In this final 13th episode of Inside Influence where I talk with B2B marketing insiders about what’s working and what’s not in the world of influencer marketing, our perspective has shifted from B2B brands to the influencers themselves.
At TopRank Marketing, we conducted the first in-depth research into B2B influencer marketing which inspired this series and Onalytica recently conducted the first research study of B2B influencers to better understand influencer marketing from their perspective.
Any B2B marketer that wants a complete picture for success with B2B influencer marketing going into 2021 and beyond will benefit greatly from both reports:
- The Current State & Future of B2B Influencer Marketing – Onalytica
- 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Research Report – TopRank Marketing
To drill down into the insights around the Onalytica report, I talked with Tim Williams, CEO. We covered:
- About Onalytica as a B2B influencer marketing platform
- Tim’s role as CEO at Onalytica
- The current state of B2B influencer marketing
- The impact of COVID-19 on B2B influencer marketing
- Why Always-On influencer marketing is good for both brands and influencers
- How to convince more B2B brands to focus on the experience they create for influencers as much as they do for customers
- Opportunities for B2B companies to leverage both external influencers and employee influencers for marketing
- B2B influencer engagement trends for 2021
- What B2B marketers can do to better showcase influencer expertise in content
- What B2B brands can expect if they hire an agency
- What to be optimistic about with influencer marketing post-pandemic
See the full video interview with Tim Williams in Episode 13 of Inside Influence here:
Below is a highlight transcription of our discussion.
Tell us about your role and what Onlaytica does
Tim: Great. So I’m the CEO of Onalytica and I’ve always been in social media, sort of marketing communication circles and formally in public affairs. I’ve always helped build software that helps brands try and influence the influencers who obviously then in turn influence the target audience or the end consumer. That’s been my passion. I’ve spent 20 plus years helping brands communicate their audience better.
At Onalytica we have an influence marketing software. We tend to use this in influencer advocacy, employee advocacy, virtual events, account-based marketing, and social selling. Those are these use cases that we help brands with.
I see it as my role to be out there to publish content and to try and lead from the front…listen to what customers are saying and see how technology can really advance the industry.
Then in my role, I’d really just try and listen to the brand. It’s a very immature marketplace. It’s evolving. So I see it as my role to be out there to publish content and to try and lead from the front. But importantly, listen to what customers are saying and see how technology can really advance the industry.
I’m not keen on us just taking a passive look at the industry and trying to sort of build more revenue with customers. I think that technology is often like a challenge and solution for the industry to mature. So I guess I see my role as just helping in whatever way I can to progress and really just help brands connect with influence communities to create inspiring content.
You and your team at Onalytica recently conducted a comprehensive B2B influencer research study. At a high level, what is the current state of B2B influencer marketing?
Tim: Well, interestingly, it was off the back of the TopRank Marketing research report. Obviously TopRank are a great, leading agency in the field and producing lots of research and obviously you and I talk about research and have done quite a lot over the past few years. We’ve done some state of the industry stuff before with brands, but we really wanted to flip it to be able to give a 360 degree view on top of your research to people out there.
[Influencers] do make a big difference if brands are partnering with them in the right way.
I think what was really interesting is that it confirmed a lot of the beliefs in your report that the state of the industry is that influencers do give that third-party opinion. They do make a big difference if brands are partnering with them in the right way. It also showed up a lot of the gaps and a lot of the challenges for marketers on where the industry is going to head and what needs to happen for the influencers to feel like they’ve got a positive experience.
A lot of the people doing influence marketing now don’t have influencer marketing in their job description. It’s something that they’re just inheriting and running through pilot programs.
I thought it was really interesting. I was very encouraged by the results, the gaps. Some of them do still surprise me with the way some marketers approach influence marketing, but I think that’s just natural because a lot of the people doing influence marketing now don’t have influencer marketing in their job description. It’s something that they’re just inheriting and running through pilot programs. I just think it’s a natural outcome of people experimenting and I think the learning and the improving is really what we’re seeing now.
What do you think the impact of COVID has been in terms of the state of influencer marketing for B2B?
