If your mental image of influencer marketing is a social media ad of a famous model holding a bottle of branded sunscreen above a CTA banner that says "Buy now," you might want to rework your perceptions.
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"We may need to think a little bit outside the box of what kinds of influencers there are," says Agorapulse's Mike Allton in Episode 537 of Marketing Smarts. "Influencer marketing is essentially word-of-mouth; it's essentially the establishment of trust and authority on behalf of your brand through somebody else, and every business can benefit from that."
In the B2B business world, traditional B2C influencers such as models and celebrities aren't necessarily effective. Businesses have to be much more targeted with their audience and choose influencers accordingly.
"Nano and micro influencers are smaller influencers, they have smaller audiences, but they're hypertargeted and focused," Mike explains. "They are talking to CMOs in fintech. They're really laser-focused on a specific vertical or a tier that you're trying to reach."
One thing is certain: You can't rush the process.
Mike says, "We want to be patient up front, not only with the relationship, but be patient with how we're developing the number of influencers.... You're going to want to reach out to more than one or two...individual influencers and start to develop those relationships across a broad spectrum."
Sounds like influencer marketing may be more organic than you think.
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George B. Thomas: When you hear "influencer marketing," what do you think of? Is what you think of actually what it is today, has it changed in the last three years, three months, or three days? We're going to get to the bottom of that in this episode of the Marketing Smarts Podcast. Today, B2B marketers, influencer marketing, the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Of course, you know I'm not alone. I always like to talk to other experts, and we have Mike Allton on today's episode. We're going to talk about what keeps him up at night, we're going to talk about hurdles that come along the way, types of companies that are best suited for influencer marketing, and so much more. Of course, we'll hit those words of wisdom from Mike Allton as well.
Should you care about influencer marketing? Let's get into the good stuff. I'm super curious if it's the good, the bad, or the ugly that pulled you in, or the fact that we're going to be talking about influencer marketing, or the lack of it being around or you needing it or wanting it. We'll see where this conversation goes. I'm super excited because I'm here with an expert, a man who I think very highly of, Mike Allton.
Mike, how are you doing today?
Mike Allton: Fantastic. Although, I have to say, if my headshot is anywhere near the title or this thing or the link, then obviously it's the ugly that pulled them in.
George: That's not true. That would be the pretty, but that's not even part of the title. Let's kick it in gear. We're going to go into overdrive quite quickly. One of the questions that I like to ask to get the episode started, because you see a lot, you're traveling, you're dealing with a lot of companies, Agorapulse just has a very big footprint of being able to see visually across many companies. When it comes to this conversation that we're having today about influencer marketing, what the heck keeps you up at night?
Mike: I think the number one thing that I get bothered by personally, and that I see other businesses making the same mistake with their influencers, because I actually am an influencer in some circles, so I get that treatment from other businesses, is that approach that can be very transactional. In other words, a business will reach out to me or I'll see them reaching out to other influencers, and they say, "We want to do a campaign. We've never talked to you in our lives, but we'd like to pay you to do something so that we can get in front of your audience." It's very transactional, there's no relationship there. It's just money changing hands, and I kind of feel dirty and used.
George: We're immediately going to go off the beaten path, because we don't want anybody to feel dirty or used on this episode of the podcast. If it shouldn't be transactional, if a B2B company is listening to this right now and they want to get an influencer in place to do some sort of campaign, how should they be thinking of this? Are there steps they could be taking, what are some tips or tricks that you would want to share with them?
Mike: The one thing I'll start off by saying is that it has to be a relationship. There is no truly effective 100% all the time this works shortcut to building relationships. It's just like if you're dating, it's just like if you are courting a new job, you're building a relationship there between the brand and the influencer. Typically, an individual within the brand, a human, Acme Corp doesn't reach out to me, somebody who works for Acme reaches out to me, and they start to develop that relationship. That's what is going to allow something magical and fun to happen down the road.
