Online influence. It's a hot topic of late. Can you measure it? Should you? If you can, so what? From a PR standpoint, identifying online influencers is the PR 2.0 version of building a media list.
For the most part, the approach is quite similar. It's one that begins with a goal, contains thoughtful research, and supports ongoing and meaningful relationships. It doesn't start with the big, green Bacon's Media Directories, but the processes is much the same. (In fact, with the new tools, we're able to go much deeper and wider in our research than ever before.)
First things first...define the desired outcome. New media thought leader, Brian Solis, defines influence as "the ability to cause desirable and measurable actions and outcomes." I'll repeat...desirable and measurable actions and outcomes. Before building your influencer list, you need to have a clear idea of what it is you want to influence, and how you'll know if it happened.
Armed with a clear strategic goal, you can tap into some tools for your research...
1. Keyword monitoring.
Define keywords relevant to your strategic goals and monitor online conversations and posts over a 30-60 day timeframe. With regard to your subject matter, who is having a lot of conversations in this space? Of those, who is listening to them? Who is sharing what they say?
Tools range from free tools like Google Alerts and Social Mention to more sophisticated paid tools like Radian6, Sysomos, Trackur, and Alterian, just to name a few.
2. Keyword searches.
Casting the net a little wider, you can use online search tools to find those who have self-identified as being related to your subject matter within their bios and content descriptions.
3. Influence graders.
While there is much to be discussed and refined about how we measure influence, there are many tools out there that are attempting to do this. And, while they might not be the end-all-be-all, they can aid your research.
Klout, TweetLevel and PeerIndex have received a lot of buzz, but there are dozens. This post by Jason Falls includes a great list.
4. Press platforms and networks.
You didn't think I was going to completely ignore media contacts, did you? Social media certainly changes the definition of "who is media," but without a doubt, there are reporters from traditional outlets who publish online, have influence online, and who use the space to connect.
Check out the Media on Twitter database as well as platforms like NewsBasis, Help a Reporter Out and even the question and answer forums such as Quora and LinkedIn Answers which offer ways to identify experts and influencers in your industry.
By now, you should have a fairly large list of potential influencers for your list. And, just like starting out with those massive lists culled from the big green books (or, today's online versions) this list needs careful refinement and must be married with a proper engagement strategy (not unlike customized media pitches) to generate any measurable results from your outreach to influencers.
So, in a way, more things change, the more they stay the same, don't you think?