Gone are the days where you could just find semi-relevant people, ask them to promote you, and call it a day.
Need proof? Look no further than the experiment Josh Hardwick posted at the ahrefs blog. He used the traditional spray and pray approach to ask people to tweet his content, and ended up with a 9.8% conversion rate.
9.8% may sound pretty good, but considering how much effort Josh poured into it and how little it furthered his relationships with these influencers, he concluded it wasn’t worth it.
Instead, he said we should focus on approaching only the influencers with the most reach. The ones with actual audiences. And on building long-term relationships with them, instead of sending them one-off, transactional messages out of the blue.
But before we can start building those relationships, we need to figure out who to build them with.
In this 5,000-word guide, we’re going to walk through, step by step, six workflows you can use to find the most relevant influencers who have the largest reach. By the end of this post, you’ll be able to start building the kind of long-lasting, mutually-beneficial relationships with the right influencers.
1. Use Your Traffic Referrers’ Connections with BuzzStream Discovery
Birds of a feather flock together, right? So why not find top influencers connected to who’s already sending traffic your way? Not only will this make reaching out to them easier (since you have a mutual contact), but it’s likely they’re in a niche that’s relevant to yours and have similar levels of sway in their company as your current traffic referrers.
To do this, first go to Google Analytics, look at your Referral report, and get that list.
Now it’s time to look up each referrer in BuzzStream Discovery, and use their metrics as a benchmark for our new influencers.
The BuzzStream Discovery database of influencers is pretty hefty. Kristen Vaughn at KoMarketing found 44,000+ influencers for one client using Discovery, so it’s important to arm yourself with some expert tips when it comes to searching through BuzzStream Discovery.
To find influencers’ Discovery profiles, you can either look them up by name, or by website using:
name:“Name” or site:domainname.com.
Once you find them, check out their Footprint to see how many Twitter followers they have, and also look up their Domain Authority.
In this case, we see that Rand, who’s already sending traffic to our site via Moz, has 385K+ Twitter followers, and a Domain Authority of 94.
So as I’m looking for new influencers, I can use these metrics as a benchmark to make sure my new influencers are up to snuff.
However, Rand and Moz are pretty exceptional in their stats, so it would be worth looking at the other traffic referrers to get a good feel for what our average traffic referrers look like (not just the phenomenal ones.)
Next, I’ll look at Rand’s Network tab to see who he’s connected to.
Influencers can be connected in BuzzStream Discovery either by influencing others, or being influenced by others. Either connection works for our purposes of finding similar people with similar reach.
Now it’s time to click through the different connections and look at their footprints. We want to make sure they have a large enough audience, write for websites with high enough DAs, and get enough social shares.
Dan Shure is on Rand’s web, so let’s click into his profile to learn more about him (outside of the fact that he taught us how to find content ideas that will naturally earn links):
Here, we see not only how many followers Dan has on Twitter, but which websites he’s written for, how many times he’s written for them, and how many shares he receives on average when he writes for those websites.
If you’re unsure whether an influencer writes for websites with high enough domain authorities or if they’re getting enough shares, compare them to influencers who are already referring traffic to your website.
In this case, although Dan doesn’t have as many Twitter followers as Rand, Dan writes for high domain websites and gets more social shares than Rand does. So I’ll definitely add Dan to my list of top influencers to reach out to.
To keep track of my top influencers, I’ve created a BuzzStream project.
You could also keep track of your top influencers in a Google doc, with the same information like website, domain authority, number of Twitter followers, and so on. Just don’t forget to include which influencer led you to them if you found them using the Network tab.
Once you’ve pulled all of the influencers connected to the influencers who already send traffic your way, look over your list and get familiar with the general range of Twitter followings and domain authorities that your influencers have.
Looking at the list above, I can say I’m looking for influencers with Twitter followings of at least 2k and domain authorities of at least 40.
Now that I have those ranges, I’ll go back to Discovery and start searching by keyword.
In this case, I’ll search for the topic “outreach” and filter by:
- Twitter followers: At least 2k
- Domain Authority: At least 40
- Active: In the past year
- Categories: Marketing or Business
From there, I’ll get list of even more top influencers who I didn’t find in my initial Discovery search. Here’s an example of one:
Since she (and all of the influencers listed under her) fit my influencer requirements, I can add them to my list.
