Punch Pro: Introducing the future of B2B influencer marketing
How to make friends and work with B2B influencers - supported by Punch Pro from Brands2Life
How to make friends and work with B2B influencers
A guide by Punch Pro from Brands2Life
SOLVING THE B2B INFLUENCER CONUNDRUM
“Influencer” marketing is as much of a buzzword in B2B as it is in consumer marketing, but it is far less understood. For many, influencers are considered an extension of earned media outreach, ensuring that bloggers or Twitter influencers are targeted in the same way as you might target traditional media. And it can be hard to justify specific investment in an influencer programme for brands who – unlike consumer influencers – have networks measured in the small hundreds, or thousands, and rarely in the millions. All the while, B2B marketers continue to engage ‘traditional’ influencers without considering their digital footprint when developing thought leadership or other collaborations.
For this paper, we are talking about digital influence; people who, through their online engagements on social media and beyond, might influence brand perception or buying cycles for B2B brands.
In this context, there are key questions that need answering for every brand. Should I work with influencers? Who do I need to work with? How can I be sure they’re relevant to my audience? How do I work with them effectively? And how do I track the impact of my work to validate further investment for ongoing programmes?
This paper explains how Brands2Life helps its B2B clients answer those questions.
Why influencers for B2B marketing?
Put simply, people trust people over brands.
Business investments are frequently complex. Advice, recommendations and insights are sought from peers. B2B influencers are individuals who directly or indirectly influence the thoughts, behaviours and actions of buying decision makers, through their presence at events, their content and their digital and face to face conversations.
A strategic, effective influencer collaboration can build brand trust, shift perception, support a demand-generation programme and more.
There are, however, a great number of challenges in working with influencers:
- A lack of authenticity – working with influencers who aren’t truly aligned with what you’re trying to do as a brand and are just exchanging promotion for incentives. This isn’t effective in B2B at all (and fortunately it increasingly isn’t effective in consumer influencer engagement either).
- A lack of authority – many influencer identification platforms latch onto influencers who aren’t truly authoritative on your key topics, and who won’t carry genuine credibility with your target audiences.
- A lack of relevance – keyword-based influencer identification can throw up a lot of irrelevant suggestions, and a lack of suitably vigorous manual assessment compounds the problem.
- A lack of impact – fake followers, bots, unhelpful or inappropriate networks of followers etc., can limit the impact of an influencer programme, given the hybrid nature of most humans’ social media activity – where the professional is combined with the personal.
A key outcome for B2B influencer programmes is to frame our context by the company we keep. The halo effect of working with liked, respected, authoritative and relevant influencers in our space will shift our perception amongst target audiences. Specificity with both your topics and your influencers is vital in ensuring you genuinely move the dial on whatever your brand objective.
Of course, we’re already all doing influencer marketing– working with consulting economists or academics on a piece of thought leadership, with customers on their stories and so on. What’s missing, however, is that dimension of digital influence, a critical component of future marketing success.
THE FOUR ELEMENTS OF A B2B SOCIAL INFLUENCER PROGRAMME
Strategy | Identification | Management | Always on
To drive true business impact with a B2B influencer programme, four key elements are required: strategy, identification, management and always-on.
Strategy establishes your goals. Who might you want to engage with in order to drive what kind of influence? What are they talking about? How might you work with them? It’s rare, in a B2B context, that there will be a group of pre-made followers who talk about your brand already, so thinking about who you want to engage with and what they’re likely to be talking about is a nuanced challenge.
Identification is the process by which you don’t just track people down through blunt keyword matching, but apply layers of nuance to assess influencer authority, relevance, impact and authenticity.
Management involves establishing how to work with them, what (if any) commercial terms apply, and creating a framework for ongoing collaboration.
Always-on is the process by which you create ongoing, regular influencer activation opportunities that give your influencers motive and opportunity to remain engaged
The word “influencer” is not a magical cure-all for all marketing needs. And it’s impossible to speak in generic terms about where influencers might support specific marketing objectives. For example, a top-of-funnel awareness objective might not instinctively feel like something a B2B influencer programme might deliver… but if you work with the right influencer, across multiple channels (social, earned, paid and owned) – you may well precisely manage that. There’s huge potential for creativity to texture how the tactical approach of working with influencers can determine a positive outcome against almost any marketing objectives.