This is why it's so challenging for businesses, and I get it. If we're launching a brand new feature next month and we want to line up influencers, and we haven't already done the due diligence of building relationships with influencers in the industry, then we're going to feel compelled to just start to shotgun out and do cold emails and cold LinkedIn connections that say, "We'd like to have you on a webinar," or, "We'd like to do this with you because you're an influencer and we want to work with you."
I want to avoid that if I can. Not only does an influencer's relationship make it easier to work with them, it makes it easier for them to work with you, it also has this magical element where because there is a relationship there, that means they know you and you know them.
Therefore, when I work with you, like if we were going to do something next month for Agorapulse, and we were having a conversation about it, whatever that thing is that you and I decide we're going to do together, when it comes time for you to execute and actually talk to your target audience, there's authenticity there. You've already mentioned Agorapulse. I didn't ask you to say Agorapulse and say make sure you tell them we have a huge footprint. That came across authentically because it was. That's just something that you knew because you know me and you know Agorapulse, we already have that relationship.
George: It's interesting. I love doing this podcast. I learn so much as we're going along. What I hear you saying is if you're thinking about influencer marketing in hindsight, it's too late. If you want something cool and fun, something that is actually going to work on the internet and not wasting your campaign dollars, you probably thought three months, six months, a year ago, to start to build a relationship with a human being who you thought would be a good name, face, voice for something in the future with the brand. Is that what you're saying there?
Mike: That's 100% right. There are steps, and we can go through all of these if you'd like. The key to think about is that this is a long-term play.
I'll be transparent about one of the challenges that I've had previously with Agorapulse. My previous manager was the CMO when I was hired, and he eventually transformed and became the CRO, chief revenue officer, because that's really where his focus was, in sales. He was literally working with the sales team. That was a challenge because his core metrics were things like weekly traffic, weekly leads, weekly MQLs that were generated, and that sort of thing, which is great for a transactional process like sales, and content optimization and SEO, and so on.
I am trying to literally think 12 to 18 months down the road. I am literally networking and building relationships today with people that I don't know where those relationships are going to go. They may not pan out to do anything, but at some point down the road, some of those relationships are going to come up and be extremely valuable to me. Maybe it's a webinar and I'm looking for somebody who is an expert on AI because all of a sudden now we want to do a webinar on AI. Oh wow, I know Paul Roetzer from the Marketing AI Institute.
I'm not reaching out to him cold. I'm not saying, "Paul, you don't know me, but I'd like you to be a guest on my webinar." No. I met Paul face-to-face last year in Cleveland and we've been connected for even longer than that, so that relationship was there, and it made it much easier and much more successful for me to reach out to him.
I'll take that example a step further. Paul couldn't do it because he was busy at the time that I needed him to do a webinar. Instead of just saying no thanks or ignoring the request, he said, "I can't do it, but let me give you my cofounder," and he slotted somebody else in to do it for him because he wanted to be helpful for that relationship to be there to begin with.
George: So good. That's honestly the first name I thought of when you started to go down that story. I was like it just makes sense, you're kind of setting your ducks up getting them in a row before you even need to use them. By the time this comes out, there will probably be an episode on marketing AI with Paul Roetzer, so listeners, make sure you go and search that in the Marketing Smarts vault of podcast episodes.
Getting back on the beaten path, you know what an influencer is, I know what an influencer is, at least we think we know what they are. Most mere more mortal human beings, B2B marketers, might question it. "I hear a lot about influencer, and micro influencer, and mega influencer," etcetera. I also know that marketing is super fast. At first, I was going to ask in the last three or four years, has this changed? But to be honest with you, the way I need to ask it is in the last three or four days.
I'll say in the last three or four months, has the conversation changed? When you say right now today in 2023, what is influencer marketing, what would be your answer to that so that we get everybody on the same playing field as we move forward?
Mike: The cool thing is the core of influencer marketing is still the same. It's still about connecting with an individual and working with them to reach their audience because they have some influence. That's the definition. They have an existing audience where they have influence.
