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Little Bird: A Great Tool for "Influencing the Influencers" Marketing Programs

Ken Gaebler

Thought Leader and Influencer Engagement Automation Tools
Influencer engagement automation tools like Little Bird can help you tap into the reach and power of your industry's thought leaders...or help you become one yourself!

I use a great software-as-a-service product called Little Bird to find influencers.

What I've determined is that Little Bird is a very useful tool for "influence the influencer" marketing programs. These programs go by many names -- influencer engagement, advocate marketing, social marketing, influencer marketing, social influencer mining and engagement, thought leader engagement, and more -- but the basic idea is that you want to build relationships with experts, influencers and thought leaders to accomplish some goal.

Little Bird was recommended to me by people I met at this year's Content Marketing World, and it turns out, unbeknownst to me (insert #CluelessCEO hash tag here), that our Walker Sand social media consultants in our Chicago office have been using it for ages to serve our clients. Glad to see that they were way ahead of me on this one!

For the uninitiated, here's how Little Bird works, some key Little Bird features that I like, some strengths and weaknesses of Little Bird, and, last but not least, some tips for getting the most out of Little Bird.

What Little Bird Does

Basically, Little Bird lets you key in a topic that you are interested in and Little Bird then finds the most influential insiders in that space.

They do this by mining data from Twitter and using proprietary algorithms to figure out who the most important people are. After generating your influence list for you, Little Bird's influence engagement software then gives you a plethora of tools to act on your influencer list.

You can key in anything that you are interested in, such as the name of your industry (e.g. management consulting, wearable technology, etc.), or even a specific company name that you want to cultivate a relationship with (e.g. Intel, SAP, etc.).

Let's say, for example, that you want to find influencers and thought leaders who are highly respected by entrepreneurs. This is an area I'm personally active in and interested in, so it's the first thing I tried when I first started using Little Bird.

To get started, I keyed in "Entrepreneurs" into Little Bird to generate a report, as depicted below.

How to Create a List of Influencers Using the Little Bird Influencer Engagement Automation Tool

Little Bird then kicks into gear, giving me a list of 785 entrepreneurial thought leaders and influencers.

Little Bird List of Entrepreneur Influencers and Thought Leaders

In the screen shot above, you are only seeing 6 insiders, but, thanks to Little Bird, I've got full access to the entire list of 785 entrepreneurial bigshots.

Little Bird In Action: Finding Influencer in Other Non-Twitter Social Platforms

You may have noticed the list of social platforms at the top of the last screen shot.

Cross-Reference Social Profile on Different Social Platforms

After finding industry influencers for you on Twitter, Little Bird does your homework for you and finds the influencers' social profiles on every other social platform of note.

For example, if I mouse over Guy Kawasaki's profile in the influencer list, Little Bird gives me access to Guy's social profiles, including LinkedIn, Google+, FaceBook and Klout.

How to Find Social Connections of Industry Thought Leaders with Little Bird

Of course, I don't have to mouse over every influencer in my list to access my influencers' social connections. If I want to see the Google+ accounts of all the influencers, I just click on the Google+ link at the top of the page. Nice!

Imagine if you had to do this research manually. As we all know, it can be a pain to track down all of the social profiles for a single influencer, so doing it for hundreds is a massive pain. Fortunately, Little Bird does this grunt work for you. That's a huge time saver and a great tool for influencing influencers. After all, when building relationships with influencers, you want to be where they are. That means you can't limit yourself to interacting with them on a single social networking platform.

Little Bird In Action: Creating Influencer Twitter Lists

Once you've created a list of influencers for your industry, you might want to build a Twitter list so you can monitor what your industry's thought leaders are saying. That's a trivially easy task with Little Bird.

All you need to do it access the Export feature and you can instantly create a private Twitter List or a public Twitter List that contains all of your influencers.

Export Little Bird Influencer List to Public or Private Twitter List

By the way, when you export your influencer list to a public list, your influencers will all receive a notification that you've done so; with one click of your mouse, you're already on their radar and you may even get a few influential followers just by exporting from Little Bird to a public Twitter List.

Here's another quick social marketing tip for you. If you feel that you deserve to be in the list of industry experts that you just exported to Twitter, then by all means add yourself to the public Twitter list you just created. That way, if somebody copies your list or decides to follow everybody in your list, you'll be part of the mix

This Twitter Export feature really does come in handy. I use this Little Bird export-to-Twitter feature in concert with Tweepi, another awesome social marketing tool that I use. Once I've created a Twitter list, I access it in Tweepi and follow all my influencers.

I also monitor the tweets of my Twitter thought leader lists using Hootsuite, which allows me to interact with my influencers by either commenting on their Tweets or retweeting them. From a learning perspective, monitoring these influencer tweets allows you to stay current with key industry trends and insights -- helping you to get smarter faster.