When I asked Josh Hardwick how he identifies top influencers, he said that part of his process involves, “checking their tweets to see what they generally tweet about, their website, etc. Make sure they’re likely to care about what you want to show them.” So if we wanted to be extra thorough, we can pop into her Twitter profile and take a look around.
He also recommended running profiles through Twitter Audit if you want to make sure their followers are legit. As he put it, “there’s no point wasting time pitching to those with fake followers.”
Now that I’ve finished combing through BuzzStream Discovery and doing a little extra research, I can move on to finding influencers using BuzzSumo.
2. Use BuzzSumo to find influential authors and sharers
BuzzSumo is such a good tool to use when trying to find influencers that you’ll see it pop-up in various forms throughout this piece.
One of the best aspects of BuzzSumo’s database is its ability to provide influencers’ retweet average, which is how many retweets an influencer gets, on average, for every tweet they send out into the world.
BuzzSumo did a study on the impact of influencers who had retweet averages above two, and they summarized their findings as follows:
- Posts that were shared by one person with a retweet rate of more than 2 received 30% more shares.
- Posts that were shared by three people with a retweet rate of more than 2 received over 100% more shares.
- Posts that were shared by five people with a retweet rate of more than 2 received nearly 300% more shares.
With that in mind, let’s dig into using BuzzSumo to find some top influencers.
- Use the Most Shared tab
The Most Shared tab can help you find content that’s taken off, as well as look at other writings by the same author, and sharers of that content.
Let’s say I want to find influencers in the ecommerce space, specifically around conversion optimization, so I plug “ecommerce conversions” into BuzzSumo, and check out my results.
Automatically the articles are sorted by total shares, and the headlines all look relevant. From here, I’ll click on the authors and see what else they’ve written, determine whether it’s relevant, and note how widely shared their content is.
Let’s take a look at Maddy Osman’s articles to see if she might be a good influencer.
Although Maddy may not write frequently about ecommerce conversion, she does write highly-shared content. Based on her well-shared articles about Chicago, she would be a good option if ever I needed a Chicago-based SEO or ecommerce expert.
I’m not sure I would consider her to be an ecommerce conversion optimization influencer, but it would make sense to cite or share her high-performing article if I wanted to boost my own credentials in that area.
We’ll then repeat that same process for the rest of the authors and identify the influencers among them, adding them to my list and bolstering my database. But we’re not done with BuzzSumo just yet.
Sharers can be influencers too
Now that we’ve combed through the authors for influencers, it’s time to check out the sharers of these articles to gather even more influencers.
We’ll return to our list of article results, choose an article, view the sharers, then click into a sharer’s profile to see if they regularly share relevant content.
Here’s one that seems like he would be a good fit:
This influencer definitely shares relevant content, and his 57.6K Twitter followers are a nice plus as well. However, his retweet average is slightly above one. It’s a good average, but not as ideal as the retweet average of two that we discussed earlier.
So in this case, I would add him to my list, but would still keep my eyes peeled for influencers with higher retweet averages to maximize my efforts.
Alright, that covers the Most Shared tab in BuzzSumo, so now let’s look at the Influencers tab.
- Using the Influencers tab
BuzzSumo’s Influencers tab helps you search through Twitter users’ bios, and find Twitter users who have shared specific content. A couple of filters and aspects differentiate this search from what you’re able to do with BuzzStream Discovery. The differences boil down to these filters:
And the retweet averages we talked about earlier.
Another big difference between these tools is that they look at different parts of influencers’ past activity. If you want to look for influencers based on their recent Twitter activity (like having tweeted in the last 3 months), BuzzSumo has that capability. However, if you’re looking for influencers based on when they’ve published content (like having published an article within the past month), you’ll need to use BuzzStream Discovery.
Now that we have that distinction out of the way, let’s walk through an example of how to use the Influencer tab.
Continuing on with our topic of conversion optimization, I plug “conversion optimization” into BuzzSumo’s influencer tab, then filter my results to exclude companies (since I want to build relationships with specific people), and include only influencers who have tweeted within the past three months so I know they’re active.
