Influencer marketing and online communities - from B2C to B2B

Reflections on influencer marketing and its potential in B2B online communities, following an Oystercatchers Club event last week.
Influencer marketing and online communities - from B2C to B2B

Last week I had the pleasure of attending an event hosted by our clients, Oystercatchers Club: The role of the influencer.

It was a dynamic discussion on influencer marketing, mostly focused on B2C - which arguably is further forward in the influencer marketing game than B2B.

The panel were:

Richard Morris, UK CEO and EMEA President, Initiative Media

Arjoon Bose, Head Of Marketing (Europe), New Ventures/Natural&Organic at General Mills

Natalie Glaze,  Entrepreneur, Founder of Stay Wild Swim, content creator and social media influencer

Steve Parish, Chairman, Crystal Palace Football Club

With Oystercatchers Club CEO Suki Thompson honing in on all the key points in her role as Chair.

According to Oystercatchers Club’s sister company, Influencer Intelligence, 61% of consumers aged 18-34 have been swayed by a digital influencer. Sixty-one percent of consumers say micro-influencers produce the most relatable content, while 79% prefer influencer content to celebrity endorsements.

As you can imagine, the discussion was a fascinating one for someone (me) who spends much of their daily life in the B2B world.

The panellists discussed the fact that in B2C marketing, influencers are now a huge focus for marketing agency development. Arjoon commented that one third of their focus is now on influencer marketing.

The idea of the influencer isn’t new, of course. Steve Parish reminded us that sports stars are some of the original influencers. Product placements and endorsements were a big thing in the sports arena way before the advent of Instagram.

What struck me was that fans can also be massive influencers according to Steve Parish. Players come and go, but a fan with 1m followers may have more impact on the love (or hate) for the brand/club than the actual players.

Today influencers can be self-created. It just takes a voice, a camera and a niche. But with that come challenges around trust and integrity. Endorsing a bad product because you’ve been paid for it could lead to you losing your following overnight. Squads are fickle.

The discussion also touched on the dark side of influencer marketing. Just look at the Fyre Festival - a classic misuse of influence. Or how James Charles has lost millions of subscribers overnight by very publicly feuding with his mentors.

There are countless examples of this. Some are borderline ridiculous and others are just scary.

Influencers, B2B and online communities

And so how does this apply to B2B and my area - expert communities?

This is the first time (that I can think of in a while) where trusted B2B brands actually have the advantage over B2C.

Most of our clients already have trusted experts working within or alongside their companies. Those trusted experts are, to my mind, the B2B influencers. And they have expertise that’s not created on a whim. It is earned. It is developed.

That’s the whole reason we founded Zapnito. To give organisations the ability to create communities and networks where they can put the experts behind their brands front and centre.

Experts can build their own following and by being affiliated with a brand, the brand leverages that following. But in return the expert gains exposure to the brand’s wider community, enabling them to build their own personal networks too.

What’s the difference between this and social media? On social the trust element is missing. It’s hard to know if people are who they say they are.

Suki Thompson observed during the event that, "The challenge for all of us is which influencers to trust? Just like the moon, we can only see one side of them. Too often we are taken in by the  ‘fake news’ view of their lives.”

I believe this applies just the same in the B2B world.

The endorsement and management of a brand community brings back that trust and confidence in the expertise of the people you’re engaging with.

We’ve found that real engagement comes from building a community around your influencers or in our vernacular your contributors. They are part of your squad and bring their squad. They can be speakers, consultants, thought leaders, authors, researchers. They are your biggest asset. Use them wisely.