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How to Identify Your Social Media Influencers

in·flu·ence: noun \ˈin-ˌflü-ən(t)s,: the effect that a person or thing has on someone’s decisions, opinions, or behaviour or on the way something happens.

Let me put you out of your misery right now. There is no one magic tool that will search out the individuals who are passionate about your brand, who are willing to write about you and promote you, and who have their own network of influential business and social connections. Yet it’s clear that if you want your social media outreach efforts to have a positive business impact, you need to tap into these people and their network. Identifying them is only part of the job – you also need to nurture the relationship so they get to know your brand. What makes someone influential?

Number of followers: This is is one indicator, but numbers alone don’t do it. At the moment, Oprah Winfrey has more than 12 million followers on Twitter. But unless your product or service is relevant to her interests and she’s used it and loved it to the point where she is willing to tweet about it, she is not an influencer for your business.

Credibility in the field: If you are doing B2B marketing, this person needs to have professional credentials or a high profile as an expert amateur. In B2C, bloggers who write and review products for your industry - healthcare, cosmetics, or food – are also important influencers. You want a recognized expert.

A network that respects and listens: When you follow the discussion trails, this person receives thank-yous from followers for good advice. You will also see messages such as: “I tried what you suggested but …” followed by thoughtful, considerate responses from the influencer.

The 20-10-1 Rule

Some call it the 20-10-1 Rule. The percentages vary, and the names and profiles of these groups may vary, but the roles they play are consistent. It really doesn’t matter how you slice the target audience so long as you remember that you only need to focus effort on a subset.

Early Adopters (20%)
These are the people who are willing to try your product when it first comes out and  to  engage with your online support or service staff. If they like the product, they will communicate to their circle.

Passive Adopters (10%)
These people are also early adopters and they do their homework. They research your product and use it knowledgeably. However, they will only recommend when asked or prompted. Nonetheless they are valuable because when they do reply to another user, they provide considered, useful responses.

Collaborating Adopters (1%)
This is the most potent group. These are the fans who are willing to act as unpaid ambassadors for your product. They may be fine with taking free product samples, but the best of them will not take payment because that compromises their neutrality. Often, they will self-identify to you through enthusiastic participation in social media campaigns (contests, surveys), refer others to your products more often than anyone else, or they may blog or even start a fan site. Treat these like product advisors and they can be great beta testers or come up with ideas that advance your product.

How to Find Influencers

It’s not hard, but it’s tedious. You can:

  • Count Twitter followers and Facebook “likes”
  • Look at the number of responses per blog post, comments for each Facebook post, retweets and replies to Twitter
  • High Google page ranks – this is an SEO indicator of how many other websites or social media posts refer to this influencers website/blog
  • Follow on forums – how active is the person? How many forums have they joined and how often do you see them make posts and replies? What is the quality of their participation?

There are tools that can automate some aspects of identifying influencers, but there isn’t one tool that will do it all. For a quick review of social media tools that help you narrow down your candidates, see our blog post  which suggests 5 tools to help you identify your top influencers.

How to Engage with Your Influencers

Lurk and Read:

Before you jump into their forums or blogs, do some lurking. This means, hang around where they hang around and get a feel for what they read and write. What are their hot button topics? Why are they likely to enjoy your product or service? Is this a 20, 10, or 1?

Be Legitimate, Be Authentic:

If you need to become a member of a forum, become a member and identify who you are. Disclose your company affiliation. State very clearly you are here to understand how to build a better product or service.

Take it Easy:

That is, remember you are building a relationship and not a sales pitch. Depending on how you read the situation, and what type of influencer you think you are nurturing, you may want to provide helpful ideas around topics not directly related to your business for a few weeks or a few months before offering up your product. Of course if they ask, you’re happy to reply. Your goal is to coach your influencer to do the influencing.


You need to pay your dues and participate in conversations. Be cheerful, helpful, and unobtrusive. Ask for feedback, ask questions that stimulate discussions. When you want to bring your product directly into the discussion, you can make the information “exclusive” so that your influencers feel they are “in the know”. Think about offering some tidbit of (harmless) proprietary information or an anecdote, or product previews.


Exclusive content is nice, but also create discounts that are available only to your influencer audience a day before you go to the general social media public; try contests, brand badges, invitations to special parties, or discounts for sharing with friends. Acknowledge and recognize: support your supporters. Post and link actively to help promote their content and credibility.