How to Identify Influencers

July 7, 2009Sparxoo

business and consumer influencers used to develop business

By Ethan Lyon, Senior Writer

As social networking becomes more pervasive in our everyday lives, influencers will play a more critical role in our decision making process. Through a network of influencers, businesses can reach consumers or industry leaders in a meaningful and valuable way.

Influencers come in all different shapes and sizes.  There are cultural influencers, political influencers, and even those kids who often exert decision-making powers in their household. Each individual or group of influencer(s) requires a smart, tailored communications approach. Identifying how you’re going to reach influencers is key in building long-lasting relationships. Are you going to be speaking 1) with, 2) through or 3) to them? These three communication approaches will shape your bond with influencers and inform your strategy.

To begin thinking about influencers, consider:

  • Their passion point(s)—Do they focus all of their time on your entrepreneurial passion, or do they have several areas of expertise?
  • The degrees of separation from the decision maker(s)—Different people and organizations exert different types of influence.
  • How can they benefit your initiative—Think of ways to motivate your target influencers to get behind your product.

To illustrate these points, let’s take example from Colin Powell and Kliener Perkins. The former secretary of state has deep connections in high-level political and business circles. Powell is limited in the number of things he can be passionate about, whereas the legendary venture capital firm has a team of high-level influencers across many industries. Both influencers have deep but different passion points and connections. One is a network of high-level influencers, where the other has deep personal connections. Fortunately, if you were to approach Kliener Perkins in search of influence, Colin Powell could help (as he sits on their board).

As you think about approaching influencers like Kliener Perkins or Colin Powell, don’t just consider how they can benefit you, instead think about how you can help them. Are you on the cutting edge? Are you a future leader? What can you bring to their table?

Consumer Influencers

Who Are They?Segmenting influencers into high-level and specific groups is a starting point as you develop your strategy. Are your influencers young, tech-savvy professionals, bloggers, trendsetters, celebrities? Depending on your product / service, identify the key players online and off.

Where Can You Find Them?—Online influencers are typically easier to find. Search and analytic tools enable you to measure influence and prioritize your efforts. Consider inbound links (input link:[URL] into a search field) Google pagerank (a 0-10 scale), RSS subscribers (via Feedburner), Twitter influence via Twitter Grader or blog rating databases (Technorati, Blog Catalog, socialmention, MyBlogLog).

Or you might want to identify offline influencers. Do your target influencers carry more sway in a locality or are they hyper-connected throughout the world? If your target influencer carries weight and takes pride in a given area, speak to their space. What publications are they affiliated with? Are they a NY Times columnist or are they a local film critic?

Business Influencers

Who Are They?—There are two distinct groups of business influencers: 1) Masters, or industry figureheads and 2) Commanders, or the behind-the-scenes players that make things happen:

  • Masters—They’ve been called the captains of industry; masters of the universe; the movers, shakers and policy makers. Masters need no introduction. They are the Steve Jobs, Colin Powells, TIME 100s of the world. They are the figureheads that make sweeping decisions with long-lasting impact. When targeting Masters, evaluate the time spent reaching them versus their attention on your business. Though many businesses could benefit from Bill Clinton’s endorsement, it is difficult to obtain. Even with an endorsement from a Master, it’s likely 0.00142% of their attention. Consider accessibility versus time spent before reaching out to a Master.
  • Commanders—Though Masters are industry figure-heads, they do not necessarily run the show. Think lobbyists, consultants, analysts, journalists, campaign staff. They make things happen. Or, even closer to the decision-making process, consider hubs of influencers such as venture capitalists or the Harvard alumni network. Commanders can be groups or organizations of established influencers or independent professionals with a far-reaching network, or both. When approaching a commander, judge their prominence within the organization and the value of their personal and professional network.

Where Can You Find Them?—Attend TED, and you will find the conference teeming with influencers. The best of the best are invited to share their unique and insightful perspectives—TED selects only Masters. But to find to Commanders, you have to identify the Master’s support system. Who are they close to or care about? Are they lobbyists, or back-end consulting agencies? Who sets the stage? Identify the people in your network closest to your target influencer and build your relationships from there.

Photo by Dawn Allynn from Stock.Xchng