Almost as soon as I lost my job as Editor-in-Chief of Marketing magazine, I knew exactly what I wanted to do — launch a brand-new publication that captured the emerging trend of influencer marketing.
In the consumer space, influencers were quickly becoming an alternative to traditional marketing investments in TV spots, banner ads and out-of-home advertising. Find the right person with a huge following on Instagram, for example, offer them money in exchange for taking pictures of themselves with your product, and you can essentially have your message reach consumers through the lens of someone they admire.
As easy as this sounds, of course, there are all sorts of challenges and complications, from choosing the right influencer to establishing the right kind of agreement to dealing with the bourgeoning cottage industry of influencer agencies and platforms. Most of all, there seemed to be very little information on who some of these influencers were, other than what they produced and shared on their own channels. A new publication could profile them and the surrounding ecosystem of brands, technologies and third parties. I bought a domain name for Influencer Magazine, wrote a business plan and began shopping the the idea around.
It didn’t take long before I realized a few things. One was that influencer marketing was changing so quickly that it might be difficult to establish a viable media brand that served its intended audience without being outdated from the moment of publication. Another was that the traditional approach of a magazine might not be the best fit versus, say, a video channel of some kind. Then there was the fact that the true influencers don’t like to think of themselves as such. They are more likely to call themselves “creators,” and their influence is merely a side-effect of their success in social media, not the main reason they do it.
While I may have shelved the idea of launching Influencer Magazine, I chose this month for our Influencer Issue because I think there is a similarly complex dynamic with B2B influencers, and I want to explore how that dynamic is changing. In this case, an “influencer” is more likely to be a buyer, or someone on the buying team. It might be the CMO, someone who reports to them, or someone who works as an industry analyst or consultant. What they’re influencing, meanwhile, is not only the go-ahead to make a purchase but the support for a more comprehensive move to cloud computing, artificial intelligence, blockchain or simply account-based marketing.
Like their consumer counterparts, B2B influencers might never add that word on their LinkedIn profile. They’re certainly not able to get directly compensated for their influence. And yet their role as influencer can carry more serious responsibility, accountability and impact compared with a popular Instagrammer who shows off a sweater or something. That’s why vendors tend to call them “decision-makers,” even if they’re not the ones making the final decision.
In fact, B2B influencers are probably doing less influencing via social media than through in-person meetings or discussions at conferences and events. That means courting them involves more than just a glorified bribe. It means developing a real relationship over a longer period of time, even if it’s a relationship that exists primarily through digital channels vs. taking them to a golf tournament or buying them drinks.
I still find the world of B2C influencer marketing fascinating, but the enterprise version is arguably even richer in terms of stories worth telling. Funnily enough, I did manage to find a place where I could write and edit those stories. It’s just not called Influencer Magazine. It’s called B2B News Network.