What has changed over the years, particularly for B2B, is that the understanding and the perception has changed in the kind of influencer we should be working with. Traditionally, you would go and look for the biggest possible name that you could afford. Not necessarily the biggest name there is, but the biggest name you could afford. Everybody, whether you're in business or not, is familiar with the biggest B2C influencers, the people who are able to go out in TV commercials, they go on Instagram and that kind of thing, and they can say, "I'm using this teapot right here and you should too." Okay.
But in the business world, we have found, particularly recently, that working with nano and micro influencers works so much better. I'll define those. Nano and micro influencers are smaller influencers, they have smaller audiences, but they're hyper targeted and focused. They are talking to CMOs in fintech. They're really laser focused on a specific vertical or a tier that you're trying to reach. You know that if you spend some time with that influencer and they get you in front of that target audience, it's going to be a rich prospective audience for you.
George: I love that so much. One of the daily battles that I try to get people to stop doing, and this is across all things, but usually you'll hear it with email, spray and pray. Some people are just doing that with social, with SMS, with everything, they're just spraying and hoping that something lands. I love this idea of nano and micro because it's more of a scalpel and less of a sledgehammer. More when you get into that delicate work that you can do as a marketer is where you find those magical moments.
Also, in that last section, I have to tell you, to be honest, it was really hard for me not to start singing "I'm a Little Teapot" when you showed the teapot. I'm not going to do it, but I might have been humming it in the back of my head when you did that. So, there's that.
Here's the thing. When we start to think about I'm looking for somebody who can talk to fintech at this level that has this many people, because I know my math well enough that I only need this many conversions to get this many sales, and that makes it a positive ROI. By the way, if you're not doing that kind of math in your business, then there's probably other podcast episodes that you should listen to.
You want a positive ROI out of this. That leads me to this. There are probably times, and not times, when a B2B business would want to use an influencer or how they would want to use an influencer. When you think about the how, how should B2B businesses, maybe all businesses, be thinking about leveraging that influencer in the business, in the messaging, in whatever it is that they're trying to do?
Mike: I'll answer that, but there's one thing that I want to call out. I love that you took my example of targeting fintech, but then you also threw in the fact that the business would know that's their target audience, and they would know that the influencer is reaching that target audience. That's the thing that has actually changed very recently. More businesses are becoming savvy, they're understanding who their target audiences should be. That's why that spray and pray approach isn't effective.
I could pay a Kardashian if I had the budget to tweet a thing about Agorapulse. But am I reaching my target audience if they do that? Absolutely not. Will I get sign ups? Sure. Will they stay? No. That's not my target audience. If I invest a little more time up front and use the tools that are available to figure out who my target audience is, and more recently the tools to vet the influencers and understand who their target audiences are, who their existing audiences are, then I can create that match.
Then we get back to your question. What do I do? I know who my target audience is. I know that George is talking to them. How do I work with George? There's two parts to that. The first part is start with the relationship. I think we talked about that before, but I want to really emphasize that. One of the fun things that can happen when you've got a relationship with an influencer is that they will naturally organically talk about your brand even when they aren't paid to. I've got a cadre of brand ambassadors for Agorapulse. When there are social media managers going into the Facebook groups, the Slacks, the Discords, and all of these other communities that are out there for them, and they ask their peers and colleagues, "What social media management solution should I use? Because Hootsuite just raised their prices, and I'm ditching them." My ambassadors, my influencers, my friends and colleagues just pile on, "You have to use Agorapulse. Here's why." I didn't pay them to do that. There's a relationship. So, there's that.
Now, when the time comes for an actual campaign, I do recommend that you have campaigns that you organize, what I typically want to do is have an understanding of what is it that my influencer or influencers that I want to work with do really well. Then we figure out a campaign that leverages that. Maybe they're a blogger, like me, and they're really good at writing. Let's figure out some content for Mike to publish to his site.
Maybe they excel at Instagram like Jenn Herman, and that's the audience we want to reach, we want to reach Jenn's audience on Instagram. Let's build an Instagram campaign that leverages Jenn and that platform. We're going to create some Story content, some Reels, maybe have her do a takeover of our brand channel and cross-promote that way. We're going to come up with a topic.
