This is part four of our guide to social media for business. Read part one to find out about setting objectives, part two for advice on choosing the right social media channels, and part three to learn how to create a perfect social media profile.

Here in part four we’re going to look at how to identify and start interacting with influential figures in your industry, using social media.

So why would you want to identify and interact with influential people?

Building relationships with your customers is often the first (and sometimes only) aspect of social media marketing companies think of. And yet, there’s a few pretty awesome advantages to trying to get noticed by the ‘superstars’ of your industry.

You can ‘make’ them share your stuff: or rather, you can ask them really nicely. Either way, one of the big advantages to securing a relationship with someone ‘bigger’ than you are in your industry is to feel the benefit of their popularity.  When you have some super-amazing content you want to put out there, you can give them a nudge and hope they share it.

Put it this way: say you have 300 followers on Twitter. You become friends with an influencer in your industry who has 10,000 followers. If you can get them to retweet your content for you, you’ve just increased your social reach from 300 to 10,300.

It can help to make you more influential too: and everyone would like to think of themselves as a ‘thought leader’ or a ‘guru’ in their industry. (Even if they’d never refer to themselves that way out loud – and if you do, then stop it – now.)

Of course, there’s a lot more to becoming a thought leader than just hanging with the right people – but there’s no doubt that it helps.

It’ll increase your brand awareness: it’s a knock on effect. Get on the radar of important people in your industry, and chances are, other cool/important/influential people will notice you and your brand too.

So how do we find these elusive thought-leaders?

Twitter:

Your first port-of-call should probably be Twitter. Just have a search for a few terms related to your industry, and see what you find.

twitter

You might find that by doing this, you come across more businesses than actual people. If you try adding terms such as ‘blogger’, ‘writer’, ‘journalist’, or even ‘expert’, you should start uncovering the sort of people you’re after.

At this point, you don’t want to think too much about these people. Just open a spread sheet and add the names and Twitter handles of everyone who looks marginally interesting. You can narrow the list down later.

Google:

Depending on your industry, you might find quite a few potential influencers just by searching Google. For instance, a search for ‘top social media influencers’ brings up loads of great stuff.                                          

Klout:

Klout’s a funny-old tool that most people seem to love or hate. It does have its uses though, and it’s very easy to get started (you just need to log in with Twitter).

Once you’re in, just enter some more relevant industry terms in the search bar, and Klout will reveal its own selection of people it deems to be influencers in that field.

Klout can also be useful in helping you to quickly establish who influences the influencers. For example, let’s say we want to get noticed by SEO super-celeb Rand Fishkin. Unfortunately for us, we’re not the only people who want to talk to him, and he’s very unlikely to want to talk to us.

However, maybe there’s someone that Rand does want to talk to, that isn’t quite as famous as him.

If we search on Klout for ‘Rand Fishkin’, we can take a look at his Klout profile. Down the left hand side, you’ll see a column called ‘Rand Fishkin’s influencers’. If we can trust in Klout’s algorithm, these must be the people that Rand interacts with on Twitter the most.

rand

The idea here is that we look at who influences Rand, but isn’t as popular, meaning that we might have a chance of getting on their radar instead.

Followerwonk:

Followerwonk is probably the best tool out there for finding influencers on Twitter. Plus, it’s super-simple to use. Just click on ‘Search Twitter Bios’ and then enter your search term in the search bar.

The list gives you essentially all the information you could want at-a-glance, including Twitter bios, number of followers, and their influence score.

followerwonk

Followerwonk also offers some other useful features including the ability to compare Twitters users to each other, and the option to analyse and track your followers. (So you know for example which of your followers are inactive – and not worth your time – and precisely who has had the cheek to unfollow you).

However, to get full use out of the tool you will need to sign up for a Pro account with SeoMoz.

What’s next?

You’ve got a list of all the people that you might like to become internet buddies with. Now you need to narrow it down to the best few people to engage with for maximum impact. There’s no hard-and-fast rule about how many to choose – just consider how many you can build meaningful relationships with in the time you’ve got.

Take a closer look at each potential ‘stalkee’ and ask yourself some of these questions:

•             What’s their influence score?

•             How many followers do they have?

•             Do they post regularly?

•             Have they posted recently?

•             Do they have an active blog, or do they regularly contribute to a blog?

•             Are they active users of any other social networks?

•             Do they communicate with others or do they just Tweet information?

Once you’ve narrowed down your list, there’s just one more thing you need to do: Create your social media strategy. We’ll look at how to do this in part five, and in part six, we’ll look at what to say and how you should say it.