I interviewed Neal Schaffer who is a social media and influencer marketing expert. Neal teaches digital media to executives at Rutgers Business School, the Irish Management Institute (Ireland), and the University of Jyvaskyla (Finland). He is fluent in Japanese and Mandarin Chinese, and he is also the author of 3 books on social media. Neal recently published his fourth book, The Age of Influence, and is already thinking about his fifth book! #Amazing

In this episode:

  • Definition of influencer marketing
  • Differences between employee advocacy and influencer marketing.
  • How is influencer marketing different from usual social media and social selling
  • How to encourage the employees to be the brand ambassador, and also being the influencer of their own.
  • Learn more about different levels and spheres of influences
  • What are some specific criteria that can help companies source influencers
  • What should companies do to leverage influencer marketing?

Listen to the podcast, get some fresh influencer marketing tips, check out Neal’s new book and find out about the habit that he picked up that he would have never expected due to COVID 19!

Quotes from the episode:

“The problem that brands fall into is when they reach out to very influential people, but maybe they’ve never heard of that company, it ends up being transactional, and it ends up being onetime.”

“I think there are a few different pitfalls that companies need to avoid. The first one is a lot of companies simply work with the wrong people.”


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To learn more about how to improve your business, listen to some of my previous podcast episodes.

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Tips to Build Your Recovery Marketing Strategy

One Big Marketing Takeaway from COVID-19


Welcome to another episode of B2B Marketing and More. And today I have a special, special guest. Neal Shaffer is a very good friend. And I just found out he finished his 4th book! Can you believe it? 4th book! It’s ridiculous! Like Neal, do you have a full-time job? Seriously?

Neal Shaffer: I let you know that I’m already conceptualizing my fifth. Book, would you kill me on-air right now? Well, congratulations. If you have an idea for a 5th book, that means you are a thinker.

Pam Didner: Yes, I will! Literally, like get off my show right now! (laughs) So talk to us about your 4th book. 

Neal Shaffer: Yeah, it’s called The Age of Influence, and it was published March 17, 

2020, two days before my state of California went on lockdown. So the timing could not have been more perfect. (laughs) In 2017-18, I found that I was getting many questions about influencers and influencer marketing. And that led me on a journey. Not only do you do a lot of research and do interviews and what have you, but in writing the book, I realized that I think marketers have been misled about influencer marketing because it’s not limited to a social network. 

Pam Didner: Can you tell us a little bit about what is the definition of influencer marketing? 

Neal Shaffer:  So, influencer marketing is really about social media users who have built a community around publishing content, right? So to be to, you know, influence in, in the realm of social media, you need to have a profile on a social network, and you need to be publishing content fairly consistently around a topic, right? And over time, it doesn’t happen to everybody. And then it happens levels, but you build what’s called him for you build a following and more and more. The definition of influence is really when you people, but act upon what you say.

And I think that in the last decade, we’ve just seen this democratization of information in media.

And all it takes is to look at your kids. I mean, when I was growing up, the analogy I like to use is when “Top Gun” came out, when I was in high school, uh, my best friend, you know, a week later after the movie was out, he was wearing a leather jacket and riding a motorcycle, trying to be Tom Cruise. Right? But you know, the analogy today is my 15-year-old daughter, you know, following the dance moves of Charlie on TikTok. And we, you know, a whole new generation, but even older generations, even, you know, Millennials are now an older generation.

Still, the Gen Xers and Baby Boomers are more influenced by content that they find on the internet that they see on social media, and the podcasts like this, that they listen to, which influence them. So it encompasses a greater number of people and a greater amount of content. And with the coronavirus pandemic, it’s accelerated. With all of this digital transformation, we just spend more and more time online, consuming this information. So it’s really about tapping into this as a marketer. What is it, and how do I tap into it is really where the book starts. Got it. 

Pam Didner:  Got it. Alrighty. So speaking of social media and influencer marketing, how is that different from social selling? 