So, first up in strategic terms is thinking about your target audiences. Who are they, what they talk about, who they interact with, and what topics could you meaningfully and credibly engage them in? For example, an enterprise software firm might have different influencer sets – a technical one that talks about products and features, for example, identified through tracking those that talk about the firm, its products and its rivals. They could also have an alternative set built from following the conversations around the benefits its solutions enable, such as productivity, business growth and scale. These might be very different groups indeed, and you need to validate that their followers share overlap or presence in your target segments.
In general, a critical difference between B2B and B2C influencer engagement is that FAR fewer influencers tend to be talking about B2B brands. So, those discussing themes relating to your proposition or purpose will likely be more valuable, if you can define them adequately – and if they exist. Unfortunately, the fact you can imagine that people should be talking about this doesn’t mean they necessarily are.
Critically you have to decide how best to work with them. This is a big component of the creative challenge. Anything you consider needs to sit within the context of trying to build a mutually beneficial arrangement.
See the table in this section for some of the factors you can play off.
At a macro level, any influencer engagement programme you run in B2B will inevitably involve building a network or community of people.
With an engaged community as your aspiration, you need to feed it with content, experiences and activities to keep it engaged. These might lend themselves to specific tactical approaches for campaign activations, including everything from exclusive access to experiences and events, to content co-creation opportunities or creative or technical challenges.
There are countless variations that would need to be developed specific to the influencer and strategy you’ve established. You may even find that the people discussing your themes and issues predominantly exist offline, in which case your engagement may work differently – looking to run influencer academy programmes, or working with advocates to become influencers, instead of influencers becoming advocates.
As part of your strategy, thinking through how your chosen influencer activity gets amplified is vital. Even though influencers will have better, more authentic reach than brands do, the average engagement levels for individual postings are still low. You need to ensure you boost your activation across earned, paid and owned channels wherever possible to amplify the impact of your efforts. Plus, you need to consider how work with online influencers drives engagement in offline contexts too, from events to 1:1 meetings and beyond.
OVERCOMING THE HURDLES OF INFLUENCER IDENTIFICATION
Once you’ve established a strategic approach, you have a starting point – the keywords and key phrases you want to monitor to assess if the conversations you think are happening are in fact taking place amongst influencers.
The next stage involves social listening; to establish the tone, frequency and texture of these conversations. Are they interactions your brand would want to be a part of? Is there a meaningful way to engage with, steer, facilitate or cultivate those discussions? Can you dovetail this with an influencer engagement strategy?
Then, after tracking down the active influencers, the process of validation needs to take place.
Too much influencer marketing lacks authenticity, relevance, authority or impact. Asking someone loyal to your competitor to promote your product lacks credibility and authenticity. Asking them to do a genuine side-by-side comparison, and taking the risk they don’t love your product? That requires courage, but with significant potential reward. It could be very effective if you’ve established that your product or service is exactly what that influencer needs.
This validation process can be relatively lightweight if you are assessing a large pool of influencers for potential fit with an outreach campaign, or much more in-depth if you are vetting someone for a co-creation project or a deeper collaboration. But it needs to span the key areas and answer critical questions:
- Authenticity – would people believe it if this influencer in any way endorsed my brand, approach, product, achievements or customers? I.e. do they work for a rival, or are they a ‘reference for hire’ that would and does say the same about anyone?
- Relevance – do they have a relevant following that maps to my customer and influencer base? Do they talk about the right things?
- Impact – do they have the right level of engagement in their content that would deliver value for me? People with smaller, but more active communities versus people with larger, yet inactive communities.
- Authority – do their credentials line up to make their point of view matter to my audiences? Would they be a credible voice to put in front of earned media targets? Do they have the experience and insights that matter?
Which of the following up sums up how you feel about assessing B2B influence to date?
- It's fine - I know how to assess influence
- It's murky - I'm not sure how to navigate fake followers, brand safety/fit, authority, relevance
- I'm not sure / never really thought about it
HOW DOES ONE MANAGE A B2B INFLUENCER?
Once identified, you need to be able to effectively manage your influencers.
