Identifying the most appropriate influencers at scale is a blend of art and science. The influencer identification four S model breaks the process into core elements.

75% of communications professionals say identifying relevant influencers for brand strategy is their biggest influencer challenge.

For smaller companies – those with fewer than 50 employees – the figure rises to 82%. So says Augure, an SaaS influencer marketing company.

This post explains how to boost your influencer marketing efforts by helping you to identify influencers using the four S model of:

  • Search
  • Surface
  • Screen
  • Select

The model offers a best practice blend of:

  • Using third-party vendor automation tools
  • Embedded contextual intelligence of PR practitioners
  • Institutionalised knowledge management



Every identification starts with a question

Every influencer identification starts with a question: what is your or your client’s business need or opportunity that has to be addressed?

It may be building awareness of a new product. Or, helping to earn a better reputation for your business. It may be event management, crisis management or building better SEO.

Picking the most appropriate influencer depends on context. Understanding where your core audience sits within the awareness, consideration, decision funnel. It means understanding the business goals an influence plan is designed to support.

The influencer identification four S model begins with search.


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Finding the most appropriate influencers for your plans starts with developing a deep understanding of your audience and what they’re trying to achieve. It answers questions such as:

  • What are their needs?
  • What are their aspirations
  • What pain points do they have?
  • Who do they turn to for information?

Choosing either category influencers or audience influencers

There are two types of influencer:

  • Category influencers
  • Audience influencers

Identifying the most appropriate influencer depends on where your audience is sitting within the awareness, consideration and decision funnel.

In terms of influencer mapping category influencers will work well within the consideration stage. Audience influencers may be more effective for generating awareness.

Category influencers

Category influencers are creators who produce and publish content around the topic you’re interested in. For example if your client is an vacuum cleaner manufacturer you would want to identify influencers based on keywords such as cleaning, Hoover, clean carpets, suction power, etc.

Category influencers are effective, but only once you’ve identified your audience’s problem or opportunity. Category influencers speak directly to the solution that can help solve their needs. Bridging the gap between education & product/service.

Given the vacuum cleaner example if we’re in the market for a new vacuum cleaner – or contemplating the switch from bagged system to bagless – then category influencers help us make our decision. Chances are we’ll Google one or more of the keywords and take it from there.

Category influencers help when people are searching for further information about something.

If we want to build awareness, we need to find and reach out to those people who are popular with and, more importantly, influence our audience.


Audience influencers

Audience influencers make and post content relevant to your audience. Again, if you’re working with a vacuum cleaner client you would consider identifying influencers based on your target audience’s online behaviours and topics popular to them.

We don’t tend to spend our time online chatting about our daily floor-cleaning routines as a matter of course. The challenge here is to identify what we’re are talking about online and to introduce products there via a credible source.

At this stage the goal is to run a search which builds a broad pool of potential influencers. This is the long list of potentials.

How do you find these influencers?

  • Using a search engine. Just Google it
  • Scrolling through topic-based online forums
  • Asking other influencers for recommendations
  • Crawling social media sites

For influencer identification at scale let tools do the heavy lifting. If you are focussed on finding category influencers use tools like Traackr, Onalytica, Plugr, Littlebird , TubularLabs or BlueNod

If you are working at scale to find audience influencers use a tool which captures online behaviour.

Use third-party tools for the heavy lifting but always qualify long list results with contextual intelligence built across the next stages of the S model.

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Now with your long list of potential influencers it’s time to filter them by how appropriate they are to your campaign needs.

The surface phase of the influencer identification S model analyses influencers against reach, resonance, and relevance.


Audience size. Reach is defined by the number of people you could potentially touch through the influencer’s follower base.


How relevant is the influencer to the topic being expressed? Which influencers are surfaced around the keywords and key phrases you hold dear? In short: how trusted and authoritative is this influencer on this specific topic?


Resonance is the outcome of reach combined with relevance. Of the three Rs resonance provides the secret sauce. It determines how much activity an influencer initiates by posting content. But resonance is intertwined with reach and relevance.

It’s the level of engagement an influencer receives from their post. The number of times it’s shared, commented on and liked.

RELATED: The 7 Rs of Influencer Relations

You may love Katy Perry. With 87 million Twitter followers you’re not alone. Is she likely to influence your decision on buying a new fridge or car insurance though? Her millions of followers are irrelevant to a lot of brands but perfect for others.

To brands where her influence is irrelevant no amount of RTs, shares, favourites and comments will really resonate with your target audience.

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Now you have established a shorter list of influencers which conform to Brian solis’ three pillars of influence: reach, relevance and resonance. It’s time to ensure the potential influencers are appropriate to you or your client’s brand.

