Influencers vs. Brand Advocates: Who Should B2B Brands Bet On?
In the B2B world, social proof is a must-have. Why do we say so? Well, consider the fact that 84% of B2B decision-makers start the procurement process with a referral and word-of-mouth recommendations influence over 90% of all B2B buying decisions. If you aren’t currently enlisting the help of influencers or brand advocates you’ll want to start doing so now.
In this post, we’ll weigh up the essentials of working with influencers as well as brand advocates and discuss how you can tap on them to market your organisation or offering. Read on to find out more!
What Is an Influencer? What Is a Brand Advocate?
An influencer is defined as an individual who has a significant follower base and is considered an important player in a certain community or tribe, shaping views, opinions and behaviour. Most influencers are active on social media channels such as Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn where they discuss topics and concepts and often promote products and services to their followers. On average, businesses generate $6.50 for every $1 spent on influencer marketing. That said, many marketers struggle to evaluate the effectiveness of their influencer campaigns with 84% of marketers saying that they find it challenging to determine the ROI of their influencer marketing.
Brand advocates, on the other hand, are committed users, buyers or indeed employees who recommend your organisation or offering based on their own authentic, positive (customer) experiences. Working with advocates can make a huge difference for your business. Statistics show that an increase of just 12% in advocacy leads to a 200% growth in revenue – and customers referred by advocates have a 37% higher retention rate. As Joe Chernov, VP Marketing at engagement software company Pendo puts it: “There’s a singular ‘tipping point’ for marketers and it happens the moment its customers begin to see themselves as extensions of the brand – sharing their experiences with others, cheering new products, even defending the company in times of crisis. It’s called advocacy and in the hyper-connected digital age, it’s the apex of marketing achievement“.
Paid vs Earned Influencer Marketing
Both influencers and brand advocates can be an integral part of your communication strategies and tactics. But, with regards to paid influencer marketing, you’re paying an influencer to promote your offering, simple as that. With earned influencer marketing, however, you’re engaging with an influencer or a brand advocate in the hope that they’ll choose to post about your offering.
All in all earned media drives 4 times the brand lift as compared to paid media. In addition, earned influence is considered more authentic and trustworthy and generally translates into better results for organisations. According to digital marketing expert C.C Chapman, “brands speak in sales language; advocates speak in the language customers can relate to and, thus, will always be more trustworthy”.
That said, the drawback in working with brand advocates or other types of earned influencers is that you don’t have any control over when they post and how. If you’re executing an earned campaign in conjunction with a product launch, for example, and an earned influencer posts about your product a month after your launch, it’s probably less helpful but there is not much you can do about it.
Brand Advocates Versus Influencers
Brand advocates and influencers are similar in the sense that both wield influence over their peers and both can help you generate word-of-mouth and spread awareness about your brand. That said, one key difference between brand advocates and influencers is that your advocates are your customers or employees, while influencers are not. Bearing this in mind, advocates tend to be more familiar with your brand and how your product/service works (as compared to influencers).
On top of that, brand advocates and influencers also differ in their reach and influence. Obviously, influencers have more reach and followers but, interestingly, they’re also less trusted by their followers. More specifically, only 46% of consumers trust what social media influencers have to say, while 84% of consumers trust brand advocates – with similar ratios for B2B environments.
But how can communicators identify influencers and brand advocates? Ubermetrics social listening tool can help. It processes over 50,000 content pieces per minute from over 460 million sources. With its advanced AI as well as metrical and text-mining analytics, Ubermetrics enables digital communicators to discover relevant influencers and channels:
Identifying Brand Advocates & Influencers with the Ubermetrics “Author Analysis”
The Ubermetrics “Author Analysis” identifies influential individuals driving conversations and engagement in any topical or geographic area. Let’s say, for example, that your organisation works within the automotive industry and is launching a new electric car. With Ubermetrics you could do a topical search on, for example, e-mobility and – through the “Author Analysis” feature – see who’s truly shaping trends and topical engagement. Refined filtering capabilities within the tool allow you to drill down to social network or platform level to identify your most relevant influencers by topic, engagement level and channel.
As for brand advocates, you can easily identify these also with the help of the Ubermetrics “Author Analysis” feature – however, your main tool here would be a standard, brand name-related search. For example, you could run a search for all the positive mentions your brand received in a certain period on Twitter and see who produced those mentions. Then, using the Ubermetrics Virality Score you can uncover how engaging these mentions have actually been. Through this process, you will, therefore, be able to identify who are your most impactful advocates.
Pros & Cons of Working with Influencers
Thinking of working with an influencer to promote your brand? Here are a few pros and cons to consider:
Pro: Straightforward working relationship
It’s fairly easy to work with an influencer — you simply contact them, negotiate rates, tell them your requirements and take it from there.
Con: Expensive rates
The more followers your influencer has, the more expensive their rates will be. Statistics have recently shown that due to the increasing success of influencer marketing strategies, the cost of influencer marketing is rising rapidly.
Con: Fake influencers
Fake influencers are basically influencers who resort to unethical means to boost their following and engagement on social media platforms in order to get endorsed by brands. For example, influencers may buy likes and followers, use bots to increase followership, participate in engagement pods and more.
The ROI generated by these tactics is huge in the B2C space, that’s why fake influencers are getting more rampant there, resulting in more companies falling prey to working with them. On top of that, spotting fake influencers and fake followers is getting more difficult – it’s considered to be the most challenging aspect of influencer marketing.
