How To Track Down & Scout Out Influencers

by on 01/05/2011 • 32 Comments | Social Media

You’ve heard it a lot. The key to your social dominance lies in your ability to connect with your brand influencers and get them to pass on your content and their networks just how great you are. It’s well-intentioned advice but it means nothing if you don’t know who these influencers are and how to go about identifying them. That’s the tricky part. So how do you do it? Who are these magical influencers that you should be reaching out to? Where do you look?  That’s what I want to go into a bit today.

But before I do, let’s back up.

As a brand, why should you even care? There are people that exist who are already talking about your brand – that means your job is done, right? What do you stand to gain by reaching out to these people and getting to know more about them? Actually, quite a lot.  Reaching out to brand influencers is important for a number of reasons:

  • It betters customer service: We live in a world where all customers are not created equal. If we’re being frank, there are people who are more important to your brand than others. Someone with 10k Twitter followers and who spends his day tweeting about the brands he loves is more important to your business than someone who has no presence in social media and can’t work a mouse. They’re more important because they’re more connected and can touch a far greater number of people with a single complaint or praise. Who would you rather piss off on Twitter – @ChrisBrogan or @Paulie83034?  Sorry, Paulie.
  • It betters your marketing: Knowing who the most passionate people are related to your brand helps you to better market to them. Tuning yourself into their motivations, their desires and what compels them to act can help you better leverage the influence that they command. By creating specialized content and marketing toward them in a different way also shows that person you respect their influence, strengthening the relationship they have with your brand.
  • It betters your word of mouth: Simply put, an engaged influencer is a stronger influencer.  The more connected they feel to your brand, the more likely they are to consistently share it with their network. And that’s what you want.

So how do you go about identifying these people so that you can reach out to them?

Scout your own community

The easiest way to hunt out brand influencers is to start in your own community. Take a step back and ask yourself:

  • Who are the people who not only comment on your blog regularly, but who help start discussions?
  • Who are the community elders that others most respond or look up to?
  • Have an email newsletter? Who is it that’s clicking the “share this” icons and passing it along to their friends?
  • Who’s submitting your content to social voting and news sites?

Start keeping a list of the names and faces you most often see stepping up in your community. Once you have a good list, do some recon. Find their social profiles and personal Web sites. How many friends/followers/fans do they have? How many links to their site? Find out what type of social media user they are – do they just consume content or do they promote other brands, as well? You’re looking for the folks that not only take in content, but who make actively sharing it part of their day.  These are your mega influencers.

Collect social usernames

Not into hunting down social usernames for your customers? Okay, then maybe just ask your customers for them. The same way you collect email addresses and personal information, start asking for social identities, as well. Get their username on Twitter, Facebook, WordPress, LinkedIn, Reddit, LiveJournal, and wherever else they hang out. Again, when you have them, look for the power accounts of the group. The people who have more than just a presence, but who have influence within their circles. And don’t just go after the top dogs. Also make friends with the middle tier. These are the people who have the influence, but not necessarily the fame of the A-listers. These people are apt to be more hungry and more willing to become part of your brand street team.  They want to be recognized.

See who’s influencing your customers

Another way to identify key influences is to work backwards. Who are the people influencing your influencers? Who are the early adopters that they listen to? The people that, if you win them over, you’ll have access to their entire tribe? One way to find out is start plugging your influencers’ usernames into a service like Klout and learn a bit more about their Influence Matrix – who they’re influenced by and who they influence. For example, if you’re trying to influence me, the best way to do that may be to attract someone like Andy Beal. The data shows I respect his opinion (true fact) and an endorsement from him will go a long way to swaying me. On the flipside, you may want to go after me (or someone like me) if you’re looking to influence people like Jill Whalen or Rebecca Kelley.

Identify who’s producing content

Who are the people who have the power to not only talk about your brand, but to create their own content and conversations about you? Put together a social media command center, a listening station or whatever else you want to call it to help yourself chart out the linkerati and the bloggers/writers that hold power in your niche.

One of the coolest things social media has done is given us more data into who our customers are and who they’re sharing our content and our brand with. You want to make sure you’re tracking that and creating your own Influence Score for audience the same way Klout does for its own service. Who are the people spreading your message? Who are they influenced by and are they responsible for influencing? By tracking some of the metrics listed above you can start to put the pieces together to help you form a more complete view of who exactly makes up your company’s “brand influencers”.

