A guide to free and easy influencer research tools

influencer research tools


By Mark Schaefer

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 is one that does the trick: 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!

Mark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

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

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