Tim: In April to May this year I think a lot of influencers were extremely worried, especially the ones that were flying around the world and getting paid a lot of money. They were probably having very lucrative retainers or one-off, gigs with brands and I think that work obviously immediately dried up and they had to pivot their proposition into virtual events. I’ve seen some influencers do that very successfully now.
I think it was a bit of a shock from April to May and I think in terms of the social media consumption and the influencer output on channels like LinkedIn and Twitter, we saw an increase in that social media activity and consumption. I think the biggest change was that we felt that the end consumers of the B2B to C, because everyone’s obviously a person at the end of the day, increased.
The appetite for influencers increased in a few months like it would over a five-year period…influencer marketing in B2B has been better for it.
The appetite for influencers increased in a few months like it would over a five-year period. Even though the budgets weren’t there from brands because everyone was pausing their budgets, I think the underlying factors have really advanced. So what we’ve seen is that from July onward, so in H2 of this year, influencer marketing in B2B has been better for it. I think it’s almost helped the industry rather than just being too like “marquee event driven” where influencers are paid a lot of money to speak all around the world.
The Onalytica research of B2B influencers found several similarities with TopRank’s survey of B2B marketers. For example, Always-On campaigns were described as far more successful for both influencers and marketers. You and I understand the reason for that, but how do you explain it to marketers stuck on campaigns?
Tim: I always see influencer relations as like there’s two parallel strategies. I think there’s the content or the events that you’re trying to run in campaign mode. Then there’s the longer term relationship building and building of great experiences for a campaign that you might run in three or four quarters time.
I think that the brands that are starting off and just like activating with a one-off mindset, they just don’t put as much effort into the long-term game. So the influencers by default then just invest less themselves because they don’t know whether they’re going to have anything in the future. So I think it’s just natural.
I think that it doesn’t matter whether you’re just starting out with influencer relations, you can do a few things that make a big difference and build long-term relationships.
I think that it doesn’t matter whether you’re just starting out with influencer relations, you can do a few things that make a big difference and build long-term relationships. First impressions can last for, you know, 20 or 30 years.
I think it’s hard, especially when brands are in quarterly budget cycles. Both of us working in global tech a lot and the restructuring is a major challenge because people do move around in roles. So I think everyone gets it, but I think when you show the results of a longer term attitude are better than a short term, then I think that’s when people can invest a bit more.
We’ve both talked about the importance of the experience that brands create for influencers and the impact it can have on an influencer marketing program’s success. Your research reinforces this in several areas from the need for quality outreach to who does the outreach to quality of the brief. How can we get more B2B brands to treat the influencer experience as important as the experience of the customers we’re trying to influence?
Tim: I think it’s a key area that the industry has to improve on. I think it’s about how much input you need to get the output that you’re wanting as a marketer. So, if you’re having to invest five hours to research an influencer that you don’t really know, that you’re not quite sure what output they’re going to give you, I think there’s a disproportionate amount of effort that marketers won’t invest in.
I think partly, agencies solve that problem, like yours. Obviously you know a lot of the influences and there’s sort of the trust of working with them. At Onalytica we built relationships with thousands of influencers and we know the ones that you can trust and there’s an element of credibility and time-saving there.
I think there’s also the ability to get to know someone within 10 or 15 minutes. This is really a technology solution where you can know what books they’re going to publish, what motivations they have and what days they like to work. I recall speaking to one influencer at Social Media Marketing World and they told me, “on Monday I write my blog posts, on Tuesday I do my research, on Wednesday I look after my kids and on Thursday I do this,” and I’m thinking, “how could a brand approach that influencer and really know what makes them work without hearing it directly from them?”
Influencers also have to make it as easy as possible for people to get to know them and what they want.
So, I think it’s a technology solution, which we’re trying to solve where if we showcase profiles that show what really drives the passion and motivations of influencers, then brands can quite quickly say, “Oh, there’s a great connection with what we’re trying to do here.” Then they have the confidence to reach out and it doesn’t feel like this kind of matchmaking dating where you don’t have a clue what they they’re actually interested in. It’s agencies, technology and I think influencers also have to make it as easy as possible for people to get to know them and what they want. And I think if we all close the gap, then it’s going to translate into a better experience for the influencers.