Here's the last really key part. We have to come up with a topic that is of real interest to the influencer and their target audience. If this is just an announcement that we have a new feature, that's kind of boring. That's not going to get people excited. That's not going to get people talking and engaged. That's not what social media is about. By the way, most of these campaigns, I am kind of revolving around social media, but there's other kinds of campaigns that you could do. Particularly for social media, what we want to find is a topic.
You mentioned ROI. That's a big buzzword for us at Agorapulse because we love ROI, we love being able to measure ROI, and we know that most of the people we're talking to aren't. They would like to measure ROI, but they don't today because they don't know how. What if we had a whole campaign with Jenn Herman all next month on Instagram about how to measure the ROI of your Instagram activity so you know what's working and what isn't, and you can justify your work to your boss or to your clients? That's how we approach it.
George: I love this so much. I'm jotting down notes as quick as I can because I want to unpack this a little bit.
If we think about where we've come from, it's find your influencer and build a relationship with them. During the time that you're building a relationship with them, you figure out what is their zone of genius. Once you figure out their zone of genius, now you figure out their hot topics, what they really like to talk about that your audience cares about. You merge that topic together, wrap it in a campaign, make it measurable, create the campaign content, and launch to the world. Ladies and gentlemen, jot that down, that is basically the blueprint to the good part of influencer marketing.
Here's the thing. People will hear that and hear what we've talked about so far, and they'll still be like, "Not for me." But that might be true. I'm curious, because I know what I think, but I never want to make assumptions. You know what happens when you assume. That's a good Dad joke right there. I don't want to assume. Do you think that influencer marketing is only for specific types of companies, only for certain B2B companies, or do you think it can be used across the board? Where do you land on that conversation?
Mike: Influencer marketing is 100% for every single business on the planet. It doesn't matter what you are. We may need to think a little bit outside the box of what kinds of influencers there are and who it is you're going to attempt, but here's the thing. Influencer marketing is essentially word-of-mouth, it's essentially the establishment of trust and authority on behalf of your brand through somebody else, and every business can benefit from that.
You might be a small local mom-and-pop shop. Okay. That's great. Let's find a local influencer that you can work with. Maybe it's the president of the local chamber of commerce. Maybe it's another organization. Maybe it's another business that you can partner with and treat each other like influencers because you both have existing audiences.
It doesn't have to be huge Twitter profiles, or Instagram profiles, or TikTok profiles with millions of followers. Yes, that's influence, but that's not the only kind of influence. Influence is when we are talking to another audience. Maybe it's actual in person face-to-face talking. We're able to tell them, "I understand you. I know the kinds of problems you're having, and it just so happens that I know George over here has some really good solutions for you. Let's talk to George."
George: I love that so much. I'm glad that's where you land on the conversation around this, because I do as well.
You listed out if you're a mom-and-pop shop. Think about it. Let's just say you're a mom-and-pop restaurant. Who do I want to befriend? I want to befriend the Uber drivers, the Lyft drivers, the taxi drivers. Why would I want to do that? Because when I fly into your town and I say, "I need a really great Greek place, the best local Greek food I can get," that taxi driver, that Uber driver, that Lyft driver is the influencer that you need and I need in that moment.
I love that it can get that tiny versus sometimes when you think about or clicked on this title of influencer marketing like, "I need Lebron James or Khloe Kardashian to like perfume." No, that's not what we're talking about here. So, I love this conversation.
People are going to be like, "So, it's for me, it can be for the small guy, medium guy, large guy. That's cool. I'm down. Let me go ahead and get started." Inevitably, they're going to run into potholes, or I lovingly call them marketing hurdles. What are some of the hurdles you've seen B2B marketers, or marketers in general, face when they're going down this influencer marketing road that you would say watch out for this, that, or the other thing so that you don't crash your car or stumble or fall, what would you say?
