May 8, 2013

Little Bird: A game changer for tracking influencers

Photo by Jessica May H on Flickr (CC BY license)

New social tool helps agencies, businesses mine verticals for the big kahunas

Target audience: Businesses, brands, digital marketers, advertising agencies, SEO specialists, entrepreneurs, educators, journalists, Web publishers.

JD LasicaIf you know how social media marketing works, then you know that social has changed the rules of marketing. It’s no longer about targeting a desired demographic and then bombarding that audience with one-way commercial messages. Madison Avenue and Don Draper live on in the form of mass marketing, but social marketing has transformed how we share commercial messages.


In this new world, we create content, stories and shareable objects that people will find valuable and may want to share on their social networks. We try to build a community so that we can engage in a conversation that will eventually spur them to become evangelists or ambassadors for our brand. And we run campaigns that enlist their help in getting out the word about a new product, service, cause or idea.

But there’s always been a missing piece of the puzzle: Identifying your most ardent fans has been a painstaking process. Small or mid-size businesses and organizations either do it manually, through the use of Twitter and Google Analytics combined with inputting their names and social handles into a spreadsheets or Google doc, or they throw up their hands at such a daunting undertaking. Organizations with a budget and more resources dabble with a bevy of Social Customer Relationship Management (sCRM) tools or social media dashboards or social search engines or digital campaign platforms. (See my writeup on SocialToaster.) Tools like Sprout Social, Nimble, Traackr, Klout and SocialMention get you part of the way there — but only part way. (SmallAct’s SocialVision, due to launch next month, is geared to tracking brand influencers and potential donors in the nonprofit sector.)

Little Bird could be a game changer for tracking social influencers

Marshall Kirkpatrick, CEO/co-founder of Little Bird: "We can deliver you right to the top of the mountain."

Marshall Kirkpatrick, CEO/co-founder of Little Bird: “We can deliver you right to the top of the mountain.”

Now along comes a new player on the scene whose goal is to provide that missing piece of the puzzle: Little Bird. The brainchild of Marshall Kirkpatrick, an entrepreneur/data journalist/technologist who was co-editor at ReadWriteWeb, Little Bird has been in closed beta since October with an exclusive focus on Twitter. But today the site is spreading its wings (sorry!) by expanding to include Facebook, Google Plus and LinkedIn. It’s still in private beta but the invitation wait time is very short.

Think of it as a way to roll your own army of supporters. “The ultimate vision is that anybody will be able to convene a circle of experts in their field: product design, nutritionists, ceramicists,” Marshall told me. “We can deliver you right to the top of the mountain to begin your engagement to save you the grind of the heavy lifting.”

The top of the mountain being the rugged mountaineers who have slogged to the social media summit and become the top influencers in their sectors. Similar in some ways to how Google’s Page Rank looks for linkbacks to web pages to determine credibility and relevancy, the Little Bird engine analyzes the connections between people to determine who has the most juice in a particular community or on a specific topic.

Speaking of mountaintops … it’s all about the verticals

I tried Little Bird and was immediately impressed by how it sized up the top influencers in the cruise lines industry on Twitter (I’m working on a cruise startup). For social media marketers and public relations professionals, Little Bird offers special appeal, saving us countless hours of assessing who are the folks worth paying attention to — not just at the summit but far down the mountaintop as well.

But Little Bird holds much wider appeal. Don’t know if that fellow sitting in front of you in a job interview is all that? Suss him out on Little Bird — and see which of the influencers in his field are following him.

If you’re a journalist, you may want to know the top 15 experts in the field of water conservation.

If you run a tech conference series, you’ll use Little Bird to see who the most influential people are in startups when you’re visiting a new city.

For those of us tired of the firehose, Little Bird is a welcome relief

If this reminds you a bit of Klout, that’s OK. Influence is hot right now. But there are important differences. Klout is an axe, Little Bird is a scalpel. While Klout is about overall online popularity and clout, whatever that is, Little Bird is not about inducing people to pass along corporate messages to mass audiences. It’s more about discovering the people whose opinions matter in a particular niche or vertical.

“This is tool to build relationships and foster a deeper way to engage with people, not another way to spam people,” Marshall said. “It’s also a way to relate to the world. In a way we’re acting as corporate organizational librarians. … There’s mind expanding, business expanding value waiting to be tapped inside the conversation structure.” Very Kirkpatrickian.

Here’s a short video of Marshall introducing the service:

Introducing Little BIrd from getlittlebird on Vimeo.

A bit pricey, but worth it

OK, final details: Yes, it’s a bit pricey, so you’ll need to gauge whether it’s worth your investment. Little Bird costs $50/month for individuals (up to five reports), $250/month for small businesses, $500/month for mid-size businesses, $1,000/month for businesses with 101 to 500 employees and contract prices for enterprises.

I haven’t tried all the features yet, but there are a sweet set of options beyond running reports. For those of us tired of the firehose, Little Bird is a welcome relief.

Little Bird is still a tad rough around some of the edges, as with any new service, but with Marshall helm his nine-person team, you can bet that Little Bird’s forays into online influencers will only get better and better. Search is becoming more social, and Little Bird is one of the companies leading the way.


• Fast Company: Would you pay to discover social influencers?

• Wired: A Robot Librarian for the Social Web

• AdWeek: Little Bird Lands $1M Wieden + Kennedy-incubated startup helps identify subject-specific influencers

• Fast Company: If you’re interested in influence, social scoring is of historic importance JD Lasica, founder of, is now co-founder of the cruise discovery engine Cruiseable. See his About page, contact JD or follow him on Twitter or Google Plus.

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2 thoughts on “Little Bird: A game changer for tracking influencers

  1. JD – thank you so much for the thoughtful and warm review!  I’m really glad to hear that you liked what you saw.  I’ve long had a great respect for your work and opinion so a negative review would have been a real bummer. ;)  I hope you’ll keep coming back to that report on Cruise Ships to keep track of industry news and do other research in support of your startup.  We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us but we think we’ve already captured a lot of value with the tech we’ve built so far.  I hope your readers will come and make that judgement for themselves, too, though! 
    I’m also happy to answer any questions your readers have here in comments.  Thanks again!

    • marshallk Hi Marshall, I’m impressed with everything I’ve seen to date. Just hope more people try it out, find key influencers in their sectors and share what they’ve found. 
      Keep it up!