How to: Identify online opinion leaders

The following is cross-posted on a new blog called PNeo. Watch out for more cross-posts as well as insights, observations and analysis from the digital team at Porter Novelli, my employer. 

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Right now, people are talking about you, your brand, your products, your services and your competitors online. The problem is that you don’t know what they’re saying or maybe even how to listen.

And it is a problem. Everyone wants to know what’s being said about them, not least clients. In the immediate term you need to fulfil their expectation.

But when you’ve done this you can really start adding value. You can provide both qualitative and quantitative analyses, by monitoring conversations and recognising patterns of ‘online buzz’.

Go further: you can start to engage in the community of influencers, realise opportunities for working with them. Meanwhile, internally you build up a great body of knowledge across accounts. Just think about all the benefits you get from your media relations. Same applies with bloggers.

But, let’s be clear: online is different. Given the vast number of online conversations happening throughout the blogosphere and the wider web every day, it’s impossible to, say, compile clipping books and analyse them in any traditional, ‘offline’ way.

This is why large organisations are dedicated to measuring influence, authority, buzz – whatever you want to call it. They employ sophisticated and expensive tools to do this. Using them requires a huge commitment of resource.

So, this is the Practical DIY approach. This is what you can do, quickly and easily and now, to get an idea of who you should be listening to.

Before you continue you need to find out what people are talking about by identifying your keywords. I’ve already covered this, so take a look at that post first.

When you’ve identified your keywords, look for them online to find out who is talking about them and by definition, you.

Here’s how:

  • Google – can be your first port of call. Google’s good in that it already ranks pages for you – the higher a page in a Google Search, the more relevant it is. You can be confident that if you search for your keywords on Google, it’ll give you a good set of results from ‘the web’.
  • Wikipedia – is good for identifying influential figures and brands with good links to other sources. It’s not the absolute truth but a better edited version than random sources.
  • Boardreader – specifically searches forums and community boards and provides a nice threaded layout so you can quickly see the extent of conversations about a specific topic.
  • Facebook – can contain groups and pages about your keywords. If someone has taken the time to set up such a group or page about topics you’re looking for, it means they care about it.
  • Digg – is a news site where people vote for news items. The more votes an item gets, the higher it is ranked. It’s a great source for finding out what humans think. So, put your keywords in Digg, find news items that people think are worth reading, then find out who those people are. They are people who are interested enough in you to have voted for you.
  • Del.icio.us – also uses human beings to rank its content. Del.icio.us is where people can share their bookmarks. It’s like when you bookmark something on a browser, except that it’s stored on the website where other people can see it, and you identify it tags so other people know what it’s about. As with Digg, it’s a way of tapping into what people are reading.
  • Blog searches – are great for finding – guess what – bloggers. They are good sources because, whereas Digg and del.icio.us show a perhaps passing interest through voting or tagging, a blogger might be spending more time thinking about you, offering analysis and comment. So, go through your keywords, and pick from the search results. We’ve already covered Google, and it does something similar with its Google Blog Search. Technorati is similar.
  • Another handy tip: when you find a blog, it might have a list of other bloggers that it links to, on its home page, called a blogroll. This is really useful because it points you directly to other people in this blogger’s ‘community’.
  • Google Groups – are another good source of searchable online conversation, often between highly knowledgeable members.

When you’ve been through all your keywords on all the searches, you will have a list. If someone appears as a result of these searches, chances are they’re fairly influential. If they don’t, they’re not.

This is a good start, but you might have dozens of them, or even hundreds. You have no idea who, among this set, is worth listening to.

So, rank them.

Just go to Yahoo Site Explorer, type in the web address, and make a note of the number of Inlinks. An inlink shows how many links come into a site, and gives an idea of how many people considered it to be important enough to link to. This works for pretty much any site you will ever find.

You can go one step further for blogs. Technorati provides a figure showing how many blogs uniquely link to another blog. That is, if one blog has 20 links to another, it’s just counted once. This gives a good indication of the number of blogs, not links, that regard a blog as important or interesting enough to endorse. It’s called Technorati Authority.

When you’ve done this you can rank them in, say, Excel.

So, you now have a list that is much more manageable. From ‘the web’, you went to a flat list, and now you have a ranked list to focus on. These are your online opinion leaders.

Don’t forget, this is just your DIY approach. If you want to dig deep then you’ll need to talk to one of the dedicated companies that provide such a service – for a fee.

So you have your list of opinion formers. What happens now? Well, you should start monitoring them, both qualitatively (what are they talking about?) and quantitatively (how many of them are talking about it?).

But, as I keep saying, that’s for another post!

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4 thoughts on “How to: Identify online opinion leaders

  1. Pingback: How to Succeed with Viral Marketing? « New Media and Brands

  2. Hi! Your post is really substantive and relevant to my course. Please allow me to cite you in my future blog entry regarding opinion-leaders.

    I shall visit your site regularly. Thanks!

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