What do you picture when you think about influencer marketing? At first thought, I picture a lifestyle blogger holding a popular tea, makeup, or activewear brand in an Instagram post. (Perhaps I need to mix up my Instagram following … 🤔)

However influencer marketing looks to you, it has taken the marketing industry by storm. Almost 50% of customers say they follow influencers’ product or service recommendations, and over 70% of businesses say the quality of traffic from influencers is better than from other sources.

Why is influencer marketing effective? Because it taps into word-of-mouth marketing and social proof, two of the strongest influencers (literally) of shopping behavior and brand trust. Today, customers rely on the recommendations of friends, family, and people they admire more than the brands or companies themselves.

Regardless of how influencer marketing works, it doesn’t always look like what you scroll past on Instagram or YouTube. In fact, here at HubSpot, we’ve adopted a pretty unique approach to influencer marketing, and it’s yielded some amazing results — and relationships.

How HubSpot Uses Influencer Marketing

I recently talked to Carolyn Kim, Partnerships Manager at HubSpot. She told me more about how HubSpot utilizes influencer marketing and how she’s working to set the company apart from other brands.

“Influencer work isn’t about identifying someone who’s popular or famous or maybe has the same audience,” Kim shares. “It’s about building real relationships. That’s what makes sense for building a corporate culture and building partnerships between companies.”

From her point-of-view, humans and relationships are what every company has in common, regardless of what it sells or who its customers are.

“Humans are what and who exist between companies,” Kim says. “This approach to influencer marketing works well for executives and founders — building relationships that are all about strategizing, high-fiving, and believing that we all have the same mission to grow and provide value to our customers.”

An important part of Kim’s job is figuring out how to activate these relationships. The answer is simple: “Conversations are what really matters … the ability to speak honestly and transparently to the world around you,” Kim says. She’s been working on a handful of exciting projects that connect HubSpot leaders to leaders with similar values and audiences.

Another way that HubSpot has activated these relationships is by publishing thought leadership content developed by external influencers. These influencers are typically directors and entrepreneurs from leading companies like HubSpot.

How HubSpot Redefines Influencer Marketing

I also talked to Kim about what influencer marketing isn’t. “The word influencer — like networking — need to be redefined and better used,” she commented. “Influencer marketing works because you have relationships. No one became popular because they had relationships with nobody. They were loved and understood by many, and that’s what gives them influence.”

Influencer marketing is no longer simply working with folks in an effort to name-drop or be associated with certain individuals. “Customers can smell that stuff,” Kim explained. “It’s insincere and truly only picked up as authentic by those who are inauthentic.”

To attract customers with HEART (HubSpot’s Culture Code), HubSpot only works with promoters, ambassadors, and connectors who display HEART. “Traditional influencers and promoters tend to ask, ‘What do I get out of this?’ Kim said. “They don’t add value; they take it away.”

Instead of paying someone to influence your customer base, companies should support each other in an effort to influence each other’s customers. “Partnership is simply the mindset that we have things in common, and stand to only gain from supporting one another,” she shared.

So, how can other companies get started with this approach to influencer marketing? Kim shared a bit of advice with me.

Before anything, know who you are as a person, brand, and/or group. Chat with your leadership team to better understand what you stand for as a company and what goals for building influencer connections.

With this information, you’ll be able to identify other like-minded people with whom you can connect and build relationships. Whether you make one-on-one connections or hold dinner parties as Kim does, the key is to build genuine, authentic associations.

“When you make this genuine effort, you learn to trust each other’s interests and intentions, and you’re able to build the same goals that provide true value to your customers,” Kim explained.

Influencer marketing is all about talking to people with a purpose. Decide what your purpose is, and start connecting with like-minded people. Both your company and your customers will benefit greatly.