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By Heather Roy, Junior PR Consultant

If you’re a LinkedIn member, you probably receive messages from an email list called “LinkedIn Influencers.” But have you ever wondered how the business-focused networking site designates those “influencers?” You have to be invited. LinkedIn has more than 330 million users, but only around 500 people have “influencer” status. According to the site, these people are “leaders in their industries, geographies and seniorities” and they “talk about broad topics of interest such as leadership, management, hiring and firing, disruption and how to succeed.” They aren’t just popular; they are engaged. LinkedIn’s influencer list includes people like Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group; Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft; Arianna Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post, and others involved in similar levels of business. And the list is regularly updated.

Influential people can be found on every social media platform, but they are not always easy to identify. And, the people who “influence” one industry might not be the people who “influence” your industry. So how do you find and connect with the right influencers who can help your business get the exposure it needs? There are both manual techniques and software tools to help you pinpoint the right influencers in your industry. We break down a few options for you below.

Twtrland Twtrland is a social analytics tool that allows businesses and individuals to determine the impact of their profiles on Twitter and other platforms. It also helps users analyze connections and engagement levels and find power users or “influencers” in different categories and geographical locations. There is a free version of the software and a professional dashboard, which helps business users improve their presence on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, beat competitors and connect with industry influencers.

Traackr

Traackr is an influencer management platform that searches the entire web, including all social media and blogging platforms, to create a customized influencer list for each user. Influencers are ranked based on reach, resonance and relevance. Traackr tracks the people leading the conversations in your field.

LittleBird

Little Bird identifies Twitter influencers based on the number of connections that each person has on the social media site. Users are given “insider scores,” which determine levels of influence. Little Bird helps businesses and individuals connect with the right people on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn. This option is a little pricier, at $50/month for individuals and between $250 and $1,000/month for businesses.

Topsy

For individuals and businesses that want to take a more hands-on approach to building a social media influencer list, TOPSY, a social search and analytics company, allows users to identify the most impactful hashtags and influential authors on Twitter. Users can combine this tool with independent research to determine who to target on Twitter and decide what conversations to join. The best part about TOPSY is that you can search the entire database for free!

Of course, these tools will only get you so far. In order to use them effectively, you have to do some thorough groundwork. If you are a company, you need to know your brand objectives and key terms. And you should research the primary platform on which people in your industry engage in meaningful conversations. You don’t want to take a drift net approach, using all social media platforms with the hope of people noticing your brand or business.

At this point, you might be saying, “But I don’t want to follow the leaders; I want to be the leader!” In order to lead, you have to build a following. And the best way to do this is to plug into networks of people who are already influential in your industry. Social media influencers are people who have a lot of followers in specific industries, post regularly, engage in conversations with other people and mention brands and businesses in their posts.

Are you an influencer? Or do you want to become one? Share some influencer identification tools and advice with us here or on our Facebook page. For information on how different social media platforms can benefit your brand, click here for our latest post on targeted online advertising.