By Joe Chernov published October 25, 2012

How a New “Influencer” App Could be Your Most Powerful Content Marketing Weapon

content marketing weaponLast week, a member of a private Facebook group comprised of social media professionals asked if anyone could supply a list of influential event marketers. So far, only two names have been suggested. Yet in the past 90 seconds, I identified 297. Or, more accurately, Little Bird, a newly launched start-up founded by former ReadWriteWeb editor Marshall Kirkpatrick, did.

Little Bird is essentially a search engine for influencers, but unlike services such as Klout that assign a “reputation score” to people, Kirkpatrick’s tool starts with a topic and, based on Byzantine connections throughout the social graph surrounding the issue, works backward to the “insiders” who are most influential about that particular subject. 

Take “content marketing,” for example. Little Bird tells me Content Marketing Institute’s Joe Pulizzi tops the list of influencers, followed by Michael Brenner, Lee Odden, C.C. Chapman and myself. Of course, naming the “known” people is the easy part. After all, Pulizzi runs this blog, Brenner and I were up for content marketer of the year, and Odden and Chapman have both written books on the subject. But Little Bird’s algorithm does more than surface the obvious. For example, it tells me that since making a move to OpenView Labs, Kevin Cain has begun making a name for himself in content marketing; that Deana Goldasich and Robert Rose have risen to prominence by listening to the right voices; and that nearly everything Cheryl Burgess tweets gets shared broadly.

In other words, Little Bird might just become a content marketer’s most powerful weapon, because it addresses the practitioner’s three most pressing needs: more content, better content, and wider distribution.

More content 

There is only so much you can write about your product or to your ideal customer persona before you begin repeating yourself. At some point, effective content marketers need to publish about topics adjacent to their product and buyer. They need to cast a wider net, so to speak. This is where Little Bird comes in.

Let’s say your company retrofits big offices with cables and locks to prevent laptops from being stolen. While most of your content will address the needs of IT and security personnel, you may also wish to capture the attention of facilities leaders and interior designers. You may even want office furniture manufacturers to consider integrating your attachment system into the industrial designs for future desks.

Chances are, you don’t know who these people are, what blogs they read, or what they care about. Little Bird can tell you not only who these insiders are, but also what topics they are talking about and what articles they are sharing. Imagine all of the real-time content ideas this information could inspire.

Better content 

Boxing great Muhammad Ali is credited with authoring the shortest poem in history. When he recited, “Me, we” in a Harvard University commencement address, the boxing great confessed that as strong as he may be, the collective is stronger.

Content creation is no different. Often the best assets are the by-product of collaboration between internal and external contributors. The hard part, of course, is identifying the “thought leaders” with whom to co-create. By surfacing the names of influential figures in even niche topics, like “event marketing,” Little Bird gives content marketers — especially those partial to content curation — a major advantage over their time-strapped competition.

Similarly, for companies that employ a corporate reporter, Little Bird could be an invaluable research tool for identifying sources for articles and blog posts.

Wider distribution 

When I ran content marketing at a major marketing technology company, I joked that I was both the publisher and paperboy — that is, I was responsible for not only producing the news, but also for hustling its distribution.

By supplying subscribers with extensive lists of the people that hold the most sway with industry insiders, Little Bird provides content marketers — and their counterparts in PR — with a cheat sheet on which Twitter users, bloggers, and even companies (yes companies are influencers, too) they should be targeting to promote their content.

PTC’s Alan Belniak and author Paul Gillin created a popular presentation on how to identify and cozy up to the “new influencer” — deeply trusted, hyper-connected individuals that tend to function “outside the grasp” of traditional public relations campaigns. Little Bird lists are the building blocks for any influencer relations program in that they identify the voices that ring loudest on any given topic. And as any veteran content marketer knows, without a little push from these folks, even the best content can stumble out of the gate.

Little Bird is still in (semi) private beta. Kirkpatrick tells me he’s letting in up to 100 new users a day. If you are a content marketer who is looking to spark new ideas while broadening your reach, do yourself a favor and sign up. And if you pitch me on a content marketing topic, say that a Little Bird told you to. I’ll listen.

Want more content marketing inspiration? Download our ultimate eBook with 100 content marketing examples.

Author: Joe Chernov

Joe Chernov is the VP of Marketing for Kinvey, a mobile backend as a service start-up in Cambridge, MA. Joe joined Kinvey from Eloqua, where, as VP of Content Marketing, he was named “Content Marketer of the Year” by The Content Marketing Institute. He speaks at universities and conferences around the world on content marketing and social media, and contributes to this blog and Mashable. You can follow Joe on Twitter @jchernov.

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  • jaybaer

    Terrific review Joe. Thanks so much for shining the light on Little Bird. It’s an amazing tool, and is incredibly easy to use. I’m partial to it because I’m an angel investor in the company, but I think Little Bird could become part of the standard content marketing and digita PR toolbox.

    • Joe Chernov

      Hey man … I am really fired up about Little Bird. It’s not a vanity app, it’s practical. It’s useful. I changed industries recently, and boom, in minutes I had a list of many of the most ‘insider’ names in the new sector (mobile app development). This would have taken me weeks.

