One of the primary tasks for any startup team should be to engage with and build collaborative relationships with key customer influencers in and around their chosen topic.
But all this starts with the question of how to identify influencers in the first place. My 3 starting points are as follows:
1. Who do you already know?
Start by asking yourself who influences you. Who are the individuals in your own sphere – real and virtual – who you look to for information, opinions and recommendations?
Beyond these, reach out to your network to ask who influences them.
2. Hit the street
One of the best ways to find and engage with influencers is through events; every sector has them and they can be a shortcut to discovering influencers.
Start with the speaker lists; by nature people are attending the event to listen to them, hence they are acting as influencers.
3. Use online channels and tools
Beyond those mentioned above, there are a plethora of online tools available, many for free, that allow you to ‘mine’ communities for influencers (a starting list can be found here).
By building profiles, searches and tracking through these tools, you can highlight and follow streams of social conversations around topics.
These tools can then help to identify who the key players are within these streams: who are the ones initiating and propagating the conversations – who are people listening to?
Remember, people aren’t necessarily influencers because they have the biggest audience, but are the ones whose opinion is most sought and valued. Each tool works differently, so take the time to learn how each fits with your personal preferences and needs before diving in.
Identifying influencers is just the beginning. Creating endorsement, advocacy and evangelism for you and your product will only come with trust, which takes time and energy to earn.