The screen phase of the influencer identification four S model provides you with a safety check. It’s the step where you vet influencers.

When recruiting an employee to join your work team you do background checks. You gather references; check qualifications.

You undertake digital due diligence. You look through their LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter accounts.

You check that nothing potentially damaging sticks out. You do that because you want to know you’re hiring who you think you’re hiring; not a veneer. You do it because this candidate employee would be representing your firm.

Well, influencers are representing your brand, too. So you need to check an influencer’s values are in tune with yours – or your client’s.

Check that influencers fit at least with the following:

  • Turnaround time – Does the influencer always meet her deadline?
  • Tone of voice – Is the influencer’s voice commensurate with your brand’s?
  • Contracts – They are under a non-compete policy with a competitor brand? If you use them can you enforce a non-compete preventing them from working with a competitor next week?
  • Keep legal – Are they aware of and do they comply with sponsorship and advertising disclosure guidelines? These include the Committee of Advertising Practice Code (CAP) codes in the UK and the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) guidelines in the US?

In the search phase it’s helpful to be able to tap into the experience of others. If you work within an agency it means capturing, storing, categorising, sharing and using the information of colleagues to build a body of knowledge about the influencers, a benchmark for payment, timelines for engagement and disclosure regulations.

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The final stage of the influencer identification four S model is select.

Not all influencers are equal. As more and more communicators undertake influencer relations campaigns, power shifts from brands to the established influencers. It becomes a seller’s market as top influencers are able to pick and choose who they work with and at what price.

Be realistic with the influencers you want to work with. Instead of aiming for the celebrity influencers consider the power middle. The rising stars who may not have the stellar reach of influencer royalty, but are committed to producing consistent, quality content, and—more importantly—whose audience is committed to them.

Always have a back-up plan – or two (or three). Don’t set your sights on a single influencer at the screen stage. They might be busy, too expensive or not interested in working with you.

Think creatively about which categories of influencers can effectively advocate for your brand.

Don’t stop with the usual suspects. Think about unconventional influencers who still have the ability to change minds. Also consider a multiple influencer approach, combining several influencers into a single campaign.

Once you have successfully run your influencers through the S model the next stage to a profitable, mutually rewarding relationship with an influencer is contracting and negotiation. And learning that to benefit from authentic voice compelling content collaborating on the creative brief. You need to relinquish control over the content.

I’ve written before about how brands gain better influencer marketing results when they relinquish control to the influencer.


Scott Guthrie is a professional adviser within the influencer marketing industry. He is an event speaker, university guest lecturer, media commentator on influencer marketing and active blogger. He works with brands, agencies and platforms to achieve meaningful results from influencer marketing. That tells you something about him but it's not giving you a lot of detail, is it? So, read more here.

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  1. Reblogged this on Influencer Marketing Lab and commented:

    75% of communications professionals say identifying relevant influencers for brand strategy is their biggest influencer challenge.

    For smaller companies – those with fewer than 50 employees – the figure rises to 82%. So says Augure, an SaaS influencer marketing company.

    This post explains how to boost your influencer marketing efforts by helping you to identify influencers using the four S model of:


    The model offers a best practice blend of:

    Using third-party vendor automation tools
    Embedded contextual intelligence of PR practitioners
    Institutionalised knowledge management

  2. The way you have explored this topic is fascinating. It is such a broad area and breaking it down into Search, Surface, Screen & Select makes such good sense. I am interested in the ‘pain-point’ of influencer identification. There a quite a few tools and techniques which can help but finding what works for your seems to be almost as challenging as searching out the relevant influencers. Great post though!

    1. Thanks Mike. It all starts with knowing what you need to achieve – the brief.

      From there I’ve tried to break out the identification process into discrete areas.

      You’re right, there are many third-party vendor tools offering nose-to-tail solutions for influencer work.

      A successful approach will be a blend of tools, nowse and corporate absorptive capacity — i.e. how we capture, store, classify, share and make use of this shared knowledge.

      Thanks for taking the time to read, comment and share this post Michael — Scott

  3. Interesting post Scott. It’s good to read a well described process like yours to identify influencers. I’ve personally developed a tool that might help in the search and surface steps, though I do think that running a good search in the first place will reduce the chance of finding irrelevant influencers before even reaching the surface part.

    If possible, I’d love to hear your thoughts on my tool. It focuses on finding influencers with reach (a large audience) and activity (active in conversations) on Twitter. As a test case, I’ve run a query for #FuturePRoof tag:

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}