I’ve been knee-deep in influencer identification projects this month. It’s my first foray beyond custom industry analyst & consultant lists since my vendor marketing days. The work has been fun and interesting and much more demanding (i.e. harder) than I expected. Frankly, I just didn’t realize how much work goes into finding the top 50 to 100 influencers in a given market for a given product or service.

Here are a couple of early observations about the challenges in my journey from a pure-play analyst watcher to a full-score influencer watcher.

Top Challenge: volume
What: Hands down, my biggest challenge is adjusting to the sheer quantity and variety of candidates at the start of analysis. There are easily a couple thousand noteworthy people actively influencing some aspect of purchase decisions on a particular product or service in a specific region.
Shift: I came into this accustomed to starting influencer identification projects with a few hundred analysts tops.

Close 2nd: mental gymnastics
What: Another challenge is the number of filters you use, how often you flip between them and how you align them. Each type of influencer behaves differently, and many exert influence independent of their job title.
Shift: I’ve been advising on this dynamic within the analyst relations world for several years — even within analyst relations you need a sophisticated set of filters. Yet I’ve never flipped between so many sets of criteria, so many times, during one project.

As if 1 & 2 aren’t enough: noise and silence
What: Some very influential people have a very small footprint in the public domain. These quiet influential types don’t jump out of the research and kiss you on the cheek. Meanwhile, there’s no shortage of wind bags.
Shift: It’s like those perceptual illusions and Hidden Pictures puzzles: once you know what attributes you’re looking, you spot them.

There’d be a much longer list of challenges, had I attempted these projects on my own. Duncan and Nick have a killer approach and solid tools and the research team here is top notch.

What about you? Please share your stories and links on identifying influencers.

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Companies providing social media monitoring tools and services provide many ways to find and monitor influential voices out on the web. One of the latest proclamations is from Visible Technologies, now promoting a social marketing ROI study:

Leading companies ‘use multiple approaches to identify the individuals who wield the greatest amount of influence in any given topic area and to track changes in their influence over time,’ according to the report. ‘Best-in-Class companies engage these top influencers as brand evangelists, and then track the impact of their words and actions in terms of return on marketing investment.’

The same holds true for identifying those who wield influence out in the physical world, through offline means: associations, personal networks, professional position, education. There are many ways to find these individuals. In our work, we use several tools and entry points to uncover top influencers in each market. There’s no silver bullet. No one method does the trick in any market, let alone every market.

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Barbara on March 9th, 2009

idcdirections20091I attended last week’s IDC Directions09 conference in San Jose, courtesy of IDC in light of my role as an industry analyst watcher and blogger. It was one of the best that I can remember, and I’ve been to a few over the years. The theme, content and speakers were good — but that’s not why I’m giving it 2 thumbs up.

For me, the highest value was professional networking. To a great extent, I credit the relaxed and comfortable atmosphere. That’s not easy to achieve with an audience of 1,000+. The hallway conversations were non-stop. Analyst 1-on-1s were a central attraction, yet there wasn’t hustle for the sake of hustle — no people-to-see-places-to-go pretensions in the air. You could pick out — and get to — faces in the crowd with ease, yet the crowd was large enough to fill the space, even during Nicholas Carr’s closing keynote.

I can’t stress enough the importance of this aspect of any analyst conference for this year and beyond. None of us — well, few of us here in San Jose — see ourselves as Mohammed going to the mountain when we attend these analyst conferences.

Today, we don’t go to these events just to hear analysts present. We don’t want to play powerpoint roulette with our brains. This is an attention economy. We go to mingle with analysts, look them in the eye and take the measure of their company. We go to meet and have intelligent conversations with other attendees. We go to become better informed, and therefore more powerful influencers in our own right. And if there’s some juicy industry gossip sprinkled in, all the better.

IDC understands that.

I’ll be posting more about the event over the next day. Meanwhile, if you can, attend IDC Directions 2009 in Boston next week. Or, catch it in Singapore, India, China, Japan, Australia or New Zealand.

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