All people hunger for human contact. If they can't get it in person, move on to the next best thing – which is social media in the current pandemic.
Business professionals and the general population are using social media more than ever: 40% of the US is spending more time on social media than before the COVID-19 outbreak, according to the latest GlobalWebIndex data.
There has also been a shift in influencers and their impact – including those in the B2B space. To begin with, some influencers mishandled their responses to the pandemic, causing companies to reconsider whether it makes sense to partner with them. After a few months, however, we experience a kind of balancing out of influencer activities and learn how to integrate influencer marketing into a larger sales program.
In marketing, the balance now includes a more moderate, secure, creative, and better informed partnership with influencers that makes more sense for the B2B community in many ways.
The importance of alignment
Working with influencers during this time makes a lot of sense. Influencers create trust for a company, and this is even more true for B2B influencers, who in many cases have an advantage over their B2C colleagues. When a business influencer talks about a new machine or platform, social media followers are more likely to believe them. This type of credibility can add significant value to the sales process.
However, influencers offer other benefits. Activities from blogs, site visits and videos can be easily analyzed. Marketers can check engagement rates, clicks, and conversions, as well as comments and opinions, to sharpen their campaigns. Influencers often have a very targeted audience, which gives marketers the opportunity to grow their own customer base. Additionally, influencer mentions will affect a company's SEO ranking.
However, there are several guard rails to consider during COVID-19. The most important among them is how important it is to work with influencers who create messages that are appropriate and safe for the company. Any message, whether to consumers or business customers, can easily slip into a broader social and societal context. Marketers need to select and work with influencers who understand the company's attributes and values and can empower them accordingly.
Steps to success
With decision makers getting more information online than ever before, B2B marketers can benefit greatly from a robust influencer effort. Here are some keys to getting the most out of influencer marketing during COVID-19.
Lean into your product category. Don't admit that your industry or your sales effort could be penalized due to the pandemic. Each category has options – travel, hospitality, even professional conferences. With more people working from home, there is immense interest in staying up to date. Marketers and influencers should look for ways to be more creative and authentic when creating content. Polished studio presentations are being replaced with videos recorded on smartphones, and people are looking for new solutions and new perspectives.
It's time to ask your influencer, "How can we put something together? What stories can we tell and what steps can we take to be real and genuine with our followers during this time?"
Reflect and research. To be successful, marketers need to think about who and what they represent. That should determine your influencer decisions at every turn, from whom you can collaborate with which campaigns. Once a company has made the decision to engage in influencer marketing, it needs to use research and care to validate the partnership. Make sure your values match. It is not necessary to delve deep into everything an influencer has ever said, but rather to confirm that the things that are important to them and that they believe in make sense in what your company is trying to do.
Be agile. In the current environment, the mood is constantly changing. The way your customers are feeling this week is not how they felt two weeks or three months ago. So, more than ever, you need to listen and measure sentiment to make sure the content and messages closely match what people think.
The impact on customers is also very different across the country. What feels appropriate to say to someone in the Northeast may not be appropriate to say elsewhere. Once again, strong influencers who know their audience help ensure that communication is relevant and well received.
Use social listening tools to monitor conversations, hashtagged topics, and keep track of what people are talking about. You can then optimize your campaign messages based on this feedback.
A valuable partnership
The ultimate value from influencers to B2B marketers is their involvement. Influencers enable companies to engage with new and existing customers in a researched, measured way. They emphasize the product or service advantages in the eyes of the followers on several levels. Prospects will pay more attention to an influencer than to advertising.
A pandemic may not seem like the right time to jump into influencer marketing, especially when the economic landscape is increasingly confusing. However, there is incredible justice in speaking with authenticity and sincerity when people need input and validation. Working with influencers can pay off – not just in these chaotic months, but also in the distant future.