Lists are one of the most potentially powerful features of Twitter, but they’re not used to their full potential, largely because Twitter itself hasn’t maximized on this feature. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t harness Twitter lists to work for you.

Here’s how to use lists to monitor influencers in your niche, so you can stay on top of the news, trends, and topics that affect your brand.

Why a list?

Before getting into the how, let’s answer the why. Why a list? Why not just follow influencers and be done with it?

By creating a list of influencers, you’ll be able to listen in on their tweets all in one place.

You won’t have to scroll down your timeline to hunt for tweets from a particular influencer, nor will you lose tweets because they occurred when you were sleeping.

If you simply followed every influencer you found, you’d have to locate their tweets among a rather messy timeline filled with colleagues, family, friends, celebrities, musicians, etc. A list ensures that their tweets will be grouped together and kept separate from others’.

Creating the list of influencers

If you’re ready to create your Twitter list, here’s the easiest way to do it.

First, you’ve got to locate your influencers. This can be done in a number of ways: You can get to know influencers over time, search them out on other platforms like blogs, or take a look at other lists to see who else considers certain individuals to be influencers.

If you want to go this last route, you can use a site like Listorious.com to browse lists in your niche. Doing a little investigation and cross-referencing should give you a solid list of 5 to 10 influencers to start with.

Once you have identified some influencers, log in to Twitter.com. Just beneath the text box asking you “What’s happening?” you’ll see the “Lists” menu on the right. Click this, and scroll down to “Create a list”.

In the dialog window that appears, you can name your list – something like “Social Media Influencers” or “Healthcare Influencers” would do nicely. Go ahead and give it a description, too, if you like, and then choose whether it will be public (anyone can see it and follow it) or private (only you can see it and follow it). Then save list, and start adding your influencers!

You’ll first be brought to the “home” page for your list. It will have no members yet, so start adding them one by one. Paste the usernames of all of the influencers you previously identified into the text box, and they’ll each be added to the list.

Alternatively, you can add individuals to your list by visiting their profile page. Click on the profile icon next to the DM icon beneath the user’s bio. Click “Add to list”, and choose which list you want to add them to.

Monitoring the list of influencers

Now that you’ve created your list, you should come up with a way that’s easy for you to monitor it.

You can visit the list page on Twitter.com whenever you want to check up on what your influencers are tweeting about, but it is infinitely easier to keep track of your list in a Twitter dashboard.

HootSuite, Seesmic and TweetDeck are among the most popular Twitter dashboards, and they all offer the option to create a stream or a column that displays only the tweets from a list that you or another user has created. This means you can monitor the list of influencers right next to your home timeline in the dashboard, in real-time.

Checking in to your list regularly is a good way to stay on top of what’s current in your niche, and it will also likely give you great fodder to retweet, too. Happy list-ing!