In 2016, the consumer (‘B2C’) brand world saw an explosive growth in influencer marketing and it’s now moved beyond experimental marketing to more complex performance-based pricing models. Do you know, for example, that Instagram now has over 700 million users? Or that 86% of B2C marketers are hiring influencers these days? Speaks volumes, really, doesn’t it?
Whilst business to business (‘B2B’) and professional service firms (‘PSFs’) usually have traditional PR and the art of the spin sorted, they are also virtually an online influencer-free zone.
Why haven’t PSFs cottoned on to influencer marketing and its powerful impact?
Well, for a start, the B2B world is light in terms of ‘celebrities’ for all sorts of cultural reasons. Equally, the shallow ‘like and share’ culture doesn’t quite sit comfortably with us as serious and reputable professionals. You see, we’re relationship developers, and earning our trust stripes is the norm. That’s why the relevance, application and ROI of paying influencers or putting vast resources into influencer outreach seem irrelevant and at odds with our world.
Yet, at its very heart, successful influencer marketing is all about trust. It’s about admired and respected sources sharing great content. That’s why Buzzsumo says, it’s a no-brainer.
Ninja Influence Top 3 for PSFs
The starting blocks for PSFs are not to hire celebrity influencers. They are to get the home base sorted. B2B firms are in a fantastic position to adapt principles from the influencer world and reapply them in a way to steal a serious march on the competition.
Here are three subtle yet powerful ways your B2B or PSF could do some influencing (without having to triple your marketing budget). That’s why I like the concept of being ninjas. Apart from the fact I just like that word.
You’ve got a sophisticated marketing team and you might just be doing some of this already, but I meet thousands of professionals, hundreds of firms and there are only a handful who have this sorted.
1. Leverage the potential of your home-grown influencers
Power to your people!
There’s one big difference between PSFs and the consumer brand world – their online marketing is usually done at ‘firm-wide’ level rather than individually. But isn’t that ironic? If I had a penny for every time I stumbled across a PSF website that claimed: ‘our greatest asset is our people’ – yet for the most part, I’d struggle to remember any Tom, Dick or Harriet’s name at a firm, unless I knew them personally or had a memorable experience with them.
Take a look at the employees in your professional service firm. They’re probably in the background for all kinds of cultural reasons, BUT, they are your GREATEST AMBASSADORS! They are the real, genuine article. The living embodiment of your brand. So why not take advantage? Engage these envoys further into your social media strategy.
Upskill your team
Offer them more guidance, skills and incentives to encourage them to align themselves with your brand and audience online. And then sit back and enjoy the results.
Get them blogging
Don’t underestimate the power of the word, either. Look at the key influencers and top writers on LinkedIn. They’re generating thousands of new monthly followers simply by creating rich content and sharing it with the right connections on LinkedIn Pulse. Obviously, you can then repurpose that content in a myriad of ways. Isn’t it time to unleash your army of in-house bloggers to do the same thing?
2. Invest heavily in the viral power of your ideas
Clever clog harnessing time
If you’re part of a professional service firm, you’ll no doubt work with a lot of very, very clever people. Every department will have vast swathes of intellectual property to tap into. You’ll see colleagues doing an amazing job with clients, and charging exorbitant hourly rates. And for the most part, this philosophy works a treat.
The old ways don’t work anymore
A big objection I hear to sharing content is that it is proprietary. Yet, an approach is to shroud your work in mystique and share it only with a select few clients and contacts. For the past hundred years or so this has been a well-deployed strategy, it seemed to enhance the perception of your heightened adviser status. However, in our fast-paced, transparent and give it all away for nothing (and still make money!), that’s just not how life is anymore.
So you are making moves in the right direction?
Many firms bring in outside consultancies and agencies to support their thought leadership efforts. They can’t resist crafting a survey or White Paper or two and put tonnes of effort into upping their game on social media (or are at least thinking about it!). Yet, there’s a long way to go before we see McKinsey Quarterly worrying about the competition, don’t you think? Can you honestly say that you, as a business, are seriously investing in spreading your great ideas?
Use what you already have
It’s time for an asset audit. Look around your professional service firm right now. What breadth of opportunities/expertise/knowledge and specialists do you have to call on? How can you enthuse your people to see the value of creating and sharing great content so you reap the rewards and boost morale at the same time?
3. Engage more with your client influencers
Keep in touch with them online
Outreach to your clients is not something you should do when you want to win a piece or work or a campaign, you should be doing it all the time. Find out where clients hang out online and be visible. This does not mean overkill, schmaltzy sycophancy, or desperation. It’s about knowing your buyer and being in the conversation. And you cannot automate the personal touch if you want to remain authentic and individual. That’s why you need everyone in your business engaged in this process.
Plug away for those testimonials
Other people singing your praises works far better than self-congratulation. Client testimonials work. Yes, we know they’re selective, but fully a fully attributed view on your service carries weight. Do get your people to continue to seek and give these.
Share imaginative client stories
Client stories (see example 6) are powerful. Case studies are used in the B2B and professional services sector, but we see the same old format and style applied time and time again. We can be a bit light on imagination in bringing stories to life. Asking the right questions and getting clients involved in a video, an infographic or animation can be a great way to showcase the work you’ve done.
Client guest bloggers
Offering your client influencers an opportunity to feature onto your company blog as guests will give them the opportunity to shine as well as supporting your own content strategy. They’re more likely to co-promote these marketing efforts too.
So, what do you think?
Of course, there’s a lot more work to do. You could then start looking at your wider circles of influence – from media to public figures. One step at a time! I do think, that if your firm had the above nailed, your marketing ROI would soar.
Is it easy to reapply the powerhouse of B2C Influencer marketing principles to the world of B2B and PSFs?
Is influencer marketing something which can be implemented into your existing strategy without the need for a huge financial investment, and just a bit of smart thinking instead?
I’d love to hear. Get in touch with me on email@example.com.