A guide to free and easy influencer research tools

Follower count is no way to determine someone’s true clout on social media. Try these platforms, hacks and work-arounds to get a true picture of his or her online might.

A sponsoring company at a recent tech industry conference had a massive LED “leaderboard” showing the top influencers tweeting about the conference.

There were a few people I recognized, but quite a few I didn’t. I asked the administrator what constituted an “influencer” by their definition, and the woman told me “number of Twitter followers.”

At this point, please insert a mental image of Mark Schaefer as a cartoon character that just drank a gallon of hot sauce. You know, steam out the ears, eyes popping out on springs—that sort of thing. I was embarrassed for this Fortune 500 company that equated Twitter followers with influence. That is so 2011.

Today we need more than that. The problem is, for cheapskates like me it’s getting harder to find free tools to use. As influence marketing has gotten hotter, the prices have gone up on great platforms like Traackr and Appinions, which don’t even offer free trials any more.

Here are a few work-arounds for people trying to get a handle on influence marketing on the cheap.

Free influencer research tools

1. Fake guru sniffer

Let’s go back to the tech industry conference.

There was one “influencer” who looked kind of suspicious to me. He had more than 300,000 Twitter followers, and I had never heard of the guy before. I know how long it takes to build a real Twitter following, and I was suspicious that this guy was a fake.

There’s a handy tool to check for fake gurus from our friends at SocialBakers. It has the not-too-creative name of Fake Follower Check, but it’s free, so who am I to complain? If you are vetting people for an influencer program, this can be a useful first step to check their credibility.

Do they really have reach or did they (gasp) buy their Twitter followers to just look like a big deal? My Fake Follower score is 98 percent, which means that only 2 percent of my followers are inactive or suspicious accounts. This reflects the effort I put into building an authentic Twitter audience. When I put Mr. Suspicious in this box, he had a score of 64 percent—just as I’d thought. He bought his followers to try to look as though he had authority. Connecting with him would be a waste of money for your brand.

2. An indicator that people listen to you

There was something else quite strange about Mr. Suspicious. He had all those followers but was only on 74 Twitter Lists.

This is an important metric, because you might be able to fake your follower count, but it’s very difficult to fake your way onto Twitter Lists. When somebody puts you on a list, this means the follower is at least savvy enough to use lists and cares enough about what you’re saying to highlight your content.

A good shortcut to determine somebody’s potential impact is to look at the ratio of lists to followers. There’s one little snag in our plan: When Twitter went through its overhaul last year, for some crazy reason it eliminated the number that shows how many times you’ve been listed. So, we need a work-around.

To easily see how many lists a person is on, you’re going to need the free version of TweetDeck. Click on your name in a tweet and a little profile box pops up. This is the only place I know of to easily see how many lists a person is on.

About 8 percent of my followers think enough of me to put me on a list. For Mr. Suspicious, this ratio is like two-hundredths of a percent. That makes sense—as we already saw, a large percentage of his followers are fake.

3. An engagement monitor

With our first two tools we have established that a potential influencer has a real audience and people are paying attention to them.

Our next tool will show you a bit about their engagement levels. Are they just posting links or are they really engaging with folks? Are people actually reacting to their content?

Let’s now turn to TwtrLand.com. Although they have a paid version (starting at $19.99), you can see enough on the free edition to learn how communicative the person is and get an idea of whom they are conversing with. Are they engaged with your ultimate target market? This tool is a high-level indicator.

4. Influence by topic

You’re probably going to want to find certain influencers by topic. There are not a lot of totally free and comprehensive tools (that I know of) to do this, but here are some hacks:

Kred enables you to search influencers by hashtag. So you can look for people in the #travel industry, for example, and you will get a leaderboard, as well as some of the top tweets on that topic (which is a good content source).

The problem with Kred is that it is Twitter-centric.

One idea is to combine this Kred output with the data from the free version of NOD3x, which provides insight into data coming from Google+ and YouTube.

A third free tool to look at is Buzzsumo. This application returns the top content in any category by the number of social shares. It takes a little work, but you can begin to see patterns of the top authors in certain subject areas.

5. The magic of moving content

Connecting to influencers can be a very powerful marketing strategy, but they have to be people who can move content (also known as creating buzz). How can we figure out whether somebody can move content better than another?

Klout.

There is probably no more divisive tool on the Web, but let’s take the emotion of “influence” out of the conversation for a moment and simply look at Klout as relative measure of a person’s ability to move content.

For example, Brian Solis with an astronomical Klout score of 84 shows that he can move content better than I, with a score of 76. That makes sense. I blog and am active on the social Web, so my score is probably higher than that of my students, for example. So Klout isn’t perfect, but it means something.

Klout has made a lot of changes—some for the better, some for the worse—but the core score is stable, it’s still free, and it provides a useful relative comparison. It is a blunt instrument, but sometimes all you need is a blunt instrument as long as you have a realistic perspective of what its limitations are.

Well if you are working on influence on the cheap, these free influencer research tools should help you. If you really want to get the inside scoop on social influence marketing fundamentals, you might also enjoy my book “Return On Influence.” Please let us know in the comments section about any free or inexpensive tools you like to use.

A version of this article originally appeared on {grow}.

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