Neal Shaffer: The more research I did. The more realized, the more real is influenced the market sort of taps into things like social selling. The influencer marketing industry wants you to look at influence by the number of Instagram followers. The number of ticks. Well, what about Facebook? What about Twitter, or LinkedIn? What about, you know, what about podcasts? And so when you get out of that, Right. I like to look at it this way. The influencer marketing industry, in addition, has said over time, that the smaller, the number of followers, the more, you know, authenticity there is, and the more connections there are with the community.

So now the influence of marketing, pushing what is called nano influencers. These are people that are between one to 10,000 followers. So if the minimum amount of followers for, you know, the threshold to have some sort of influence in social media is 1000. The people we know have a thousand connections on LinkedIn and a thousand Twitter followers. What have you?

And I say in my book, instead of looking at that, take that 1000 as a minimum threshold, but look in terms of brand affinity, right? Look at who already likes, knows and trusts your brand. Employees are number one. And within your company, I would argue the tiers of influence within your company who should become more of an influencer.

I would say it starts with the CEO at the top and then your executive team.

These are people that should be outward-facing yielding, more influence than you have at the company. And then you have your sales and marketing. And I would argue in technology companies, products R and D would also fall in there. So when you look at it that way, For B to B companies. When you look at employees, yes, your salespeople, um, that 10% or 20% who are savvy at LinkedIn built up connections. They are sharing a lot of content, including from your company, but also those are, you know, your influencers that often are the outward-facing face.

Of your company digitally, uh, because we know the algorithms work because they favour people over brands. We resonate more and relate more. We trust people more than brands, and the Edelman trust barometer. Also, we can go back in time, all the data’s there, but now we’re at a point where more and more people are participating, and more and more people are yielding more influence. And that’s why I think companies. I need to realize that. And instead of spending more money on social media advertising, which is just paid media, it’s not social media.

Pam Didner:  So you encourage the employees to be the brand ambassador and also the influencer of their own.

Neal Shaffer:  and the customers and the partners and the followers, all these different people. That you have different spheres of influence over it’s really, you know, creating a program. And I know some companies like Intel from when I was in diapers. They were creating internal employee advocacy programs. Still, it’s tapping into that, but you know, including your customers, including your partners, and invest in education and training and encourage them to yield more and more influence, which helps your brand. And it gets you, you know, insights, and word of mouth on social media, which is just really hard to do these days. 

Pam Didner:  Yeah. So basically, um, the influencer marketing way you defined it, it understands it. Influencer marketing is not just like, Oh my God, that the influencer or the thought leader of the person, as long as you have a certain kind of network and cultivate that network. You publish content regularly on a specific topic that you deem to have a certain kind of expertise or in-depth knowledge, you can. Build a certain kind of following and be an influencer of your own.

Neal Shaffer:  The book is geared towards marketers, business owners, executives, and entrepreneurs that want to tap into influencers.

But the reverse engineering of it is, yes, you know, there’s a great restaurant here in Southern California called Urban Plates. I don’t know if you have it up in Portland or not, but you know, I recently published a photo because we. We took home from Urban Plates, and they have this great ribs dish. I won’t, I won’t go on and on about it, but I took a photo. I tagged them, and they liked the post. Right

So if I’m at Urban Plates, I can reach out to food bloggers. Maybe I could reach out to Instagram foodies with a million followers, but they like yourself may have never heard of urban plates, or I could reach out to people. They have 1000 followers or 5,000 followers, but they eat at Urban Plates weekly. They already know the brand and they know your menu.

They’re going to be able to talk about your brand in such a more authentic way.

And if you were to create a program that says, “Hey, if you ever want a free meal in exchange for allowing us access to some of the photos you take, come in at any time, Oh, you want to go to our headquarters and see how we decided on the menu?” So this is the type of thing that any company and he can do. And that’s a B to C example, but it’s relevant for B2B as well. I get pinged, and I’m sure you do Pam all the time. Try our tool, right? Give me lifetime access.

