4 Steps To Finding Better Influencers

by | Feb 16, 2011

Gaining respect, trust and social capital with digital influencers in your space is fast become the holy grail of online marketing.

But how do you identify who is influencing who?

Using a variety of web analytics and social metrics can help you map influence across social platforms and identify patterns with the key players in your market.  Here are four (note the absence of the word easy) steps to create your own target list of influencers in your space.

1. Identify Your Keywords

Before you can figure out who is talking about you or your industry (or who should be talking about you!) it’s important to understand your keywords so you can identify who is using them. Many of us have already gone through this process when looking at advertising buys and SEO. If so, you’re in luck and can skip to Step 2.

Remember that influencers in your space might not be talking about you yet, so it’s important to identify who is talking about your competitors and other topics in your space in addition to your brand itself. For those of you who haven’t yet dipped a toe into keyword (and keyphrase) identification, here are a few popular tools to get you started:

2. It’s All about Research

In the past, marketers and communicators have typically monitored media mentions and online conversations after a campaign for analysis. That process is flipped on its head in influencer identification: monitoring and research are one of the first steps before a campaign.

Monitor the web to find out who is talking about your brand, your keywords and your competitors. If you have the budget, the easiest way to do this is through a paid monitoring platform, like those offered by Cision (shameless, yet transparent, self-plug) Radian6 or Moreover, to name a few. If you don’t have a big budget, there are myriad free tools available online, but you’ll be doing a little more legwork collecting the data. The below table lists my personal favorite free tools and what they monitor.

This next part of your research is more intuitive, and less about the metrics and monitoring.

As you dig in to the content you identify through your monitoring, you will start to see which content producers (whether it be through Twitter, a blog, traditional media or another social platform) are posting most frequently, are getting the most comments and responses and are producing content that is being shared by others.

Those content producers will be the building blocks of your influencer list. Start to document names, handles and blog URLs to prepare you for Step 3.

3. Do the Math

Once you have a solid list of potential influencers (the size will depend on your brand, industry, organization and/or campaign, but a nice benchmark is between 100 and 500 contacts in this initial phase), it’s time to start putting the math back into your identification process. Unless you are a metrics nerd like me, this part may be a bit tedious, but worth it in the long run.

Choose five to ten web analytics and social metrics by which you will start to map your influencers. It’s best to choose a mix of metrics across platforms (so one or two for Twitter, a few blog metrics and so on). My recommendation is to play around with these until you identify the metrics most relevant for you to navigate. These include (but are definitely not limited to):

1. Unique Visitors per Month (or per Day)
The standard metric that we can compare to print circulation, UVMs provide you with a straight up gauge of the sites that get the most eyeballs. My favorite resource for this is Compete.com.

2. Other Web Analytics
These tend to cost money if you are going to gather them without the help of the sites themselves, but can give you a great idea of which sites readers spend the most time on, return to most frequently and more. My favorites are Page Views per Unique Visitor, Time Spent per Visit, and New Visitors versus Return Visitors. Again, I get my web analytics from Compete.com, but these additional features are only available with a Compete PRO account.

3. Twitter Metrics
Not just followers anymore, you can now measure Retweets, Authority, Follower/Following Ratio, etc. I find the best way to do this is to choose one or two Twitter graders like Klout (also includes Facebook) or Edelman’s TweetLevel. They all have different algorithms, but for the purpose of identifying your influencers, they will do the job and save you the legwork.

4. Inbound Links
Frequently dubbed “the currency of the blogosphere,” inbound links will provide you with a glimpse into which influencers other influencers are citing and referring back to as experts. You can get inbound links by going to Yahoo! Site Explorer (you just have to log in once with a Yahoo!, Google or Facebook account) and typing in the URL in the “Explore URL” search box. You will then return the number of “Inlinks” and can even exclude links from that domain back to itself to get a true picture.

5. Comments & Unique Commenters
Great ways to gauge engagement, comments require, unfortunately, without a paid solution, legwork to quantify. Get in there and start counting!

4. Map Your Results

You are probably saying, “Heidi, this is a huge pain! Why do I need to get ALL these metrics?”

Quite simply, digital influencers are as unique and varied as snowflakes, and they all influence others in very different ways.

By measuring across multiple outposts, you can begin to identify patterns of influence. Take this graph of influencers in the Internet Marketing space for example (note, I have no intention of leaving anyone off of this list, it is merely for illustration and includes some of my favorite Internet Marketing gurus):

The blue highlights indicate the top 4 scores in each category. If we solely focused on Unique Visitors per Month for this list, we would never identify 3 of the 4 most influential people on the social web according to Klout. We’d also miss how much impact Jeremy Schoemaker has on Facebook, or how, along with Michael Gray, people are spending more time on his blog than on others.

Once you complete your mapping, you will have a clearer picture not only of who your influencers are, but which platforms they engage in the most.

A final note on influencer engagement: Paid media is one thing, but if you are looking to truly build relationships with the influencers in your space, don’t take the list that you’ve created and send a spammy-sounding email touting your merits. Read what your influencers write, learn their likes and dislikes and build a relationship with them the same way you would in the offline world. Happy influencing!
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Image source: Shutterstock.com

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