By Joshua Baez, Marketing Coordinator, Heinz Marketing

Twitter is a huge platform for B2B marketers and organizations.  With its seamless integration with other applications like Buffer and Hootsuite, unhindered organic audience reach, and its support of casual, interpersonal conversation, Twitter is a hard egg to beat.  With this level of functionality at your fingertips, there are a multitude of strategies you can utilize to take advantage of the platform, and, if used effectively, Twitter can be one of the most powerful tools in your tool belt.  But among the dozens of strategies one can implement through Twitter, there’s one which stands out to help you build credibility and trust as a thought-leader, all while generating interest around your product—influencer engagement.

What is an Influencer?

Before you begin blindly researching industry influencers, it’s important you know what an influencer actually is.  Though there is no exact definition, an influencer is a thought-leader, a decision-maker—someone whose sphere of influence far exceeds your own and is both strong and widely-received.  Depending on the industry, influencers can take many roles from blog and article writers to healthcare professionals to sales consultants, but there are a handful of keys to help you identify who an influencer is.

Amanda Nelson at Klout lists four keys to identifying an influencer:

  1. They possess knowledge and expertise about their industry
  2. They have a large following
  3. They are actively engaging with content
  4. They are actively creating new content

Getting Started

Influencer Engagement in B2B marketing is exactly what its name suggests—it is the act of engaging with specific thought-leaders in your industry in hopes that they will engage back, and in the case of Twitter, this includes following, favoriting, retweeting, or tweeting at the influencer.  Essentially, you are showing interest in the influencer’s work, whether that be research, blog posts, or some other kind of content, and, through repetition and consistency, the influencer notices and reaches back to you.  In a way, influencer engagement is a “give-to-get” kind of strategy, where the more you give, the more likely you’ll get.

Here are some steps to help guide your way as you begin engaging with influencers.

Find your influencers – Before any engagement can happen, you first need to find and identify the influencers within your industry. This can be done with a variety of tools, but it can also be completed with a quick Google search.  As a culture who loves its lists, finding 10-20 industry-specific influencers shouldn’t take you very long.

Follow them on Twitter – Once you’ve found the influencers you want to engage with, you’ll need to follow them on Twitter.  This part is a no-brainer, but don’t let automation take over.  A feature of Twitter that many seem to forget, or not even know about, is the dropdown menu of “similar accounts” that appears after you’ve followed someone on their actual Twitter profile page.

Follow similar accounts – The beauty of the similar account dropdown feature is that it shows you related profiles to the person you just followed, meaning that with every new influencer you follow, you have the opportunity to follow two to three more.  By utilizing this functionality, you’ll be able to exponentially grow your influencer list and discover new leaders who may not have shown up in your initial research.

Create a Twitter list – Another great feature of Twitter is its list building application.  With this, you can easily segment people you follow into specific lists, allowing you to view tweets only from those users from within Twitter itself or in other social applications like Hootsuite.  In this regard, an influencer Twitter list will help you easily see what your influencers are talking about, writing about, and posting.

Wash.  Rinse.  And repeat.

Actions and Engagement

Now that you have your list of influencers, it’s time to start engaging, but be wary—engaging blindly will likely be more detrimental to your cause than you realize.  For your engagement to be effective, you need to determine your objectives, your goals, and your frequency.  No one likes people who consistently bombard their posts with likes and retweets.  Though these social actions show you are engaged and interested in the content, they should be used sparingly and thoughtfully.

Posting their content – Remember when I said there would be a “give-to-get” piece?  This is the bulk of it.  By posting an influencer’s original content, it not only shows that you’re interested in the topics they write about, but it also shows that you want to help amplify the reach of that influencer.  It is an action that speaks louder than a favorite or retweet, which is why the posting of influencer content should make up the bulk of your influencer strategy.

Favorites, retweets, and comments – While amplifying influencer content is the meat of your strategy, that isn’t to say that other social actions are meaningless.  Though you should be careful not to over-engage with an influencer, favoriting a tweet or two of theirs every few days will show them that you’re paying attention to what they post.  Retweeting should be done even more sparingly.  Comments are also a great way to engage with an influencer, but only if you have something meaningful to say.  A comment that is broad such as “nice work!” or “great read!” does not carry a lot of weight—those comments could be said about anything and everything.  Instead, use comments to generate a discussion, ask a question, or provide your own thoughts on the subject matter.  Comments should be made with the intent of adding value to the conversation, otherwise, they might as well be smoke.

Next Steps

Determining your final influencer engagement strategy will depend on you and your organization, and whether the ramp-up be slow or fast, so long as your implementation is thoughtful and intentional, the results back to you should prove to be incredibly valuable.  But it’s important to remember that this kind of strategy does not yield results overnight.  It takes time to build a relationship and trust.

Influencer engagement should not be a selfish endeavor.  It should not be for the sole purpose of getting your own brand recognized.  Influencer engagement should ultimately be about the spreading of knowledge, education, and innovation across different channels and between different people.  It should be about building relationships with others and promoting meaningful dialogues around things that matter.

The keys to remember for successful influencer engagement are to always be improving and always be learning.