The Impact of Building Long-Term Relationships with Influencers with Lee Odden — Justin Levy - Social, Influencer & Content Marketing

The Impact of Building Long-Term Relationships with Influencers with Lee Odden — Justin Levy - Social, Influencer & Content Marketing

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Hi, everyone. Welcome to another episode of influencer impact. I'm Justin Levy. And today I am joined by a very good friend of mine, Mr. Lee Odden. Thank you for joining us, Lee.

Hey, it's great to be here. Justin, great to talk with you. It's been a little while

it has, and we'll see each other in person for the first time in many years.

Yeah, next week MarketingProfs B2B Forum. I'm excited. It's gonna be a good event.

Absolutely. Now, can you tell the listeners what you do by day? A little bit about your company?

Yeah, um, well, um, see, I was just thinking, all duties as assigned. So that's, yeah, that's the job description for someone who is in charge, I guess, CEO and co-founder of TopRank Marketing. We are a B2B marketing agency. And we help companies we help large enterprise, especially b2b technology companies get more customers. We do that through content. We do that through SEO and social and through activating influencers to create content.

Now, one of the areas that I think very interesting these days, is that you and I have talked about b2b influencer marketing for a long time. Now it's, I know, when you and I were going back and forth over email, you have to say, the agency has written 250 blog posts over the years. Why do think that it's still now the new thing, it's the thing that is the hot topic or the hot job in the industry, when it's something that at this point, probably eight to 10 years old?

Well, you know, being a guy, a person who's been in the business for a long time, I've observed the emergence of various tactics and approaches, strategies, you know, like, all the way back from, you know, when SEO was new, and when content was new social media was new, and every in everything in the case of b2b, or influencer marketing, same thing, I think, until there is a momentum of one monetization and a tactic you're not going to see super-wide adoption, right? And that is starting to happen in the b2b influence space, right?

So initially, like maybe, you know, we started doing sort of getting paid by companies like Dell and SAP and whatever, just under 10 years ago, first for finding, and activating industry experts to co create content for brands. And back then 90% of those influencer relationships were organic, the value exchange was exposure for contribution, right, or contribution for exposure, and only about 10% were paid out. Right? Well, now, it's closer to probably 5050. And so I think it's perceived as a new thing, just because a lot of marketers look at paid media, as what can they grab for an execute on in a familiar way? Right. And, you know, there's really not a lot of marketplaces to go, you know, search for influencers on a b2b sense. You know, there's in the way that you can do paid search or paid social, right. And but it's starting to grow. And the market is starting to mature and more and more case studies and success stories are getting out there about how effective it can be to partner with people who already have the trust and attention of your audience to make content that's actually useful for that audience.

Now, you've had the opportunity to kind of straddle these two areas, I think, one as an influencer, you know, over your years, whether that's speaking at events or different things you've been involved in, but also running this agency that works on influencer campaigns that builds these and works with both the brand as well as the influencers that you engage. What would you say companies typically get wrong when they approach when they either approach you as an influencer for some reason, or when they engage with the agency?

Yeah, yeah, I actually wrote a post For a while I collaborated with other influencers to create a posts along the theme of 50 ways to leave your lover 50 ways to fail at influencer engagement, based on the answer to your question, so I think one of the first things in the most egregious things that companies will do is they will continue, they'll tell the influencer, they're important. And so that is why they want to work with them, but they will treat them as a commodity. Right? You know, we'd love to work with you, you're so important, you know, so many things, you've done this and that, and that really aligns with your audit what our audience is interested in, so let's partner on this thing. And then they treat it as a very transactional thing. And I don't mean a transaction as far as, hey, here's money. Do you know, will you take this money and do this thing for us? They'll just treat everything transactionally. And, you know, that's, that's not a fun experience.

So there's a, I think the pain point here that's easily solvable. If people would just think about influencers, the way they think about their customers, and that is to think about influence your experience, the way you think about customer experience, right. So things a branch, often there's are things like irrelevant asks, you know, I just got asked, if I wanted to be on a podcast that was all about outbound sales, that has nothing to do with me, I am fact that I inbound sales would be more relevant thing, you know, creating demand such that people actually want to do business with you, even though you've never talked to them before. That's, that's what we do. Not, you know, cold call, or whatever, just as an example. So of course, you know, there's no reason for me, and if they send me another pitch, that's actually relevant, there's a good chance, I'll just delete that too. Because I have this memory, the first contact left an imprint. And so I think, yeah, lack of lack of experience, lack of treating people like they're special or that they're, you know, important in the context of why you're asking them, but also, you know, irrelevant asks, not personalizing communications, not saying thank you, no follow up at all. After the thing is published, that you ask them to help you make, and then nothing until the next time they need you. And then they say, Hey, six months ago, you helped us with this thing. Will you help us again? Maybe Maybe not, you know, I'm actually working with your direct competitor now. So maybe not.