  • carmenhill

    Delighted to see this review of Little Bird. I’ve been using it and appreciate your articulate explanation of its value and how it can be used for content marketing. Sharing with our team!

    • Marshall Kirkpatrick

      Thanks Joe for the very articulate write up and thank you Carmen for commenting here, too! Doesn’t Joe describe the value proposition of the product well? He got it immediately upon seeing it and just started rattling off awesome ideas for ways it could be used. Pretty cool!

  • Rob Yoegel

    Great post (as usual), Joe! I think, especially on the B2B side, that the role of a content marketing director is to understand fully who the influencers are and immerse themselves within that community. Maybe I’m just saying this because Little Bird didn’t mention me along with the incredible folks you reference 😉 It also will be interesting to see how Little Bird separates itself from the likes of Appinions, GroupHigh, mPact and others.

    • Marshall Kirkpatrick

      Rob – I just looked at a report on Content Marketing that I ran and I put your Twitter username into the Compare feature. Looks like you’ve got 35 of the top 500 following you, which is lower than the highest ranked people on the list, but you’ve got some really incredible people following you. People at the very top like Joe Pulizzi, Michael Brenner, Joe Chernov, Robert Rose and Mitch Joel. Some top people you’re not following yet though include Lee Odden, Deana Goldasich, Ardath Albee and Mike Volpe.

      Hope you can check out the product and give us your feedback soon!

      • Rob Yoegel

        So influence is based on who I follow and who follows me? How much is the context of what people say included in your alogrithms? Will definitely check it out some more. Good work!

    • Joe Chernov

      I’m pretty sure you were in there Rob. I just couldn’t name everyone listed, for fear that the post would read like this “classic” song: (Detroit! Cleveland! …)

  • Michael Rizzo

    Just signed up for Little Bird, can’t run reports myself. I like the idea of determining emerging influencers too.

    • Marshall Kirkpatrick

      Michael, we’ll make this clearer later today but what you can see right now is a set of curated reports – and we’re letting in a group of 50 to 100 people daily to a free trial account of their own where they can create original reports.

  • michaelbrenner

    Joe, thanks so much for the mention but mostly for pointing me to this tool! I am already signed up for the beta. And cannot wait to get my hands on it. I can already see the usefulness And I agree with you it is not just about vanity but true “Youtility.” Wait, Did somebody already use that term?

    • Joe Chernov

      It was fun to be listed neck-and-neck with you. I felt like we were duking it out on stage again 😉

  • Zivana

    Hi Joe – great article thank you! How do you see this being different to Followerwonk ito identifying influencers?

    • Joe Chernov

      I don’t really use followerwonk. What I like about Little Bird is that it retrieves insiders based on TOPICS. So while I might be interested in who follows, say, Joe Pulizzi. I am more interested in who is considered an expert on “content marketing” as a subject. There’ll be some overlap, sure. But for my purposes, the latter is more valuable than the former.

  • Chris Adams


    Thanks for this article. We have recently started investing in content marketing. Little Bird can be a great tool for us. We will be requesting access for Litte Bird.

    Thank you

    • Joe Chernov

      Good luck, let us know how you make out!

  • Stephen Bateman

    This sounds like one very smart application for content marketers – I’ve an immediate need it could help me with: identifying the influencers in the UK #greenbuild sector – have registered for beta usage and can’t wait to give the app a trial

    • Joe Chernov

      Good luck in the beta. Agree that Little Bird’s value prop is most immediate for niche and vertical markets.

  • Henley Chiu

    I’ve taken a look at the app – it looks very interesting, and immensely useful. I love the fact you can view people as well as brands. We often forget that it’s people that are the ones that can promote your content, not websites or brands.

    Of course, all of this functionality in Little Bird can be duplicated by doing Twitter searches, using FollowerWonk, Google searches, etc, but having it all filtered and qualified in 1 app is very convenient. I can see how it can be useful to content marketers.

    • Joe Chernov

      Yea I agree – almost everything in marketing can be done by cobbling together different solutions. But the great ones (1) take a real need, and (2) make it really simple to address it. This does both.

  • Aline Haddad

    it is an intersting tool to be considered by all professionnals.

    • Joe Chernov

      Agree, 100%. Lots of value in verticals, where “influencer” lists are harder to curate.

  • Deana Goldasich

    Wow, Joe, I can’t wait to try Little Bird on for size! I just signed up for the Beta! I appreciate the mention, as well. 🙂 Enjoyed hearing you speak at CMW and seeing you win your award at the ceremony!

    • Joe Chernov

      It was great seeing you at CMW. I was excited to see your avatar pop up in Little Bird!

  • Don Nanneman

    Leave it to the ‘Content Sleuth’ to find (and share) the next killer content marketing tool. For those of us who work across industries this looks to be a winner! Thanks for sharing!

    • Joe Chernov

      Content Sleuth! Ha there’s a first for everything. That’s pretty funny, Don.

  • Paul McDevitt

    Was pretty underwhelmed by Little Bird. Perhaps great for US but finding poor results for Canada. Seems more literal search than context, finding names based on a single keywod of a string completely out of context. And very few matches. The broad categories suggested in the trial are so broad, ie ‘finding’ Bill Gates under technology. Hardly earth shattering. Was expecting more.