Now I can gauge which influencers I’d like to add to my list, taking into account Domain Authority and retweet average. If I want to be extra sure they’re a good fit, I can always view the links they’ve shared to double-check.
Once I’ve done that for all of the promising-looking influencers who have retweet averages of at least two, I’m officially done scraping BuzzSumo for influencers. We did it! But we still have work to do.
3. Use subreddits to find community-approved experts
Subreddits are a great place to find experts who can help you write content that will resonate with the members of an active and relevant community. With the right content and the right subreddit, you can get a backlink and traffic from a brand new audience.
Now, Reddit backlinks are a little tricky in that your link will initially be no follow until your thread passes a certain threshold of upvotes.
For example, this link post in r/vegan is a do follow:
As you can see, there’s no no-follow parameter, just reddit’s click tracking parameters.
It’s not known the exact number of upvotes you need for your link to become a do follow, but the guesses are somewhere between 5 and 10 upvotes.
In addition to the backlink, you can get your Reddit expert’s feedback on your content and include a quote from them in your piece. They may even share it on Reddit for you if you managed to get them to fully bought in.
To find and work with influencers on Reddit, our first step is to find the right subreddit. So let’s do that.
How to find a relevant and active subreddit
If you’re not sure if your niche has an active subreddit, you can use Redditlist to search through subreddits, see how many subscribers they have, and how much they’ve grown. (You could also use Reddit itself, but Redditlist has a nicer UI. Sorry, Reddit!)
Here’s a snippet for the results I got when I searched “vegan” in Redditlist.
Once you find an active subreddit or two that fits your niche, plug it into BuzzSumo’s Question Analyzer and see what questions are being asked on that subreddit. Continuing with our vegan example, I get results like:
Now if you’re following along with me and plugging all of these searches into BuzzSumo, you’ll notice we have a TON of categories and questions. A couple of things we want to remember about Reddit (for those of us not steeped in it):
- The higher upvoted a thread is, the closer to the top it’ll be, and the more people will see it.
- Karma is subtracted over time, so the older a thread or answer is, the higher the likelihood that its karma has been reduced and thus its visibility reduced.
With that in mind, we want to look for recent questions to find influencers who are actively participating in and respected by the community.
To do that, we’ll look to the left menu and select Filter by Date > Past Month. (If you don’t get any results for past month, try selecting Past 6 Months.)
Now that we’ve made sure the questions are timely, it’s time to dig into the individual questions.
The timeframe filter has narrowed down my list quite a bit. It’s actually very convenient, since I won’t need to parse through a ton of questions to find my influencers.
I’ll start by clicking on the first question and looking at it on Reddit.
I can see that it was submitted only 4 days ago, and has a score of 171. By looking at r/vegan’s front page, I can see that a thread with as low of a score as 80 can reach the front page, and therefore this thread could have reached the front when it was posted, so there’s a fair chance a top contributor saw it and responded.
To find that minimum score for the specific subreddit you’re targeting, browse its front page and then keep that number in mind as you click through the questions the Question Analyzer shows you.
Now let’s look at the responses to this particular question.
Content of the answers aside, right from the get-go we’ve found a user who has interesting things to say and was met with wide approval from the community (and has a surprisingly benign username for a Reddit user), RubyRedCheeks.
Now let’s do a quick check on their profile to make sure they actually hold some sway.
And they do indeed. By looking at their profile, we can tell two things off the bat:
- They have a fair amount of karma (in this case, 2,730 post karma and 4,700 comment karma)
- Their past couple posts have been in the vegan subreddit
- They signed up 10 months ago
Now when looking at karma, Sebastian D. Anderson, CTO at redditpromotion.com has a good reminder for those of us hunting for influencers on Reddit:
“If someone has lots of karma–either link or comment–that means that user has contributed popular content to the site. Note that it might not be “good” content, but it was nonetheless upvoted.”
The karma numbers for this user are pretty high, which is great, but I still need to scroll through their post history and keep an eye on where they tend to post and what they’ve been posting in order to determine that they’re a good influencer.