By monitoring the thoughts of any given thought leader on your Twitter influencer lists, you get to know that person on numerous levels. This is critically important to influencer relationship building. You need to build relationships with thought leaders slowly over time, and you can do that only if you have deep insights on the thought leader. Small interactions create rapport and awareness, building up the relationship to the point where you can ask for something that is more significant. If you don't put in the early effort and just go with a "cold call" approach, you'll find yourself getting rejected at every turn.

Hopefully, you see the value in this Export to Twitter function that LittleBird provides. Without Little Bird in the picture, I'd have a much harder time creating a list of industry influencers for any given industry, company or topic.

What's the Point of Doing All This?

Before I continue discussing Little Bird, it probably makes sense to take a step back and answer the "Why do this?" question.

Why, for example, is it a worthwhile exercise to create a list of entrepreneur influencers?

Here are four Little Bird user types that can benefit from building a list of industry influencers:

  • Brands/Companies. If you are selling anything that entrepreneurs or small business owners might buy, you'd want to know who influences your prospective customers, wouldn't you? After all, the influencers Little Bird identifies are thought leaders with big online followings, so if you can get to know them, good things can happen. For example, they might mention or recommend your offering and suddenly you are inundated with web traffic and new customers. Nice! Perfect for building brand awareness and for lead gen, right?
  • Agencies. If you own, run or work at a PR firm or marketing agency, as we do here at Walker Sands, this is a nice offering you can provide to clients. A PR firm that has historically focused only on media relations can branch out and offer influencer relations programs. PR firms that have historically focused on television, radio and print placements can use Little Bird to find influential online blogs, using a nice Little Bird feature that I will talk about shortly.
  • Aspiring Thought Leaders. If you are an aspiring thought leader in your industry, you can use Little Bird to understand what it takes to be an influencer. If you run an influencer list for your industry and you are not on it, it means you need to get busy. You can reverse engineer what other influencers are doing and emulate their successful strategies. Alternatively, if you want to blaze your own trail and not be a copycat, you can see what the influencers are doing and steer clear of their methods and try your own approach.
  • Content Marketers. Finally, creating a list of industry influencers is very useful for content marketers for two important reasons. First, if you can build relationships with influencers, they may partner with you on content. They might write a guest blog post for you, offer a quote for an article or even co-author a book with you. Without a doubt, having experts be part of your content enhances the credibility of your content. Second, you can reach out to influencers to get them to talk about your content. In my example, if Walker Sands wrote an e-book entitled 20 Great Marketing Tips for Tech Startups and Guy Kawasaki tweeted about it, I imagine we'd get a ton of downloads in a heartbeat.

All of the above is easier said than done. Raising visibility with thought leaders, partnering with them, becoming one yourself -- these are tasks that require considerable time and effort. That's why it's best to partner with an agency like Walker Sands to get it done (hash tags #shamelessplug #callus).

Little Bird In Action: Seeing How You Rank

OK, digression is over. Hopefully, you see how influencing the influencer programs can help your organization.

Back to Little Bird -- and to a discussion of my favorite Little Bird feature. Here's a screenshot of it.

Little Bird Discover Connections Feature for Influencer Engagement

This is the output from Little Bird's Discover Connections tool. It allows you to enter any Twitter username and see the connections between that person and the list of industry leaders and influencers that Little Bird generated for you.

So, in my case, after keying in my @gaeblerdotcom Twitter account, Little Bird tells me that 173 of the 785 entrepreneur thought leaders are following me. Not bad!

So, when you are laying out a social marketing strategy or an influencer engagement strategy, this might be one tactical goal you define for your program. For example, you might say "Currently only 4% of influencers follow us on Twitter. Within three months of starting this social marketing program, we'd like to have 25% of the influencer community following us." You can set similar goals for Google+, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social marketing platforms. (Hint: Start investing early and often in Google+ as it is going to be THE big dog in social one day soon. Mark my words. To get started, add me to one of your Google+ circles and I will reciprocate in kind. While you're at it, why not follow me on Twitter?)

Of course, just getting Twitter followers shouldn't be the be-all-end-all goal of any good social marketing plan. You need to build actual relationships with the influencers and there needs to be a long-term plan for mutual gain that results from the relationships. Getting Twitter followers is just one of many baby steps you need to take on your way to truly becoming a thought leader or otherwise deriving benefit from your "influence the influencers" initiative.

Other nice features of Little Bird's Discover Connections tool include the ability to see who you are not yet following on any given Influencers List, to see who is not yet following you, and to see which Influencers have most recently followed you.

I like knowing which influencers have most recently followed me because I know that I am top of mind with those people. Right after they've followed me is a good time to interact with them and cultivate the relationship.

If you want it to, Little Bird will even send you email action items like the one below, a screengrab from a Gmail email I received, which suggests that I follow one of the industry insiders I haven't yet followed.

