Finding Influencers

Today’s fragmented and Twitter-driven media landscape has created a significant challenge for PR pros seeking to earn their clients greater editorial attention. A fire-hosed and fickle media-consuming public has already moved on to the next news flash before most stories have a chance to sprout roots.

Here’s a data visualization of how a story evolves on Twitter using Cascade from The New York Times R&D lab.

As ephemeral as things have become, clients still charge communications pros with creating conversations among their key customers and prospects. This is no easy task given the dynamic state of the news ecosystem, let alone the obscene proliferation of PR “pros” who have developed a dangerous dependency on the automated media database management vendors. We’ve all seen where that has led.

Advances in data management technology has spawned a number of new algorithmic-driven services to help media relations pros better identify topic-appropriate “influencers.” I’ve been tooling with a few of them for my firm’s clients and have concluded that no single solution exists for all of one’s media targeting needs.

HOWEVER, many of these new services do offer real value and utility for surfacing subject-relevant influencers — editorially and otherwise. They parse data derived primarily from one’s editorial output as opposed to his or her title or media beat — something this PR pro recognized a few years back as a better way to target.

Would I recommend that PR pros jettison their pricey subscriptions to Cision or Vocus (on whose backs many have burned a few journalistic bridges)? Probably not, since the titles, reported beats and contact info remains crucial. Then again, SalesForces’s Jigsaw, at $1 per email address/phone number, may be a more economical way for solo and smaller practitioners to ferret out reporters’ contact details.

Here’s a topline rundown of a few services. I would suggest taking them for a test drive before splurging on a paid subscription:

“Now you can easily find journalists talking about your company, competitors and industry in real time.”

Greg Galant and his team at MuckRack parent company Sawhorse Media recognized early on that Twitter holds a treasure trove of data that may one day prove valuable to certain professions, the PR industry among them. The company already has Listorious, a compendium of Twitter users searchable by topic and ranked by # of followers. In MuckRack Pro, Sawhorse built a searchable platform of Twitter-active journalists from the most influential mainstream media outlets, and more recently, web-only media properties.

MuckRack derives its mojo from the fact that it has negotiated access to Twitter’s full firehose of data going back at least six months.  (Most common Twitter searches extend back a week if that and don’t include everything.)   The company promotes itself to PR pros as follows:

Cut through the clutter of Twitter search. See what journalists are saying about your company, brand, competitors or industry. With Muck Rack Pro you can search journalists by name, beat, title, bio, tweets or even the full text of articles they link to.

Pricing starts at $99/month per user. Here are pricing plans. A couple of drawbacks: reporter contact information is not offered, thus requiring a subscription to one of the pricier media database companies, and 2) only the most influential outlets are reflected in MuckRack Pro’s proprietary database. Fine for me, but many story memes originate with smaller, solo bloggers or industry influencers.

“Appinions’ Influencer Exchange delivers a new and better way to discover, monitor and engage with influencers – not only those creating content but the people attracting the most attention.”

After writing about the importance of influencer identification and engagement in a previous blog post, I was contacted by a rep for Appinions to demo the company’s Influencer Exchange platform.  He walked me through how to set up a keyword search to surface the “influencers” against any given subject.

The results rankings from the company’s proprietary algorithm not only includes journalists and content creators, but others — from business executives to politicians (i.e., from Steve Ballmer to Eric Cantor depending on the search). Of course, PR peeps are not about to engage Mr. Ballmer or Rep. Cantor to advocate on their behalf.  Here’s more from the company’s website:

“The emergence of social media has made it more challenging to discover the top influencers. Appinions meets this growing challenge with innovative and disruptive opinions-powered technology that identifies the topics, issues and brands attracting the most attention and the influencers talking about them. We’re focused on helping you identify, analyze and engage with influencers.”

A license is based on number of saved topics – the tiers are in buckets of 25 topics for $1500/month – $18K annual commitment. One can edit, save, delete, and cycle these topics at anytime. If the user needs more than 25, it would run an additional $833/Month or $28K annual commitment for 50 saved topics and so on. Drawbacks: the pricing is high, especially since not all the influencers that surface in a keyword search are PR-engageable. Secondly, the results do not appear instantly. There is a several hour lag before one’s influencer list renders. Are these lists humanly or dynamically created?

I was informed that the ranking algorithm was developed by Cornell University data scientists, but there were still some pedestrian names that surfaced and other more obvious ones that didn’t. On the other hand, I uncovered some important and approachable influencers of which I was previously unaware. Finally, contact information was only available when readily findable and scrapeable from the blog or website, which seemed to be less than half the time.

