If you’re intending to market your product or services using conversational media, then you need to identify the correct part of your audience, and find who your influencers are. Depending on the type of business you’re in, your audience and potential customers are active in their own specific spheres. They may be decision makers inside the firewall, they may not hold budget themselves, but they may have significant influence over the decision makers at your customer. Your influencers may be key technologists in the community, considered trusted advisers in their field. They might be geeks who are visionaries in your industry, they may be early adopters or trend setters. These people will help you advance your business, they will help in achieving a measurable ROI, and you would benefit from making them your friends.

Seeding these influential members of the audience with information is your challenge.

How can you ensure that these people are the hubs in their network and will extend your buzz across their own networks?

Traditionally marketers have looked for influencers who are active in a structured network, but research has shown that networks are often split into zones or smaller hubs within the network. The key to finding your influencer is not to search for the hub of the whole network.

It’s about finding the right individual who will spread the message across all of the different subgroups within a network.

These individuals, with their links to many subgroups, are known as super-connectors. These subgroups may be classified by technology, geography, interests or social activity, but careful examination will find those users who transcend these networks and, more importantly, link different networks together. To effectively market to these people, take a closer look at who these super-connectors are and who they communicate with regularly. Then you can start the discussion with the right connector.

Online ‘friends‘ are very important. They will help you to expand your network beyond the initial circle of networking contacts you have. Like the six degrees of separation experiment where each person is one step away from each of their direct contacts and two steps away from their contacts‘ contacts, everyone on earth is theoretically connected by at most six steps.

The important thing to remember is that these steps are not equal in strength. Some of your close friends are bound by extremely strong ties, and other casual acquaintances are connected to you by much weaker ties.

Social structures are modelled using both weak and strong ties, and it is often the case that weaker ties become stronger for a time, in order to perform some transient social function. This function might be something as simple as connecting you to one of their strong ties to form a bond. This system of social hubs and routing hubs, strong ties and weak ties, forms the basis of all connections. It is dynamic and fluid, and it changes all the time.

Finding your audience and friends

Hubs, people who have a collection of friends who feed them information, routers who pass information onto other hubs, and endpoints who receive output from hubs and routers are very useful in your network. However, you may want to discover easy ways to increase your audience. For example, you may be launching a new campaign and one of your metrics is to get ‘net new‘ visitors to your site and increase your audience by driving page views to your target campaign site.

There are hundreds of social networks, some are specialised and designed for specific interests, and perhaps hobbyist or music sites, and some are more generic.

You may know and use LinkedIn for your business contacts and Plaxo to connect your email contact list to others. You might use, MySpace, Pandora and Spotify for music, and Facebook, Hi5, Orkut and Twitter for your social connections.

These websites are ‘sticky‘, they are simple and popular, they encourage connections and they drive huge amounts of user engagement.

Users tend to spend a lot of time on their sites, they store a lot of their data on them, and there are tools such as Facebook that allow friends using different social networks to connect with each other. This amount of engagement means that there’s a great opportunity here for advertisers to take advantage of these websites and connections. A simple example would be the opportunity for job search and recruitment companies to have a tight tie-in with LinkedIn. LinkedIn could display job advertisements targeted according to the user’s online profile. There is also an opportunity for consumer brands to advertise across Facebook and YouTube, and opportunities to drive traffic to the website using Twitter updates’providing, of course that they have compelling and eye catching status messages.

There are many ways to automatically find new people to follow on Twitter via an array of tools which offer free and paid-for services.

These services offer automated ways to gather new followers and ways to follow those who tweet about keywords you choose.

Several Twitter clients—including Tweetdeck, Seesmic and TweetGrid—allow search strings to be placed into a separate feed column to discover who is talking about your product, service or brand. Whilst this is a great opportunity to gather feedback, it still requires manual intervention to follow these people if you so choose.

Searching for the right information is easy. There are tools to help connect you to anything you want on the web, whether it’s stored in a web page, a YouTube video or a blog. Tools like Technorati and IceRocket search blogs, while Yahoo! Search, Google and Bing search content on web pages and across social networking sites. MetaTube and Redlasso search for videos, and CrowdEye is used for social searches. Most of these tools offer targeted online advertisements, so there’s a potential business opportunity to increase revenue on these sites.

If you have a presence across several networks and you have fresh and interesting content, you'll be seen by your target audience. Some of your followers will link to you and their friends will notice this presence and amplify your message on your behalf.

Increasing your following

If part of your customer engagement strategy is to increase the number of your followers then you need to think ways to engage your new audience. The mechanisms for increasing followers are pretty much the same whatever tool you use, and whether you want to spread your message across the Twitterverse or score large numbers of hits for your YouTube video.

Your strategy needs to consider the fact that once you’ve identified your audience, you need to get them to follow you or subscribe to you, so the most important thing here is to provide interesting content.

Your broadcasts need to have useful, relevant and informative information to capture their attention and keep them engaged. This information could be in the form of news about an upcoming event, a product or beta launch or a new piece of business news. It could be a simple ‘how-to‘ article. I love the ‘how to fold a t-shirt‘ videos on YouTube. These ‘how-to‘ articles appear at the top of the search engines. Try it!

Whatever your information is, it needs to be useful enough for people to recommend it to their connections, who recommend it to their connections and amplify the message.