Engaging influencers in digital channels is no longer a new idea. Influencer marketing is rapidly becoming part of the mix as both consumer and B2B brands seek to grow their reach and establish credibility with customers, prospects, and the wider market. This focus on influencers makes finding the right people to engage with increasingly important. In part this is because building lasting influencer relationships requires more time and resources then broad, branded social media or advertising, making it difficult to take a shotgun approach. Also, talking to the wrong influencers or approaching them out of context can create ineffective and even awkward conversations where influencers feel like they are being stalked or used for their following. However, when done well, influencer engagement yields dramatic results.

Currently, there are two common methods for finding the right influencers in social channels:

1) Manual identification
2) Technology assisted methods

Recently, Formative, a strategy led digital agency specializing in Influencer Relationship Management (IRM) programs, and Onalytica, a leading Influencer Relationship Management software platform, undertook an influencer identification exercise for a client leveraging both methods and compared the results.

Formative conducted influencer identification manually, leveraging social analytics and search capabilities commonly embedded in networks such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. In total, Formative identified 364 influencers across a range of topics related to the clients business. In order to make the cut, these influencers had to meet a certain criteria which included:

• Twitter following of greater than 300
• a bio that established their interest in the topics and subjects related to the clients business
• an ability to drive conversations around those topics and subjects as demonstrated by social engagements with their related posts

In concert with Formative’s analysis, Onalytica conducted influencer identification using their IRM platform and supporting professional services. Using a far narrower set of industry topics related to the key benefits of the client’s products, Onalytica quickly uncovered 2,000 influencers. Additional analysis from their technology refined the list down to 294 key influencers, representing the people with the highest engagement and the deepest network in each of the three topics Onalytica analyzed.

Formative Program Breakdown

Fig 1. Onalytica’s analysis containing the three topics of focus.

To make this list of influencers, Onalytica utilized their access to Twitter’s API to dig deeply into the current and historical data of the Twitter sphere. This data was then analyzed in aggregate to identify influencers with both a high volume of posts and engagement related to the topics analyzed but also to identify influencers who, within 1-3 degrees of separation, had the largest influential network. This aggregate collection of data and interactions helped Onalytica create not only the influencer list, but a picture of the network of people engaged in discussions around these topics based on their interactions with each other and their audience, something that would be very challenging to do manually.

Network Map Interactive Formative Blog 

Fig 2. Onalytica’s influencer network map.

An initial comparison of the results showed surprisingly little overlap between the two lists. In fact, only 6% or 39 influencers were found on both lists. While substantial, this gap in analysis is not altogether unexpected and highlights the unique use cases and strategic advantages of each method. What it also highlights is that identifying influencers in the initial program phase is actually a process of identifying an ‘influencer candidate pool’ from which over time you can select your Tier 1 influencers.

From Formative’s perspective, the manual approach offers a number of benefits: first, the process is very ‘light.’ While there was never a question about whether or not the manual method would be exhaustive (it was not), the process was easy to start by simply entering the related topics into a social networks “Search” bar. Second, the manual method is agile. Formative was able to quickly follow leads across social networks, blogs, and other sources to identify influencers matching the business rules outlined above. This benefit is not without its pitfalls though as some leads went cold, adding to the overall time required to create the list. Third, the context gained from evaluating influencers and digesting their content manually is invaluable for engagement. Additionally, manual identification allowed Formative to bend business rules on the fly. For example, if a key industry analyst was identified, but had less than 300 followers, that influencer could be included in the list based on the context of their role. For the same reason, it was equally easy to exclude competitors, branded accounts, and owned influencers (e.g. influencers already advocating for competitors) from Formative’s list.

This last benefit captures the true value of the human advantage in influencer identification, but it should be noted that this could also be layered on top of the results from technology assisted analysis.

From Onalytica’s perspective, their technology capability to analyze a massive amount of data pulled from the Twitter API is the true differentiator. With this data, Onalytica is not only able to identify a much larger contingent of influencers faster, but is then able to identify key influencers within the initial group by leveraging their influencer index score. Onalytica’s influencer index score is a measure of an influencer’s reach through their networks, contextual relevance, and engagement with their audience and is again something that would be nearly impossible for the manual method to compete with.

Onalytica’s scale analysis of social data also creates a unique opportunity to identify common themes and trends appearing within influencer conversations around any topic. These sub-topics offer companies an additional layer of context which they can leverage to select the right influencers for their use cases. For example, a client interested in identifying influencers around their core business may choose to target influencers around a specific sub topic first because they more closely align with a strategic vertical. These sub topics often have the added benefit of unlocking rich communities where clients can start engaging and gain traction faster than trying to influence all of their Tier 1 influencers at once.

Overall the results of this comparison served to highlight the unique and often complementary strategic advantages of manual and technology based influencer identification methods. While the simplicity of the manual method is likely to appeal to companies testing the waters, or lacking a tool budget, the rich analysis and quick turnaround form a partner like Onalytica provides a value the manual method cannot match. This truly sets the stage for a hybrid approach, combining aspects of both methods, to emerge as the truly best method for influencer identification. By combining the deep analysis of the technology assisted method, with the context rich analysis of the manual method, companies can be sure they are identifying the best influencers available, while building up the logic and context with which to engage them. The hybrid approach also serves to create an influencer list, free from competitors, branded channels, and owned influencers, while reducing the risk that strategic influencers will be overlooked due to a perceived lack of influence.

As the social landscape changes, so will the influencers, making identification and validation an ongoing process. With technology from Onalytica we are able to assess which influencers are making the largest impact as well as which influencers are truly impacting a global audience as opposed to their local market. From this exercise influencers can also be assigned into different Tiers of importance and treated with the relative time deserved for the relative brand impact.

By taking the hybrid approach to influencer identification, companies will be better prepared to face these changes and anchor their influencer relationships in meaningful and personal ways. Together, these methods create a powerful roadmap for engaging influencers around the topics and subjects core to a client’s business, helping them reach more potential prospects and increase credibly with their audiences through evangelism on behalf of their brand and products.

This blog post was created by Onalytica and Formative.

More About Formative:

Formative was founded in 2012, by marketing, design and technology leaders with a passion for solving hard problems, creating new things and helping clients grow and expand their business opportunities and channels. We specialize in designing and building digital businesses and experiences – websites, applications, software platforms and the marketing programs and collateral that drive and support them.

Visit their website or follow them on Twitter and Linkedin

More About Onalytica:

Founded in 2009, Onalytica specializes in providing Influencer Relationship Management software and supporting professional services to help brands scale 1-to-1 Influencer Relationship Management results.

We work with Marketing, Communication, Digital & PR professionals to help configure bespoke influencer programs so that they can better automate and streamline influencing activity as well as identify on-going engagement opportunities.

Want To Read More About Influencer Identification ?

At Onalytica we really like influencer marketing and we love to write about. If you’re trying to identify influencers for your brand, try these two articles:

                 Inf Mktg Keep It Real                                      The G The B The U Influencer

We have already identified hundreds of influencers in key topics such as Content Marketing, B2B Marketing, Internet of Things and many more.

We can help you and your business identify the key influencers in different industries. Surfacing effective influencing opportunities can take up a lot of time so we have built a powerful platform that does everything for you and allows you to easily scale your influencer marketing strategy. If you want to see a demo of our product, talk or tweet to us!

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