Thought Leader Notifications for Twitter Follow Suggestions

All in all, Discover Connections offers a really nice dashboard for seeing how you are doing with regards to relationship building within your niche. And, of course, you can also plug in a competitor's Twitter handle to see how they are doing -- are they doing a better job of cultivating influencer relationships than you? If so, what's working for them that you should maybe try?

Little Bird In Action: Content Curation

Another nice feature of Little Bird is the Share and Engage tool. It informs you about posts that were created or shared by your influencers. You can use these posts as a way to engage with thought leaders -- for example, by sharting their posts or adding a comment.

It's also a good content curation source for you in general. Finding things to post and share is a tough job. With this little feature, you can find topics that have already been vetted by your industry's thought leaders, which avoids your having to sift through tons of content to find something worth sharing.

Finding Good Content to Post to Social Media

Little Bird In Action: Building a List of Industry Thought Leader Blogs

I could go on forever discussing nice Little Bird influencer mining and influencer engagement features, but I'll end with a discussion of their Top Blogs feature.

What this feature does is find the influential blogs that are owned by each of your industry thought leaders. While it's true that some media databases like Vocus or Cision can also be used to find these blogs, I can't think of a more efficient tool than Little Bird for doing this because it is finding you the blogs that really matter, those that are managed by recognized industry influencers who have a large social following.

Here's a screen shot of this Little Bird influencer engagement feature in action:

How to Generate a List of Industry Thought Leader, Influencer and Expert Blogs

Not only do you get the list of thought leader blogs, but you can also export it into a handy list.

With access to these influencer blogs at your fingertips, what can you do?

I use them in two ways.

First, if I find a good blog with a good RSS feed, I may auto-tweet it to followers using a tool like Twitterfeed , Buffer or That's what I do when I'm feeling lazy and don't want to do the hard work that relationship building and maintaining a social profile should entail. Lots of people frown on automated tweeting but the reality is that it has a place in any social marketing strategy.

Second, when I'm not feeling lazy, I read the blog posts of the industry thought leaders I'm interested in. This allows me to stay current with what thought leaders and influencers are thinking and saying. I might also comment on a blog post that I find interesting, which gets me on the radar of my influencer. Finally, I might contact the thought leader to see if I can contribute a guest blog post to their blog. All of this work can be time consuming, so, again, you might consider delegating it to a good social marketing agency.

Little Bird In Action: How It Identifies Influencers

When talking to a friend about Little Bird recently, he asked "How do they know who is influential?" and it may be a question that is on your mind, too.

To create my list of Entrepreneur influencers, Little Bird likely generated a massive list of Twitter accounts that seemed to have some entrepreneurial expertise and/or an interest in the topic. It then looked at who on that list had the most followers. It creates a massive social graph that looks something like this:

Influencer Visualization Social Graph for Industry Thought Leaders

In the entrepreneur space, for example, Little Bird quickly detects that @davemcclure (Dave McClure), @StartupPro (Martin Zwilling), @GuyKawasaki (Guy Kawasaki), Fred Wilson (@fredwilson), Richard Branson (@richardbranson), @jack (Jack Dorsey) and @bfeld (Brad Feld) are guys who command a lot of attention from entrepreneurs, entrepreneurial influencers, and other small business thought leaders.

They are deemed important because lots of other entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial thought leaders follow them.

If you are familiar with Google's PageRank algorithm which ranks web pages based on who links to them, you can think of Little Bird's algorithm as the social media equivalent of PageRank. As always in life, it's not what you know, it's who you know (and who knows you).

Comparing Little Bird to Other Options

Of course, Little Bird isn't the only company trying to determine who is important in social circles. Firms like Klout have a long history in that space, but Klout only tells you how active a single person is in social media. It doesn't tell you what domains they specialize in or what expertise they have. It also doesn't give you a means to build a relationship with a person that has a high Klout score. Klout has its place and is very useful, mind you, but it's not a robust social marketing solution.

In contrast, Little Bird addresses those shortcomings. It is one of the better tools for marketers, PR agencies and social media agencies because it combines the ability to identify thought leaders and influencers in quantity with some nice features to help you transform the list into active relationships.

I know there are other influencer engagement solutions out there -- TapInfluence, Traakr, Kred, FollowerWonk, PeerIndex, InsightPool and more. I've not had the time to do detailed analyses of these alternatives to Little Bird, but feel free to chime in on your own experiences with other influencer engagement solutions in the comments below.

Little Bird Strengths and Weaknesses

OK, time to move into wrap-up mode on this long blog post. I said I would discuss the strengths and weaknesses of Little Bird, as well as offer some tips on how to use it.

