The vast majority of content and industry news coverage around influencer marketing is focused on those who engage consumer audiences: Instagramers, YouTubers, and as of late TikTokers. Of course the world of influence is not limited to consumer products and services. Influencers play an important role in businesses marketing to other businesses as well, whether it’s on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook.
So what’s the difference between B2C and B2B influencer marketing? We’ve covered B2B influencer marketing here in depth already with case studies, strategy and best practices, what makes a great B2B influencer, key statistics and more. After 7 plus years of focusing on B2B influencer marketing for some of the top B2B brands in the world, we’ve learned a few things about the practice. From that experience, I’ll focus on what makes for good B2B influencer engagement as a way to understand the difference from B2C.
The most important steps for launching a B2B Influencer Marketing Program: Influence plays a role across the entire business customer lifecycle from awareness to advocacy so it follows that the best approach to collaborating with B2B influencers also spans the spectrum of customer engagement.
Regardless of the desired outcome from building brand awareness to increasing sales, best practices influencer marketing programs start with understanding the relevant topics of influence that both represent what customers care about and what the brand stands for.
It’s important to look at B2B influencers as partners not just content creators or distribution channels.
Much of B2C influencer engagement is managed like an advertising buy. With B2B, it’s important to look at B2B influencers as partners not just content creators or distribution channels. That means finding, engaging and activating influencers with expertise and audiences that will resonate with the objectives of the business. Using topics of influence, you can identify, qualify and recruit influencer partners to collaborate. You can certainly pay a B2B influencer, but it is most often for the craft of creation not just because they are well known.
The output of B2B influencer collaboration can be in any form that the brand is currently publishing content: text, video, visual, audio, interactive and even VR.
B2B influencers are different than B2C in that they must be subject matter experts. But it is often the case that they do not have the broad social media skills or reach as their B2C counterparts. Also, B2B influencer marketing is less about a transaction or advertising buy than it is about developing relationships with influencers that can add credibility to a brand and even advocate for purchases that have an extended sales cycles and run millions of dollars.
Successful B2B influencer relationships take time to build and require time to maintain.
Matching topically relevant influencers with content collaboration opportunities that deliver mutual value for the influencer, the audience you’re after and your brand is both art and science. Successful relationships take time to build and require time to maintain. It is no different when working with B2B influencer partners, so brands should invest the time and resources to keep those relationships strong. That can mean software like the enterprise platform we use, Traackr, as well as the expertise of an influencer marketing agency that has many years of experience and established relationships with influencers in your industry.
What does effective B2B influencer marketing look like in action? Tech giant SAP wanted to raise awareness of their brand and establish thought leadership with their target audience of CTOs, CIOs, and technology managers. With B2B decision makers (and consumers in general) craving more inspiring and on-demand content, a podcast was the ideal channel to reach that target audience and spark in-depth engagement.
To Turn SAP’s vision for C-suite thought leadership into reality, they worked with TopRank Marketing to produce six episodes of Season 1, Tech Unknown Podcast. Each episode featured a long-form interview with an industry thought leader and was hosted by tech expert, Tamara McCleary. TopRank Marketing identified influencers for each episode with reach, relevance, and insight that would appeal to technology leaders.
The agency conducted live interviews with Tamara and the featured influencer guests to encourage in-depth exploration of the subject matter. The first season of the Tech Unknown podcast beat industry benchmarks for average downloads within 30 days, activated influencers that were important to the brand and the CTO/IO audience, earned millions of impressions, and opened the door for unique content repurposing opportunities.
Season 2 of the SAP Tech Unknown Podcast has now started to publish and is already breaking new performance records. By combining an understanding of brand objectives and audience interests with the expertise and audience of specific influencers, SAP has been able to drive conversations, activate relationships and move the needle on their marketing objectives.
Where to start with B2B influencers: In B2C, many influencers are inventory in a marketplace with detailed info on audience, performance and content creation capabilities where you can purchase services not unlike buying a sponsorship or advertising.
In B2B, there are no such marketplaces. Influencer Marketing platforms that algorithmically sort vast amounts of data are used to identify influencers that might be a match based on topical relevance, resonance with their audience and reach.
Once a B2B influencer has been identified as having the right mix of relevance, resonance and reach, B2B marketers can check to see if there is already a relationship with the influencer directly or through a first level connection. Engaging an experienced influencer that is already in your network is much different than starting a conversation with someone new.
It’s also important to check to see if the B2B influencer is accustomed to “being an influencer” in terms of public speaking or writing and creating content.
Many B2C influencers are already familiar with what it means to “be” a social media influencer, but in B2B, such self assigned influencer status and behavior is less common. In B2C the goal is often transactional (drive product sales) and the brand might just present a project and have the influencer pitch a creative idea on how to implement. With B2B influencers that’s possible but less likely. More often the B2B brand will have a campaign or program in mind with a narrative and structured content collaboration opportunities that influencers can take part in according to their specific areas of expertise and audience engagement.
For example, a B2B influencer program might have elements focused on top of funnel awareness, middle funnel engagement and end of funnel decision making. Each stage would involve different types of influencers (TOFU – brandividuals), (MOFU – industry experts), (BOFU – customers).
Relationship building with B2B influencers is key. A new contact will often be engaged with subtly on relevant social networks. You can look for signals that can be an open door to inviting a conversation. Then, as you engage online, you might feature the influencer in content or invite them to contribute something very easy, but that gives them great exposure. That basic interaction opens doors to more robust engagement.
If the influencer is clearly a pro and being an influencer is their business model, you can approach them directly as you would any other consultant.
B2C and B2B Influencer Marketing are different – and changing.
While there is advancing consumerization within the B2B world from software user experiences to the types of influencer content being co-created (server unboxing videos, tech “hauls”) B2C and B2B influencer marketing are distinctly different. Viewing B2B influencers simply as content distribution channels or advocates for hire is a misplaced B2C-centric expectation. B2B influencers are industry experts that may or may not have advanced content creation skills. They have the attention and respect of their peers and that kind of influence is very powerful for brands that want to recapture buyer attention lost to dropping trust in brand advertising and communications.
If you have experience working with B2B and B2C influencers, what are some of the key differences you’ve experienced?