Influencer marketing was described in Forbes as the 'next hottest thing in B2B marketing' back in 2019. But in the rush to connect with influencers are some marketers overlooking their best ally: employee advocacy?
Influencer marketing has been firmly established in B2C for years but it’s fast becoming a part of the B2B marketing toolkit as buyer’s consumption habits and sources of research have begun to change:
- In 2018, 65% of B2B buyers said their consumption habits have changed to prefer credible content from industry influencers
- 90% of business decision-makers initiate their purchasing process by researching opinions from industry experts and peers
- Influencer marketing returns 11x the ROI of other promoted content
Employee advocacy, meanwhile, has been established much longer but it usually sits separately from influencer marketing, when they really should work together.
B2B influencer marketing differs from B2C marketing, which has earned itself a reputation of ‘pay to promote’. In contrast, trust and credibility are the currency of B2B relationships. Influencers can’t be bought (at least not long-term). Instead, they’re seeking opportunities to learn something new and to co-create content that adds value or experiences to their audience.
Employee advocacy can have a significant part to play in your influencer program’s success. They go hand-in-hand and can build momentum much faster than when they operate in silo. Here’s how.
Influencers Want To Connect With Your Experts, Not Marketing
Marketing may be great at creating engaging and compelling content, but the Edelman Trust Barometer 2020 shows that the most trusted source of content is that which is created and shared by your company’s subject matter experts. They have a deep-seated knowledge of what they do because they're living and breathing it daily. They've usually worked their way to that position and you can't gain their level of knowledge by reading a book.
Source: Edelman Trust Barometer
Authentic conversations can only happen when you connect external influencers to your internal experts (your employee influencers). The conversations are more natural, insightful, and valuable. Both parties learn something new and it sets a long-term beneficial relationship.
Employee Advocacy Helps You Scale Your Influencer Strategy
Marketing is almost always the sole department that leads influencer marketing strategy but you can't build a successful influencer programme alone.
Engaging with influencers involves building a relationship with them over time by sharing and commenting on their posts. Your comments should add to the conversation with unique insights; saying more than a ‘totally agree’ or ‘great post’.
Your content needs to appear on their radar too. One way to achieve this is by helping your internal experts shine as thought leaders and influencers in their own right, someone an industry or external influencer would want to collaborate with.
This takes a lot of time. It needs to be consistent and over the space of at least a few months. (One quick comment, a like and a share won’t cut it, we’re afraid!)
Employee advocacy can help you scale your efforts much more quickly. Your employee's social networks combined are typically ten times larger than those of corporate brands and their posts receive 8 more engagement, according to a study by Cisco.
This means that their content is more likely to extend into your influencer’s network. And when trained effectively, they can quickly add insightful comments in a much more timely and credible way than marketing alone.
1. The Influencer/Advocacy Loop
Activating employee advocates helps you build another influencer relationship and potentially the most powerful of all – customer influencers.
Employee advocates strongly agree to feeling connected and enthusiastic about their employer after sharing on social, according to Altimeter. That positivity will spread to their relationships with customers and, by listening to and engaging with customers online, employee advocates nurture those relationships further.
By listening to what influencers are writing and talking about, employees can produce and share content that resonates with your customers. Then, once they begin to co-create with influencers, the content becomes even more relevant and engaging for your customers.
Employee advocates are also the best-placed to share experiences of how you live and breathe your values. We know that buyers prefer to do business with people that share the same values as them (and that includes repeat customers).
This powerful mix makes for loyal and happy customers, who then become your biggest advocates, sharing your content and referring business. Customer referrals are powerful: they convert at more than 35% - over double the rate of the next best-converting source in your marketing tool, websites.
2. Your Employees Advocates Become External Influencers
An effective employee advocacy program activates your willing employees on social media, helping move them through the 9 Stages of Employee Social Maturity via targeted training.
Enthusiasts (those who share daily but with little engagement) can become Thought Leaders. By following influencers, they learn what's relevant to their audience. They then learn how to add their point of view and begin to build relationships with influencers, building to a position where they become an established thought leader.
Thought Leaders can then become Influencers. By building on the relationships they’ve formed with influencers, they can begin to co-create content. As their joint exposure and credibility builds, they then start to become influential in their own right.
Influencer marketing and employee advocacy should never sit alone. As you can see, when you integrate your campaigns, you’ll build much more momentum towards your goals – leading to better, long-term relationships with your influencers, customers and employees.
And if you can activate social media across all departments for business-wide goals, that momentum will be even stronger. Find out more about how to build a social-first business with our webinar.