In 2021, we’ll see the rise of holistic metrics over social media metrics, when gauging B2B influencer expertise and measuring ROI, as well as increased use of specialist communities for sourcing and sharing influencer content.
Thinkers360 recently announced the release of our 2021 B2B Influencer Marketing Outlook Study As a follow-on from our 2021 B2B Thought Leadership Outlook Study, the purpose of the research was to better understand current and future trends with regard to B2B influencer marketing, from both content producer and consumer perspectives, and plans for 2021. Of course, influencers are often thought leaders and vice versa, so there’s an interesting overlapping relationship between the two, and we saw many similarities as well as differences between the two studies.
The latest findings from our research show that brands and influencers that getting far more sophisticated when it comes to how they work with one another and social media metrics, once influencer marketers’ favorite yardstick, are becoming put aside in favor of more authentic metrics for measuring both expertise and campaign results.
It’s said that, “you can’t manage what you don’t measure”, so if you’re just measuring social media metrics, you’re missing the larger and more strategic opportunity for your brand and may be creating internal marketing silos.
Since our founding, we’ve held the belief that B2B influencer marketing is far more than transactional and requires a completely different approach than B2C influencer marketing for brands to be successful. For this reason, we sought out to disrupt the traditional influencer marketing approaches which looked purely at social media (which can be gamed with the purchase of fake followers and spamming) with our patent-pending holistic measure of thought leadership and authentic influence looking far beyond social media alone.
With insights from our research, here’s 6 B2B influencer marketing trends which we expect to grow in 2021:
Trend 1 – Influence and thought leadership are both growing as strategic inroads for marketers
What are the key attributes of world-class influencer content and thought leadership content from the perspective of audiences? Content consumers cited “relevant” (93%), “engaging” (92%) and “impactful” (92%) as extremely important or very important attributes of influencer content. In contrast, “insightful” (96%) and “forward looking” (91%) were the top attributes of world-class thought leadership content. We also found that authors, entrepreneurs and speakers, in addition to social media influencers, were among the primary sources of influencer content among these audiences.
Traditional notions of thought leadership such as “peer-reviewed” (42%), “provocative” (46%), “adopted” (37%), “collaborative” (36%) and “counter-intuitive” (36%) were cited by the majority as only moderately important in their influencer content.
Compared to thought leadership content, the primary requirements for influencer content are that it’s “relevant” and “engaging”. While “insight” is also important in influencer content, there’s less emphasis on it being “forward-looking” when compared to thought leadership.
In 2021, we expect B2B marketers to pursue both influence and thought leadership approaches at key stages of their marketing funnels to help prospects inform their strategy, aid decision-making, and ultimately make purchase decisions. The key will be to use each at the most appropriate times in the marketing funnel and recognize the subtle differences between both.
Trend 2 – B2B Influencers prefer to work more strategically with fewer brands, but larger engagements
Our survey found that 70% of B2B influencers, including nano, micro and macro-influencers, are working with 10 brands or less per year and their engagements often last over 6 months (32%) and over $20K (21%).
We found that, when influencers work with brands, the typical duration of an engagement varies considerably from under 1 month to over 6 months per engagement. While engagement duration was evenly distributed, the two most common engagement durations were 1-2 months (22%) and over 6 months (32%). It’s clear that B2B influencer marketing engagements are more than transactional, as in the B2C case, and often last in excess of 6 months per engagement.
The typical size of an engagement varies considerably from under $1K to over $20K per engagement. While engagement size was evenly distributed, the two most common engagement sizes were $5-10K (21%) and over $20K (21%).
B2B marketers can use the Thinkers360 influencer marketing framework to help segment their influencer communities into strategic influencers (tier 1), core influencers (tier 2) and tactical influencers (tier 3) (see “5 best practices for working with B2B influencers and thought leaders“). It’s the tier 1 influencers that you’ll work with on these more strategic, longer-duration and more personal engagements.
Trend 3 – Influencers identify with multiple personas and provide multiple deliverables as part of their engagements
Influencer content producers cited “authors” (56%), “consultants” (55%), “speakers” (50%), “entrepreneurs” (47%) and “social media influencers” (45%) as the personas they most identify with. The results show that many influencers identify with multiple personas, not just that of social media influencer.
In our survey, when influencers work with brands, they provide a variety of services including “consulting” (83%), “advising” (67%), “speaking” (63%), “influencing” (50%) and “authoring” (47%). Since B2B influencers identify with multiple personas, it makes sense that their services also mirror this fact. B2B influencers may start with social media services, but often bundle a variety of services including authoring, consulting and speaking as part of an engagement.
B2B marketers should get to know their influencers’ personas, particularly their most strategic influencers (i.e. tier 1), to take advantage of their strengths and deepen these relationships to leverage the full breadth of their expertise.
Trend 4 – Holistic metrics beat social media metrics for gauging influencer expertise
Influencers stated that “holistic metrics (e.g. across all content)” were the most effective measures and metrics for brands to gauge their expertise. Interestingly, “social media metrics (e.g. follower counts)” were cited by only 12% as the most effective measures and metrics for brands to gauge their expertise.
“B2B companies are being forced to confront big problems with their sales and marketing strategies as a result of Covid. Because of this Influencer marketing is now a priority rather than a nice to have. B2Bs will look to work with influencers to fill the gaps between their analyst, social media and PR strategies. In particular, they’ll want to build relationships with influencers who have the expertise, experience, and gravitas who can help them reassure and persuade interested buyers. The struggle is to figure out who really has genuine influence as opposed to just a large social media following. The two are not necessarily linked.” – Tom Augenthaler, Consultant, 551 Media LLC
Since most B2B influencers are delivering more than social media services for the brands they work with, it makes sense that holistic metrics were cited by 2x as many influencers as the most effective measures and metrics when compared to social media metrics.
Trend 5 – Holistic metrics beat social media metrics for gauging campaign results
Influencers stated that “tangible deliverables” (67%) were the most frequent means of measuring results and ROI with the brands they work with. Interestingly, “social media metrics” were cited by only 43% (i.e. less than half of respondents) as a means of measuring results and ROI.
Since most B2B influencers are delivering more than social media services for the brands they work with, it makes sense that tangible deliverables were cited by 1.5x as many influencers when compared to social media metrics.
Trend 6 – The continued rise of specialty communities as the primary outlet for sourcing and disseminating influencer content alongside traditional social media channels
In terms of outlets for sourcing and disseminating influencer content, both producers and consumers of content held very similar plans. Influencer content producers cited “social media channels” (75%), “specialist communities” (62%), “conferences & events” (60%) and “individual web sites” (46%) as their primary outlets for influencer content in 2021.
All other destinations were seen more as secondary outlets than primary sources with “academic web sites” seen by 48% as not applicable. Beyond social media, nearly 2/3 of producers plan to leverage specialist communities as well as conferences and events as primary outlets for their influencer content.
Consumers of influencer content went one step further and actually cited “specialist communities” (60%) above “social media channels” (57%) for their primary sources. We also found that “articles & blogs” (84%), “social media” (65%) and “speaking” (60%) are the primary formats for influencer content production in 2021
The takeaway for 2021, specific to this trend, is that B2B influencers should consider leveraging specialist communities even more than they presently do in order to meet their brands and audiences where they are.
Social media is clearly a common meeting place, but specialist communities and conferences and events help to cut through the noise and often provide that more personal connection.
If you’re interested in further findings from our study, the complete report, including extensive analysis and interpretation, is now available to Thinkers360 members at the Content Plan level and above.
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