No doubt there are people online who can make or break a product or service with a review or comment. Conversely, a chorus of tiny screams might not even get noticed. Yet they are all important to some degree. After all, these are your customers.
The reality is that all the opinions matter. But they matter to varying degrees. And what confounds that is the employees of a brand have a fairly fixed bandwidth. The looming question for many brand managers and business owners is this: How can I pay the right amount of attention, the right kind of attention, to the right audience, to have the best (not necessarily the largest) impact on my business?
Enter the notion of influencer identification. In a nutshell, these tools do what we’ve all been trying to do manually for a long time: find the people who matter and who people seem to seek. Many of these tools are digital and track some form of social footprint to see where these people are online, who pays attention, who shares their content, what they talk about, how much juice they have, and the like. Each of these tools computes these scores a bit differently, and that’s frankly what sets apart one tool from another.
I won’t review them all here. David Strom of ReadWriteWeb did a nice job of this back in October 2011 in "17 Alternatives to Klout." If you include Klout, you have 18 options. And I can’t stress enough what David emphasizes in item 1 of his issues list: “There is no single number that can really be universally useful.“
That is, use these tools with a shaker of salt. Which is not to say that they are not to be trusted. But PR and communications professionals performed the task of influencer management long before these tools were around. That type of sleuthing work doesn’t stop because there are some new digital kids on the block.
Instead, look for ways to take the output of these tools and augment what you, as a PR pro, communications pro, or business owner are already doing: listening, reading, identifying, reaching out, forging relationships, long before the ask and long before any sale.
A tool I like to use is called FollowerWonk. See tip #5 here from Christopher Penn on how (and why) to use FollowerWonk. It’s a bit manual, but the mathematics behind it are transparent. As in, there’s no guessing why so and so ranks higher in influence for such and such than someone else.
Another powerful Twitter search tool is Topsy (not 100 percent squarely focused on influencer management, but it flags influencers). Topsy is just Twitter search on steroids, but if you squint a little, you can use the results in a different way to help you uncover some insights. It just takes a little work.
So, if you have money, go with one of the paid tools. If you have time (instead of money), use some of the free tools. In addition, comment here, or find a discussion group on LinkedIn for others who are using free tools and techniques to identify and dissect influencers.
And if you have both time and money, I suggest you do both. Digging in manually and then comparing what you find to what the tools discover will be immensely valuable.
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