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About the Author

Lisa Barone

Lisa Barone co-founded Outspoken Media in 2009 and served as Chief Branding Officer until April 2012.

Get social with Lisa at Twitter

32 thoughts on “How To Track Down & Scout Out Influencers

    • Klout does give some information in regard to how they measure and where their “scores” come from over on their site:

      http://klout.com/kscore

      I think it does a fairly good job at picking out influence circles. Especially if you’re inputting a few usernames and looking for the folks common among them. It’s not perfect, but nothing is.

      • Thanks. I’ve read their guidelines as it were but the whole thing seemed suspect or at best imperfect. But as Canada Bill Jones said (To keep with Robert Brady’s Wild West symbolism.), “…it’s the only game in town!”

  1. I feel like savvy business owners have been doing this for years. Even a barber in the old West knew that having the sheriff or mayor as a customer helped business. Seems like this is just a way to discover and harness online influencers since the community is so much larger and you don’t have as much direct interaction.

    • Oh, definitely. But from some reason many people don’t carry the same practices they used offline, online. We get to the Web and start looking at it like, sooo….now….what….do I do? Do what you’ve always done. You just have new tools to help you do it on these new mediums.

  2. Oy vei, that sounds like a lot of work. When did marketing get so complicated? Wish I could go back to college when all I had to do was worry about 4 letters… and they were all the same!

    Seriously Lisa, great ideas here. Definitely moving forward with some takeaways from your post and sharing with some colleagues. Good luck in 2011! ~Paul

  3. Thanks for this great post. Showing us the back-office workings of SM is what you do the best for your community.
    All the best to you and OSM in 2011
    Oh! BTW thanks for sharing @norcross post on LD. Wish more voices like him were out there.

  4. Hi Lisa, Eddie Smith with Topsy here – Enjoyed the post and wanted to offer up some additional thoughts on how Influence can be used. Our influence algorithm is used to rank search results from the social Web, and there’s some interesting ways you can use influence from Topsy, specifically to identify who’s referencing links about your brand.
    For example, here are the influencers for you http://topsy.com/s/Lisa+Barone/expert, along with mention details. And, here are search results for you sorted by influencers that referenced your posts & links over the past month with your name in them http://topsy.com/s/Lisa+Barone?window=m.
    Similarly, marketers could use influence to identify not only who is important to their brand, but specifically who is referencing your brand’s (and competitors) URLs within the social Web.

    • Hey, Eddie, thanks for dropping by. I’ve seen topsy come up a bunch of times via email alerts and stuff like that but, to be honest, I haven’t done much research on it. So I appreciate you chiming in here. I think it’s pretty neat that you’re able to show not only WHO is talking about someone, but also how many times they have and the specific instances so that people can get context. That’s a cool feature. I’ll have to dive into this more. Thank you!

  5. Bit of a tangent, but since I was ranting about Adobe’s service on Twitter this morning (and spent 6 hours with DirecTV in and out of my house yesterday), I’ll make a counterpoint about chasing influencers. I think it can – in theory – be good for customer service. Comcast is the example that comes up a lot. Their service may still be far from ideal, but they seem to be actually listening to social media and trying to learn those lessons.

    On the other hand, you have companies like the airlines. They’ll jump to apologize (actually, they don’t even do that very quickly) when some influencer complains or makes a video about their guitar, but meanwhile the rest of us still get treated like cattle. They haven’t learned anything and this attitude isn’t improving service – they’re just covering their asses in a new way.

    Even worse is when a company’s response to influencers actually masks their horrible treatment of everyday customers. I’ve been going back and forth with Adobe and someone suggested I contact them on Twitter. I could (and might have, if I hadn’t wasted enough time), but why should I have to? I’ve paid [a lot] for a product, and I deserve better than spending 3 weeks with Tier 1 chat trying to prove someone sent me an email coupon. If they set up a Twitter account and pretend to care, does that really change anything? Might be good for their brand, but faux compassion for celebrities isn’t helping their customers.

    • No, you’re right. The kind of customer service that is shown to influencers and “regular people” should be similar. Rhea had a recent issue where she was spending hours on hold/arguing with Dell, only to go to Twitter and be greeted by a chipper sales rep anxious to help. It’s annoying and it’s bullshit. You live and die by your customer service. You should have systems in place to make it as good as you can. And it should be similar for everyone.

