Jan 10, 2013

Forget Influencers — 4 Steps for Identifying Connected Industry Insiders

We spend a lot of time talking about “influentials” in the context of PR and social media marketing.    Top industry bloggers and Twitter stars are on everyone’s “A” list.  But what about the people in the trenches, who actually get the work done?   To keep things simple, let’s call these folks “insiders.”

Industry insiders are important, because they have powerful influence in their own right. In many cases, they have built their own solid social networks that are important to their own careers and personal reputations.   They also have real credibility with their peers, because they’re not figureheads – they have day jobs and are doing the real work.   And for brands, these are the people who have input on buying decisions.  Simply put, it’s not enough to court your industry’s rock stars.  You have to connect with insiders, too.   So how do you identify the day-to-day professionals who make up the insider crowd?  Here’s the 4-step approach I used to identify insiders for a sister company that operates in the IT space.  They needed to grow their audience in several verticals, and social media was a logical channel for achieving this objective.

  1. Hashtag research:   Researching hashtags is the logical starting point for a project like this. I always start with a visit to search.twitter.com,  plugging in common hashtags, and noting other hashtags people use in the Tweets I surface.  For example, #CloudComputing, as it turns out, is often simply shortened to #Cloud.  If you search one, but not the other, you miss people.
  2. People tweeting hashtags:  Twitter has a neat feature that many overlook – you can easily see who is tweeting under a particular hashtag.  Scrolling through the list of participants in the conversation around a hashtag is a great way to find people who are truly interested in the subject.   To see who is tweeting content with a particular hashtag, search that hashtag on Twitter.com, and then, as you’re viewing the resulting Tweets, click on “People” in the upper left hand corner, under the word “Tweets.”  Doing this displays the Twitter handles of the people who have used the hashtag recently.
  3. Relevant Twitter Lists:  Listorious is a useful tool, enabling users to easily find popular Twitter lists built around specific topics.   Take a look at popular lists within your target segment, and who is on those lists.  They’re popular for a reason, and many times you’ll find some great insiders among the members.
  4. Top Insiders:  One of the most useful tools I’ve come across is Little Bird, a start up that’s currently offering beta access.  Essentially a search engine for experts, Little Bird allows users to research topics and, through algorithmic machinations, identify insiders who are expert on that topic. I used Little Bird to search for people (filtering out brands and news organizations) related to the verticals on which I was focusing.   It works very well, identifying a slew of new people who had eluded me in my hashtag and Twitter list research.

So what do you do with all these people you find?

I’ve done a few things.  First and foremost, I built my own Twitter lists, comprised of carefully selected insiders gleaned from these sources.  The sister company’s social team can (gradually) start following the people on the list.  In the meantime,  they can follow the list itself, re-tweeting and commenting upon content shared by list members, which will help them start building recognition and credibility with this new audience.

Secondly, I’ve been identifying blogs written by people on shiny new lists.  In addition to providing content for curation, insider blogs provide valuable intelligence for brands about real world user issues.   Getting to know a few more thoughtful, well-connected bloggers is also good for any pretty much any brand these days, and will be useful for my project.

It’s worth noting that before embarking on any of this research, I determined that my desired audiences were in fact active on Twitter, based upon the volume of discussion around key topics.  Clearly, Twitter is an important clearinghouse for news and information relating to the IT verticals I was targeting.

Another great tool to inform your influencer identification efforts is your media database.  Using our Agility Influencer Engagement platform, I’m able to find journalists and bloggers who cover niche topics, and get their Twitter handles.   I then take a look at who they follow, and who follows them.  This is fast and accurate way to identify original thinkers in the business, and the people who are interested in industry news and information.

Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of social media and author of the free ebook “Unlocking Social Media for PR.”

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