Tracing eFluentials and what to do about it

July 2, 2009

An eFluential is an online influential (or influencer) i.e. someone who matters online, someone people read and respect, and who can drive and influence an issue’s trajectory online.

For obvious reasons, communicators are often eager to identify eFluentials within their sector or issue. That’s all very well. Unfortunately, plenty of  communicators then think it’s OK to pester them, assuming that of course they’ll be willing to spread a story and use their networks to promote anything from a take on an issue to a product launch. Think again. It barely works with traditional media, even less so online.

So as a communicator, what should you do? First, do identify these people. That’s not a crime. How? The basic tools work: look up keywords (brand, issue, legislation, organisation etc.) on Twitter search and Google blog search. Don’t forget blogrolls: finding bloggers via other bloggers works well. You can be even more sly. Look up your keywords on delicious, flickr, digg, reddit and check out if someone is tagging lots of good quality material. Google their names and see if they write blogs or where else they turn up (LinkedIn perhaps?)

OK so what do you now? DO NOT spam these people. Follow them, see what they have to say, learn from them, use them to gain an understanding of what’s driving your issue online. Then, if you’re really keen to build relationships with them, start engaging in their space  e.g. go on Twitter or start blogging (or rather, advise your client to do so) and provide interesting and insightful material that they too will be interested in – and only then try to hook up with them. If they share your interests and you build a mutually beneficial relationship, they might, just might, refer to you at some point, follow you on Twitter or put you in their blogroll (but only because they really want to.) If at any point, however, it becomes clear that you’re trying to plug a product or promote a position, you’ll lose all credibility and you’ll need to start from scratch. Be warned.

As a side-note, I’d highlight that eInfluentials are not necessarily the people with most followers on Twitter or whose blogs are most read in your sector: “pitching social media creators who are influential but who are not really customer evangelists for a brand are the wrong people to target” (from a post by John Cass.) This is relevant for issues as well. If you’re engaging in online advocacy and want to, say, build relationships with bloggers in the hope that they might help you spread the word, focus on those who really share your interests and are most likely to join forces with you: if they have a huge following but only ever write about certain elements of your sector/issue which don’t involve you, that’ll remain the case no matter how many scoops you throw at them. Remember, online isn’t like traditional media. Getting an article in the FT will always be more valuable than getting a far better one into a small trade publication. Online, that’s not always the case. Via search, people can find anything that is relevant, while good quality content even on a low-profile site or blog can spread like wildfire if it captures the imagination.

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