How many is enough influencers? It would be flawed thinking to calculate the value of influencers in ‘reach’ terms. Someone with 40,000 followers might deliver less impact for your brand than someone with 400, if they’re the right 400, and someone with 400 followers might deliver more impact than coverage on an online publication with 400,000 monthly unique users. Your strategy needs to allow for the fact that working with most B2B influencers is more, not less, time consuming than working with B2B media, and you need to assess the investment/returns accordingly. In general, start small and build up.
Should they be paid? Asking someone to give up their time, insight and expertise for free to contribute to something is not a reliable strategy. That said, your strategy may call for very lightweight asks. Contributing an hour to a virtual brainstorm to support a piece of content co-creation that builds your profile – and theirs – might not be something an influencer feels worth asking for compensation for. And indeed, in general B2B influencers – because many don’t think of themselves as “influencers” but as whatever their day job is – might see the opportunity to engage and contribute as doing their part to further their industry/profession and not think it worth charging for. But the more commercially focussed your ask is, the bigger the time involvement, the more likely you should plan incentives of some kind to offer in exchange for influencer support and time.
What should contracts look like? In general, where there’s a commercial exchange, something lightweight should be signed by both parties that outlines mutual commitments and obligations. This protects the brand from investing money for no return and makes sure that the ask of the influencer is 100% transparent.
When should you schedule activity? In person or virtual? There’s no hard and fast rule here. But the bigger the ask, the bigger the draw and the bigger the incentive. Most B2B influencers have a day job which is unlikely to require they spend time with vendors. Industry analysts may be the exception! So, anticipate that an in-person event needs a strong incentive to get an influencer along. That said, influencer activity shouldn’t always take place online. Don’t forget about the face to face aspect of relationship building with influencers. Strong relationships both online and offline may encourage influencers to become brand advocates outside of their typical influencer ‘scope’.
How do I approach / engage them? Most people are reasonably happy if you approach them via the channels they make available to the world. A reply on Twitter or a DM, a LinkedIn message, or an email or phone call using publicly listed contact details are all reasonable. Just act with courtesy and authenticity in the way you engage, don’t mass mail or mass contact people and therefore personalise your approach.
FROM TRANSACTIONAL RELATIONSHIPS TO ONGOING ONES
Strong relationships are at the root of influencer marketing success; they aren’t built in a day. Always-on partnerships are the best way to tell stories. If you look at the long-term business impact of any piece of influencer engagement – traditional or digital – it’s rarely the one-off activations that drive lasting benefits for the brand.
Unlike in B2C , where products occasionally (though rarely) fly off the shelves simply because a celebrity influencer wore ‘that dress’ on Instagram, the B2B cycle can take a while to deliver impact. It’s a question of persistent nudges to shape perception and encourage advocacy, rather than transactional consequences.
With this in mind, it’s vital for B2B brands to consider where the strategic influencer collaborations might lie, where there might be potential to build multi-year partnerships, and what the implications might therefore be on the tactical mechanisms by which you engage.
Some key principles to consider.
- Influencers are people. And people have relationships with people. You need mechanisms for individuals within the brand to engage on an ongoing basis, in an authentic, real, personable manner.
- Not every activation needs to be a big one. Ongoing programmes will, of necessity, fluctuate between high- low-touch moments. It’s important that you consider your influencer network as a distinct audience that gets considered in any outreach you do or programmes you run. Influencer tracks at events, invites for pre-registration for webinars going out as a first wave to influencers, and so on.
- There needs to be an upside for both of you from the relationship. Manage the balance of give-and-take carefully or you’ll lose relationships. Community benefits and the axes of incentive are important here.
- Face-to-face engagement is amazingly powerful for building relationships. It’s not just about how much you talk to them on Twitter. If you can engage them ‘IRL’ you will consolidate and expand the relationship for both of you.
Influencers can be an extension of your content marketing team. An always-on commitment helps you refine, evolve and scale your marketing efforts.
Punch Pro sits at the centre of Brands2life’s B2B influencer proposition. It provides a rigorous basis for influencer identification and validation alongside Brands2Life’s creative strategy and tactical execution prowess.
Rooted in both artificial intelligence and human insight, it is built around Authenticity, Relevance, Impact and Authority, the four key areas used for influencer identification and validation.
It’s the companion service to Punch, which is aimed at consumer-targeting brands – you can read more about that here.
