Do you want to build relationships with key influencers in your niche?

Are you looking for an easy way to identify and connect with industry thought leaders?

If so, keep reading for a simple system you can immediately deploy.

Why Focus on Influencers?

Social media is a great way to develop strategic partnerships with key influencers and stay informed about what’s happening in your industry.

But you must focus your efforts to ensure that time spent in social media packs a punch.

A study from Forrester Research confirms that 13.4% of U.S. adults online create 80% of the content that influences people. And 6.2% of these web users are responsible for 80% of the influence in social media.

mass connections
This Forrester Research study illustrates the power of connecting with the right people.

How can you monitor and create relationships with the influencers relevant to your business?

Create a Short List of Key Influencers

Fortunately, there are tools and processes to help you reduce the amount of noise in social media. You can use these to concentrate on the key influencers who can move the needle for your business.

The goal is to find these key influencers and create a filter that allows you to communicate with them. This helps you develop a positive relationship with the influencers, which can grow your business.

Here is the 4-step process to develop your list.

Step 1: Come Up With a Seed List of Targets

The key to this first step is using tools to find the right people to “seed” your list.

During this first step, remember this:

  • There is no need to obsess over finding every influencer.
  • Don’t worry if you aren’t 100% sure a person should make the list. Add him or her and move on.

This initial “seed” list of influencers will lead you to others you may want on your list. Some will be removed from your list (more on that in Step 3).

To begin, find between 10 and 20 influencers to start the process. Then, create a spreadsheet with the influencers’ names and the URLs of their various social media accounts.

You’ll access this spreadsheet later when you set up the tools to monitor these influencers.

Then access “influence-scoring” websites like Klout, Kred or PeerIndex.

peer index
PeerIndex allows brands to identify, engage with and reward consumers who are influential in relevant categories and are likely to drive positive brand perception or sales.

Influence-scoring websites (while not perfect) are developing increasingly sophisticated algorithms that determine the influence of an individual on the social web.

For example, a software company in the cloud computing space searching “cloud computing” inside Klout would find a number of influencers to add to their list.

cloud computing
A cloud computing company would do well to add these three influencers to their “seed” list.

A food blogger would find a great starting point for his list.

A food blogger would quickly find these three influencers to add to their list by using Klout.

Another great place to start looking for online influencers is Guy Kawasaki’s Alltop.

Alltop aggregates the top blogs on a number of different topics. Top bloggers from most niches can be found using this free service.

For example, a copywriter who specializes in ebooks would find a number of influential bloggers on Alltop.

alltop ebooks
This is just three of the dozens of influential blogs listed on Alltop for the term ‘eBooks.’

A blogger who’s interested in content marketing would find no shortage of connections to add to their list.

alltop content marketing
Three of the most influential blogs in the Content Marketing space as listed on Alltop.

For some industries, LinkedIn Groups is a great place to hunt for influencers. You’ll find that the organizers and active members within these groups are often influential.

For example, a business interested in connecting with home builders would find a number of LinkedIn Groups to join and mine for influential people.

linkedin group builders
LinkedIn Groups has 121 results related to the term ‘home builders.’

A freelance web designer would not be disappointed by the options in LinkedIn Groups.

linkedin groups web design
LinkedIn Groups contains over 1500 results for the term ‘web design.’

You can use LinkedIn’s search function or use this LinkedIn Groups directory to get started.

Lastly, Facebook pages are a good place to find influencers to add to your initial short list.

An organization wanting to get connected to influencers in the fight against muscular dystrophy would find a number of pages and events dedicated to the cause.

facebook muscular dystrophy
Facebook has a number of highly influential pages dedicated to the fight against Muscular Dystrophy.

An entertainment blogger covering the pop music scene would find plenty of influential pages within Facebook, as well.

facebook pop music
Facebook is a great starting point for those interested in connecting with influencers connected to entertainment.

You can use Facebook’s search function to find popular and active pages. Or use this Facebook pages directory.

Ultimately, the goal is to find individual influencers and the online sites where they are spending their time.

When you find an influencer on one channel, you’ll likely find this same influencer on a number of other online channels as well.

For example, a blogger you find on Alltop will likely have a heavy presence on Twitter. Similarly, the admin of a popular Facebook page may be managing an active LinkedIn Group.

By the end of this step, you should have a spreadsheet containing between 10 and 20 “seed” influencers. Record the URLs of the Facebook pages, blogs, Twitter feeds and LinkedIn Groups for each of these influencers in this spreadsheet.

You’ll need this spreadsheet for the next step.

Step 2: Monitor Members of the List

It’s time to start setting up the tools to monitor and communicate with those on your list.

There are two main tools that can be used to make it easier to open the lines of communication between you and your list group.

The first tool is Google Reader. Nearly every major influencer will own and operate a blog with an RSS feed.

Open up your spreadsheet and navigate to each influencer’s blog.

One of the great features of Google Reader can be found by clicking on Settings, then Reader Settings and then Goodies.

google reader settings
Open your Google Reader, click on the settings icon and then Reader Settings. Then, click on Goodies.