In the B2B space, on the other hand, fake influencers are not a thing – yet. Still, the recommendation here is to always look for proof of legitimacy and authenticity of the follower base of any influencer you might decide to work with.
Pros & Cons of Working with Brand Advocates
Influencers aside, here’s what you can expect when working with brand advocates:
Pro: Tap on Employees
Ever heard of employee advocacy? You can actually tap on your own employees to act as your brand advocates — and using employee advocacy allows you to potentially increase content engagement by a factor of up to 700x and brand awareness by up to 24x.
Employee advocacy happens mostly on social networks. And this turns out to be a win-win for everyone because employees are able to enhance their personal brand, establish a reputation and become thought leaders whilst promoting their organisation. As a matter of fact, research shows that 86% of employees taking part in advocacy programs say that their social media involvement had a positive impact on their career. As for brands, the numbers don’t lie: 79% of firms gained more online visibility through an employee advocacy program and 65% reported increased brand recognition.
An example? Tech company Dell always encouraged and empowered employees to find and share their own content beyond Dell-specific updates or news. With this employee advocacy approach, the company was able to earn more than 150,000 shares and 45,000 additional clicks to their website in the first year of the program.
You don’t have to fork out hard cash to pay your advocates — most advocates are rewarded with samples, discounts, gifts, and other non-monetary perks.
Con: Higher Degrees of Complexity
Setting up a brand advocacy program involves more effort and requires finesse. First and foremost, you want to make sure that your customers are satisfied and loyal. Without these two elements, you won’t be able to build a successful advocate program. Then you’ve got to plan how to work with brand advocates, how to have them promote your offering keeping long-term satisfaction levels high as well as how to reward them.
How Influencers & Brand Advocates Fit Within Communication Strategies
Today, PPC and digital marketing is no longer as effective as it once was. Brands who still rely on PPC ads have to grapple with ad blockers, banner blindness and fraudulent clicks. On top of that, buyers are also becoming increasingly sceptical and generally distrusting of brands which is why organisations prefer to invest in influencer marketing and advocacy programs instead.
For example, you might start off by asking a B2B influencer for a quote for a lead magnet that you’re writing or providing them with a complimentary pass to a conference that you’re organising. From there, invite them to be a guest on your podcast or webinar, then get them to take part in your influencer activities.
That being said, if you want to start working with influencers and brand advocates you’ll want to build an on-going relationship with these individuals.
When should you engage influencers? When should you collaborate with brand advocates?
Whether you should choose to work with influencers or brand advocates boils down to your objectives.
If you’re going for reach and you want to generate as much awareness as possible about your brand or product, then partner with influencers. They are unparalleled when it comes to reach (provided it’s authentic) and by working with them, you’ll be able to maximise brand awareness.
If you’re gunning for conversions, however, then you’ll want to work with advocates. Your advocates might reach a smaller crowd, but they wield more influence over those who they do reach. All in all, they have more potential to drive conversions and leads for your company.
B2B Brands Using Advocates and Influencers
There are numerous B2B organisations who rely on advocates and influencers to spread the word. Read on to learn their strategies:
Content Marketing Institute
The Content Marketing Institute wanted to drive awareness to its content marketing conference and therefore asked its content marketing speakers (who are influencers) to share their expertise on specific topics. The company then assembled the contributions into an ebook with a retro video game theme and got each influencer to promote it on their social channels. This drove a 258% increase in views of the main ebook asset.
SAP SuccessFactors – a human capital management SaaS tool provider – partnered with many influencers for one specific campaign to promote their new healthcare management suite. With a content-based program, the organisation – in collaboration with the influencers – shared relevant content and insights about well-being. This influencer campaign ended up producing 69% of the total conversions of the program.
To unearth brand advocates and encourage them to promote Cisco to their peers, the company created a Champion programme. Through this programme, Cisco’s advocates get to attend exclusive events where they promote the brand getting featured on Cisco’s blogs, podcasts and video series whilst enhancing their own professional skills and network. As of now, Cisco’s Champions have created 55,000 tweets about the company and wrote over 200 posts on their own sites, resulting in over 44,000 hits and 8,000 social mentions. Lindsay Hamilton, Social Media Marketing Manager at Cisco Systems said that “Cisco Champions have created a consistent stream of timely and engaging content on an unprecedented scale. The program reaches a diverse audience and allows Cisco to earn the trust of the IT community with authentic and relevant content. Our community views the information as “for us, by us”
— Cisco Partner EMEAR (@CiscoPtnrEMEAR) July 12, 2019
Blackbaud, a supplier of software and services designed for nonprofit organisations, also worked with a champion-type programme to encourage brand advocates to provide feedback, participate in case studies, share content and more in exchange for reward points. These points would then be exchanged for exclusive benefits such as gift cards or discounts. In just three months, the programme exceeded every expectation and generated a year’s worth of referrals and brought in extra revenue.
A Final Word on Influencers vs Brand Advocates
We hear a lot of people making sweeping statements, such as “influencers are more powerful” or “brand advocates are more effective” but the truth is that companies can benefit from working with both parties – it simply boils down to who’s a better fit for your organisation or campaign measured against the specific objectives.
That being said, for the long run, brand advocates are a necessary asset. In fact, the way we see it, influencers really do make a stronger impact on a single campaign but the authentic commitment of advocates will continually refer new customers, amplifying not only the reach of your content and brand but also actual conversions.