Little Bird Takes Flight: Marshall Kirkpatrick Launches His Influence-Finding Startup, Raises $1M

Little Bird, a startup that helps PR agencies, marketers, and media companies identify influencers on virtually any topic, is launching in private beta today.

The company was founded by tech blogger Marshall Kirkpatrick — an early TechCrunch writer who’s best-known for his long stint at ReadWriteWeb. He left his full-time role at RWW last November to start his own company, which was initially called Plexus Engine. He’s launching the product on-stage today at the Portland Incubator Experiment from agency Wieden+Kennedy, and with W+K’s help, he’s given his startup a new, less wonky-sounding name.

To create a report in Little Bird, you just type a topic into the search box, whether it’s startups, comic books, or beer (to pick three examples that are near and dear to my heart). Then you can either identify five topics that represent the kind of influencer you’re trying to reach, or Little Bird can provide the initial list and you can edit it to match what you’re looking for. Once you’ve selected those first experts, the service looks at its social data and creates a big list of similar influencers.

little bird screenshot

Kirkpatrick says that behind the scenes, Little Bird isn’t doing any content analysis. Instead, it uses the initial accounts that you provided to find, in Kirkpatrick’s words, “the most connected people in this particular field.” That means the technology doesn’t need to understand anything about startups, or comic books, or beer, and it should be able to create an influencer list around any topic. Kirkpatrick says the only exceptions are subjects that are so arcane and specific that there’s no core group of influencers on social media.

Little Bird allows customers to examine the influencer data in several ways. You can see the “topic insiders” who have the highest number of total followers or the insiders who are most-followed by other insiders (in startups, that’s TechCrunch). You can also search for an individual account and see how influential they are in a given topic. And there are engagement tools to help you start conversations with those influencers.

The startup is also announcing that it has raised $1 million raised in angel funding led by Mark Cuban’s Radical Investments, with participation from Howard Lindzon’s Social Leverage Group, Hubspot co-founder Dharmesh Shah, and Blaine Cook, an early engineer at Twitter.

Until now, the company has been in a pilot test, but it’s launching more widely today. And it’s expanding its social data from Twitter to include LinkedIn as well, with plans to add Google+ and academic citations soon (part of the challenge, Kirkpatrick says, is figuring out how to incorporate each social network into the larger data set).