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A guest post by Amanda Maksymiw of OpenView Labs.

Influencer marketing is all about marketing to those people or groups whom your prospects look to for information. It is not a new strategy. In fact, many B2B companies have been targeted influencers for some time.

Before the Internet changed the game, analysts, editors, and reporters made up your list of key influencers, and the program was called PR. Now add bloggers, microbloggers, and online forums to the list of key influencers.

So why should you consider integrating influencer marketing into your mix? Like traditional PR, influencer marketing can be beneficial to a B2B company. By executing against a regular strategy, your company may realize the following benefits:

  • Offset your content marketing efforts by asking your influencers to contribute guest blogs, interviews, podcasts, etc.

  • Increased awareness by simply getting more people or groups mentioning you online, whether it is in a blog or webinar, or on social media

  • Drive more traffic by tapping into your influencers’ audiences

  • Test your messaging and value proposition

  • Build credibility and close sales faster by getting a “seal of approval” from your influencer to quell your prospects’ fears or concerns

Now that you are sold on the value of the program, let’s dive into the essential components to an influencer marketing strategy.

1. First, you should determine exactly what you are hoping to accomplish with your influencer program. Ultimately, your goals will help shape and keep your program focused. For example, if your goal is to increase website traffic via an influencer program, you may want to target influencers with very large followings online. But if your goal is to close sales more quickly, you may want to target influencers who directly impact the buying decision.

2. Identify a target list of influencers to target. You can quickly build the list by using keyword-based research to find relevant resources online. There are also several tools and platforms available that offer insight in identifying online influencers. If you do use these tools, be careful not to solely base your list building and prioritization based on influence scores or social media metrics. You should always double check these lists to see if they are truly relevant. If you have the time and resources, consider launching a customer or prospect survey to learn about the influencers straight from the horses’ mouths. If you don’t have time, be sure to review the influencer’s content (blogs, tweets, etc.) to determine if he/she is truly relevant for your target audience.

3. Identify your story or pitch. Your company’s message or brand is a huge component to any marketing program. In fact, this year’s theme for Content Marketing World was the Power of Story. When creating your pitch for each influencer, make sure you do your homework. Understand his or her interests, pain points, and needs so that you can deliver relevant pitches. You’ll also want to think about incorporating your value proposition or competitive advantage into your pitch to answer the question: “Why should I care?” Lastly it always helps to have a relevant customer case study to share success stories and keep the influencer engaged.

4. Start interacting and engaging. In a way, an influencer marketing process is similar to a lead qualification process in a B2B environment. Most often it will take multiple touch points to build the relationship in order to ultimately close an opportunity (a guest blog, interview, etc.). Keep this in mind! To start the process you can share their content on social media, connect with them on social networks, and comment on their content.

5. Think about the system to manage the process. Even if you are just getting started on a small scale, it is good to have a solid foundation for your program to build upon. You don’t necessarily need to buy a new software tool to manage the process (although there are a few available); you could customize or even use Excel. The main points are to manage your contacts, track your activities, and monitor your progress against opportunities you identify as you engage with you influencers.

There you have it: a rundown on how influencer marketing can benefit your B2B company and a set of 5 components to get started. Spark any ideas for your strategy?

Amanda Maksymiw is a marketing associate at OpenView Labs, responsible for content creation and strategy for OpenView and its portfolio companies.

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