      However, similar is not “the same”. And there are going to be times when you have to pick and choose your battles to determine WHO you’re going to help because, realistically, you probably can’t help everyone. And in that case, sorry, but I’m helping the influencer. Not solely because they have 10k fans, but because they’re VOCAL about my company which shows a level of engagement and excitement that the regular person hasn’t shown. To me, that’s not only good business, it’s fair.

      • From a brand perspective, I can’t argue with you – you’ve got to make the loudest people happy first, right or wrong. I have seen a few cases where it seems like a company replied to an influencer, learned something, and then applied that to their whole business. Hopefully, we’ll see more of that.

        • Dr. Pete, I think this is one of the ways social media is going to fundamentally change the way business is done and as a consequence a very large group of people is going to be left behind.

          I blogged this concept recently here: http://lillian2611.wordpress.com/2010/12/31/its-gonna-get-messy-quoras-here/

          I compare the current situation to the one where a generation of people was seriously impacted by the addition of ATMs – and its corresponding reduction in banks, bank tellers and service hours. The difference now is that the person using social media will get service rather than the one who isn’t and it won’t matter how young or old you are.

          The difference now is that if someone is sending me, a brand, a nasty email or they’re calling me on the phone to yell at me, no one else is there to witness it. On Twitter or Facebook, however, there are potentially hundreds, thousands, millions. That’s some negative advertising most brands can’t afford.

  6. Hi Lisa,

    While it seems obvious…. before one starts to reach out and connect with influencers, I’d suggest that marketers ‘practice’ on regular customers, get their house in order, and then work on increasing their sphere of influence.

    Understanding how to manage clients & customers gives one a foundation upon which to build one’s credibility, get endorsements (however humble they may be) and see where one should move next.

    The mistake I see with most marketers is a tendency to jump the gun and try to engage too soon.

    As Social Media is a marathon, not a sprint, one needs to pace oneself accordingly. Hope that makes sense.

    Ivan

    • Hey Ivan, some good tips there, thank you.

      Social media is definitely a marathon, and not a sprint. You’re right in that sometimes it would do marketers good to shut up for a minute and wait their turn to engage. What’s that old saying – you have two ears and only one mouth for a reason? ;)

  7. Lisa, these are clear and valuable guidelines for those folks/brands who haven’t already approached the Influencer question; very nicely done.

    The delicate part is, once you’ve identified the Influencers, what’s the best approach? Reward those people with coupons or deals? You risk ‘corrupting’ their influence.
    Even reaching out to an Influencer on Twitter to say thanks for a comment can be read wrong, like an insincere pat on the back.

    So what would you suggest brands do once they’ve made a list of their Influencers?

  8. I think one of the biggest misconceptions currently held in mainstream marketing channels is that people labeled as influencers are not very well aligned with the message those marketers are trying to push.

    For example, I’ve gotten a handful of offers through Klout’s influence channel from various brands to try things out for free – including a free trip on Virgin America, an advanced showing of the 3rd Season of Southland, and other offers that are honestly, not very likely to be things that my circle of influence cares very much about – at least not in any significant way.

    So instead of taking the shotgun approach, brand marketers really do need to take the time to get a better grasp on matching the influencer with the product or service.

    In the mean time, I hope they keep sending me stuff because it’s fun :-) But uh, yeah, it’s really just a big #FAIL.

  9. Great article, I think it is a great way to get to know who those people are that can help you but also it is equally important that you ask yourself what can you do for them. I mean it all comes down to you get what you give right?

    Thanks for sharing!

  10. Lisa,

    What I like most about this post is that you focused on the methods and approach, without focusing on the tools (Klout aside). Too often, I’m seeing people get caught up in the tools, without regard to the processes and methods to actually accomplish influencer analysis and mapping.

