Originally posted on Social Web Thing.
In my day to day role I am frequently involved in the identification of online influencers who we feel may be suitable to engage with on behalf of a client. Subsequently, I’ve been encouraged to write a series of three blog posts listing some of the free tools that I use to identify, select and engage with influencers.
This post looks solely at ways to identify (watch out for selection and engagement in coming weeks) influencers and we do this in the hope of establishing a long-term relationship; so we can let people know about events, products or pieces of content which interests influencers – in the hope they then share this within their communities.
There are several points of view when it comes to influencer identification and each approach will be different, depending on the campaign. However, I’m confident that these free tools will serve as a good introduction to this practice. I’d also like to reaffirm how important it is to only speak to people who are receptive to engagement, have an interest in the client, its products or industry. The web is littered with examples of agencies or in-house teams not adhering to these fundamental principles.
When we talk about influencers we often (although, not exclusively) mean bloggers. In addition, to maintaining blogs, these people are normally active across several platforms and are characterised as conversation starters, content creators – and importantly, are influential, thought leaders amongst their readership.
Subsequently, blogs often become hubs of conversation and communities in their own right. This means tools such as Google Blog Search are a great place to start in your journey of influencer identification. Google Blog Search, is great as its advanced search feature allows you to drill down and find out what people saying online.
BlogPulse describes itself as an ‘automated trend discovery system for blogs’. Essentially, BlogPulse is pretty similar to Google Blog Search and it is best used as a blog search engine. However, what sets it apart is that it provides a decent level of data on blogs, which in turn helps shape the decision-making around when it comes to influencer selection. It’s a great tool for tracking trends and conversations online, whilst bloggers, researchers and journalists may find it useful too.
Ice Rocket used to be solely a blog search engine, but now incorporates several social networks into its searches. This is another great resource for seeing who is having conversations around a brand, issue or industry. Whilst, influencers can often mean bloggers, Ice Rocket enables you to search for other online creators, such as those who upload images or talk passionately on a social network about a brand.
Once you have identified a good list of blogs, it is well worth scanning their Blogrolls and seeing where this takes you in the search for online influencers. Essentially, Blogrolls are lists of blogs and websites recommended by the blogger. This kind of peer-to-peer endorsement via linking is not only great for SEO, but enables you identify who the blogger finds influential with their peer group and networks.
Boardreader is a forum and message board search engine that enables you to get fast and quality search information. This is an excellent tool for issue monitoring and whilst, it won’t identify an influencer, it will lead you to where the conversations are taking place. Forums and message boards are arguably the oldest form of social media and it pays to invest time searching this particular tool. Boardreader, frequently lead me to well established and passionate communities full of influencers.
This is a truly wonderful free tool that enables you to see how topics, people or organisations are connected through networks and attempts to demonstrate sphere of influence. This resource enables you to accurately pinpoint relationships between chunks of information in an easily digestible and more importantly, actionable way. I use TouchGraph to explore website neighborhoods in order to identify influencers and I’m constantly surprised by some of the patterns that emerge.
For me, HootSuite is the best social network management tool out there. Not only that, it has an excellent search facility, allowing you to look in real-time for people by what they are saying. This information is not only exceptionally useful for influencer identification, but CRM too; allowing organisations to answer queries, rectify problems and close sales.
Although, I’m a big fan of HootSuite, I’d recommend checking out Tweasier. It’s got some useful features, analytics and search filter – it is well worth playing around with.
Facebook with over 500 million users is the network of choice for most people and people frequently post their status updates, thoughts, comments and links on here. This too has implications for CRM, but I think Facebook Search has most value as a method to identify people at the grassroots level who are talking about a brand, product or industry.
When looking for influencers, do not forget to search community and fan pages for ready made communities that may well be suitable for your campaign.
This post has mostly focused on influencers who create written content on blogs, forums and message boards, however Flickr hosts a thriving community of enthusiasts who congregate around a truly diverse range of topics. With over 4 billion images it would be foolish to overlook the often niche influencers who are active Flickr participants.
This is more a supplementary tool that helps simplify and arrange search results. It’s basically a piece of mapping software that helps the user get all related search information in an easily digestible way. In terms of influencer identification, it can signpost you to venues and communities where conversations around a brand, product or industry are taking place.
If you are well acquainted with some of the tools listed, I’m confident that this knowledge will stand anyone in good stead who wants to identify online influencers. I hope this post will act as a solid introduction, although I must stress, the free tools are the tip of the iceberg.
I appreciate that there are many, many tools out there and I would be interested to hear what tools you use to identify identification and more importantly what you would recommend.