In July 2017, Kylie Jenner posted an image of herself wearing Beats by Dre headphones on Instagram. The shot shows Jenner’s profile, brushed bronze with makeup. It’s perfectly lit against a lush brown backdrop. Over her ears rest a pair of metallic Beats, with the logo right in the center of the photo. To date, more than 2.1 million have liked the post.
If the prototypical example of influencer marketing exists, this is it. By now, most consumers are well acquainted with influencer marketing. Celebrities write #ad to disclose a paid post, and YouTube vloggers receive a portion of the sales from products linked to their videos. The benefits of influencer marketing are huge, with businesses making an average of $6.50 for every $1 spent on ads, and top influencers making more than $150,000 per Instagram post and $300,000 for a YouTube video, according to Forbes.
With rates like that, it’s no wonder the practice has taken off. Based off this one influencer ad, Jenner probably earned enough money to buy herself a new pair of Beats every day for the next three years.
Influencer marketing took off as a response to a simple conclusion: Consumers trust people over brands when it comes to product advice and recommendations. If a consumer sees glimpses of a celebrity’s everyday life on social media and that celeb recommends a certain headphone or tummy-flattening tea, then the consumer may want to purchase the same products. Especially if flawless skin or great abs are involved.
While all of that may be true, the conversation about influencer marketing tends to fixate on the B2C world. What consumers often overlook is that influencer marketing plays a big role in B2B as well. It’s more likely to look like a guest blog post than a sponsored Instagram photo, but some B2B influencers wield plenty of power in their industries. I spoke with a few experts about the pros and cons of using B2B influencers, and how the practice could evolve in the future.
Expertise First, Influence Second
Melanie Deziel is a branded content consultant, speaker and one of the world’s leading experts on native advertising. (And occasional contributor to this site.) Despite her resume, she doesn’t think of herself as an influencer—at least not in the traditional sense.
“While B2C influencers often list it as a job title … B2B influencers are often professionals and niche experts actively working in a given industry,” Deziel said. “Their influence is a byproduct of their expertise. Given my work in the content marketing industry, I’ve definitely been asked to make recommendations to clients, companies, and individuals about products, vendors, and services to help [them] achieve their goals”
Deziel usually recommends products and services that she loves without getting paid, which is a crucial part of establishing credibility. If people don’t trust your judgment, then why would a company pay you to offer advice? For that reason, Deziel built her own exclusive newsletter, The Overlap League, which analyzes the relationship between advertising and editorial content.
Deziel is never going to have 105 million followers on Instagram, but like Jenner, she is using her platform to build an audience that trusts her.
Their influence is a byproduct of their expertise.
As influencer marketing has surged in popularity, it’s harder for people to earn that trust. “I think people are more skeptical of ‘influencers’ these days than they used to be. Most are snake oil salesmen or are willing to sell out their list and their influence to the highest bidder regardless of the quality of their product,” said Sujan Patel, co-founder of WebProfits US, a growth marketing agency.
Over the years, Patel has contributed to publications like Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, and Entrepreneur, emerging as an expert who can help you grow a business. Along with writing high-performing guest blog posts, he’s contributed webinars and email courses to marketing businesses. He’s someone who does consider himself an influencer, and views influencer marketing as a necessity in content marketing. He focused on building his personal brand from the beginning of his marketing career, “with the goal of becoming a thought leader and influencer in the B2B SaaS, content, and SEO space.”
“What I’ve seen is the power of influencers building their audience and then being very careful and very transparent with them when they are in a position to make money off of what they’re sharing,” he added.
Right now, the biggest threat to influencer marketing is audience distrust. According to FTC guidelines, influencers need to disclose endorsements, but some influencers still shirk from announcing their sponsorships, fearing that followers won’t respond well to a #ad. Regardless of whether you’re reading a blog post or liking an Instagram post, It’s worth asking what influencers get out of an endorsement. It’s also worth thinking about their history and area of expertise. Should a payment change the way we think about their advice? The biggest way to combat skepticism, as Patel said, is radical honesty.
No wonder many B2B influencers might be wary of the title, especially if most of their insights don’t come with any special favor or compensation.
Deziel agreed. “Influencers have to be careful only to promote things they are qualified to promote,” she said. “The best influencer relationships come from an organic alignment between the influencer’s audience, the brand’s ideal audience, and a true appreciation or preference for the goods and services being promoted. Audiences know when it’s not a good fit or feels forced.”
Some companies are starting to take the steps to ensure influencer marketing is more transparent. John Hall, CEO and co-founder of Influence & Co., helps experts become influencers by creating content for other businesses.
“Our approach is all about how we naturally get content coming from our contributors into places that need the education in a way that’s not gimmicky,” Hall said. “How can I inject my expertise in their content naturally?”
So how do influencers avoid being seen as gimmicky and prove that their advice is good? “The influencers have to create something of value,” he said. “You think about your audience and think, ‘What is the most valuable content I can give them?’ That’s how you gain trust.”
His advice to marketers is not to stray away from influencers, but to embrace the ones doing it right. Patel, meanwhile, expects to see more influencers with audiences that are smaller yet more engaged. Deziel even pointed to possible incentive programs that brands could set up to allow their biggest fans and followers to become powerful advocates.
Hall also recognized the negative connotations behind the “influencer” title, pointing to the epidemic of shady disclosure practices across media channels. “When you’re heavily advocating and don’t let your audience know you’re getting paid, you lose trust. ‘Influencer’ shouldn’t be a dirty word. Building your influence is one of the best ways to reach people. You just have a responsibility to do it right.”