Influence on the Internet is an amalgamation of social-media following, subject-matter expertise, personality, content authority, publishing power, and thought leadership. Influencers can brandish their clout within a specific topic, industry, social channel, or even hashtag. They are subject-matter experts with online megaphones to elevate conversations to wider, more targeted audiences. Influencers have the benefit of being trusted humans, and blended with social capital, their reach can shape conversations within a particular niche that can activate brand trust, loyalty, and conversions.

As a business, you need a recipe for capitalizing on their relevance, resonance, and reach. From identifying and ranking them, to winning their trust, leveraging their assets, and tracking their power, here is a four-pronged approach to leveraging influencer marketing as a business.

1. Identify and rank them

Just as with any other marketing tactic, shooting from the hip without quantitative research won't get you far. To distinguish key influencers from less impactful people, use available online tools. Influencer50 developed a model for ranking business influencers that makes determinations based on reach, independence, frequency of impact, expertise, persuasiveness, and thoroughness of role.

Here are some tools to identify influencers by topical expertise:

  • Followerwonk: If you're looking for individuals to carry your message through social campaigns, take a look at Followerwonk. This tool enables you to search Twitter bios for the most influential voices on the Internet. Acquired by Moz, this tool provides competitive comparisons, tracking, and data visualization. Plus, a social-media authority filter enables sorting of influencers, and reports can be saved for future reference.
  • ClearVoice: ClearVoice is a content marketing platform with scores for top Web content writers. The platform allows brands to search for influential writers on the basis of topical expertise. If you're looking for a writer with a strong voice in a particular vertical who not only can produce compelling content but can also amplify that content, ClearVoice could help you find voices to carry your content to a higher level.
  • Inkybee: Inkybee helps assess a blogger's level of influence. Visitors can compare influencers on the basis of size of audience, engagement level, frequency of posting, social followers, inbond links, and "domain authority."
  • GroupHigh: GroupHigh is another great tool that enables you to search for blogs within your niche and see numbers for Twitter followers, Facebook likes, Pinterest followers, and more. You can export the lists and then sort each however you like.

Conferences, meetups, and authors who have published research or books related to a specific topic are also outlets for identifying influencers in a particular niche.

Once you have identified your potential influencers, put a list together and rank them. Include name, email, topical expertise, and social follower-ship so you can get a view of the value they bring. This should help you prioritize reaching out to the most important people first. Now you'll be able to start the battle of increasing awareness of your brand within their respective communities.

2. Win their trust

Influencers don't stand in line to advocate for your business. You have to win them over before you can get them to perform particular tasks on behalf of your company.

Interact with them. Before you reach out to your targeted influencers, develop a social relationship first. Do whatever you can to show that you are vested in your relationship with them. Don't tell them they are awesome; show it in your actions. To build a foundation of trust and respect:

  • Endorse them on LinkedIn
  • Retweet their status updates
  • Interview them on your blog
  • Introduce them to someone of value to them
  • Co-create content with them
  • Advertise on their sites
  • Feature them on a list post
  • Chime in on their Google On Air sessions, Twitter chats, podcasts, or webinars

Pay them. Some platforms have built-in payment structures within their programs for their influential members. Also, consider bartering with your influencers for product trades and sponsorship opportunities.

Brands with big budgets are able to lure influencers to partner with them through cold, hard cash. For example, influential photographers selected to capture GE's InstaWalk, a successful campaign aimed at capturing beautiful industrial and technology iconography, were paid to do so. The brand and photographers capitalized on each other's influence. GE garnered a new audience that was well worth the spend, while photographers were able to showcase their work on GE's Instagram feed.

Intrinsically reward them. If money is tight and you're looking for ways to organically build a relationship with an influencer, warm the lead through offering intrinsic benefits. Will the influencer reach a new community through engagement with your brand? Gain publishing power? Feel good about the knowledge being spread to an underprivileged community? Whatever the reason, play up the emotional benefit the partnership could bring.

3. Market through them

Your goal here is to increase market awareness of your business among target markets--the tribes of your selected influencers. Break up your influencer list by task if necessary. For example, those who are strong writers can create written content for you, while individuals with a large social following can partner in a social campaign with you.

Here are some ways you can capitalize on influencers:

  • Product validation
  • Website endorsement
  • Co-marketing campaigns
  • Social campaigns
  • Content creation, including guest posts, interviews, guest editing, e-books, infographics
  • Co-host a Google On Air chat
  • Co-present at a conference

If done correctly, marketing through influencers can turn influencers into advocates of your business.

4. Measure their impact on your business

Once you have marketed through your influencers, as in any other marketing campaign you'll want to track its success. The following metrics dive into specific measurement types a business can capture.

  • Content consumption: Includes unique visitors, page views, video views, and document downloads. This type of measurement captures positive behavior performed by a potential customer and can be measured using tools such as Google Analytics and Authority Labs.
  • Sharing: Includes social metrics such as "likes," shares, tweets, +1′s, pins, and inbound links. Tools ideal for this include SocialMention, Who Shared my Link, and Radian6, among many others.
  • Lead generation: These metrics can include form completions and downloads, phone calls, email subscribers, blog subscriptions, and other sales conversion stats. Google Analytics and CRM tools are great ways to track your leads through influencer marketing.

As you can see, if performed strategically, influencer marketing is invaluable. Follow the steps in this guide and you should have good results.

Published on: Sep 5, 2014
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.