Mike: Let's make sure your tires are inflated and everything is running kosher so that you don't hit any of those things. I totally botched that metaphor. You can just edit all that out. That was terrible.
What we're going to want to do is, first of all, be patient. Brands who rush into influencer marketing start to make a series of potential mistakes. The first thing they'll often do is they might listen to me and say, "Mike told me to develop relationships, so I'm going to do that. I'll find a couple of influencers, I'll start following them and start courting them, and build that relationship with them." Okay. The thing is you don't know how long those are going to take. Like any blind date, you don't know where it's going to go.
Somebody that you reached out to today might be the most amazing brand ambassador for you tomorrow, but you don't know who at first. So, we want to be patient up front, not only with the relationship, but be patient with how we're developing the number of influencers. In other words, you're going to want to reach out to more than one or two different individual influencers and start to develop those relationships across a broad spectrum.
That leads to the second mistake. Brands who are in too big of a hurry don't take the time to vet their influencers. This is one of those things that is getting easier as we go because technology is starting to catch up to our needs as businesses. If I'm looking at somebody on Twitter, and I want to really suss out what the tone and temper of their tweets have been, have they said something on Twitter that would have been really offensive to my target audience?
Here's a good rule of thumb. If you're looking at an influencer and they're talking to their target audience, if you substitute your brand logo and name in for their headshot and name, would you still be comfortable with what it is they're saying, would your audience be okay with it? I don't mean left or right. That doesn't matter. The point is does it align with your brand values?
You have to know what your brand values are first. Then you have to start to apply them to the influencers you're vetting, and that can take some time, particularly if it's someone like a Twitter influencer where they've been tweeting 20 times a day for their entire life and they have a mountain of content. That takes some time and it takes some personal touch. I can't farm that out to a VA and expect any kind of real understanding of what it is I'm looking for.
As a representative of the brand, I'm the one who has to sit down and pay attention to what each influencer is talking about online, how they're working with their audience. Are they ignoring the comments on their posts or are they engaging with their target audience and having a fun and fruitful conversation? That's what I call brand fit, and that's an important consideration that if they're in a rush, they're going to skip right past that and go straight into, "Hey, I kind of liked what you were talking about. It looks like you have a decent size audience. Can I pay you to tweet?" We don't want to do that.
George: I love that section so much. When you say you have to know your own brand, your own brand messaging, tone, voice, beliefs, core values, to be able to actually judge if somebody is a right fit based on if that face was your logo, would you be cringing right now, I'm just so about that.
I think, too, it's one of those areas where I would say giving it that due diligence. The saying came flooding into my mind; If you do what is easy in life, life will be hard. If you do what's hard, life will be easy. I think this is one of the times where you do the hard thing. You go through that mountain of tweets, and you figure out, "Oh, didn't see those skeletons. Moving on to the next person."
We talked about some of the hurdles that might get in the way. By the way, it can be what it looks like, and if you have an example of a shining star, you could possibly share that. The opposite of the pothole or the hurdle in the way is we've reached the gold medal of influencer marketing, we're on the first podium. What does influencer marketing success look like in your mind?
Mike: This is a great question because there's a lot that goes into influencer marketing and partnerships. Certainly, at the end of the end, we want to see some kind of measurable business result. We want to see leads, sales, registrations, whatever it is that you're hoping to accomplish with that influencer, we want to see that, which means we have to have identified it from the beginning.
We don't want to start a campaign and not know what our goals and metrics are. That means we actually have to have an ability to measure that in place. The last thing you want is to kick off a campaign and then realize we're not using any tracking links, we're not using any UTM parameters, we don't have anything in place to measure the success of this campaign. After that's done, your boss is going to come to you and ask you where the $10,000 went, and you're going to struggle to show them, so you want to have those metrics in place.
Here's the fun thing. With influencer marketing, and I tell people this all the time, that end goal of success, that metric is just the tip of the iceberg. It's hopefully a sizable tip. What we want to do is come up with a campaign where that tip of the iceberg is sufficiently enough to justify the campaign. In other words, the ROI is there.
