Content is only as good as the audience it reaches. We talk a lot about creating good, trustworthy, credible content, but if no one ever reads what you’ve crafted, it’s a total waste of time.

In a complete content strategy, the work has only begun once you’ve published content online. The next step is to identify influencers across platforms who will serve as network extenders. Word of mouth is one of the most effective ways to spread marketing messages. Time was, getting media placement was just about the only way to get your message across. While editorial is still a highly effective way to promote your products and services, the playing field has opened up, and it has opened wide. Whereas in the past you might have sought out the attention of specific publications (like newspapers and magazines) with large readerships, your focus is now on specific people with the same kind of juice that was previously reserved for traditional media outlets.

There are several ways of identifying influential people, but before you go looking, first do some analysis.

Who is in the audience you want to reach? Use keyword searches to get a handle on the larger group. Once you understand your target market, find the experts in that field. You are ultimately seeking people who can change others’ behaviors. Use every tool at hand, starting with Google, Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Klout and YouTube.

You’re specifically looking for the strength of their interactions with the public. How often are they engaging in social media conversations on Twitter and Facebook? Do their videos get lots of comments, and do they interact with commenters? You can generate a spreadsheet for anywhere from a few dozen to a few hundred influencers with various metrics like number of followers on each platform, area of expertise and all the places where you can find them.

There’s a debate as to whether quality or quantity rules in choosing influencers. While you need to achieve a critical mass in order to move the needle, a small group of excellent brand ambassadors can be more effective than a large group of diluted ones who may be pushing out recommendations on a lot of products/services. Also, don’t count fans as influencers, because it’s about the ripple effect, not the closed system. It’s not what people say about your product. It’s the action they engender.

It’s a highly labor intensive process to identify and promote your idea through influencers, but if you use a DIY approach, there’s no fee. Influencer marketing is a growth industry. Traackr has an online subscription based model that analyzes influencers’ audience size, interactivity and breadth and frequency of presence. Tapinfluence is a cloud based automated influencer solution with clients including Redbox, Intuit and ABC News.

Here’s a quick and free way to get started. Visit Klout and start naming names. Type relevant search terms into Social Mention. You can even check out your own influencer scores. It’s just the beginning, but that’s the best place to start.