Influencers are not limited to industry experts as you know – employee are influential too. What opportunities are there for B2B brands to be more effective at engaging both to achieve marketing goals?
Tim: I think this is where the real magic happens for us when we’re talking about integrated advocacy. When we talk about employee advocacy, we see them as four segments.
We see them as the topics execs which need to show leadership. They need to be out there on social, creating content. There’s intrinsic value in what they say in the marketplace. So the execs are part of the employee advocacy for us.
The next level down is the subject matter expert. Say, in the tech industry or environment, it might be talking about AI or sustainability or supply chain procurement and any of the important topics that might be driving the thought leadership. So, you’ve got various different employees that are thought leaders, but maybe not driving as much impact externally for your brand. There’s a wonderful opportunity out there.
The third segment are sales. So, social selling or social enablement of salespeople as some people like to call it is really important. That’s the third category.
Then the fourth one is everybody else like your general employees. There’s lots of employee advocacy tools to help develop the general employees.
What we like to look at is the execs as subject matter experts and the salespeople. To give you an example of what we think works really well, it could be a LinkedIn live session with an external influencer. You might also bring in an industry expert into this who wouldn’t call themselves an influencer, but just has really deep expertise in your particular area. And then you could invite one of your subject matter experts internally to be part of that discussion.
Now, the subject matter experts might not feel initially comfortable with putting themselves forward, but then they start speaking on a peer to peer level with the external influencers and they realize that they get on, they have a lot in common, they love the subject matter that they talk about. Guess what? That relationship continues on LinkedIn, Twitter, offline, on WhatsApp, like whatever form of communication that they have.
It’s really powerful when you can start transforming your content through the voice of your employees and external influencers.
If you think about that one example and you amplify that through all of your workforce, your employees are the biggest asset that any brand has. It’s really powerful when you can start transforming your content through the voice of your employees and external influencers. That’s what we describe as the kind of dream integrated advocacy model. In terms of actually making that happen, because some brands have 300,000 employees and across different business units, markets and languages, obviously it’s a massive transformation change. But I think if you look at them as different segments, you can activate them in different ways, that’s a really, really powerful operation.
B2B brands engage with influencers in different ways from event activations to content collaborations to advisory councils. What engagement trends are you seeing going into 2021?
Tim: I think you touched on something really interesting. The advisory role as an independent analyst is often a bit of a hidden fact within the marketplace. I know a lot of influencers that were asked to create some content, but then suddenly they’ve started writing strategy documents for really large brands about how they should tackle certain challenges or innovation within the marketplace. They’re kind of ghost writing a lot of the strategy of companies.
The advisory role as an independent analyst is often a bit of a hidden fact within the marketplace.
I found that really interesting and shocking because I thought that it was the actual company that was writing their own strategy, but then it was an influencers actually shaping that. But I thought it was really cool because some of these influencers have so much experience that they’re taking on different personas.
I do think that’s something that is changing. And I think that when we talk about influencers a lot of people think that we’re talking about just the professional influencers that work on a paid basis and they’re on a retainer sometimes. They’re great at creating content and they’ve got big social networks. We see that this is a much larger community of people from industry experts that would never call themselves influencers: the independent analysts, advisors, consultants. Then you’ve got the events speakers, key opinion leaders in the industry. That’s where things are evolving.
I don’t think people are in love with the word “influencer”.
I don’t think people are in love with the word “influencer”. I think it’s got a really bad rap from the B2C industry. I think that influential experts is more where we’re trying to go, but there’s, there’s many different personas. So I think how brands are leveraging the different personas and who owns it as a brand is really the cause of key trends going forward.
Content is most often the output from influencer collaboration but subject matter experts are not always expert content creators and many B2B brands are not really pushing the boundaries of effective content formats either. What can B2B marketers do to better showcase the expertise of the influencers who have collaborated?
Tim: I think it’s a really good question. Some of the influencers are content creators and they’re specialists at that. So actually having an influencer interview some of the subject matter experts is one way in which brands haven’t leveraged that enough, I don’t think. It’s interesting who should interview each other because you see both forms of that.