What you can't measure are things like brand awareness. If you're talking about my brand in a podcast, how many people are listening to the podcast and learned a little bit more about Agorapulse, learned a little bit more about Mike Allton? I can't measure that, I don't know. We could look at the downloads and that sort of thing, but if you're looking at multiple channels, multiple influencers, that gets a little cumbersome.
Typically, we kind of just ignore that, but we want to see it because that leads to multiple touches, and that makes my sales team's job easier. I'm creating noise, I'm creating buzz out here in the Metaverse and out here in the World Wide Web. When somebody does need a solution that has been talked about on one of those other channels and they reach out to my team, there's that knowledge there, there's that comfort level with the brand.
Of course, there's those other intangibles I mentioned, like when you have a relationship with an influencer and people come up to them in a community, they come up to them on stage. One of my favorite things is that I go out of my way to develop relationships with speakers at events in the marketing industry because they're going to mention organically Agorapulse in their presentations. People are going to come up to them.
They'll be giving a talk about social media strategy, and they won't be mentioning any tools, but invariably somebody at the end of their talk will raise their hand and say, "What tools do you use to do everything that you just talked about," and I'm hoping that they say Agorapulse in front of a room of 300 people. That's impactful. I can't measure that, but I know it's helpful.
George: I quit trying to measure some of that stuff years ago. Some of the things we'll come back to years past. I've had things where two or three years have gone past since an event, and then somebody will show up and be like, "I actually saw you at Inbound 2015." Wow, okay. It's just super crazy how it all kind of works.
As we send the Marketing Smarts listeners back to their regularly scheduled day, one of the things that I like to end the podcast episode with is some words of wisdom. You've been on a journey, you've helped people on their journey. Pertaining to this conversation of influencer marketing, or even outside of this conversation, what are some words of wisdom that you would want to leave the Marketing Smarts audience? Before they part and go do the dishes, burp the baby, or go take a nap, whatever it is that they're going to go do, what words of wisdom do you want lingering in their brain?
Mike: Treat your influencers the way that you would want to be treated. I think it comes easier for me because I've been an influencer. I spent years being an influencer in this space before I was hired by Agorapulse to run our influencer program, so I have a pretty good understanding of the people that I'm working with, what they need, how they prefer to be treated. I go out of my way to take care of them, knowing that in all likelihood, at some point in the future, they're going to take care of me.
Now, like any relationship, that may not happen. It may not happen the way I wanted. They may not happen when I wanted. That's okay. I leave that up to God. As long as I am treating them the way that I would want to be treated, then I think it's all going to work out fine.
George: Marketing Smarts listeners, did you take lots of notes? I have to ask, what is your one thing, your number one execution opportunity after this podcast episode? Make sure you reach out and let us know in my inbox or on Twitter using the hashtag #MPB2B.
I also have to ask are you a free member of the MarketingProfs community yet? If not, head over to Mprofs.com/mptoday. You won't regret the additional B2B marketing education that you'll be adding to your life.
We'd like it if you could leave us a rating or review on your favorite podcast app, but we'd love it if you would share this episode with a coworker or friend. Until we meet in the next episode of the Marketing Smarts Podcast where we talk with Dorien Morin van Dam about how B2B marketers can use an organic social media strategy for success, I hope you do just a couple of things. One, reach out and let us know what conversation you'd like to listen in on next. Two, focus on getting 1% better at your craft each and every day. Finally, remember to be a happy, helpful, humble B2B marketing human. We'll see you in the next episode of the Marketing Smarts Podcast.
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Published on March 9, 2023
Mike Allton, a virtual event strategist at The Social Media Hat and head of strategic partnerships at Agorapulse. He hosts The Virtual Event Strategist Podcast, and he is the co-author of The Ultimate Guide to Social Media Marketing with Jenn Herman, Stephanie Liu, Amanda Robinson, and Eric Butow.
LinkedIn: Mike Allton
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