One of the areas that I think is baked into all of that, and I know it's something that is near and dear to your heart. And so the agency's heart, the way that you guys like to work is to build longer-term relationships with brands that you're working with. Right? And that's not on the, you know, continuing business side, you know, the agency working with the brand. Yes, of course. But it's helping to coach the brand, that they need to form long-term relationships. So they aren't transactional with the actual influencer? Do you agree with that?

I do. I do. And actually, we develop an influencer marketing maturity model, specifically for b2b years ago, five, six years ago, that kind of talks about that. Whereas, you know, at an entry point might be experimentation. And evolution of that might be okay, we're working with, you know, similar influencers, from time to time, but only on campaigns when we need them. And then, and I'm oversimplifying here, but the evolution from that would be developing an influencer community. And that is an always on approach of relationship building. You know, it's kind of like romance, right? We want the influencer to fall in love with us, when you fall in love with someone you know, it's like you make a lot of decisions differently than if you're just friendly, or you're an acquaintance or you don't know them at all right? And so values alignment, mutual value, you know, something more, making something bigger than us, you know, bigger than you bigger than my brand, we're we're doing something good for the industry. A lot of those different things play differently with different influencers, but in the end, you're trying to create a feeling, not just an intellectual reason, and that's where this notion of relationship comes into play. It's a business relationship, but at the same time, you know, I have people on my team like Debbie, for example. You know, I get comments all the time, like Debbie is from influencers. I get comments all the time Debbie is amazing to work with. She's so organized she's so this She's still that she takes care of everything. I go to an event, you know, for one of your clients, and she just takes care of everything. It's amazing. And so they feel something. And that's part of the relationship. Right. So I totally agree with you. And I'd also say, you know, you're talking about what, what people do wrong, what companies do wrong. Obviously, there's a lot of stuff on the data side and the software side, we maybe get into a different question. There's that they're doing wrong. Like they're not using data. They're not using software. They're they're just shooting from the hip. That's something I see a lot of Brian's doing wrong, too. But again, that might be a different question.

Well, if we can hit on it now. Well, metrics are always going to be different based on the outcomes of that campaign. Yeah, you know, it might be downloads of an ebook, or, you know, brand awareness, different areas of that funnel. Are there consistent metrics that you think every brand should look at? You know, it's always we'll look at these top five, no matter what we do. And then we'll look at the specific ones for that campaign.

Yeah. And I really glad you bring up that there are some, you know, that metrics are specific to the program, right? Because a lot of people do think that there are only generic metrics. And that's all there is to it. So yeah, I think there are some universal truths to go after. If you're collaborating with industry experts, or even internal experts, for that matter, to help identify or effectiveness right. So obviously, with any content marketing campaign, you've got the standard things, right. How do we attract? How do we engage? How do we convert based on that content? But then we can associate to what degree did influencers move the needle on any of those metrics? Right? To what degree did you know, when we look at influencer-specific metrics, we're looking at things like, you know, we have a benchmark measurement on how the influencer talks about our brand, or the key topics that we want to elevate or create affinity for. Like, I'm thinking of smarter, GTM, right. So just to pick a concept, right? So if I had a benchmark measurement of like, okay, amongst these 12 people, they they're not the two of them are saying smarter, GTM and brand name, once in a while. And then after a sequence of activations and engagements, now, we can see that all of them are mentioning smarter GTM in the context of the brand, at least once a month, once a week or whatever, right? So that kind of measurement, I think should always be true, when it comes to working with influencers to see if they are talking about the ideas you're trying to as a brand become more influential about. But of course, there's always component comparison, you got to have a benchmark for that. And then you measure it ongoing. And you're also going to talk about or look I'm talking about, you're also gonna measure to what degree does the brand content the influencer? is sharing resonating with their community with their audience? Are you getting second and third-level sharing, or propagation? You know what I mean? So if you have those encoded URLs, you're giving each for each influencer and they're sharing stuff, you'll be able to tell whether that is resonating with their community, you know, or not. So obviously, the net lead gen, KPIs, whatever, for the content, yeah. And then segment that out by influencer, you know, how many did Justin get? How many sales do we get? Because Justin shared stuff, how many sales do we get? Because at least it's the right, if we can figure that out, if we can, you know, encourage the influencers to share the URLs that are encoded, allow us to identify those things. And that would be the ideal, and we should do that every time.