People are fed up of advertising…people are just not in the mood for product being pushed down their throats.
I think that the trend that we’re seeing is that people are fed up of advertising. They’re fed up with brand generic messages. There’s just so much content even since the pandemic. The content has spiraled even more so. I think people are just not in the mood for product being pushed down their throats.
I think the subject matter experts are the people that can personalize the content and I think that brands are investing in the platform to help develop the social profiles of the subject matter experts. I’ve seen a big increase in investment into that. I don’t think there’s any shortcuts. I think it’s about enabling them to feel comfortable maybe in video, like sitting down in a more traditional way, but then translating that into social bite sized video content.
Subject matter experts have the expertise, they just don’t know how to translate that into wonderful sort of social communication channels.
I know that you do a lot of interactive and visual content. I think the subject matter experts have the expertise, they just don’t know how to translate that into wonderful sort of social communication channels. I think that’s the job of marketers and communications professionals to be able to connect those two together. I don’t see any magic wand. I don’t know whether you’ve got any ideas or what you see from TopRank.
Well, this is a problem we solve every day for companies. When a brand does make the effort to invest in high quality content from industry experts or industry influencers, they can take that content and make something the contributors will be proud of. Something so good it will inspire them to want to make it even more successful.
Tim: Yeah, I completely completely agree with that. And obviously the end customer is what we’re all working to influence and impress. I think that the activation of subject matter experts comes down to behavioral psychology of whether they want to develop their profiles, what their fears are and how to motivate them.
I think what has changed is that a lot of topics execs or subject matter experts traditionally speak to 20 people in a room or 200 people or 10,000 people in a marquee event. Now they’re seeing that they can actually speak to 20,000 people every week through social. I think that takes a couple of examples to really get through. So they have that light bulb moment and I think marketers and communications professionals, if they can help them switch that light bulb on in their heads, then suddenly they will invest a bit more effort into the content that they put out on social.
What are you most optimistic about when it comes to influencer marketing?
Tim: I think one thing is personalized, relatable content. I have a massive passion to just break out of the boring B2B into the inspiring, personalized content. But to be able to do it in a way that doesn’t feel hard.
I am very passionate about bringing technology to solve problems. And I know that there is friction – it seems easy. Like we can just pick up the phone to five influencers, create some content and then a couple of weeks later, you should have some great content and it can be that easy.
But in reality, some brands take three or four months and struggled to get to that outcome. So what I’m passionate about is the quality of content to improve. And from a technology standpoint, we want to try and reduce the friction so that people can create this content. And it seems not as easy as paid media and hitting a button, but it doesn’t seem like it’s too much effort for them to start off.
Be sure to check out our previous Inside Influence B2B Influencer Marketing show interviews:
- Episode 1: Rani Mani, Adobe – The Value of B2B Influencer Marketing
- Episode 2: Garnor Morantes, LinkedIn – The Power of Always-On Influence
- Episode 3: Ursula Ringham, SAP – Behind the Scenes with Influencer Marketing Operations
- Episode 4: Janine Wegner, Dell Technologies – Thought Leadership and B2B Influence
- Episode 5: Jen Hotlvluwer, Spirion – Award Winning B2B Influencer Marketing
- Episode 6: Amisha Gandhi, SAP – The Power of Mutual Value for Influencer Marketing
- Episode 7: Pierre-Loïc Assayag, Traackr – Maximizing Marketing ROI with Influencer Technology
- Episode 8: Srijana Angdembey, Oracle – How Influence Creates Better B2B Customer Experiences
- Episode 9: Brian Solis, Salesforce – How B2B Influence Adds Value to Business Customers
- Episode 10: Ryan Bares, IBM Systems – Growing Influence Inside B2B Brands with Employees
- Episode 11: Marshall Kirkpatrick, Sprinklr – Elevating B2B Content with Influencers
- Episode 12: Paul Dobson, Citrix – The Secret Sauce of Influence: Authenticity
To better understand what hundreds of the top B2B marketers are doing to succeed at influencer marketing, including case studies featuring SAP, LinkedIn, Monday.com and Cherwell Software, be sure to check out the 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Research Report: