Losing Klout: Four Questions About Third-Party Influence

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ADOTAS – Recently blogger and PhD statistician Alex Braunstein wrote an insightful piece titled “Why Your Klout Score is Meaningless.” In it, he analyzed the Klout Score, one of the most hyped measures of influence today. The article called out Klout for being inconsistent and unpredictable; easily gamed; and not correlated or calibrated against real world measures of value, such as site traffic or sales.

Alex’s thought-provoking article brings up some interesting questions for marketers who leverage influencer marketing to build their brands and drive sales. Influencer marketing requires marketers to carefully identify the individuals and audiences online who can send their brand skyrocketing (or plummeting to earth) based on which content they share, with whom and what they say.

To find out if scores like Klout are indeed a good way to identify super influencers, first you have to ask four pertinent questions.

1. Is that all of the data?

Klout, Peerindex and other third-party social metrics vendors aggregate social data, but do not own or control the inputs. These social data aggregators are built on top of a handful of open social network APIs, mainly Twitter and LinkedIn, and collect data provided by those services.

Given this, it’s not surprising these scores can be an inconsistent and unreliable method of determining influence. If  you are only monitoring sharing activity on social networks, you cannot provide meaningful analysis of sharing patterns that show who your true influencers are – because, the truth is, a significant amount of sharing actually occurs outside of the major social sites.

Many influencers pass along your brand’s content via email, blogs, and message boards – but this type of sharing activity is not measured by third-party social metrics vendors.

2. Are third-party influencer scores predictive?

What does it mean in the real world if my Klout score increases by 5 points? Did I become 5 points more influential? The next time I share, will I drive 5 units more reach, referrals or sales?

Braunstein’s analysis suggests there is a dubious correlation between changes in Klout scores and movement in influencer outcomes like reach, referrals, and sales. True influencers, those people who make a measurable and growing impact on bottom-line sales and brand reach, share content far and wide via email, blogs, and forums in addition to Twitter and Facebook.

Putting a score on influence is a far more complex algorithm than just counting followers or retweets; instead, you need to measure web-wide sharing patterns and correctly attribute sales to the influencers who are connected to large numbers of interested users and relevant networks.

3. Can an influence score be gamed?

Anytime you introduce incentives to achieve a certain status or reach a certain score, you will attract people who find clever “exploits” to increase their score. Exhibit A of this effect is the SEO industry. In search, there is a huge economic incentive for individuals to do whatever they can to improve their site’s rankings in natural search results.

As a consequence, natural search results are too often cluttered with poor quality content produced by SEO “black hats” in the form of link and content farms. Google and Bing spend a tremendous amount of time and money fighting the “search spam” problem to their credit, but it is a never-ending battle.

By putting a system in place to reward “influencers” that depends on inputs that can be easily gamed (e.g., the number of followers I have on Twitter, the frequence of retweets, etc.), people will focus on gaming their scores rather than doing things that result in effective, lasting influence. Outside of celebrities, how do you know if a person has a high score because they’re truly influential or because they’re really good at increasing their Klout score?

4. Who (or what) is influential?

Justin Bieber has over 10 million followers on Twitter and his Klout score is 100. Professional snowboarder Shaun White has just under 500,000 followers and his Klout score is 61.

If you are an avid snowboarder, who are you more likely to follow? Who are you more likely to respond to when they tweet about snowboarding equipment or the Olympics? Now, if you are a marketer of winter sports equipment, which of these two individuals is more likely to reach and influencer your target audience?

The intuitive answer is Shaun White, and yet according to Klout, Justin Bieber is far, far more influential than Shaun White. When an influence score is simply based on popularity and not on the quality of interactions, it loses its meaning.

Social media influence scores are interesting social metrics; they show who is best at getting a large number of people to follow them. So, for that, they do show who is a bigger celebrity. But are they really a useful marketing tool for brands looking to identify the people or audiences who truly spread recognition and boost sales?

To understand who your influencers truly are, marketers need to take the focus off the “score” and go beyond using third-party influence metrics to identify web-wide sharing patterns on social networks, blogs, email and other channels.