Despite the growing popularity of influencer marketing, many B2B communication specialists are still unsure of how to build and utilize meaningful relationships with high-visibility thought leaders.
But, these modern PR engagements can take many forms — presenting endless opportunities for partnerships, co-created content, and mutually beneficial, audience-aligned exposure.
Just one question remains: how do you open up these communication channels in an authentic way?
Identifying influencers, (especially those who operate in niche spaces) can be difficult. But, according to one Forbes Communications Council member: understanding your persona is key. "...You have to first understand very thoroughly who your target market will be — and which channels offer the best possibility of finding them."
It’s helpful to first pinpoint relevant industry organizations that connect with your brand and its audience. Start by researching the digital platforms, networks, media companies, and associations that your target personas are paying attention to. Then, look for leaders within these groups. From there, it becomes easier to find prominent, trustworthy individuals that align with your clients' brand and messaging.
Check out the speaker roster for upcoming conferences and events, and research presenters with solid topic-alignment.
Feel free to ask your existing customers who they trust, follow, or listen to when it comes to making buying decisions or learning more about a particular product/service. And, of course, pay attention to those online discussions through social listening tools. Following a highly trafficked hashtag can lead you directly to the accounts of influencers.
These provide a solid framework for understanding who influences your customers’ preferences. However, identifying these people is only the first step... now you need to build a rapport and cultivate that relationship.
Building the Relationship
The (more obvious) first steps in reaching out to and building a rapport with influencers may include:
- Following them on their social channels & engaging with their digital presence.
- Sharing their work, and citing them heavily, through your own outlets. (Don't forget to provide backlinks!)
- Reaching out through direct message or email to ask questions or learn more about their work, a piece of content they’ve written, or (if they're receptive) their level of interest in a partnership.After you’ve established a relatively superficial online connection, it becomes appropriate to engage more directly, usually through a phone call.
Mutually Beneficial = Major KEY
The key to developing any effective influencer partnership is to present a mutually beneficial opportunity for both parties involved. This turns your pitch into a ‘no-brainer’ for the individual or organization you’re looking to work with. Also, by presenting them with an opportunity that benefits them, you’re increasing the possibility of an ongoing relationship.
Inc. points out that it is more valuable to “create long-term, not short-term, relationships with influencers that can build and grow over time.” There are several types of partnerships that can easily and effectively convey the benefit of working together.
- Content swapping partnerships: This is a specific type of partnership that involves two brands, organizations, websites, or influencers sharing content to syndicate on their own outlets. This provides an opportunity for both participants to gain exposure with a new, relevant audience, build their backlink profile and Domain Authority, and disseminate new content with little effort.
- Co-branded content offers: This type of mutually beneficial opportunity could take different forms. For example, your brand could partner with a relevant professional association to create and distribute a co-branded Guide or eBook. Both parties would gain exposure, establish thought leadership, create more content, and actively generate leads through forms. Psstt.. check out this one we made with Wistia!
- Guest authored content: A large portion of online publications, blogs, and associations offer the option for paid or free content contribution from outside sources. Although editorial guidelines will vary between outlets, this usually entails creating an original piece of content unique to that publication. Again, your brand will increase visibility online, build up thought leadership content, create more backlinks, and provide fresh content for the outlet you’re writing for.
- Co-hosted webinars/events: Partnering with an influencer to co-host or be a guest on your brand’s webinar, podcast, or in-person event is a great way to attract attention, increase attendance, and utilize an established audience. This also provides the influencer exposure, thought leadership, and shareable content.
- Expert Roundups: Featuring an influencer or publication in a ‘Top 10’ style blog post is an effective way to incentivize them into sharing the content and opens up the possibility of a relationship. You’re providing the influencer with free earned media while starting the conversation between both organizations.
These are just some content-driven examples of the opportunities that B2B influencer relationships present and how to reach out to these individuals and organizations with mutually beneficial offers.
Although influencers often aren’t as easy to identify in the B2B space, it’s possible to find and develop relationships with them if you think about your target audience and their digital preferences, listen to existing customers (and social chatter), reach out with genuine and authentic communication, and strategize mutually beneficial partnership opportunities together.
Looking for more modern PR content? We've got your back. Check out our Influencer Marketing eBook for a deep dive into communicating value and working with the 'bottom-up' media model.