A guide to free and easy influencer research tools

influencer research tools


A few months ago I was at a huge tech industry conference. A sponsoring company had a massive LED “leaderboard” showing the leading influencers tweeting about the conference.

There were a few people who I recognized but quite a few I didn’t. I asked the administrator what constituted an “influencer” by their definition and the woman told me “number of Twitter followers.”

roger rabbitAt this point, please insert a mental image of Mark Schaefer as a cartoon character that just drank a gallon of hot sauce. You know, steam out the ears, eyes popping out on springs … that sort of thing. I was embarassed for this Fortune 500 company that equates Twitter followers with influence. That is so 2011.

Today we need more than that, right? Problem is, for cheapskates like me it’s getting harder and harder to find free tools to use. As influence marketing has gotten hotter, the prices have gone up on great platforms like Traakr and Appinions which don’t even offer free trials any more.

So here are a few work-arounds for people trying to get a handle on influence marketing on the cheap.

Free influencer research tools

1. Fake Guru Sniffer

Let’s go back to the tech industry conference.

There was one “influencer” who looked kind of suspicious to me. He had more than 300,000 Twitter followers and I had never heard of the guy before, I know how long it takes to build a real Twitter following and I was suspicious that this guy was a fake.

There’s a handy tool to check for fake gurus from our friends at SocialBakers. It has the not-too-creative name of Fake Follower Check but it’s free so who am I to complain? If you are vetting people for an influencer program, this can be a useful first step to check their credibility.

Do they really have reach … or did they (gasp) buy their Twitter followers to just look like a big deal? My Fake Follower score is 98%, which means that only 2% of my followers are inactive or suspicious accounts. This reflects the effort I put into building an authentic Twitter audience. When I put Mr. Suspicious in this box, he had a score of 64%. Just as I thought. He bought his followers to try to LOOK like he had authority. Connecting with him would be a waste of money for your brand.

2. An indicator that people listen to you

There was something else quite strange about Mr. Suspicious. He had all those followers but was only on 74 Twitter Lists.

This is a very important metric because you might be able to fake your followers but it’s very difficult to fake your way on to Twitter Lists. When somebody puts you on a list, this means the follower is at least savvy enough to use lists and cares enough about what you’re saying to highlight your content.

So a really good shortcut to determine somebody’s potential impact is to look at the ratio of lists to followers. But there’s one little snag in our plan. When Twitter went through their overhaul last year, for some crazy reason they eliminated the number that shows how many times you’ve been listed! So we need a work-around.

To easily see how many lists a person is on, you’re going to need the free version of Tweetdeck. Click on your name in a tweet and a little profile box pops up. This is the ONLY place I know of to easily see how many lists a person is on!

how to find twitter lists

So about 8 percent of my followers think enough of me to put me on a list. For Mr. Suspicious, this ratio is like 2 hundredths of a percent. That makes sense — as we already saw, a large percentage of his followers are fake.

3. An engagement monitor

With our first two tools we have established that a potential influencer has a real audience and people are paying attention to them.

Our next tool will show you a bit about their engagement levels. Are they just posting links or are they really engaging with folks? Are people actually reacting to their content?

Let’s now turn to TwtrLand.com. Although they have a paid version (starting at $19.99), you can see enough on the free edition to learn how communicative the person is and also get an idea of who they are having conversations with. Are they engaged with your ultimate target market? This tool is a high-level indicator.

4. Influence by topic

You’re probably going to want to dive down a little deeper now and find certain influencers by topic. There are not a lot of totally free and comprehensive tools I know of to do this but here are some hacks:

Kred allows you to search influencers by hashtag. So you can look for people in the #travel industry for example and you will get a leaderboard in return as well as some of the top tweets on that topic (good content source!)

The problem with Kred is that it is very Twitter-centric.

One idea is to combine this Kred output with the data from the free version of NOD3x, which provides insight into data coming from Google+ and YouTube.

A third free tool to look at is BuzzSumo. This application returns the top content in any category by the number of social shares.  It takes a little work but you can begin to see patterns of the top authors in certain subject areas.

5. The magic of moving content

Connecting to influencers can be a very powerful marketing strategy but they have to be people who can move content (also known as creating buzz). How can we figure out if somebody can move content better than another?


There is probably no more divisive tool on the web but let’s take the emotion of “influence” out of the conversation for a moment and simply look at Klout as relative measure of a person’s ability to move content.

For example, Brian Solis with an astronomical Klout score of 84 shows that he can move content better than me, with a score of 76. That makes sense. I blog and am active on the social web so my score is probably higher than many of my students, for example. So Klout isn’t perfect but it means something.

Klout has made a lot of changes … some for the better, some for the worse (that is a debate for another time!) … but the core score is stable, it’s still FREE and it provides a useful relative comparison. It is a blunt instrument, but sometimes all you need is a blunt instrument as long as you have a realistic perspective of what it is and the limitations.

Well if you are working on influence on the cheap, these free influencer research tools should help you. If you really want to get the inside scoop on social influence marketing fundamentals, you might also enjoy my book Return On Influence. And please let me know in the comment section if there are any cheapskate tools you like to use!

