B2B marketers: do you know who your influencers are?

How influencer marketing helps build B2B brands – for LinkedIn and others

July 21, 2016

If anybody needs convincing of the value of influencer marketing for B2B brands, they should carve out a bit of time to read the annual study of content marketing that Onalytica published last week.

Onalytica maps the networks of people and brands that shape the content marketing conversation on Twitter. And for those of us who work at LinkedIn, two nodes stand out on this map. For starters, our LinkedIn Marketing Solutions handle is on there – taking its place in the top 30 most influential content marketing Twitter handles for the first time. And just next to it, you’ll find one of the biggest reasons why we’ve made the list: Jason Miller.

Jason is the 20th most influential person in content marketing according to the Onalytica ranking. I mention this not just to big him up (although it’s always nice to give credit where credit’s due), but because it’s a powerful example of just how much a brand gains when its internal experts are also industry-wide influencers. You only have to look at the way the connections on Onalytica’s map intersect to see how Jason’s personal influence multiplies reach and engagement for our LinkedIn Marketing Solutions brand.

LinkedIn certainly isn’t alone in deriving big benefits from B2B influencer marketing. The map also shows how businesses like The Content Marketing Institute, Velocity and Newscred have Joe Pulizzi, Michael Brenner and Doug Kessler to thank for multiplying their influence and awareness. In my view, each of our brands gains four very important benefits from having these high-profile influencers in their ranks:

Amplification

Jason, Joe, Michael, Doug and the rest are plugged into big networks – they wouldn’t be amongst the most influential content marketers on the planet otherwise. Influencers like this are natural amplification channels for a brand’s own activity. When Jason promotes LinkedIn Marketing Solutions content it hugely increases our reach.

Cross-platform pulling power

Influencers don’t just exist on social media. They earn their networks by writing books that embody genuine thought leadership, they’re prepared to take provocative stances and stand out from the crowd, they deliver a lot of keynotes and more broadly speaking, they take the time to engage in conversations with people about the issues they’re concerned about and interested in. A genuine industry-wide influencer is a multi-platform asset.

I know from first-hand experience that Jason, Joe and Doug are great speakers (I’m sure Michael and other content marketing influencers like Ann Handley are too – I just haven’t seen them live). Event organisers want people like this on their stage – and that means they are making a space for your brand and its messages as well.

Humanised brands

When I scan the Onalytica map, one of the things that hits home is the fact that so many of the top influencers have well-defined personalities. They aren’t generic speakers but human beings with personal stories and interests that others can relate to. Somebody with these qualities transforms the type of engagement that your brand generates, and they persuade people to engage with the issues you’re talking about on a meaningful and personal level. Once you’ve heard Jason talk about Joe Strummer, The Clash and Kiss, I defy you to think about B2B content marketing in the same standardised terms again.

The freedom to express opinion

Your influencers’ brands aren’t the same as your business’s brand – and that’s a good thing! As human beings they have a license to express opinions and give forthright views. To a marketer that’s a hugely valuable asset. Being able to communicate on different levels and with different tones of voice gives you many more options for contributing to the varied conversations that are taking place in your sector.

Not so long ago, HR departments and marketing teams alike viewed the idea of promoting your employees as individuals with suspicion: what if they got too big for their boots? What if they were poached by the competition? What if their personal brands overshadowed that of the business?

Now I’m not saying that these things can’t possibly happen – but B2B marketers need to weigh those risks against the arguably much greater risks of not having influencers on your side – and missing out on the opportunity to shape the industry-wide conversation as a result.

Do you have a potential Jason Miller or Joe Pulizzi in your business? Someone with a big personality and point of view, who’s passionate about what they do? We work with plenty of brands who do – and we’ve helped several build the profile of their internal experts into influencers who can help to amplify and humanise their messages.

I personally believe that any business has potential influencer assets in their ranks – if they know how to identify and empower them, and if they’re committed to giving them the scope and freedom to work their magic. Based on our own experience, I’d very much encourage you to do so.

For a handy guide to tapping the influencer potential of senior leaders within your business, take a look at our Executive Playbook, with 12 steps to becoming a social leader on LinkedIn.

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