Like Sebastian warned, there’s a chance this user participated once in r/vegan, got lucky with one response, and never posted in r/vegan again. If that were the case, they wouldn’t be an influencer with real reach in the vegan subreddit or vegan community at large, so I could rule them out.
However, when we look at this profile, we see pages and pages of quality posts in the vegan subreddit, as well as in other vegan-related subreddits, and in more general subreddits with posts arguing in favor of a vegan lifestyle.
Yup, this one’s a vegan influencer for sure.
If we’re still unsure, we can use SnoopSnoo to confirm which subreddits a user posts in the most, and which subreddits they have the most karma in.
Just a warning though, you’re going to learn a lot about your influencer. Maybe too much. It could get a little creepy if you brought up any of their demographic info without them bringing it up first, so use this info carefully.
So we’ve entered their username in SnoopSnoo, scrolled down to their Activity Across Subreddits chart, and selected the “karma” radio button.
In this case, RubyRedCheeks’ Activity Across Subreddits chart looks like this:
Bingo. We’ve found ourselves an r/vegan influencer. We’ll add them to our BuzzStream project, Google doc, or list.
We can then repeat this process for other widely-upvoted responses, and for the other questions BuzzSumo showed us to find even more influencers with reach. The more the merrier.
Don’t forget the mods
Now that we’ve found the active members of the community, let’s not forget to look at the already-established leaders of our relevant subreddits: the moderators.
Moderators are pillars of their community. They often have high karma, actively post and respond to threads in their board, and act as the peacekeepers and rule-enforcers of the subreddit. Participants of their subreddits generally take their word seriously, and moderators know their community, and could even lead you to other members who have similar amounts of influence. All in all, they’re a good friend to have around.
The vast majority of subreddits list their moderators somewhere in their right hand panel. In r/vegan, it’s at the bottom and looks like this:
Just because someone is a moderator, however, doesn’t mean they’re a vocal member of the community, or that they’re entirely focused on the subreddit they moderate. Some moderators are much more laid back in their approach.
Because of that, it’s worth clicking through the moderators profiles to see how invested they are in their subreddit.
In this case, let’s look at M4124124.
Not only does M4124124 have a good amount of karma, but they’re also moderators of two other vegan subreddits. (In case you’re wondering, r/raw is a subreddit dedicated to raw vegan eating, though occasionally people will post wrestling clips as well.) M4124124 would definitely be a good influencer who I’d add to my list.
Once I’ve added M4124124, I can move through the rest of the moderator list, and then I’ll be finished with finding influencers on Reddit.
4. Use forums to find even more community-approved influencers
Forums can be a place to find anything from influencers you can build relationships with, to traffic that converts, though recently they’ve been catching some flack. Richard Millington at FeverBee has been researching forum usage trends, and stated that he’s seeing “broad declines in use of forum platforms with some notable exceptions,” like gaming.
However, Wil Reynolds recently tweeted that he has a client who gets over three million per year in assisted conversions from forums. So look at what sites are referring traffic to yours, and if one of them is a forum, you may be in an industry that’s immune from this trend (at least for now.)
If you’re not sure whether your niche has active forums, it doesn’t hurt to do some of the searches below, take a peek at what’s out there, and decide for yourself.
How to find relevant forums
To find industry forums relevant to our niche, we’re going to do some Google-fu. Make sure you have your MozBar turned on so you can see the domain authorities of all of the forums appearing in your search results. If their Domain Authority is way below yours, they may not be getting much traffic to then pass along to your content, and a backlink wouldn’t be very beneficial, so you can already rule them out.
Here are some Google searches to try when looking for forums in your niche:
- (your niche here) forums
- “powered by vbulletin” (your niche here)
- (Tip: Add “top posters” to this string to find exact influencers. Hats off to Wil Reynolds for this tip!)
- “Xenforo”|“phpBB” (your niche here)
I’d recommend trying out each one of those searches and throwing all of the URLs in a list somewhere. Using the third search, for example, I was able to find this result:
When I just search “vegan forums,” the above result doesn’t rank. However, it’s an interesting angle on the niche I’ve been searching on. I could easily write a targeted pitch to vegan fitness enthusiasts, loop in one of their valued community members with a quote or some feedback, and get in front of a whole new (and probably shredded) audience.
