By Mike Merrill
Influencer marketing is typically a public relations tactic employed and executed by agencies with big budgets on behalf of their clients. However, as small businesses seek out cost-effective ways to reach a new audience, engaging online local influencers is a tactic worth considering.
Brian Solis, the principal analyst at the Altimeter Group, defines influence as, "The ability to cause effect, change behavior, and drive measurable outcomes online."
But what is the value of using influencers and brand advocates? And where does a small business start when trying to identify and engage potential influencers?
Online local influencers typically have built trust with their readers, and they offer businesses an opportunity to reach a new, carefully curated audience in their local market. The Nielsen Global Trust in Advertising survey data confirms that 92 percent of consumers trust recommendations from people they know, while a paltry 15 percent trust brand messages.
Influence is typically determined by expertise in a specific topic. For example, if I’m a popular blogger reviewing restaurants, a recommendation for a particular restaurant can potentially influence my audience to give the restaurant a try.
How to Identify Influencers
When identifying potential influencers, start by looking at the fans and followers on your existing social networks. These folks have already identified themselves as fans of your business and could be advocates already. Advocacy is one consumer telling another consumer where to find a great experience.
Identify the fans that are most likely to share your content and talk about your products and services. In many cases, these folks may already be happy customers. It’s also worth noting we are not targeting A-list influencers here. They tend to get inundated by requests for their time already, so increase your odds by focusing on what David Sifry, the founder of popular blog-ranking service Technorati, calls the Magic Middle.
Sifry defines The Magic Middle as bloggers who have anywhere from 20 to 1,000 in-bound links. I recommend that you create a spreadsheet of potential influencers as you collect this data.
Here are a few free tools to help you assess the people in your existing networks.
Free Tools to Evaluate Your Social Network Fans and Followers
Booshaka helps you assess existing advocates of your brand by pulling a list of your most engaged Facebook fans and ranking them by engagement. While the most engaged could potentially be employees, it’s a decent place to start to see if any are potentially influencers. Take the top 20-30 users and add to your spreadsheet.
SimplyMeasured offers a free report to help you assess your Twitter audience by their Klout score. Once you generate the report, delete the brands and followers who are not local. Then you’ll have a list of your top followers by Klout Score.
Identify folks who have already checked into your business or who have checked in the most. Add these folks to the list, and see if there is overlap.
Klout plugin for Chrome
Looking beyond your networks requires more diligence in searching. Often times you need an enterprise (paid) platform like Radian6 or Sysomos to help you identify influencers by topic and location. Still, here's one way that you can search Twitter for free.
Before performing any advanced Twitter searches by location and /or topic, install the Klout plugin for Chrome. This handy tool will show individual Klout scores in the search results. For example, you could search specific topics related to your business and identify whether the folks who are discussing those topics are, in fact, influential. Again, they may or may not be, topic but it’s a place to start.