Original illustration for {grow} by Kacy Maxwell, Copyright 2014 Schaefer Marketing Solutions,

This post was brought to you by IBM for Midsize Business and opinions are my own. To read more on this topic, visit  IBM’s Midsize Insider. Dedicated to providing businesses with expertise, solutions and tools that are specific to small and midsized companies, the Midsize Business program provides businesses with the materials and knowledge they need to become engines of a smarter planet.
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  • Josh St. Aubin

    Great post Mark. A lot of brands/businesses still use vanity metrics and follower counts to identify influencers, but like you said, it’s not about the quantity of followers that creates influence as much as it is about the quality of the content, community and engagement they have created that counts. A lot of times you can tell so much about an account right from their profile bio and first 3 or 4 tweets.

  • Aseem Jibran

    Excellent piece. Point 4 has just made life so much easier for newbies like me. Thank you 🙂

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  • Great article Mark, I was getting ready to jump in with the Tweetdeck tip, but then you did just a couple of lines later (2 seconds of excitement this end!).

    I’ve recently discovered BuzzSumo and it’s great for content and influencer discovery, they’re threatening a business version soon so that should be interesting.

    Apparently I have 100% real followers too! 🙂

  • That is a very wise point Josh. I hadn;t thought about it that way but it is true. I certainly get a reaction from a bio and a few tweets. If you’re interested, that might make an interesting guest post if you could point to examples and best practices. Thanks for the great comment.

  • I wish there was an easier (free) way to find influencer by topic. Let me know if you come across any other ideas Aseem.

  • That is quite an accomplishment. I will never hit that number because the spam followers come at me faster than I can get rid of them! I actually pay a VA to fight them off!

  • Todd Lyden

    Mark, you still got it… and I love that you are a cheapskate at heart…
    I’m at 98% on Twitter according to socialbakers but don’t have that massive following you have… so much easier to cull…

  • Josh St. Aubin

    Thanks Mark – I’d love to write a guest post! Let me know if you need anything from me to get started.

  • send me an email through my website and we can get it started.

  • Schaefer is a German word for “shepherd.” I think I come from a long line of people who watch their money! : )

  • Brooke Ballard

    Go, Josh, GO! 😀

  • Josh St. Aubin

    Thanks Brooke! That means a lot. Stay tuned…

  • Pauline Baird Jones

    Wow, my fake followers count is better than I feared. 97%. I have this fear that early on, when I didn’t know better, I followed some fakes. I also didn’t know about the list numbers. Once again, I learned something from you. And on a Monday, too. Thank you!

  • Awesome. Live long and prosper! : )

  • Kitty Kilian

    Thanks Mark, useful tools!

  • Good post @businessesgrow:disqus . I had an interesting situation earlier this year where a local media channel (also national) wanted to do a feature article on local influencers in the Orlando area. I met w/ the editor and shared some names of people I knew locally who I thought was making an impact on people’s live and in the local market. The editor also shared with me a local guy who had 300k followers. Same as you reference here, it just didn’t feel right when I looked at his profile. I went to Social Bakers fake checker and bingo the majority of his followers were fake. We also verified the follower counts on a few other tools and it was quite easy to tell he had purchased the followers, no way around it. I let the editor know such information and I was shocked when they sill put him on the front page of the publication even knowing the information. It is a media organization that should know better yet they do it for the shock factor. They went on to write an article about me which was titled “She has more followers than God.” As you can guess I immediately let them know I hated the title and asked them kindly to change, given the last thing I want to be compared to is God because of my followers on Twitter. They obliged and changed the title.

    To this day I am still shocked they published the article of the local guy even knowing the information. The editor said he had even discussed with mgmt and they chose to still to publish.

    I do wish there were more tools that could make it easier for people who don’t know better to tell if a person is the real deal or fake as can be!

  • So disappointing. It is amazing what people will do to build “traffic.” Does truth matter? Probably not.

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  • Catching up on some reading now the kids are back in school 🙂

    It amazes me how people deem certain people influencers because of numbers that can be easily skewed. I was curious about the Twitter list thing and went into Tweetdeck and saw 3% of my followers have me listed – not bad in my opinion. I’ve also been using BuzzSumo for a while. They interviewed me for my input on social media for a few posts and I really enjoy their tool. They have a new pro version coming out soon. However when it comes to Klout – I still can’t decide if it’s worth it.

    Thanks for the great list of tools for me to bookmark!

  • Todd Bacile

    Thanks for the list of free tools, Mark. I will share this post with my students. They are always looking for cheap and easy to use tools to assess different types of social metrics. Using multiple measures also decreases the risk of putting all your eggs in one basket, so to speak. Some people just don’t like Klout, but using it along with other metrics may make it more acceptable to those who dislike it.

  • Aseem Jibran

    Sure sir.

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  • Great resources here…and that graphic cracks me up!

  • Nicole Knoll

    This was great! Thanks for the insights!

  • Great post Mark and what a comprehensive list of tools. I admit some were even new to me and I thought I knew most tools in the space already.

    I especially liked your point on lists – this is usually one of the first metrics I look at when deciding whether to follow someone. If many people decided this person’s content is so relevant that they want to add him to one of their lists, so that they would not miss anything he posts, than this person is probably more interesting than someone else that has more followers but less people added him or her to their lists.

  • Thanks Yael.

  • BiggsMontana87

    How long did it take you to get your twitter following to where it is at today?

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