B2B influencer marketing is having a moment.

Our 2023 B2B Influencer Marketing Report found that 85% of B2B marketers have influencers in the mix. That’s up from 34% in 2020 and 46% in 2022. 

And not only are more marketers trying out B2B influence, more than ever are seeing success. Our respondents rated influencer marketing the 2nd most successful tactic in their programs, second only to social media marketing.

But for all the success marketers are seeing, only about a third rated their program as “extremely effective.”

I don’t know about you, but if I hear that some folks are getting “extremely effective,” I’m not going to settle for “somewhat effective.” The relentlessly optimizing marketer within all of us will not rest at “doing okay.”

Fortunately for all of us, TopRank Marketing asked all 400 of our survey participants how they run their influencer programs.

And we separated out the top performers from the rest of the pack.

What are the “extremely effective” folks doing differently? Here are seven stats that stood out to me.

Seven Features of Highly Effective B2B Marketing Programs

You’ll see as we go through the data that some less-effective programs are also using some of these techniques. But the extremely effective folks are far more likely to be doing them — the correlation of these features with success is high.

#1: Use professional influencers

Most effective: 54%

All others: 39%

What it means: B2B influence comes in a lot of different shapes, sizes and specialties. Some marketers stick with people who have direct experience in their industry: CEOs, industry consultants, respected practitioners and the like. While these types of experts add plenty of credibility to a program, they may have a smaller reach than others.

The most successful programs are more likely to approach professional influencers. These are experts who actively cultivate and engage with a large audience. They’re keynote speakers, pundits, best-selling authors. They’re in the business of self-promotion.

Why it works: While professional influencers may not have as much technical knowledge as a practitioner or consultant, they are generally well-versed in the topics they specialize in. These folks know how to create compelling content and make sure their audience engages with it. 

Professional influencers add reach and spice to your content — it’s well worth having them in the mix.

 

#2: Compensate influencers

Most effective: 53%

All others: 43%

What it means: In the pre-pandemic world, it was possible to entice influencers to collaborate without payment (or other compensation, like free products). The recognition and the potential to reach new audiences were enough for most influencers.

During the pandemic, those who rounded out their salary by speaking at events found themselves turning to online influence. Now B2B influence has become a profession for some and a relied-upon second source of income for others.

Why it works: It’s still important to cultivate relationships with influencers. A purely transactional relationship will result in uninspired content and inauthentic vibes for your audience. That said, compensating influencers is essential to work with the most qualified folks who have the largest relevant reach.

Another advantage of formal compensation: You can draw up a contract that includes deliverables, performance expectations and measurement. This type of formal arrangement actually helps build relationships, because it ensures everyone’s on the same page and will get their needs met.

 

#3: Use technology to identify, engage and manage

Most effective: 60% 

All others: 52%

What it means: It’s possible to search for influencers without dedicated tools. You can search LinkedIn, hit up Google, or browse industry forums. But ‘possible’ and ‘most effective’ aren’t the same thing. Tools that are designed for influencer identification, engagement and management make the whole process far more simple and efficient.

Why it works: B2B influence is about more than sheer audience size. It’s about building a mix that balances knowledge, experience, relevance and reach. Sure, Influencer X might have 1.5 million followers, but when he posts about #ICP does he mean Ideal Customer Profile or Insane Clown Posse?

Influencer tools help to find the most meaningful influencers for your campaign without dozens of hours of searching.

#4: Use AI for performance tracking, identification and selection

Most effective: 60%

All others: 33%

What it means: Since there’s so much buzz around generative AI, we made sure to ask AI-specific questions for this report. AI can help increase efficiency and effectiveness throughout an influencer program. It makes sense that marketers who make the best use of new technology are more likely to be effective.

Why it works: In the identification stage, AI can help evaluate influencers’ social media accounts for relevance, analyzing posts for sentiment and topic. In the nurture stage, AI can help draft emails and social messages. For measurement, it can help analyze large data sets to find trends and attribute results.

Simply put, AI is a valuable tool for all of marketing, influencer marketing included. We expect to see the number of marketers using it to increase dramatically for next year’s report.

 

#5: Measures and tracks performance

Most effective: 55%

All others: 48%

What it means: We probably don’t have to dwell on what it means to measure and track performance, right? As with any other marketing tactic, influencer marketing programs should be designed with measurement in mind and optimized based on results. 

Why it works: This may be the biggest single opportunity for marketers to improve. Measurement is the first step to optimization. It’s the way for marketers to prove their value and secure bigger budgets. It’s the way to win over the executive suite for a more expansive influencer program that the execs themselves participate in!

It’s also easier than ever to measure influencer campaigns. Likes, shares, engagements and reach are easy. But you don’t have to stop at top of funnel measurement. If each influencer has a trackable URL for their posts, you can see who is driving the most traffic to your asset. If each influencer has a trackable landing page URL, you can measure conversions. 

Measure everything you can. And make a measurement plan before you reach out to a single influencer.

#6: Create an always-on program

Most effective: 51%

All others: 14%

What it means: Most marketers start an influencer marketing program as a series of one-off engagements. You research influencers, cultivate relationships, co-create content, publish the content… and then start all over again from scratch.

An always-on program continues nurturing, relationship-building and collaboration between big campaigns. It can also mean putting your influencers in touch with each other to create a community — a group of enthusiastic experts who can work with and advocate for the brand.

Why it works: First, running an always-on program is more efficient. While it does take some time and effort to keep the program running, it’s much less of an investment than restarting from scratch every time. 

In addition to reducing overhead, an always-on program delivers more value to your audience and gives more opportunities to add value for your influencers, too. The results tend to be more content, more engaged influencers, and happier people all around.

#7: Outsource most or the entirety of your program

Most effective: 83%

All others: 54%

What it means: Rather than become experts in influencer marketing — the tools, the tactics, the best practices, the contracts and negotiations — marketers are choosing to go with trusted experts.

I know what you’re thinking. “Wow, a B2B influencer marketing agency found that more successful programs outsource to an agency! What a twist!” And I’ll admit, this response was good news for us. But it’s also true that outsourcing is the element that the most extremely effective programs have in common. 

Why it works: Simply put, influencer marketing is getting more complicated as it gets more sophisticated. It takes an investment of time and resources and requires skill and experience. An agency can take on everything from identifying influencers to negotiating contracts to measurement and reporting. 

At TopRank Marketing we were doing influencer marketing before it was cool (Yes, we’re B2B hipsters). We may not have invented it, but we’ve been at it a long time. In addition to knowledge, experience, and access to the latest tools, we have established relationships with hundreds of B2B influencers in dozens of industries.

We would love to be the secret driver of your extremely effective influencer marketing program. Ready to get started? Contact us today.

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