Here’s how the whole process works:
- Monitor: Once your overarching strategy and objectives are – at least loosely – defined, keyword searches and monitors are set up within Punch Pro to establish if the conversations you think are happening, are happening. AI powered algorithms help trawl through the firehose of social discussion on Twitter and beyond to find the people that are really talking about your identified themes and topics.
- Review and refine: False positives and irrelevant discussions can be filtered out using Boolean modifiers once you start to get ‘hits’ on your searches.
- Shortlist: Influencers that seem relevant are shortlisted and added to a campaign awaiting validation. Pre-existing influencers or influencer lists – people you had identified independently as relevant – can also be added for assessment.
- Validation: Lightweight or in-depth validation of influencers against key Punch Pro criteria now take place using proprietary scoring mechanisms developed by Brands2Life.
The software platform Klear provides AI-powered influencer search and discovery supporting Punch Pro
Influencers are assessed on the key criteria:
Each category is given a score based on both a qualitative and quantitative content assessment. The framework allows us to go beyond regular quantitative metrics such as engagement rates to interrogate subjective measures, such as professional experience and quality of content.
How B2B Expert has worked in practice
Punch Pro has been live for some time and seen some early success with Brands2Life clients. These may trigger some inspiration!
Gemalto: connecting the IoT of today
We were challenged to help Gemalto amplify the opportunity for its PLS62-W 4G wireless connectivity module for global IOT implementations, and deposition rivals offering more niche next-gen technologies with limited global reach. The engineers working with this product are hard to reach and impossible to survey – it is a universe in the single-digit thousands worldwide. So we needed a different approach.
We worked with influencers identified through Punch Pro, which allowed Gemalto to find influencers based on criteria of authority, reach, impact and audience. Key potential advocates were identified and approached to contribute to a long-form thought piece on the development of global IOT devices and the likely impact (if any) of global network rollout of next generation connectivity. The net conclusion strongly favoured the adoption of Gemalto’s modules for any projects launched in the next two years, before network rollout was completed.
The influencers who contributed to the report provided real, credible, front-line insight into the problem Gemalto was trying to tackle. They supported with the organic amplification of the campaign assets and added to its credibility when used in both on- and off-line contexts. A very small amount of paid media amplification in the UK only drew on targeting based around, amongst other things, the network of our Punch Pro selected influencers, drove over a dozen high value leads to engage with the content and got the message in front of tens of thousands of IoT engineers. The report has consolidated Gemalto’s reputation as a provider in the space, driven direct interest and engagement in the relevant Gemalto products and modules, and is a key vehicle for driving sales and marketing activation worldwide.
Diffblue: engaging the Java unit testing community
Diffblue provides a testing platform for Java Developers, powered by AI. They wanted to grow their brand profile and presence whilst engaging the Java community in the newly launched freeware version of their application, called Diffblue Playground. But there are few media focussed on software development, and few material news-hooks for the brand.
In this context – with a small media community but an active end-user one engaging in discussions on social media - we recommended an influencer-centric campaign. A crowdchat focused on the future of software engineering was scheduled and we helped structure the narrative. Using Punch Pro, we identified and refined a community of over 100 influencers that had the authority, relevance, authenticity and impact we needed to support Diffblue mission, whittled down from a list of over 700 influencers talking about Java development and unit testing worldwide.
Careful outreach helped us secure three influencers to help lead a panel ‘crowdchat,’ with a combined following of over 40,000 people. Over 40 members of the Java community joined for the live discussion, delivering a further reach of 110 thousand as the community cross-posted their posts to Twitter and LinkedIn – over 140 posts were shared in the 60 minute live chat spanning issues across the spectrum of Java development and Diffblue’s proposition. The crowdchat resulted in a 300% increase of traffic to the Diffblue Playground product page and in a five-fold increase in dwell time on the website. The influencers are engaged and supporting with further discussion and evaluation of Diffblue’s proposition and will help spread the message of the company’s offer further still.
PUNCH THROUGH UNCERTAINTY
The first header of this paper was solving the B2B influencer conundrum. It should now be clear that combining data-driven rigour with specific knowledge is the key to answering that question. Influencer marketing, in any context, needs to move from being seen as another tactic to a discipline that requires strategic direction. It needs to be a long-term commitment, which is why we’ve developed Punch Pro, to provide the structure influencer marketing programmes need.
To find out more, get in touch with one of our specialist influencer experts today.