Most people think of third-party influencers as YouTube stars with millions of subscribers, or Instagram gurus pushing beauty products. Yet influencer PR for B2B brands is also an effective way to reach prospects throughout the customer journey, from lead generation to purchase and beyond. For B2B companies, programs that involve third-party influencers can require more time and effort than consumer programs, but they yield far-reaching results over the long term.
The association and advocacy of unbiased industry experts is a time-honored way to build brand trust through earned media, high-quality content, or special events. Influencer relations is a logical extension of media relations, but less transactional and more collaborative.
But where do PR teams find third-party influencers? Before jumping in, the PR and marketing teams should develop a detailed strategy, complete with goals and KPIs.
A PR team often fosters good analyst relationships in much the same way they do with media. Because analysts are viewed as impartial experts, an implied endorsement builds credibility and holds greater weight than that from a paid consultant or endorser – even though some analyst relationships are paid. Media and influencers read analyst reports and white papers, so the reach can become exponential. See our previous post for more on making the most of solid analyst relations.
Authors, experts, and academics
Known or up-and-coming authors, academics, or consultants are often the most accessible influencers for B2B companies. Look for authors of recently published papers and studies, books, or industry consultants who teach as adjunct professors. This is a sign that their expertise is relatively up-to-date, and academic credentials are a plus, particularly when it comes to being quoted in media interviews.
Companies in related industries can also make great influential partners. A software targeted to small businesses may look at other service providers for SMBs – those that offer accounting, networking or loans, for example. One way to reach many potential influencers with a single initiative is a partnership with a professional organization. For example, we arranged a joint study between a client wishing to target HR professionals and SHRM, the professional human resources organization. The study’s results were featured at the group’s annual meeting and in local chapter seminars.
Attending conferences and trade shows benefits young companies in many ways, not the least of which is the opportunity to network with various breeds of influencer. If you have booked your executive as a speaker or panelist, you’ve created opportunities for face to face connections with analysts, journalists, and other thought leaders. A conscientious PR pro will work hard to nurture these relationships in a mutually beneficial manner, perhaps by offering to collaborate on content
Media contacts as influencers
In some niches, journalists can do double duty for a brand, although a working journalist is very unlikely to serve as a paid endorser. Key journalists are industry insiders, so their presence adds gravity to any event, attracts other influencers, and boosts the social media reach at an event. They don’t even have to do a story on the event, although that may be a goal. But just the association can generate good word-of-mouth.
Another category of industry influencer is the brand-name customer who is able to endorse your brand in published industry testimonials or appear at high-level conferences to discuss your work together. If your company has an innovative product and/or great customer service, you’re in a position to ask clients to write online reviews or blog about their great experience using the product. The worst thing that happens is they say no.
White papers, simple bylined articles, or guest blog posts are very effective and SEO-worthy ways to collaborate with influencers.
The key here is to make any customer video short, sweet, and shareable.
Panel appearances and other speaking opportunities
These are often covered by trade or industry press and can be converted into bylined content.
Customer education events
Investing in one or more big-name influencers for a private customer or prospect education event – whether a webinar or an exclusive black-tie dinner – can pay dividends in PR, word-of-mouth, and customer good will.
Sponsored surveys or research reports
Co-sponsored research, while it comes with a price tag, is one of the most effective ways to tap the expertise of a partner like an academic expert or even an industry trade group.
Finally, although influencers are often paid for their time, compensation shouldn’t be the foundation of your relationship. For an influencer program to thrive, it should be founded on the individual’s credibility and based on a relationship of mutual respect and collaboration.