Once you have your list of active forums, upload it to BuzzStream or make note of them in your spreadsheet with their domain authorities in case we need to prioritize them later on.
How to determine how active the forums are
There are tons of message boards and forums that are basically ghost towns, so we need to do our due diligence and make sure the communities we find are worth investing in.
You can use BuzzSumo’s Question Analyzer tool to search the forum by filtering by “Past month” to get a snapshot of some activity, but if you don’t get any results, don’t think that means this forum is down and out for the count.
Instead, visit the site and take a look around. Oftentimes, forums have information like stats and who’s online at the bottom of their sites.
Here’s an example from one of the forums I found using those Google searches from earlier.
Although I didn’t get any results when I used BuzzSumo’s Question Analyzer, I do see active users and active threads.
Many forums also feature how many times a thread has been viewed, as well as how many replies they’ve received.
From here, it’s up to you whether you think the number of views and replies are worth the investment in the community you’ll need to make.
How to identify top influencers in forums
When it comes to finding influencers in forums, this is another good time to hunt down the mods, and look for flair indicating someone’s been around for a while.
Also look for pinned threads and check out the author, since they’re likely a major forum influencer.
Finally, pop into some of the active threads and see if any of the contributors have a tag testifying to their old fogey-ness, or an impressive number of posts.
Here’s an example of what that might look like:
Although her post count isn’t huge, Emma is a Senior Member, so she merits looking into.
If a member looks like they could be a good fit, most forums will show you other posts by that same member. Feel free to take a look and make sure they’re actually contributing quality responses to the discussions, opposed to something like “um ok lol” over and over again.
If they pass the post quality test, you can add them to your list, along with any moderators or authors of stickied threads who actively participate in the community’s discussions.
Another forum-like resource to look at: Mighty Networks
You can also search in Mighty Networks (thanks to Amanda Orson for mentioning it!), which is similar to most forum platforms, except it’s much more mobile-focused. If your audience or your influencers are big on using mobile, it’s worth doing a quick search in Mighty Networks to see what’s out there.
When I searched for vegan communities in Mighty Networks, I noticed that it didn’t seem as well-populated as some forums or subreddits, but my impression is that it would be better suited for topics more closely related to business.
If you don’t find any networks that fit your niche, you can also try looking in the Mighty Networks Mighty Creators group, though success may vary.
The Mighty Creators group is a group of self-identified “entrepreneurs, artists, and activists.” You can search through member bios, posts, and events to find individuals relevant to your niche.
For example, here’s what I got when I searched “vegan” in the Mighty Creators group:
Not only do I see members who have included “vegan” in their bios, but I also see any conversations that mention it, and I could further research any influencers who have responded in it.
5. Use your Twitter followers to find influential friendlies
If you have an active Twitter account, you can comb your own followers for influencers who already like you. This existing relationship will make outreach much easier later on, and it’s nice to benefit from the network you’ve already built.
First, download your followers from TwitterFollowers.me by entering your Twitter handle.
Open your csv and filter through your followers’ bios so you only see the ones that contain a relevant keyword. In this case, I’ll filter for the followers who have “vegan” in their bio.
Now that I’ve filtered down my list of followers, it’s time to head back to BuzzSumo, enter my followers’ handles in the Influencers tab, and see whether they have a retweet average of at least two.
In the case of my first follower, Vegan Revolution, they have a retweet average of three, so I could throw them onto my list.
And again, if I want to make sure their followers are legit, I can use Twitter Audit.
Repeat that process for as many followers as you’d like, adding the ones with enough reach to your BuzzStream project or Google doc. And just like that, you’ve just mined your followers for influencers.
6. Use “side” influencers to approach your audience and other influencers from a different angle
Side influencer marketing, as described by Melanie Sazegar in this Inbound thread, is “reach[ing] out to the software platforms who serve influencers or the influencer’s target market (which should be the same as your own target market).” It’s a way to further bolster your reputation with your audience by working with someone your audience already knows and likes, and it signals to other influencers that you’re a trustworthy brand.