    Ken

  11. Lisa
    I like the approach and the fact that you talk about ‘community’. Influence isn’t an absolute notion. It happens in the context of a community of interest. We live in a word of specialists. Nowadays, you can be an expert on one matter, may be two. So it’s important to think about the community/tribes that’s a good fit for you product/service and target those influencers within relevant communty(ies). We have built a platform just to do that here and if you don’t mind me taking a couple of examples, have mapped and ranked 1900 online influencers in the home deco community or 1700 in the beauty community. Within those pools it’s then possible to identify the better fit based on content match to your specific product/service strategy.
    Laurent

  12. Ha, I agree with the reverse mojo! I’m always amazed about how you manage to write such valuable posts day after day. This post in particular has prompted me to give you a blog mention. I just posted an article about you on my blog, here: http://www.vergent.net/blog/.

    By the way, my blog is also dofollow, so feel free to leave comments and reap the backlink benefits there also.

    Thanks for the great work!

  13. Interesting blog post here.

    You ask the question “how do I find the influencers” and talk about using tools where you enter userids and see who they are influenced by. This is certainly one approach, but this does not allow you to find new influencers perhaps outside of the circle you regularly travel; it also seems pretty time-intensive to manually cross tab all the matrices; and it ignores the best way to find influence — start by looking not at the userids you know, but instead at the very topics and things your market cares about; and from that derive who the voices are that matter the most.

    At the risk of blatant commercialism…check out http://www.mblast.com/mpact. We launch on Monday 10 January and have a different perspective on measuring influence than some others in the market.

    First, we believe that to measure influence, you have to first listen and see if potential influencers are really saying things of relevance to your market or not. You start with keywords – not known userids. Seems obvious I know, especially to marketers, but some tools ignore this at their own peril, and seem to give somewhat generic influence scores that equate to being highly influential over a lot; but in reality not very influential at all over my market. You mention Chris Brogan here — a brilliant thinker and highly influential. But I am not sure I would listen to Chris if I was in the market for Ski Boats. I’m sure he knows something about the topic, but I’m not sure I’ve really heard him talking about the space a lot with any authority or regularity. So if I am looking for who is most influential in the boating space, Chris may not rank very high at all. He doesn’t really have the authority, or a regular voice in the discussion for this market. If I really look for who is moving the boating market, Chris may be a dud (sorry Chris. Admire your work in all other areas!)

    Topical relevance matters a lot in determining influence. We handle that very well in our solution by allowing you to first find influence based on what people are saying, and how that matches up to what you are looking for.

    Once you isolated the voices with topical relevancy, you can then look at their authority levels, reach and other variables that allow influence scoring / mapping to be done effectively.

    What we’re describing is hard to do. But we’ve done it. And we do it across not just social media, but also the blogsphere and online publications (articles) as well.

    We think in many ways, measuring influence is not a new gig for marketing professionals. It’s just a lot harder to do now with all the voices to span and listen to.

    We welcome more discussion on this very important topic.

    Gary Lee
    CEO
    mBLAST
    http://www.mblast.com/mpact

    • Gary, I know you’re right that some tools aren’t going to be helpful to certain brands because of the kind of influence they’re looking at. But there are tools that do find influencers based on your keywords or the specifics of your search; how will your product be different from those?

      Radian6, for example, has the Influence Viewer widget. It is tied specifically to metrics a brand can determine in advance and it brings in results based on who is talking about your product. From the widget you can even access the relevant posts those influencers have made.

      Just to clarify, too: I’m neither a client nor an employee of Radian6 (now), though I did act as a Training Specialist for the company for a couple of months last year. I’m very familiar with the product as a consequence.

      • You wrote >> there are tools that do find influencers based on your keywords or the specifics of your search; how will your product be different from those?

        Our product is designed from the core up to work off keywords, and then scan all the voices out there in the blogsphere, online articles and social media to find those voices that match what you’re looking for. We then derive influence measurement on top of this set of data to uncover who is really important and impacting your market (and thus the name of our product – mPACT).

        We also mine for upcoming opportunities – call for speakers, editorial calendars, awards, etc.

        To learn more, go to http://www.mblast.com/mpact

        Thanks
        grl

  14. Hi, Lisa. I’m still wrapping my head around the concept of influence and how it fits into PR, brand awareness and other strategies. I’m interested in learning your take on a couple of issues:
    1) How much time/resources might a small business want to put in this bucket?
    2) Ideas on balancing pursuit/development of relationships with highly visible influencers along with their lesser-known (but possibly vocal, active) peers?
    3) Your thoughts on maintaining and growing the connection to ensure continued forward momentum.

    Thanks, @heatherrast

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