Trust is a currency. It’s arguably the most valuable currency in today’s B2B marketing environment. And much like real money, it needs to be earned; the risks of attempting to counterfeit trust are grave.
In the first installment of our Trust Factor series, we discussed how creating best-answer content serves a long-term trust-building strategy. Today we’ll examine the ways in which partnering with influencers can provide a dramatic boost to your brand’s credibility and authority in the eyes of your audience. We’ll also share some examples of companies that are already doing this effectively, and the lessons we can draw from them.
There are no shortcuts when it comes to developing genuine trust with your customers. But that doesn’t mean you can’t take the shortest possible path, so long as you know where you’re going. Walking this road with the right influencers at your side can expedite the journey.
Coordinating Content, Co-opting Trust
In the past, we have defined influencer marketing as “the practice of engaging internal and industry experts with active networks to help achieve measurable business goals.” Building trust should be a primary goal for virtually every business, and is a helpful guiding imperative as you start building out an influencer strategy.
Sometimes, objectives tied to influencer marketing campaigns can feel ambiguous. Usually, brands are looking to gain reach and visibility with targeted audiences. But it’s not just about getting in front of those people; it’s about the perception of your company’s association with the influencers in question. It’s also about trusted voices delivering messages with expertise and credibility in a time when buyers are increasingly wary of advertising and marketing messages.
A strong influencer candidate already has trust equity built up with their (your) audience. They speak knowledgeably and persuasively on topics that align closely with your business. They’ve developed a sturdy reputation in their industry or niche that holds weight with the people who follow it.
It’s a level of credibility that can’t be matched. Data shows that an increasing number of B2B buyers trust digital content from influencers, more so than content from the brand itself. According to the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer, the three most trusted voices are “company technical experts,” “academic experts,” and “a person like yourself.” All three represent common influencer profiles.
In large part, this resonance owes to relatability, which brings us to our next point: engaging the wrong influencers can be detrimental to what we’re trying to achieve.
How NOT to Build Trust with Influencer Marketing
The caveat here is that if you don’t do it right, influencer marketing can actually diminish trust with your audience. So before we dive into practical examples of trust-building influencer engagements, let’s outline a few things to avoid.
Don’t Prioritize Quantity Over Quality
It’s one of the most prevalent pitfalls in the influencer marketing universe: “This person has a huge following! Let’s partner with ‘em!” In fact, research from Influencer Marketing Hub for the 2019 Influencer Marketing Benchmark Report actually found that larger followings, on average, correlate with lower ROI.
The same report shows that 48% of brands are smartly treating audience relationship as the most valuable factor in working with influencers, higher than any other benefit. And while this isn’t always true, influencers with smaller (not tiny) followings can often foster more tightly knit communities, with more meaningful bonds.
Don’t look strictly at popularity when selecting influencers. As our CEO Lee Odden has written: “Relevance, resonance and reach metrics should be used for influencer identification and validation.”Relevance, resonance and reach metrics should be used for influencer identification and validation. - @leeodden Click To Tweet
Don’t Try to Buy Trust Equity
Influencers should always feel like their efforts in a brand partnership are worthwhile. Sometimes, it makes sense to compensate them financially, but the most fruitful deployments of this strategy tend to take shape when both sides are invested beyond a simple money exchange.
“The real goal should be to develop mutually beneficial relationships with experts to co-create content that works for your audience, their audience and your mutual audience to build credibility,” writes TopRank Marketing Senior Director of Digital Strategy Ashley Zeckman.
Internet users are becoming smarter in general. If the extent of your motivation is to simply to associate your brand name with Instagram celebrities in a pay-to-play scenario (I’m looking at you, Fyre Festival), it’ll be transparent to your audience, and is likely to do more harm than good.
Creating a mutually beneficial scenario, as Ashley referenced, means that influencers see incentive in growing their own personal brands by partnering with yours. Establishing this dynamic is key to genuine and lasting influencer relationships.
Create Something Valuable
So, you’ve recruited an influencer to join your cause. Great! Now what are you going to do together? Too often, it seems like this is a secondary concern when it should be a foremost priority.
We consistently find that the most effective influencer marketing programs involve co-creation of content, where the expert perspectives lend tangible value to something your audience wants. Given the knowledge and authority held by niche influencers, this can greatly enhance the credibility of your best-answer content, which also supports SEO efforts.
If you want to see what this looks like, I invite you to peruse some of the examples below.
Examples of Trust-Building Influencer Engagements in Action
Trust is difficult to measure. But when you’re building it successfully, the impact tends to ripple outward into other metrics, like earned media value, prospect quality, and positive brand mentions. Here are a few campaigns that delivered results thanks, in large part, to an infusion of influencer content.
Focus is an important aspect of any well conceived influencer content campaign. You want to address a direct pain point for your customers in a substantive way. SAP SuccessFactors, a provider of cloud-based human resource management software, wanted to zero in on employee health and well-being.
In partnership with our team at TopRank Marketing, SAP SuccessFactors created an eBook featuring unique insights from respected executives and leaders in the human resources space. One contributor, Chris Paine, even has “Chief HR Geek” for a title.
This collaborative influencer marketing campaign surpassed download benchmarks by 272%, and most pertinently, organic social messaging (via SAP and influencers) drove 69% of conversions.
This program exemplifies an influencer ecosystem that is driven by mutual benefit. Through its Cisco Champions community, the company nurtures a collection of brand enthusiasts who are also industry experts and active social media participants. By participating, these influencers are able to grow their own personal brands (while tethering themselves to the “single biggest player in enterprise networking”), and they also get special access to groups, training, and new products.
“The program reaches a diverse audience and allows Cisco to earn the trust of the IT community with authentic and relevant content. Our community views the information as ‘for us, by us,’ ” according to Cisco’s social media marketing manager Linda Hamilton (via Influitive). That is precisely the outcome any similar initiative should aim for.
For this highly successful influencer program, Prophix tapped TopRank Marketing to help showcase powerful influencer content in action. The series of Pro Talks interview clips align with Prophix’s model as a provider of finance software, offering practical guidance for delivering finance presentations. The angle of the topic meant that this content was oriented directly toward CFOs and other business leaders that Prophix most wanted to reach, while also helping industry leaders showcase their expertise in an impactful way to grow their own influence.
Presenting insights through video, with the speaker talking directly into the camera, helps enhance the trust-building qualities by simulating a face-to-face conversation with subject matter experts who embody the “trusted advisor” persona.
Supported by a mix of blog, social, and paid promotion, this campaign drove big results. An impressive 42% of viewers completed each video (7-to-9 minutes in length) and conversions exceeded the benchmark by 200%. Prophix captured multiple enterprise-level CFO leads.
Trust in Influencer Marketing
Even if trust is tough to measure, marketers are clearly seeing the value in influencer content, and trust is a key (if subtle) component of that. In the aforementioned State of Influencer Marketing report from IMH, 92% of respondents said they believe the tactic is effective and 86% plan to dedicate budget to influencer marketing activities this year.
These are further reasons to trust in influencer marketing, but I’d argue that the No. 1 driver should be the trust these strategic collaborators can imbue into your brand. By choosing the right influencers, creating mutually advantageous programs, and jointly creating content that serves your audience, you’ll be on your way to earning the kind of trust that simply cannot be bought.
Want to learn more about TopRank Marketing delivers trusted influencer marketing solutions for B2B companies? Check out our influencer marketing service page.