I've covered many Little Bird strengths already, mainly conveying that Little Bird has a robust and useful feature set for influencer identification and engagement. Three other strengths worth noting are these:

  • Very responsive company. - You won't find many companies that listen as well as Little Bird. If you suggest a new feature and it's a good idea, they run with it. If you ask them a question, you get a fast, thoughtful and helpful response. In a world filled with lame customer service, this is refreshing.
  • Built-in Feedback Mechanisms - For the most part, Little Bird influencer lists are very good, but occasionally there's a false positive on the algorithm. For example, I recall "ESPN Sports Center" and the "Johnson Space Center" coming up in a thought leader list we created for "Call Center Operations." Little Bird offers a handy "Remove from Report" feature to get rid of these false positives. Presumably, this feedback is then cycled into the algorithm to make it stronger.
  • Free Trial and Reasonable Pricing - If you are wondering how much Little Bird costs, you'll be glad to know that it won't bankrupt you. Little Bird pricing is reasonable and fair. They also offer a free Little Bird trial so you can try before you buy.

In terms of weaknesses, I don't have many.

The software is relatively new so it's still maturing and occasionally there's a bug or defect. I tried the "Search Blogs & Websites" feature today, for example, and it didn't work. For companies that are relatively new, I cut them slack on things like that -- remember the Twitter Fail Whale? If we abandoned software whenever there was a small bug, we wouldn't have any software.

One Little Bird weakness that I discovered is in the area of the non-Twitter social accounts and the blogs that Little Bird finds for a given influencer list. While it was great to get a list of influencer blogs, I found that some of those blogs hadn't been updated in years. Similarly, while it was great to get a list of Google+ accounts for my influencers, I quickly learned that some influencers were not at all active on Google+ even though they had accounts.

I would have liked it if Little Bird gave me some means to know which blogs were active and which were inactive. Similarly, I would like to know which influencers are active on Google+ versus those who are doing nothing. I mentioned this to Little Bird and they responded that they are working on new features to address these issues.

I think the only other weakness I see in Little Bird is that it's so Twitter-centric. There are lots of thought leaders who don't have a Twitter account and, for that matter, don't have any online social media accounts. They won't show up on a Little Bird influencer list. Then there are people who may be active on Google+ or LinkedIn but don't have a Twitter account. I'm pretty sure they won't show up in a Little Bird influencer list. That's not really a knock on Little Bird as much as it is a reminder that you need a broad set of tools to manage a good influencer engagement program. Little Bird is a great part of that arsenal, but it doesn't do everything for you.

Tips for Using Little Bird

Here are some quick tips and advice for getting the most out of Little Bird:

  • Don't Be Mad If You Are Not On the Little Bird List For Your Area of Expertise - Don't shoot the messenger. If you think you should be on the list and you're not, it simply means that you're not visible enough in social media and you have work to do. Suck it up and do the hard work.
  • Don't Rely Exclusively on Little Bird - Little Bird should just be one of several tools you use for influencer engagement. In addition to what you can do with Little Bird, use other methods to find influencers and thought leaders. Use other tools to engage with the thought leaders you identify. I mentioned Tweepi and Hootsuite. There are many other great tools out there to complement your use of Little Bird.
  • Inspect and Clean Your Little Bird Influencer Lists Before Exporting to Twitter - Little Bird does a great job finding online thought leaders, but I recommend you scrub their lists before you act on them. There may be some people on the list who shouldn't really be there and you don't want to waste time building relationships with those folks.
  • Track Your Progress on Influencer Engagement - Run the Discover Connections against your Twitter handle and then bookmark the results page in your web browser. Visit that bookmark periodically to see whether you've acquired more influencers as Twitter followers. If you're not making progress, adjust your actions accordingly.
  • Branch Out Beyond Twitter to Engage Influencers on Other Social Platforms - While the influencers that Little Bird finds tend to be active on Twitter, I recommend you also work to cultivate relationships with them on the other social platforms they use. In some cases, getting their attention is easier on other social platforms.
  • Take the Time to Build Real Relationships with Experts, Thought Leaders and Influencers - It's easy to get influencers to follow you on Twitter, but that hardly means you have a real relationship. Influencer engagement is about much more than just having a social connection to somebody else -- they have to truly know who you are and care about you in some fashion. When you contact them, will they really know who you are? If they don't, that's a problem.

There you have it -- everything I know about Little Bird. Long story short, it's a great tool that can help you to be a better marketer.

After all, engaging with influential experts and thought leaders needs to be part of any good marketing plan, wouldn't you agree?

When you develop meaningful, real relationships with industry thought leaders, you'll be amazed at the positive impact on accelerating lead generation, building trust, and raising brand awareness.

If you're new to influencer engagement or need help on this front, reach out to Walker Sands. This is a growing area of focus for us, a skillset that we've invested in, and something we've been doing a lot of lately for our tech and B2B clients.

We'd love to hear what you are trying to accomplish and see if we can help.