To see an example of this in action, let’s look at Evil Queen candles. They specialize in hand-poured, vegan candles with a lot of personality. (And they also smell amazing.)
If we were head of Marketing at Evil Queen candles, and we were taking the traditional influencer marketing approach, we’d likely look for vegan beauty bloggers or maybe lifestyle bloggers, probably female, probably very sassy, with large followings who would want to mimic their buying choices.
However, if we use the “side” influencer marketing approach, then we’ll want to want target either:
- The platforms these vegan beauty or lifestyle bloggers use (ie: Instagram, WordPress, maybe an app like VSCO cam)
- Brands who serve the same target market as Evil Queen does, and has some sway with them
In their case, Evil Queen decided to go with option two, and partner with Derrick Freske, a portrait, commercial, and lifestyle photographer based in Los Angeles with over 325K followers on Instagram.
Together, they created a bundle on the Evil Queen site that includes a photography-inspired candle, a Derrick Freske Lightroom preset, and an exclusive photo print.
As a result of collaborating with Derrick, Evil Queen increased their website traffic by about 30%, and increased sales by 7%. Both brands increased their exposure to their target consumers, while also reaching new audiences by borrowing from each other’s.
Speaking with Ida Sofia, founder of Evil Queen candles, she mentioned that she preferred working with brands (AKA side influencers) over lifestyle bloggers and models, saying:
“A collaboration with a similar brand with an audience of only 10k may do more good than a model with a following of 100k, just because of audience relevance.”
That means, when choosing side influencers, matching your target audience with your side influencer’s target audience is definitely key.
Additionally, Ida recommends working with side influencers who have followings that are at least double your following’s size. For example, Evil Queen has about 12k followers on Instagram right now, so she prefers to work with side influencers with followings over 20K to make the collaboration worth it for her.
How to find side influencer ideas
All of the tactics we’ve discussed in this post can be used to find side influencers instead of traditional influencers, assuming you have an idea of what platforms your influencers use, and what other brands may attract the same target market you do.
However, if you’re not sure where to start when it comes to finding side influencers, you can start with these tactics.
1. Ask your customers
Ask your ideal customers what other platforms they use in addition to your own. If you hear a certain brand or service repeatedly mentioned, you’ve just found yourself a side influencer.
Using BuzzStream as an example, I know that many of our outreach experts also use BuzzSumo, so if we wanted to reach even more outreach experts, it would make sense for us to do a joint webinar with BuzzSumo. (Which we’ve done in the past.)
2. Look at your popular blog content
You can also look through your old blog posts, see which posts have garnered the most attention, and find influencers who are connected to the experts you featured in those posts.
For example, one of our most popular blog posts is How to Create a Winning Content Promotion Plan by the lovely Stephanie Briggs. I can look her up in BuzzStream Discovery, use her network to find other influencers who our audience might like, and add them to my list.
3. BuzzSumo’s Question Analyzer
Don’t forget how handy BuzzSumo’s Question Analyzer tool can be for brainstorming! For example, if I were an SEO agency and I wanted to target ecommerce stores, I could type “seo” into the Question Analyzer and look at the different categories of questions to see what ecommerce site owners are concerned about.
As I skim through my question categories, I see things like Magento, Shopify, WordPress, Flipkart, promote, and price.
The first four categories would be good examples of brands who would be good side influencers.
The second two categories give me further ideas for partnering with someone who specializes in promotion or pricing in the ecommerce realm. And now that I have these categories, I can plug them into BuzzStream Discovery or BuzzSumo to find exact influencers who I could start building relationships with. Side influencers galore.
If you want to spend your influencer marketing time wisely, you need to find influencers with real reach, and eventually build strong, long-term relationships with them.
The good news is that there are a ton of ways to find influencers who have said reach. Whether you’re leveraging tools, your network, or your influencer’s connections to find more influencers, don’t forget to keep track of your influencers in a way that will make it easy for you to reach out to them later on.
Finding the best influencers may not be easy, but it’ll be worth it. By doing all of this work on the front end, you’re giving any content you’re promoting a fighting chance. So go ahead and start building your list, and then those relationships. Your future content-promoting self and your future friends will thank you for it.