Now, I I recently had someone comment, comment on a piece of content that I posted, and they said that brands only work with influencers to increase revenue. And that essentially, brands will only work with influencers as long as they continue to grow their number of followers, meaning the influencer will continue to become quote unquote, more influential based on their followers. And the brand will only work with them if they drive more revenue. I know my reaction to that, but what's yours?

Well, obviously revenue is a very important business metric, but there are lots of other things that your sales team and your organization can benefit from due to influence or activation, like shorten sales cycles or to volume and stuff like that. But there's what about the brand, you know, brand preference, you know, if I, I'm willing to charge, I'm willing to spend twice as much money with you, Justin and the company you work with, because the people who are talking about you are people I trust, and this other company that spending all this money on advertising, I don't even like the ads, I don't pay attention to the ads, I know, they're the big winner. No one gets fired when they hire that company, right? But I don't care. Because the people I trust that so when the time comes, you know, I'm going to I'm going to probably buy from them. Or maybe in the interim, it's not time for me to buy yet. But I'm going to say nice things about your company. I'm going to tell my friend who's asking that private group that were a part of, hey, does anybody know a software company that can help me do this? And I go, Well, yeah, this company, your company? Justin, I'm going to recommend your company because I have a good feeling about you. That was in part contributed by people who are experts in the industry, talking about you.

One of I completely agree. And one of my reactions to that comment that was left was also that it's not just based on total followers, right? Oh, yeah. Obviously, it's based on a lot of other factors. Because you can have, you can have a nano or niche influencer, who has 200 followers, I mean, drive it all the way to the lowest number, but drive more engagement than that, you know, macro are mega, yeah, influencer that has hundreds and hundreds of 1000s of followers.

Right. And people fall into this advertising equivalency trap. Sometimes I know people in PR been fighting against this for years. And the same thing is kind of true and influence. And yeah, of course, you're right. As far as who's influential. It's obviously not measured just by the number of people palling them. It's also measured by, you know, as the some of the metrics I mentioned before, the degree to which what they say resonates with the audience, how relevant they are, you know, if you look back at each of our, let's say, we looked at our blog posts, or our social media from five years ago, were we talking about the exact same stuff five years ago, as today, and people have called both of us influencers about about things that we publish. So it's important to understand that influence is a temporal thing. It's not a okay, I achieved a thing, and therefore, I stay at that level indefinitely. Oh, no, you earn it every day. And your interests change influencers, interests, change, the areas of focus change. So yeah, you're right. data used to I did both identify and qualify influencers, as relevant for a particular brand or a particular product offer or initiative have to be determined on more than follower count, they've got to be turned a determined by qualitative measures as well. Because if you if you walk into a room, if you walk into a room, and you talk, and and there's only five people in the room, and one of them buys from you, well, that's great. If you walk into a room and there's 1000 People only one buys from you like, it doesn't matter. Right one, right, you got you got the sale.

It's, I love that you say that. And I was just talking to a mutual friend of ours, Jason falls about this exactly, exactly what you said. And it was that Chris Penn said in a, at a conference or something I was at with him, probably almost 10 years ago, that it was this conversation about followers on Twitter, and in all of that, and he said something to the effect of if you make a product that only three or five or 10 people can't afford or need. That's the only followers that you need to influence on Twitter. You don't need that 1130 That 21st follower, you need those three or five or whatever that number is, because your goal is to influence them to buy.

Right, right. And, you know, it's interesting today, there's this content, this proliferation of content, right? We're all empowered to publish and there's just an overwhelming amount of information. I wish I had this stat in front because I used it in a presentation. It was something like 64 million pieces of content every day or something crazy like that. I know a marketer put it out, but the point is, there's a lot of times attend out there. So from an influence standpoint, we, in a competitive category, we have to think about influencing the influencers as well, you know what I mean? And in b2b, we also have to think about those buying committees, and the longer sales cycles, so becomes a little more what you can get more complicated or sophisticated if you want to, and start targeting, not only who the buyers are and influencing them, but thinking about, okay, where are they getting their information? You know, a lot of folks and you know, in the ABM business, you have these ideal customer profiles, and you can map out these different sources of information for that ideal customer, where are they? What are they, you know, who do they subscribe to? Or what do they subscribe to? What do they read what a search on what they talked about, on social, what special interest groups or committees or, you know, associations do they belong to, and you can map all that out and you can start to think, okay, influencers can actually play a role in some of these channels. But in terms of how we can influence the influencers themselves, whereas maybe 10 years ago or five years ago, we could go right to the customer and that was it.

