue careers in STEM, leading to over 1,000 pictures uploaded by the public. Combining the audience and creative resources available through National Geographic with the timing of International Women’s Day and the natural authenticity of Microsoft and STEM fields, the campaign was definitely a success.

  

More B2B companies are likely to follow suit in the near future. According to a study by Altimeter, Traacker and TopRank Marketing, only 15% of B2B brands are utilizing influencer marketing, leaving plenty of room for growth.

While influencer marketing is a relatively well-established strategy in consumer markets, B2B is still testing the waters. The lack of widespread adoption creates ideal circumstances for brands looking to start a long-term partnership with an influencer and grow together. In addition, B2B companies often already have in-house “influencers” in the form of well-respected subject matter experts they already tap for media opportunities and thought leadership. Taking lessons from successful influencers can allow them to scale up their own personnel and by extension, the brand’s status on social media.