Since announcing that Clear joined Skyword to offer stronger B2B content marketing services, one of the things I have been most excited about is, well, doing just that. The numbers show it’s something most of us need: Though nine out of 10 B2B marketers use content marketing, 85 percent struggle to connect B2B marketing to business value.
In this series, I’ll share three content catalysts that I’m exploring in particular. I’m learning about them in two places:
Marketing with influencers is the first of these three catalysts.
If your experience was anything like mine, you’ll immediately know how to identify an influencer if you think back to middle school, and that girl. You know, the beautiful, sassy one that every other girl wanted to be—the same one who wouldn’t sleep over at your house, no matter how many times you invited her. (Or was that just me?)
Regardless, that’s your influencer: a specific person (or group of people) who influences your target audience. The difference, of course, is people actually like influencers in B2B marketing.
To be clear—mean girls aside—B2B marketing with influencers:
I’ve collected some tips as I’ve explored how today’s leading brands, both consumer- and business-facing, are successfully partnering with influencers to catalyze revenue. I’m confident they’ll amplify your B2B content marketing in the same way.
It can be hard to understand the best route for building relationships with influencers. Here are some questions to ask as you start your search:
Which channel is best? Find your influencers by looking where your buyer is most active. If you’re targeting marketers or salespeople, LinkedIn is a great place to begin. Increasingly, this goes for IT decision makers as well. For developers, try online training and media sites. For CXOs, you’re probably best off targeting online business publications. Of course, if you can search within a vetted network of influencers, all the better. (We have a content marketing platform for that!)
Who should reach out? Once you find where your influencers live, breathe, and influence, take the time to think critically and identify the most appropriate person on your team to reach out. As a general rule of thumb, the more senior the influencer, the more executive this person should be.
Do we—and if so, how do we–empower our internal team members to build relationships on their own? There’s power in numbers, yes. But there are also nuances. In other words, just as it’s not appropriate to use your company’s branded Twitter account for everything, it’s unwise to let your team do whatever it wants. Create and socialize internal guidelines. Give a brief presentation at a company all-hands meeting. Send a reminder email.
What’s a competitive offer? A price tag that would thrill one influencer might offend another. Your brand might have to pay top dollar, but then again, it might not, depending on what your brand is—and if you offer a byline. Knowing what kind of compensation to offer is key, so consult someone who is familiar with the industry before you build or burn your influencer bridges.
As you think about whom to recruit as influencers, take their personal and professional lives into account and prioritize the influencers who are the most likely to have time available when you need them.
For example, sales leaders are not likely to want to create content at the end of a quarter, and accountants are most likely out for the count around April. Likewise, trade-show folks are probably far more available during the summer and holidays than the spring and fall conference rushes.
You can’t just create content—you have to create content that accounts for how your customers search. Determine your topic creation based on search analytics that are divided across two primary categories: timely and evergreen content. This two-part success formula worked so well for IBM’s Midsize Insider property that IBM won the 2013 Digiday Publishing Award for Best Content Marketing Program. Balance yours for similar results.
Timely content will cover events and news announcements that are relevant to your audience at any given point in time, including:
Don’t forget your evergreen content, though. This will come in handy later on as well, when you strategically upcycle your content. In these assets, aim for:
Guidance for perennial events, like year-ahead planning at the new year and event marketing, come the end of summer
Sustainable quality requires a consistent process and quality talent.
It’s not going to be possible for influencers to work at the same cadence during any given week or month, so ask them to work ahead. For example, when helping a brand that sells customized training modules to sports facilities, we decided to reach out to one group of athletes instead of another, given season timing. That way, the influencers can work ahead before their seasons starts, then fill in last-minute details for articles like:
According to Andrew Wheeler, one of Skyword’s VPs:
“From what we know and have seen, search engine algorithms take cues from social activity. Increased social sharing on a piece of content can influence the algorithms’ understanding of authority.
As content is shared in social channels, it is seen by more and more folks. These folks can be subject matter experts, journalists, influencers, etc. They may choose to link to this content from their own site or profile. This creates a backlink to a piece of content. Backlinks remain one of the most important elements to search engine algorithms’ ranking of content. Depending on the social channel, you’ll sometimes even see a social post occupy real estate in the search engine rankings.”
This is one advantage of managing your content marketing strategy within a platform: You can actually prevent an influencer from contributing content (and getting paid) until after s/he plans to socialize the content on his/her social channels.
There’s a simple and powerful connection between behavior and reward. Use this to your advantage, and motivate your influencers to behave in ways that benefit them at the same time as your brand. For example, consider offering bonus payments to influencers whose posts exceed a certain threshold of views or clicks.
Account for the time it will take for you to launch your strategy once it’s planned. Yes, you need to locate and recruit your influencers. But you also need to establish workflow processes, train them in brand guidelines, and activate a few rounds of content creation and editing before you’re ready to go live.
According to MaryAnne Flynn, Skyword’s VP of Content Services:
“Four to six weeks is a safe answer if you have a really engaged team who can get things organized quickly. Depending on which influencer category you launch first, you’ll need to strategize about which influencer group to approach. You may need their supervisors’ or employers’ buy-in to participate, and this may take some work.”
Quantifying content marketing’s ROI is an increasing priority for all marketers—particularly in B2B, as this Captora infographic shows. You can’t manage what you can’t measure.
This is one reason you should, ideally, deploy your B2B marketing strategy within one comprehensive, soup-to-nuts content marketing platform. It allows you to recruit and train influencers, control the workflow, and maintain high-quality editorial standards that much more easily. It also positions you to learn and to measure which influencers are performing better than others, on which channels, and why.
Track what succeeds in search and keyword rankings. Compare your traffic from search and social. Tweak. Refine. Optimize. Without this kind of data and insight, you’ve wasted your time.
With it, you have a closed loop that allows you to quickly optimize your programs and drive greater brand value.
An important note:
Recognize that your success metrics will change, as Scott Ludwig, director of strategic accounts at Skyword, recently told me. If you scope out a project to begin in August, for example, recognize that you’ll likely have only two months of results to look at by the end of the year. (This is factoring in ramp-up time.) Most programs don’t start to show a good short-term win story from a numbers perspective until at least six months. Set that expectation early, and then expect to reset the expectation later on.
Begin to think about your next steps way in advance, or you’ll risk losing the traction you’ve gained. As Skyword’s Executive Vice President Darryl Gehly succinctly said:
“Any brand doing effective content marketing is building an audience. That audience needs to be fed. Breaks in new content creation send an audience elsewhere, similar to the way readership drops dramatically if a monthly magazine randomly pauses their publishing schedule.“
You’ll put a lot of resources into marketing with influencers. Don’t let your marketing’s impact disappear by not planning for continuity of content.
I believe marketing with influencers is only going to become more important, given how much Millennials rely on social networks. Just look at that generation’s media-consumption habits. If analyst predictions are correct, by 2025, three out of four working adults will be Millennials. Those are your B2B decision makers. Those are your future executives.
What other strategies have worked for you? I’d love to hear them, and help share them.
Tune in next time, when I talk about the second content catalyst I’ve seen working in B2B marketing: amplification.