Makeup tutorials. Unboxing videos. Tongue-in-cheek paid sponsorships with cleaning brands.
If you’re like a lot of people, this is the type of content you think of when you think “influencer.”
And that’s fair—this content is what made influencers a thing, after all.
Given that general characterization, however, it can be difficult for many in the B2B space to envision what working with an influencer would look like for their brand—or whether it’s even possible or desirable.
The truth is that B2B influencers can be as effective, if not more, for B2B brands. This is especially true of a specific subset of B2B influencer marketing, called subject matter experts or SMEs. These experts in their industry have a robust presence online, and partnering with one of them can be a genius marketing move.
Let’s look at this phenomenon a bit more closely.
What is a Subject Matter Expert (SME)?
An SME is a person who has not only deep knowledge and expertise in their industry but also credibility.
They’re the type of people who can explain how a complex piece of technology works because they helped design it. Or perhaps they spent years studying leadership pedagogy while also running a company, and now they can easily discuss the nuances of different leadership styles and how they affect productivity.
In other words, while they may not be hosting podcasts, they’re definitely being interviewed on them.
Some SMEs are already influencers, speaking at industry events, putting out a steady stream of valuable content on social media, and, yes, maybe even hosting a podcast. But others may be diligently working at your company each and every day, making your products better and your services more streamlined.
Finally, SMEs almost always have advanced degrees in their field, participate in industry events and conversations, and continue to grow their own knowledge, whether through formal or informal means.
How can partnering with an SME help your B2B brand?
One of the most important things for B2Bs to develop is customer trust. Without it, your brand simply can’t be sustainable, let alone grow.
This is why branding is such a big part of successful B2B marketing—building a brand means building trust, building your reputation, and building your credibility.
Partnering with SMEs can help you do all three of those things because someone who knows your industry inside and out is essentially vouching for you. If an SME is writing a guest blog on your site, doing a live Q&A on your brand’s page on LinkedIn, or posting about you on social, they’re telling their followers that they believe in you enough to partner with you.
Likewise, your brand’s followers get to see someone with deep expertise explaining complex concepts, contextualizing a trend, and generally sharing their knowledge of your company, your product, and your industry.
How can B2Bs partner with SMEs?
There are many ways a B2B can partner with an SME, with most—but not all—revolving around content marketing. Here are a few options:
- Interview them for a blog, podcast, or video series.
SMEs have a lot to share, so interviewing them can be one of the best ways to really dig deep into what they know. Pick a topic beforehand and create a rough list of questions, so you both stay on track, but don’t be afraid to follow the conversation where it leads.
- Partner with them on long-form content.
Thinking of putting out some original research this year? Partner with an SME to develop your methodology and create the research framework or even do the research with you. If that close of a partnership won’t work, try having them review your work once it’s complete and give their written stamp of approval once it’s published.
- Do a live Q&A with them on LinkedIn or Facebook.
Host a live stream with an SME and invite customers to submit their questions. Depending on how well-known the SME is in your industry and how good they are at speaking off the cuff, you can either keep the topics wide open or try to narrow it down to provide both your SME and participants with some structure.
- Ask them to write guest posts on your blog.
Guest posts by an SME can become highly valuable, high-converting content—especially if they write them on a regular basis.
Although the SME may have their own topic they want to write about, you’ll want to make sure before agreeing that the topic fits the content you’ve already got on your blog and makes sense in terms of your content map. Content by SMEs is typically best for customers in the later stages of the sales funnel, as it can be fairly technical and aimed at an audience that already has a mid- to high-level knowledge of the product or industry.
How do you find SMEs to partner with?
There are two basic places to look when seeking an SME to partner with: inside your company and outside it.
Internal SMEs could be people like:
- Your head of IT
- Your lead product designer
- Your sales manager
- Your head of HR
- Your CMO
These are experts at what they do and can speak to the most minute details of their jobs and the industry at large.
Internal SMEs can be easier to work with sometimes because they’re more readily accessible to you and your team, and they also know your brand and products inside and out. They can immediately speak to its nuances or quirks and represent your brand the way you want it to be represented.
Working with an external SME, however, can also offer benefits. For one thing, since they’re outside your brand, customers may trust what they say more than they would trust, for example, your CIO.
They’ll also have an audience that’s separate from yours, even if there’s some overlap. Bringing in an external SME to partner with you can therefore get your exposure to their audience and boost awareness and engagement with your own.
However you decide to work with an SME, bringing them into your branding efforts can be a valuable investment in your reputation. Over time, that partnership can boost your leads, increase your sales, and generally help solidify your brand’s position as a frontrunner in your industry.
Related post: Why Do B2Bs Need Influencer Marketing?
We’ve helped plenty of brands partner with SMEs and B2B influencers. Reach out to learn more.