“Promote your company, clients, or products using the only solution designed specifically for finding blogs and building relationships with bloggers.”

When I first started talking to Group High founder Andy Theimer about his company and its methodology, I couldn’t help but wonder how he arrived at the name. I can’t remember what he said, but I knew enough not to ask him how he spent his youth.

While popular blogs are indexed by Google and some of the big media database companies, Andy set out to built a private database of active blogs by subject — some 1.7 million of them covering the U.S., Canada, the UK and Oz. His engine ranked them algorithmically via a magic elixir of page rank, Twitter followers and Facebook friends, links, etc. It also allows the user to search by keyword and location. Some 187,000 U.S. blogs have location data.

“GroupHigh provides a simple, yet powerful platform for super-charging your blog outreach campaigns. Import your lists and let us automate the discovery of metrics and contact information or use our powerful blog search engine to discover the best bloggers on the Internet.”

Price per agency (five users) is roughly $5K/year, but in September GroupHigh plans to move to a “# of blogs in the system” model (whatever that means). Also, to qualify for inclusion in the database, a blog must have a feed, some mechanism for relationship building, e.g., social profile(s), email, contact form, etc., posted in the past six months, and an average word/per/post count of >100.

A couple of drawbacks: with so many blogs in the blogosphere, it’s a Herculean task to index and scrape the information from all of them. Hence, the results rankings, while surfacing some new outlets, aren’t all encompassing. I also pointed out to Andy that he should not ignore the thousands of influential blogs housed on mainstream media sites. He said he would start indexing those too. Finally, I wonder whether blogger engagement alone drive an earned media/media relations campaign?

“Traackr’s A-List identifies the most relevant online influencers for any topic or campaign. Our algorithms analyze an individual person’s overall score.”

Reach, Resonance and Relevance are the three indices that determine an influencer’s ranking on Traackr’s A-List search engine. The results typically include the person’s name, title, location, a brief bio, a list of keyword search-relevant recent coverage and a look at his/her primary social/blogging stats and footprint.

“The “noise” generated online grows exponentially as the conversation migrates to social media. Instead of helping you access the timely, accurate, and actionable information you need, media databases and social media monitoring tools contribute to burying the signal into the noise of social content. Traackr identifies people, not meaningless activity.

We instantly deliver the influencers that matter most to you, based on your targeted keywords, using our unique three-dimensional analysis for each influencer: Reach (audience size), Resonance (ability to engage their community), and Relevance (to your specific context).”

I chatted briefly with Traackr founder Pierre-Loic Assayag who happened to pen a post this week on assessing “influencer platforms.” A good read.  He explained that the company offers two services: Traackr 1 for topical searches, which are pre-built lists by subject (at $69/month or $300/year plus monitoring for one list/month), and A-List which is the “enterprise version” of Traackr 1 (at $1300/month for five custom lists.)

A-List is fully automated and surfaces via a keyword search a free top-ten list from the company’s database of “a few million reviewers, bloggers, industry experts, etc.” Users can run as many top ten searches as they want.  If that doesn’t satisfy, hit the “Activate” button to drill deeper into the open Web to surface a top 50, dynamically updated list pf pertinent “authors” of which some “40-60%” will have contact info.

There are a few others of note, and I could spend the rest of my waking days test-driving them. There’s mBlast’s mPACT Pro:

“Popularity is not influence. mPACT® Pro identifies the voices who are moving your market. And they may not be who you think!”

I also penned a post on mining Twitter a while ago, wich lists a few more. AllTwitter just wrote up two new Twitter-mining (Klout-competitive?) services PeopleBrowsr and Kred.

Finally, let’s not lose sight of the most effective means for identifying the exact right reporter to engage on a client’s behalf: a simple keyword or competitor company search — site by site, blog by blog — to surface the relevant stories…and the reporter’s name(s) who wrote them.

Happy hunting.


  1. Peter, I think the way to think about a system like Vocus isn’t a database to be mined, but a CRM system for PR pros.  Add in news coverage and social monitoring and you’ve got a pretty solid source of information to develop releveant, targeted pitches.  Saw this ran on Forbes too, so congrats. 

  2. Great article, Peter. I learned a lot about influencers and how to find them. Thanks for the helpful information.

  3. Thanks for the post. Good aggregation of services, too. Our company will definitely be using one of these in the coming months. And I completely agree with you, as a recent graduate in PR, I was amazed at just how many people claimed to be PR pros on Twitter and the likes. Maybe there are just that many PR experts out there, or maybe…


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