I’ll be more than happy to try your tool, and give you feedback. And if I like it, I will talk about it whenever I talk about tools because I tend to do that a lot. So it’s that same concept of reaching out to people that already know, like, and trust you. And I think you’ll be a lot more effective. Brands fall into the problem when they reach out to very influential people, but you know, maybe they’ve never heard of your company. Right?

And it ends up being transactional, and it ends up being on time.

What I talk about is all long-term relationship-based, and it’s not just what I’ve learned, Pam. And I think the influencer marketing industry has realized this. Well, it’s not just the content amplification but the actual content creation. Right? And this is where B2B has been doing this. For a long time, these interviews were for podcasts, for blogs, but roundup posts, right. We tap into influencers, inviting influencers to your events. Right. I’ve been at 

Adobe summit. I’ve been in the Cisco live by this very concept of inviting influencers to amplify the event, but they also become part of the content right of being interviewed there for the YouTube channel. Have you considered how much B to B marketers spend on content creation? Can you tap into influencers in your industry? I think that’s a very exciting thing. 

Pam Didner: Do you have any suggestions on how companies should source? In terms of that influencers, do you have specific criteria?

Neal Shaffer: Yeah. So I think it begins with the understanding that unless you’re a really big brand that’s done well with, with organic social media if you can pull together 10 or 20 people that may not have a big following, you can equal the number of impressions, the amount of engagement that your brand posts are getting.

Or, if you invest a lot in paid social media ads, you could get that same amount of engagement or whatever KPI you use if you invest with many people. So there are no minimum thresholds here. I recommend beginning with this know, like, and trust factor, you know, set a minimum threshold. You can do analytics, but I think it’s about bringing together employees, bringing together customers, partners, followers, and social media.

People that have mentioned your company with a social listening tool, email subscribers, and starting from there to build a database of potential brand ambassadors, both inside and outside your company.

Maybe starting with a thousand followers. But I think as you go through these people, you’re going to find that some talk more about one subject than another, right.

And you begin to group people. So maybe if you’re like a lot of companies, you do different monthly campaigns. Let’s see your productivity software, right? Maybe one month, it’s going to be “at work productivity,” maybe another one it’s about internet browsing productivity. I don’t know. I’m just making these up, but you’ll find that people generally tend to get more engagement when they talk about certain subjects. Right? Um, and also people have different followings in different networks.

So if you’re not getting anywhere on Instagram and you’re able to find some of these people that are getting traction on Instagram, you’ll obviously, maybe that’s a strategic approach you want to make.

So, it starts with a minimum, and it starts with a database of people.

And I wish there was one tool that could do this all for you. I do think it, you know, there are tools that you can aggregate people, and there are, if you have an email address, find their social media profile, types of tools and services out there. But I think it’s, they’re going to come down to a little bit of analysis of bringing all these people together and finding, and you could start the other way around. Who’s talked about us on social media. Who’s following us?

And start with that minimum threshold. And then from there, compare and contrast some, get more engagement, some get less engagement, but even that less engagement may be more than what you’re getting. So, um, that’s the thought process behind it.

Pam Didner: So, um, with that being said, um, I want to ask a couple of the parting thoughts for any companies that currently influencer the marketing. What are some of the tips and tricks from your perspective that they need to do it?

Neal Shaffer: I think there are a few different pitfalls that companies need to avoid. The first one is a lot of companies just simply work with the wrong people. Right.

Pam Didner:  How do you know if you work with the right or wrong people?

Neal Shaffer: If they were to talk about your product or service on their feed, would there be natural alignment? Like someone pitching me to come on to my podcast, they want to talk about them as an entrepreneur and less about them as a marketer. So, you know, brands will reach out to people or maybe use an agency or someone, and they’ll just go down a list and do a spray and pray approach. And this is another issue that when you reach out to people with somewhat influence, it has to be personalized. It has to be one-to-one. It’s more of a…

Pam Didner: just make sure whoever you pick that it’s aligned with your product with your brand. 