One of the Goodies is a bookmarklet under the heading “Subscribe as you surf.” This bookmark can be dragged into your browser to allow you to subscribe to a blog in your Google Reader while you are on that blog.

subscribe bookmark
The Subscribe Bookmark allows you to add an RSS feed to your Google Reader while you are on that blog.

Navigate to each blog in your spreadsheet and click the “Subscribe” bookmarklet to add the RSS feed to your Google Reader.

The goal here is to aggregate all of the blog content created by your influencers into one easy-to-access web page.

For example, my Google Reader contains the blog content from my short list.

my google reader
My Google Reader is brimming with content from the most influential people in my industry.

Your Google Reader is one tool that you can use on a daily basis to quickly get up to speed on the conversations your list is creating and contributing to. Your goal will be to become part of those conversations (more on that in Step 4)

The second tool is HootSuite combined with Twitter Lists and LinkedIn Groups.

Twitter Lists are a powerful way to segment and filter Tweets from people you are following. HootSuite further simplifies Twitter, LinkedIn and to some extent Facebook by organizing activity into side-by-side “streams.”

Let’s begin with Twitter.

First, create a new Twitter list called “Short List” and add each of your influencers to this new Twitter List.  If you are unfamiliar with creating lists there is a full tutorial from Twitter here.

Once your Twitter List is created, add that Twitter list to a stream in your HootSuite dashboard.  This is a full tutorial from HootSuite on creating a stream from a Twitter list.

Your HootSuite will look like this:

hootsuite streams
HootSuite arranges your Twitter activity into easy to use side-by-side columns called “streams.”

In the above image, you see two Twitter streams.

The stream on the left is my home Twitter feed and it’s cluttered and unorganized containing the tweets of all 613 people I am following.  On the right is my short list feed.   With only 41 members on my list, this feed is very focused and easy to monitor.

Secondly, import the LinkedIn Groups your influencers are a part of.

You can find a full tutorial on importing LinkedIn Groups to HootSuite here.

adding linkedin groups
Setting up LinkedIn Groups to be monitored in HootSuite is a snap.

Monitoring Facebook Pages that you don’t have administration rights to is more of a manual process for me.  Logging into Facebook to monitor and communicate can be cumbersome but, if you stay focused, this can be a fairly efficient process.

I use good, old-fashioned bookmarks in my browser to easily access the Facebook pages of my influencers.

If someone out there is using an inexpensive (preferably free) tool to aggregate, organize and filter information from Facebook pages, it would be much appreciated if you drop me a comment.

At the end of this step, you will have the tools and processes in place to monitor and communicate with your list. You will have created a filter that allows you to get the most ROI out of time spent in social media.

The difficult part is over. It’s now time to start reaping the benefits.

But first, understand that building your list is a process, not an event.

Step 3: Continuously Refine the List

As mentioned in Step 1, there’s no need to create a perfect list from the beginning. Your list will evolve over time.

The main reason your list will evolve is that finding one influencer will lead you to other influencers. You’ll see them communicating with each other, creating content about each other and promoting each others’ products, services and events.

When you discover these influencers, add them to your list.

You should also prune your list frequently to ensure that it remains short and thus efficient.

You might remove members for a number of reasons including:

  • You misjudged their level of influence.
  • They aren’t relevant to you.
  • You don’t want to endorse what they are doing.

This last point is important.

In Step 4 on building relationships, you’ll be promoting and associating yourself with this influencer. It is often the case that, while a person is influential, he may not be congruent with your brand or your values. These influencers should be dropped from your list.

Step 4: Build Relationships With the Short List

You don’t need to speak much at first. Listen.

In fact, listening is one of the most powerful uses of social media and organizing your social media using this list makes listening efficient.

If you see a way you can provide assistance to an influencer, do it. When you provide assistance, you build credibility, trust and social capital with the influencer.

Here are a few ways to build relationships with members of your short list:

  • Promote their content, cause and products
  • Comment on their content
  • Contribute to their Facebook pages and LinkedIn Groups
  • Message them when appropriate
  • Create content for them
  • Attend their events
  • Buy their products and services
  • Hire them as a coach or consultant
  • Send them referrals

Members of your short list want to grow their influence, make more money and save time.  If you regularly address these issues for them, you’ll grow your relationship.

Be Careful With the List

One word of caution—don’t make the mistake of ignoring the larger social web. Everyone, to a degree, is an influencer on the social web.

The short list process is a great way to use social media to grow your influence, but don’t forget that there are other reasons for using social media.

Depending on your business, you’ll likely need to use social media to improve customer service, increase client retention and address any number of business goals.

This short list provides you with an organized, efficient way to interact with key influencers for the purposes of growing your own influence.

It’s a powerful tool. It gives you the ability to filter out the noise in social media and focus on areas that are most likely to get results for your business.

Use this process to be more efficient and effective in social media and you’ll find key influencers adding you to their short list.

What do you think? How would you improve this short list process? How could you put it to work for your own business? Leave your questions and comments in the box below.