Influencer Identification

With influencers increasingly providing the gateway to consumers and decision makers for brands, more and more marketing and communications activity is focused on the notion of influencers and influence. But what exactly is influence? And how can marketing and communications professionals identify the influencers that matter most to their brand in order to build effective influencer engagement strategies?

Know the score

There are a number of methodologies out there for calculating influence online, such as Klout, Kred or PeerIndex, each of which give people an influence “score”. While an individual’s score can be a quick and useful way of gauging their propensity to influence, there is no real way of knowing how this score translates into achieving the objectives of your influencer marketing strategy – whether this be increasing sales, changing brand perception, driving earned media attention or increasing brand awareness. As Jason Falls mentions in a recent article, simply knowing who your influencers are is not enough – you need to know which ones will actually have an impact in carrying your message forward, for your brand.

There are influencers, and then there are key influencers

Focusing too closely on influencers can make it easy to lose sight of  the end-goal of influencer marketing – to spread your content and messaging across your influencers’ networks. So the key to successful influencer engagement comes down to whether your influencers are actually changing the behaviour or actions of your target audience, as opposed to simply socializing content with no end result. This is a crucial distinction, as targeting the wrong influencers makes it less likely that you will be able to achieve your desired outcome.

The diagram below illustrates how engaging with the right influencers can have a significantly greater impact on your earned media attention. There are also some great articles which I recommend you read by MetricsMan and Philip Sheldrake which address the subject in more detail.

Influencer vs. Key Influencer
When identifying the influencers that matter most to your brand, it is important to remember the end-goal of your engagement strategy – getting your message out to your influencers’ networks.

Influencer identification: a multi-faceted approach

There are many approaches to identifying your key influencers, starting with cruder measures such as social scores down to more considered methods which will be more specific to your brand and the areas in which you want to engage:

Social Scores:

  • People with high social scores (number of Twitter followers, high web traffic, re-tweets, etc.) who have shown an interest in the topic, market or brand
  • High-profile people such as celebrities who typically have a large Twitter following

Stakeholder Network Analysis:

  • Stakeholders who are well connected to other stakeholders (topic agnostic)
  • Stakeholders who are well connected to other stakeholders within the context of a specific topic
  • Stakeholders who are key ‘connectors’ between different stakeholder groups (for example, the tech and education sectors – see this post on connecting influencers to read more about the subject)

One of the ways in which an individual’s propensity to influence should be measured online is to assess their potential to drive earned media attention beyond their primary network of connections. This measure identifies which influencers have the largest networks and are therefore likely to exert more influence than others.

A key influencer could be linked to by several high profile bloggers, whose content is then picked up by prime news media and subsequently shared within many forums, communities and social bookmarking sites thus driving up the number of impressions and reach of the original key influencer’s content. On the other hand, an influencer with a high social media score may garner a lot of attention for their content amongst their Twitter following, but their networks may not extend deep enough to drive the kind of earned media attention you should expect from your influencer engagement activities.

Scale your strategy

The credibility of each of the above approaches can be debated ad infinitum, but the real challenge comes with how to manage influencer engagement at scale.

If one person could engage with 2000 influencers per day, then would it matter if 10 of the influencers had a high social score but weren’t as influential as your top 200? The challenge with online engagement therefore becomes a question of time and money, and how to integrate influencer engagement with your day-to-day priorities. So while identifying key influencers is undoubtedly an important part of any engagement strategy, it is also important that this strategy can be scaled, to maximize its impact.

Measure what matters

When running an influencer marketing strategy it is less important to determine how influential someone is to a number than it is to determine whether they are influential enough to engage with or not.

The key then is to set out credible measures of success which are linked to your desired outcomes, and start to understand which activities and which influencers are making a real difference.

For more information about how to identify your key influencers, measure the right outcomes and run influencer programs at scale, you can take a look at this step-by-step guide to creating an influencer marketing program, or this white paper on how to scale your influencer engagement strategy.