Absolutely. Something that I've seen over the years I'm sure you have especially as you work with clients to find the right way to engage different audiences. If you were to step back several years ago, if you were an influencer, you are an influencer, generally speaking, a social media influencer for the lack of a kind of better phrase but now as time has gone on, it's per channel for the most part, you can be an Instagram influencer, tick tock influencer, one of the areas. And it makes sense because it's b2b, mostly that we've seen is really this rise of the LinkedIn influencer, they might not be an influencer, per se on Twitter, or, or Instagram, you know, those are other channels that they use. Have you stopped start to see that when you're working with your clients? Do they want this built-in LinkedIn audience specifically? Are they asked him for that?

What they're asking for is the people who can best help us create the kind of content that our customers want, that have relationships with audiences that represent our customers. And obviously, in a b2b scenario, LinkedIn is always part of that conversation. Right? If you're in business, you're doing business on LinkedIn. Right. That's the and I'm biased, because, you know, we're, we work with LinkedIn, actually, you know, what, we just celebrated nine years of having LinkedIn as a client. Anyway. Um, so yeah, I think, as far as you know, we see these folks borrowing from b2c and, you know, quote, unquote, calling themselves a LinkedIn influencer. That's fun. That's interesting. I don't know how seriously I take that. But in terms of people who have legitimate domain expertise in a field, in technology, or whatever, and LinkedIn is one of the places where they have attracted a substantial audience, and they also publish their Well, yeah, that's a no-brainer to invite that person to create a relationship with a person like that.

One of the areas that is very difficult about LinkedIn, that's not so on the other networks. And I think you know, what, yeah, yeah, measurement, measurement of conversation measurement, the actual metrics. How does your team do that? And for those that aren't aware of this, it's because of how close LinkedIn API is. So you can use a listening tool, or metrics tool to pull the same data that access to the firehose and Twitter allows.

Yeah, so in, in our case, obviously, anything advertising, there's all the metrics you'd want with that. So I'll just say that, you know, it's that's no different with LinkedIn as with any other social platform, it offers advertising opportunities, when it comes to so so what we do is we get access to individuals. So we work with a lot of executives for our clients, and not always but or the brand channel, and we'll get access to that or we'll partner with someone at the brand that has access to that channel. And that's where, what you know, you have to be logged in that it comes down to you have to be logged in and you have to do manual work. To get some of the measurements that we're looking for. And even then we're not able to get the same kind of measurement we would if there was open API access, right. So that is a challenge. And but at the same time, you know, we are able to measure satisfactorily. A lot of the things we do on LinkedIn, one thing that's different we do on LinkedIn, as opposed to a lot of other social channels, a lot of other social channels, we are still trying to invite people to click away from the promotion on Instagram, or Twitter or Facebook, and go land on a brand destination of some kind where there's some really great content for them to consume. Increasingly, what we're doing is we're we're doing stuff on platform with LinkedIn, we're actually creating the engagement. So it occurs on LinkedIn, there's no form fill exactly, per se, but we're part of the programs involve activations are engaged in customer engagement, I'll say that happen on the platform, so there is an invitation to send them elsewhere. It's meant to keep them on. And so that's obvious top of funnel type of stuff, right? But it's, it's, it's doing really well. In fact, we do this for LinkedIn itself, right on their own, we've helped me market LinkedIn on its own platform. And with influencers, and you know, that stuff, when we benchmark it compared to stuff without influencers is through the roof. It's crazy. And then obviously, we follow that up with other communications, like advertising or whatever, they can send people to a form fill of some kind.

As we wrap up here, what are your top three or five, whatever those would come tips for B2B brand that wants to start with influencer marketing, they're dipping their toe in it, or they want to integrate it with an upcoming big campaign that they might have.

