Most traditional marketing teams know that promoting a product or generating buzz about a business requires more than just advertising. Marketing teams know they must attract the dedicated attention of key clients, customers, and fans who can spread positive awareness about their products. Some companies call these people evangelists, but many social media marketing teams refer to these consumers as “influencers.” Often, influencers have a strong following on Twitter, thousands of Facebook friends and fans, and also often have a blog with a large readership. As a social media manager, knowing how to find key influencers is critical in helping generate awareness for specific social media campaigns for an established company, or even to build buzz about a new business.

I had a chance to sit down and talk with Chris Aarons of Ivy Worldwide about how to find key influencers for a successful social campaign. Chris recently published Social Media Judo (which actually contains a forward from Chris Pirillo) about the importance of leveraging key influencers for effective social media marketing campaigns. The book is packed with everything a marketing team needs to know about finding key influencers, but Chris Aarons helped me break it down to a few key points that any social media manager can use to start to help find key influencers.

Use the Judo Philosophy

Before you even begin to think about looking for key influencers, Chris recommends social media managers take the Judo approach, which is to apply minimum effort for maximum results. Chris has found that translates to reaching out to fewer bloggers per campaign while achieving the same results as if he and his team reached out to two or three times as many bloggers. For Ivy, a typical campaign usually results in approaching 30 influential bloggers about the targeted topic or who reach the targeted market for the campaign. Those 30 bloggers can often yield dozens more bloggers who discuss the product, even though Ivy did not reach out to those additional bloggers. Chris has found that reaching out to more than 30 bloggers does not yield significantly better results — but this is because his team has spent time identifying the best 30 bloggers to get maximum exposure for his clients.

Influencers Are Bloggers

You may be wondering why the Judo Philosophy is centered around bloggers. In Social Media Judo, Chris, along with the other authors, explain:

“Simply put, [bloggers have] proven to be the most efficient route time and time again. For all the democratic grassroots beauty of the blogosphere, only a relative handful of people really hold sway over opinions about the products and services a company peddles. By reaching out to those content producers, or ‘influencers,’ a company can drive meaningful business metrics and, if doing things right, create a sustainable competitive advantage for your product and brand.”

How to Find Key InfluencersChris notes that influential bloggers will also have Facebook pages or profiles with a large following, and likely a large following on Twitter as well. However, targeting just Twitter users will not amount to sustainable content, and users have less visibility individually on these networks. As a social media manager, you should aspire to generate reviews and promotion from influencers who can be repurposed for newsletters, websites, direct sales, and other marketing materials. Chris notes that this is a key metric of success when using influencers, and can’t be achieved by using social networks alone to leverage influencers.

Finding Influencers

Chris also added that finding the right bloggers will become even more critical as more of your competitors look to social media to promote their products. To do this, you will need to know how to find the most influential bloggers for your clients and their products. When you first start building a list of influencers, search for several topics and see which bloggers are covering them. Then, perform searches to see which bloggers are already covering your clients and their products already. This will take time, but will allow you to develop an exhaustive list of bloggers from which you can qualify to determine who is most influential about your clients and their products. Once you identify potential influencers, be sure to build a relationship with these bloggers; it’s critical to avoid impersonal form letters. This is where using Twitter or Facebook to develop a personal relationship before pitching a potential product review can be useful. The most important thing to consider, however, is how working with influencers will benefit them — in some cases, more than you or your client.

Qualifying Influencers

After you have compiled a list of potential influential blogs, ask yourself what the target market is for the campaign, and what the problem is that the product is trying to solve. Chris advises starting with that premise first to identify the best blogs that can reach that target market and already discuss those problems your product or client is looking to solve. Ivy looks at dozens of factors to consider which influencers to use for a campaign, including Alexa, reach, total of comments per blog post, the number of people who retweet tweets from that blogger, number of links to other bloggers from the blog, and 20 to 30 other factors. The “best” 30 to 40 blogs comprise the influencers for each campaign. Eventually, Chris says you will have a list to start with and won’t need to repeat the find-and-quantify process. However, he says it still takes Ivy one to two weeks to identify influencers for each campaign, even though his team has been in the practice of influencer marketing for over six years.

The Bottom Line

When it comes down to your goals for finding key influencers, Chris Aarons says that at Ivy, they come back to the basic question, “How can we drive traffic content access and experience and drive readership and get them to engage in and also make the bloggers more successful?” To do this yourself, be sure you’re identifying the target market and the key problem and how you’ll measure your success, and then use the tips above to find and quantify the key influencers for each of your specific campaigns. Just remember that, when using key influencers, it’s always more about them — and less about you.

Are you a business that leverages key influencers for marketing? What tips would you share for other social media managers looking to find key influencers? Feel free to share your advice in the comments.

Image via Omniture, featured in Social Media Judo.