The bad news: you're probably going to get approached - sooner rather than later - by vendors who have some really exciting ideas on how to capitalize on your influence.
Which of these two influencer pitches do you like better?
Dear influencer, we have an audience that would value your expertise. Would you care to contribute a few comments on how to handle ___ for an e-book?
Dear influencer, we have figured out if we get you involved in a crowdsourced project, we can leverage your network for our brand. So would you contribute to our e-book? After we're done, we'll put pressure on you to promote the living heck out of the e-book to your network.
Let me guess - the first pitch goes over a little better with you, right?
Here's the problem, and the warning: both pitches are for the same project. In other words: vendors hip to influencer marketing will give you a pitch similar to the first one, but they really mean the second.
B2B influencer marketing has its place. But in the wild west of these social experiments, clearly-defined policies are lacking. I've found myself in the awkward position of getting pressured by the vendor after the project to promote it on my social channels - even though the obligation to do so was never discussed.
Once our followers perceive our social streams as for sale, we no longer have a relevant social stream. Our followers generally welcome spontaneous shares of fun/cool/free things we are involved with, including vendor-related projects. They don't welcome the feeling of being recipients of an orchestrated, carefully tracked social campaign which is likely blasted all over the known universe, until we all see the same promo enough times to wish the project never happened.
The guru festival - the dreaded "top 50 influencers" list
A related example is the dreaded influencer list. Recently, I wound up on a top fifty ERP influencers list.
— Washington Frank ERP (@washington_frk) April 9, 2018
I view influence as something you have to re-earn every day. Such directories, to me, have no meaning or purpose. There's a ton of ERP stalwarts who know more than I ever will who aren't on this list. Social, to me, is about relationships and spirited debate, not a wanky guru festival elevating some people to celebrity status at the exclusion of others who are probably better at the topic but not as good as marketing themselves.
Want to be a contest judge? Grab your bullhorn
Another problematic one: being asked to judge some type of contest, like app-building. Then, down the line, you are asked to aggressively promote the contest and your involvement in it. What vendors fail to realize is that some who agree to be judges want to maintain the aura of objectivity that title clearly implies. Real judges don't market their involvement in ongoing trials (except maybe for Judge Lance Ito, and that's going back a long ways now). Some of us feel the same way about judging an app contest.
Being asked to do more than you agreed to is a common influencer marketing bait-and-switch.
Properly used, B2B influencer marketing does work. As I wrote in Why enterprise buyers trust influencers, today's informed buyers rely on experts as part of their buying process:
Individual buyers perceive influencers differently, but key factors for influence include: the respect the influencer has in the customer community, the brand respect of the firm the influencer is associated with, and the specific expertise of that influencer (e.g. you may be an expert in ERP evaluation, but not cloud virtualization, etc).
Notice there is nothing about celebrity. In many B2B fields, true influencers don't have the highest profiles.
It's important to distinguish here between B2B and B2C. B2C influencer marketing is very different, and tends to involve compensating celebrity bloggers to review and/or endorse products. Because the B2C volume is different, the tools to manage B2C influencer campaigns are different.
B2B influencer marketing needs to be customized to specific projects and industries. Tools can help, but in the end, you manage it yourself. Den Howlett just shed light on how GoDaddy handles influencer marketing with their own approach - using Nimble. As Howlett notes, it's not as easy as finding or blasting a "top fifty" list:
As we know for ourselves, the discovery and assessment process for assessing influencers is far from easy, is not an exact science and can easily be subject to biases. GoDaddy overcomes some of the inherent issues by using a continually iterating process it applies to score both external influencers and internal advocates who are – or wish to become – influencers in their own right.
My take - a more transparent discussion on influencer projects
So getting back to the first pitch, what should vendors do differently? They should either:
a. Not expect you to market the crowdsourced project, and leave it to you do any marketing completely on your own terms.
b. Be upfront that your social participation is part of the project. Example: "We will be sharing this widely to our 50,000 email subscribers and social platforms. In exchange, we are asking each contributor to actively promote this to their channels. We'll provide sample tweets and promo copy which you are welcome to use or adapt."
We can all use visibility in front of the right audiences. From now on, I will make a point of clarifying what we all expect in terms of promotion. For example, I try to promote in more colorful and personal ways that require a bit of my own thought, rather than using a boilerplate tweet or message.
I would, however, be willing to use a customized URL in my own promo, to aid in tracking the responses. The benefit of upfront talks is you can get into how the success of the project will be tracked and measured.
My followers are not afraid to be blunt if they don't like what I'm sharing. I'm guessing yours are the same. My first social loyalty is to them - that's a trust I'm not willing to violate. It's entirely possible to do influencer marketing without violating that trust. But until clear rules are established, the next best thing is transparent conversations - before projects are underway.