I think one of the most important questions that brands should think about is do you know who your influencers are? Do you know who's influencing your customers? And you may think, you know, but prove it. And so that's the really, the first step is to identify who is actually influencing your customer. So you can use a social media monitoring tool for that. Or you can use a tool specifically for influencer marketing, which basically is a social media monitoring tool with lots of other features that are influencer marketing-specific added to it. And start to identify those people that are driving conversations around topics that are important to your customers. And that could create action. Look at people who are already evangelizing for your brand in a meaningful way, look at who your customers who are saying nice things about you invite them to make something This is tip number two, invite them to collaborate, invite them to make something, I'm a big fan of a crawl walk runs sort of attempt at content collaboration. So, you know, ask 10 people for a single quote, you know, very easy for them to do give a or even repurpose a comment they already made somewhere and say, hey, we'd like to use this in something. So it's no lift on their part at all, but it gives them great exposure, go ahead and do that. And then follow up with something like an interview or a podcast interview or LinkedIn live or something a little more substantial. And then follow up with that with an e book thing or come speak at a conference or, you know what I mean, and grow the relationship when the cool thing here is, you're developing a relationship. But along the way, in the process of developing the relationship, you're also at the same time creating content. And that content is mutually valuable to the influencer in terms of exposure. And obviously, it's influence, it's important or useful to you as a brand, because it's creating value for your customer from a source that is trusted, that is credible. And obviously, on the metric side, before you do any of that stuff. Just come on marketing 101 Take your benchmark measurements about where you're starting at and identify, you know, obviously what your goals are, but get those tracking URLs in place so that once that content is published, and you give it give URLs to those influencers for sharing, that you can track how effective they are. And be really thoughtful The last thing I'd say is be really thoughtful your of your communications with those influencers. So there's nothing wrong with paying them. It's a great idea in fact, to pay them you don't have to pay them a lot of money and say look, I don't have any money, but I can pay 500 bucks I can pay you 250 bucks. I know it's not much I know it's like coffee for you for three weeks or whatever because you love coffee, but just you know or, I mean I've sent someone we both know and love snow shoes. I just sent them a typewriter of vintage operators, some, some, some mittens. I mean, be thoughtful about, you know, incentives or just gifting or anything like that. Obviously, they if they get paid out, right, they've got to disclose that, you know, they've been paid. But just think about what it takes to romance and have a long-term relationship and don't look at it as a one-and-done. And based on that, one thing you did determine whether the whole thing works or not, that's silly.

We're actually as we, as we come to the end of this episode, we're actually working on a campaign that's exactly based off of that. And same thing created this list, kind of, you know, created that relationship with those, they're all new influencers based on how we put together that list, pulled it, you know, reached back out to them got quotes for an ebook taken, you know, we had about a third of those people respond. That's pretty good than that. refund that until five blog posts, four of them are doing a LinkedIn live, you know, you just build in that. You said one key piece, I mean, all of it was perfect, but I think it is extremely overlooked. And it's that concept of a surprise and delight gift for them. Not just necessarily the follow up at the end, it is important. The thank you is But two months later, you see that they switch jobs for no reason no ask no nothing. Correct, even if it's a $25 gift card send themselves saying hey, just saw you on LinkedIn that you switch shots Congrats, you Happy Birthday got Biden benefits? Yep. Absolutely. And I mean, dollar, five brands that they're working with, aren't doing that.

No, they're not, they're not. And it doesn't cost a lot of money, it does take a little bit of project management and thoughtfulness. So have a if you're if you're gonna have someone in charge of influencer marketing, make sure they're, they're a good person. You know, they're a good human being, like yourself. And, you know, that's gonna go a long ways, it's gonna go a long ways, because you know, that old adage that people don't buy from brands they buy from people, you know, they don't, they buy because they like you and all that, that all emotion plays, as much of a part in b2b as it does in consumer purchase. It's different, but it's just as powerful. And a lot of that is facilitated by those people at the brand that communicate with influencers, the way they develop relationships, and the way they empower those relationships to go. Above and beyond the transaction of if you give me a quote, you know, I'll give you 10 bucks, it goes beyond to organic advocacy. And that, you know, word of mouth is the most powerful form of advertising or marketing, right.

100%. So tell the audience where they can find you and of course, find top rank.

Well, they can find top rank at top rank And there we have a blog that's been around since late 2003. So we've got a lot of really great information there. You can find me on the socials le e o d, d, e n, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn will not Facebook so much, but Instagram for sure. Twitter and LinkedIn, those are probably my favorite places to go create and share content, engage with people.

Fantastic. Thank you so much, Lee. Yeah, thank you.

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