Building relationships and engaging with mavens is a focus of every marketing and PR program. Marketeers and PR practitioners everywhere want to believe that they are they influence the Influencers, but we know that others also play a large role in helping Influencers form their opinions. Reaching and influencing the original idea creators or trend-spotters is often an effective way to communicate with the more vocal Influencer.
Because Influencers like to influence, they publish their thoughts a lot. In the process of publishing, they leave behind, often intentionally, bread crumbs that lead to the people they listen to. Extending your PR efforts to this idea-creator crowd will exponentially grow your impact on the Influencers and on your target audience.
Like any friendship, building relationships with trusted trend-spotters requires honest engagement and two-way communication. You aren't trying to sell them your wares - You are working to get to know them and provide them with something valuable in return.
How can you find who influences the Influencer? Here are some tips:
1. Check who they are following on FriendFeed
FriendFeed and the many other feed and social activity aggregators are a great window into the mind of an Influencer. Look through their list of Subscriptions and you'll quickly see the conversations that are reaching them. Also, take a look at what they have Liked. That can really drill into the types of conversations that are moving them. Occasionally you'll see that an Influencers has thousands of Subscriptions because they are following everyone that is subscribing to them. In this case, the Likes becomes more important. For example, Louis Gray and Robert Scoble, well-known tech bloggers, each have 20k+ subscriptions, but if you drill into their Likes you can quickly get a taste of their favorite flavor. If you really want to zero in on their current ideas, subscribe to just their Likes and Comments.
2. Follow Influencer RSS reader feeds
Another way to see how Influencers learn about news is to follow their RSS feeds. Most of the popular readers have a way to see what the Influencer reads or is sharing publicly. The most popular reader in the tech crowd is Google Reader. All of a person's Shares are public so they can be followed easily. For example, Steve Rubel (fellow Edelman employee), frequently shares his favorite blog posts. Drilling into the people's stories he is sharing can provide a lot of insight about Steve and who he trusts.
3. Research Facebook events
If you have earned friend status with an Influencer on Facebook, it is easy to see what events they are attending and who else is attending those events. I frequently find the best events and also new friends that share my interests through this powerful tool.
4. Research ReTweets and @replies on Twitter
Influencers on Twitter seem to be collecting followers like they were Pokemon cards so a simple look at who they are following is not very useful. What you want to know is who they are engaging with on a regular basis. These are likely people that they find interesting and who help shape their views. A tool like TweetStats can give you a detailed look at an Influencer's behavior on Twitter. A quick look at an analysis of Guy Kawasaki's traffic shows that he most often replies to @marinamartin and ReTweets @tweetmeme and @louisgray.
5. Follow the social brick road
One thing you can be sure about Influencers is that they like to let others know their opinions. Because of that fact, they are likely to have created a clear path to find them online. Go to their blog and website and look around. Often they will have a list of social networks where they are active. Those tools often allow you to see the Influencer's friends and interactions.
With a little research and extra time building relationships, PR and marketing professionals can expand their Influencer friendships to include those those that quietly, but consistently shape the tastes of the big names.
Do you know of other tools, services or techniques that help you discover the people that influence the Influencers? Please let us all know by putting it in the comments below.