Probably the most obvious way to identify influential individuals at specific organizations is by searching the trusty social network for business people, LinkedIn. A search for your target business or title on LinkedIn will show you people you may already be connected with, either directly or through your connections. This is a good place to start, since you might be able to leverage your exisiting contacts.
The social media playing field is much bigger than LinkedIn, and as a recent HubSpot cartoon mentioned, LinkedIn can be a bit of a walled-garden , discouraging "weak" connections. The two other largest social arenas (Twitter and Facebook) are also ripe for this type of search.
One of my favorite features of Twitter Grader is the search function . You can put in a keyword and see the most influential Twitter users who've used that keyword, effectively a list of thought leaders in that niche. But if you're looking to identify influencers in a business or organization don't limit yourself to just searching for topical keywords, try brand or company names, or even titles. For instance, if you were looking for the most influential Twitterers inside of Ford, a search for Ford would quickly reveal that Scott Monty is the head of social media at the automobile giant. A similar search for HubSpot would show you those HubSpotters who are on Twitter (and there are a bunch of us).
Facebook Grader , a newer HubSpot tool along the same lines as Twitter Grader, can be used in a similar way. Keep in mind that this tool is newer and will only return users who have used the tool to grade their Facebook accounts already, but this tool has the potential to be even more powerful, given the much larger audience on Facebook. One example that does return results already is a search for HubSpot.
You can also use a variety of blog search engines to search for bloggers in your target companies or roles. Good ones to start with are Technorati and Google Blog Search , but there are tons out there and they all return slightly different results, so give some of the others a try. You can also search on bookmarking sites like delicious to see which blogs have been bookmarked the most.
Once you've identified your influencers, use the tools and mechanisms provided by the social site you found them on to connect with them. Send them an invitation to join your network if you found them on LinkedIn. If they're on Twitter, follow them and start replying to their tweets and ReTweeting their good posts (ReTweeting especially will ingratiate yourself with your targets -- people love that). If they write a blog, subscribe to their feed and start commenting on their posts and linking to them from your blog (again, bloggers love getting links, so this is an especially good tactic). Generally speaking, networking and connecting for business purposes in these three ways tends to be accepted.
Facebook can be more tricky, so tread with caution here. If it looks like they're friends with a lot of people, including professional contacts that they might not be actual, social friends with, its probably not going to bother them if you send them a friend request. On the other hand if they don't have a ton of friends, they're likely to be using Facebook only to connect with their real-world family and friends, so chances are good that its best to not try to friend them for business purposes.
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