In the first five parts of this series on finding online influencers , we focused on individuals. But our search isn’t complete until we’ve visited the sites where people share opinions about and vote on the best Web content. These are called social bookmarking and social news sites, and they can give you a glimpse into crowd psychology that no other online service can. As in our previous examples, we’ll pretend that our business is a resort in Quebec, Canada.
Del.icio.us isn’t the most functional social bookmarking site, but it’s the most popular. Here’s where people save links to web sites that they want to remember and also apply tags to describe them. Tags are a little-understood but very powerful method of describing information. A tag can be any combination of letters and numbers; the choice is up to the user. Many search engines give tags special treatment, meaning that content that has been labeled with a certain tag ranks higher in the results. Tags are very popular with photo sharing sites, but they can be applied to any kind of information.
Social bookmarking sites are kind of like search engines, only the results are selected by the members. The more people who’ve applied a certain tag to a bookmarked page, the more likely it is that that page is relevant to that term. If you search on tag:quebec tag:travel on del.icio.us, for example, you get more than 450 results. Some are obvious, like the official government tourism site. But others may be new, like Montrealfood.com, a blog about Quebec restaurants, or 1000 Islands, a beautiful photo blog. Del.icio.us makes it possible for you to see that 1000 Islands has been bookmarked by more than 350 people, which is a good indicator of influence. The person who runs this site is someone you might want to invite for a photo weekend. Also note that these sites didn’t come up in our search results.
Your trip wouldn’t be complete without a stop at Facebook, the hottest social network of 2007. Facebook’s adult, professional membership has made it a favorite of marketers and it boasts thousands of groups of all sizes. One group called “Coups de Coeur pour découvrir le Québec” appears to focus on Quebec exclusively. Its membership is small, but it may be worth joining just to keep an eye on discussion topics. You might also want to submit a friend request to the group’s organizer and ask how you can become involved. If you don’t want to jump right in, lurk for a while and see what the members are talking about. When you do enter the conversation, be sure to fully disclose your affiliation. Social network users don’t mind engaging in discussions with marketers, but they don’t like to be deceived.
At this point, you may have spent an afternoon or even entire day navigating social media and accumulated a list of maybe 30 to 40 potential influencers. And you’ve barely scratched the surface. Travel sites like BootsnAll.com, Gusto.com, RealTraveler, TripAdvisor.com, VirtualTourist.com, Where Are You Now? and LonelyPlanet.com all provide gathering places for travelers to share ideas and experiences.
You also haven’t tapped the emerging class of people search engines such as Zoominfo.com and Spock.com. These tools can build remarkably rich profiles of people based solely on publicly available information. Professional networks like LinkedIn.com, VisiblePath.com and Plaxo.com also make it possible to learn people’s professional affiliations and even personal contacts.
If you feel like your head is about to explode, don’t despair. The social media landscape is seemingly endless, and new sites launch all the time. No one can keep up with it, and no one should try. If you make it a goal to explore one new network or search engine every day and to identify a couple of new influencers that way, you will make steady progress. You can also give much of this work to junior staff, if you have any, once you learn the ropes. However, I recommend against outsourcing this task entirely. Marketers need to learn the ways and means of social networks if they are going to interact with them. Younger staff members actually may be more adapt at using the tools, but they are less able to think strategically about them.
Now that you’ve got a list in place, initiate the process of reaching out to these critical people. That will be the subject of our seventh and final article in this series next week.