Neal Shaffer: Yes. And then, when you approach them, that it’s personalized. They sort of go hand in hand, and you think it’s common sense, but I mean, I’ve been, I don’t know about you, Pam, you probably get pitched on things I’ve gotten pitched because yeah. Well, my profile photos are I’m wearing a suit, so the suit manufacturer, you know, Hey, we’ll make you a custom suit if you post us on Instagram. 

Pam Didner: Well, but, but here’s the thing, like I post that on Instagram. It’s out of the brand. I don’t talk about that. So it would look artificial, and everyone would know I did it for getting paid, and it’s a lose, lose, lose, but the brands only look at this person with this many follower publicists. So. That’s number one, right? I think number two is also looking at this as a long-term relationship.

This is not a one-time activation. It should be a long-term activation. You should be building a community for whatever campaign, whatever events. So I think, you know, a lot of companies see this as a campaign. Oh, we need to get more clicks. We need to get more impressions. Let’s bring in some influencers. Rather than that, I look at it. 

Pam Didner: It’s a long-term play.

Neal Shaffer: And this is where I think B2B gets it. More than B to C. Right?

Pam Didner: They should because their purchasing cycles tend to be pretty long.  

Neal Shaffer: think about it this way. You know, if you want to find out about a restaurant, there are tons of Yelp reviews. If you want to find out about social selling software, there aren’t that many people that talk about it. Yes. There’s G2 and, you know, some of those sites, but in terms of like bloggers, I mean, it’s a finite set, right? You don’t, so it’s a limited amount of information, which means that every influencer on social is just that much more valuable for B2B. Then we could argue for B2C, where there’s an unlimited amount of information on pretty much everything. 

Pam Didner: there’s one question I would like to ask you. What habit have you picked up to COVID 19 that never would have been expected?

Neal Shaffer: I picked up a few. Wait, is this a, is this worker private? Well, I’ll give you work. I’ve become a fan of Calendly. And of really organizing my time because went and Pam I’m sure like me, we used to, you know, travel and speak and, uh, you know, meet with clients and, and the schedule is a little bit different now we’re home all the time. We’re online all the time. And just being able to manage that time becomes even more essential to maintain sanity and finished client work. So from a private perspective, my family and I, before we go to bed, do exercises together.

So that’s a lot of fun, and I’ve taken an extension of that. Um, I’m trying to juggle the soccer ball. So I’ve been doing Instagram live as an accountability partner to ensure that I keep doing it even though I suck at it. Right? But it’s like, it’s like, I need to get the 12 before I go to bed, and I’ll get a few people on it. It’s a lot of fun, but yeah.

Being able to exercise before I go into bed is because we’re just spending less time outside and yeah.

Pam Didner:  Yeah, you sit all the time! I’m just sitting here.

Neal Shaffer: I’ve got this Smartwatch on, you know, I want to get the 10,000 steps a day. It’s like 2,900. It’s like, Oh man. So yeah, that’s one way we’re trying to get more active. Excellent. 

Pam Didner: It’s wonderful talking to you today. And whoever’s listening out there, check out Neal’s latest book, The Age of Influence on HarperCollins Leadership.

Neal Shaffer: It’s been too long, so it’s glad to reconnect. 

Pam Didner: Yeah, it’s great.

What can Pam Didner do for you?

Being in the corporate world for 20+ years and having held various positions from accounting and supply chain management, and marketing to sales enablement, she knows how corporations work. She can make you and your team a rock star by identifying areas to shine and do better. She does that through private coaching, keynote speaking, workshop training, and hands-on consulting. Contact her or find her on LinkedIn and Twitter. A quick note: Check out her new 90-Day Revenue Reboot, if you are struggling with marketing.