This is the first post on the new Little Bird company blog, by co-founding CEO Marshall Kirkpatrick. Little Bird automates the discovery and vetting of experts and influencers online, about any topic, and helps you engage with them and their content.

Kim Kardashian was once paid $10,000 to Tweet about an online shoe company—is that the pinnacle of influencer engagement online? I'd argue just the opposite—that might have been an all-time low-point in the world's understanding of social media.

The self-publishing revolution of social media has enabled any of us to pull up a seat directly in front of some of the world's leading thinkers and stars—and what do we do with that opportunity? All too often, we tug at their shirtsleeves and plead with them to tell their audiences about us. That can certainly happen, it's great when these people do talk about us, but there's so much more value to be captured by the radical new access we have today thanks to social media.

Businesses that look at social media as a source of free or cheap promotion are really missing out. I think more people realize that every day, but I think when it comes to online influencer identification: counterpoints to "influencers as promotional vehicles" need to be articulated and amplified.

When it does come to promotion of your brand by an independent influencer online, promotion is more likely to happen and be more meaningful if you've also taken advantage of these other opportunities to generate and capture value along the way.

High leverage learning

Is there anything more valuable than learning something new that changes the way you look at work or the world around you? A reservoir of knowledge, compiled through experience, connections, study and practice, is a powerful foundation to increase the impact of everything you do. Each new big learning experience is a catalyst to kickstart the effectiveness of your work.

Little Bird top influencers in Professional Development, in general: Rich KikerShelly Terrell and Kyle Pace.

Nothing flies as fast across the web these days as an infographic or a numbered list. Why? Because both are items you can very quickly glean glimmers of knowledge from. That's the fruit of editorial labor, like pressure turning coal into a diamond. That's what people at the top of their fields in social media can offer, too, in a world swimming with mediocre content.

What if the best gift a top market influencer could share with you was not their voice, but their mind? People at the top of their game aren't just good at doing what they do—they're really good at learning how to do it better. I bet that shoe company could have captured a lot more long-term promotional impact by engaging meaningfully with Kim Kardashian, her team of publicists and strongest connections, than they did by crassly paying her to Tweet. Who knows. Perhaps they did both.

Once you've identified the most influential experts in a particular field, the first step is to be quiet and listen. The longer you can listen, the more you'll learn; the more you engage humbly, the more likely those influencers will amplify your message later. What do you call a well-informed, respectful, sustained engagement? A relationship.

There are a lot of ways to use our service here at Little Bird, but some of my favorite use cases are when customers just use our tools to find people to learn from. The faster you can find the strongest minds in your field, the faster you can dive deep into learning and the more you can get out of it. For creating content, for advising clients, for whatever kind of work that you do.

A rocket ship into the future

Finding out who's sharing important information about a topic of interest right now is useful, but finding out who's likely to share important information in the future offers competitive advantage.

Little Bird's top influencers among Futurists: Clay Shirky, Venessa Miemis and Cindy Frewen.

Little Bird report on futurists

When I worked as a journalist, I used systematic methods to identify where information was most likely to bubble up early in the news cycle—then I set up systems to sit by those sources and watch (using automation, alerts, etc.) so that I could jump on any breaking news they found before my competitors.

Now, working as a entrepreneur in a new market (research and marketing technology), I'm using technology to identify people who've won the respect of their peers and who I should prioritize engaging with in the limited time I have while building a company. (We're participating in a startup incubator, too, where the people in charge exercise their editorial judgement in selecting speakers to schedule.)

Online, top influencers are best engaged-with as a long-term investment. If you can defer your need for help with promotion and just focus on learning and adding value, then you'll be more likely to have access to much greater opportunities in the future.

Those are some of my thoughts about the non-promotional value you can capture through effective engagement with top influencers in your industry. I'd love to read about your thoughts. Feel free to share them in comments below, I'm sure everyone would like to read them!