Sep 01, 2011 / by jay.krall

Photo courtesy OakleyOriginals via Flickr

In my little backyard herb garden, I only grow things that I cook with often: rosemary, dill, cilantro, basil, oregano. Fresh horseradish? I like horseradish once in a while, but not enough to grow it. I’ll buy it at the grocery store when I need it.

“Jay,” you ask, “why this unprovoked peek into your garden?” Of course, because I’m going to make a parallel to one of the big challenges facing professional communicators today: online influencer identification.

Most public relations professionals have relationships with the key influencers in their industries, including both professional journalists and bloggers. But particularly for agencies, when a new client comes along whose products or services fall into a tightly defined niche, the challenge of finding out who matters to them presents itself. And with the massive quantity of content on the social Web, influencer identification in niche spaces is no easy task.

There are two basic ways to approach it: 1) start with a well-defined group of influential voices and see whose posts and articles most closely match the topic, or 2) start with as much online content as you can collect and see who generates the highest levels of reach and engagement activity amongst the people who frequently discuss key terms and concepts. In other words, go to your herb garden, where you know your way around, or go to the grocery store, where you might find something new. In niche markets, a trip to the store is usually warranted.

Most of the programmatic influencer identification solutions that have cropped up over the past year take the former approach. Do a search on a tightly focused topic like “mobile news reading apps” or “business intelligence software” in these applications, and often you see the same key tastemakers pop up: Robert Scoble, Peter Ha, Mike Arrington. Don’t get me wrong, a write-up under any of those three bylines can be hugely valuable for any tech company. But the likelihood of any individual amongst the media elite, in tech or other verticals, having demonstrated an interest in your niche in the content they’ve produced is often slim.

“We start with the topic and seeing who has really honed in on it recently, then determining who amongst those people has the strongest voice,” says Lisa Larranaga, research development coordinator at Cision, who works with clients on custom influencer identification reports. “Those influencers are usually more receptive to outreach because it’s more likely to be relevant if they cover the topic frequently.” Lisa points out that there is a PR 101 angle to this issue as well: build relationships with people who are truly focused on your topic area, whether they’re professional journalists or online influencers.

Of course, if you’re looking to find out who matters in any topic space, a tool like our media database is a great starting point, particularly with our new Influence Rating on media outlets and contacts to help guide you. But particularly if you’re in a cottage industry, or one that evolves quickly, taking your research to the next level is crucial. The contacts who can turn into your strongest brand advocates may not already be in your garden.


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