Public affairs professionals wondering which blogs to read and influence must think like detectives.
The natural starting point is sites like Technorati, Google Blog Search, or IceRocket, though Adfero Group MD Jeff Mascott notes that search terms must be refined, since searching the vast blogosphere is different than combing through an array of print publications.
"Using just a search term like 'education' will produce too much in the way of junk," Mascott says.
He recommends first understanding exactly what audience the public affairs professional wants to study or reach, so a rough list of likely bloggers can be winnowed down.
With that list, visiting sites such as del.icio.us, which shows how many people have bookmarked a site, can help narrow the choices, says Geoff Livingston, founder of Livingston Communications and a blogger himself.
Technorati's "authority" rankings, which can help indicate the relative value of links to a blogger in addition to their sheer numbers, are also useful.
But software can't do all of the work in understanding the blogosphere for a particular public affairs issue. After the likeliest suspects are identified, the police work begins.
Livingston says he typically checks out Facebook or other social media Web sites, which may vary depending on the industry or sector, to learn what the bloggers covering the sector are saying to and about each other.
"Invariably, bloggers pool somewhere," he says. "You have to locate the backchannel where they congregate, and by looking at who they talk to or about, you can figure out who's hot."
Mascott adds that paid advertisements on a blog can also be an indicator of the blog's influence, while Livingston says that sometimes influential bloggers aren't interested in generating any money directly from their site, so ads aren't always a clue.
Finally, Virilion senior consultant David Haase suggests simply contacting bloggers and asking them directly who they believe are the major players in their particular field, even if they have a very limited audience.
"The most successful ones appeal to a niche group," he says.
Blog search sites provide only a starting point to understanding their value
Bloggers who interact with other respected bloggers have influence
"Who" rather than "how many" may be the most important attribute of a blog