As you plan your 2013 social marketing initiatives, one area for you to focus on is influencer identification and engagement. I’ve been speaking to a number of B2B marketers recently who have begun to move beyond reactive responses to complaints to proactively reach out to people who are speaking out socially and creating influential content about their products and services.

Don’t let yourself be deceived; your key influencers are already having conversations, whether or not you’ve begun a marketing initiative to interact with them.  However, engagement will fuel the fire behind their conversations, and allow you to generate more positive content about your products and your company.  Finally, your engaged influencers, when they are your promoters as well as being influential, can supplement your existing customer advocate (or reference) programs.  Traditional reference programs don’t scale because each reference only speaks to one prospect at a time. By engaging those folks and encouraging them to create public content, you can expand their influence on your prospects.

Influencer marketing may be related to social intelligence and use some of the same technologies, but they are not the same program.  You may already have a listening or social intelligence initiative at your company, but while 71% of B2B companies with listening tools use them for market research, and 66% for brand tracking, only 40% use them for influencer marketing, according to our report by Zachariah Hofer-Shall “Uncovering The Value Of Social Intelligence For B2B Companies”.  Additionally, today’s listening platforms are overly focused on Twitter for the needs of B2B Marketers.  For example, 60% to 70% of all content in Salesforce Marketing Cloud’s listening solution (formerly Radian6) are Tweets, but only 5% of B2B technology decision-makers report content on Twitter as influential to their purchase process

As you set up this initiative, remember that’s there’s no single global list of influencers — your influencers are highly specific.  Stepping back from B2B examples, which of these two people are more influential — Warren Buffett or Joe Sixpack?  While Warren Buffett is widely acknowledged as a thought leader in financial management, Joe Sixpack is the online identity of a beer reporter and columnist (Don Russell) whose column is clearly influential to the microbrew market. Your influencers will be similarly specific in their value to others.

Warren Buffett versus Joe Sixpack

As a marketer, you need to craft a list of influencers for your organization and work with them each as individuals, by providing incentives (not monetary; things that help their personal brand or ability to get their jobs done) and reaching out  to them where they are already creating content.

For more information on this topic, I encourage you read my recent research report, 2013 Planning Brief: Listen To Customers, Engage With Influencers (clients only), or leave a comment with any questions or thoughts.