Jul 18

Caveats for Quantifying Online Influence

So Omar Gallaga wrote an Austin American Statesman piece about how our lives are increasingly becoming measured by our online presences. It was a well written piece and probably opened a lot of people’s eyes about how they are being judged in a way they had not previously recognized. You should read it if you have not already.

The piece talks about Klout, a startup that created a scoring system to measure one’s online influence. Klout uses algorithms that evaluate who you are talking to and how often in social media circles the same way Google PageRank does. Some PR and social media firms are using it to reach out to influencers, and Klout now has perks for people who have Klout scores above a certain number. To reach people with high Klout scores, you can contact the company to “get in”.

This approach is too simplistic, like an easy button PR firms can hit so they can say to their clients, “Hey, we got you covered on this launch”. While I myself value what Klout offers, it is a factor within many factors when considering how to expand your brand’s presence.

Let’s use this graphic/scenario on the right to show why brands really should take more care in managing their online reputation.***

1.) Influence is never static. The influence this would wield today would be much more damaging to my brand than it would a month ago. Although Klout scores do change over time, they don’t change overnight.

That being said, an awesome potential subject matter expert and influencer could have a low Klout score today, but could increase it over time. Is it wise to make that person feel less important than Rupert Murdoch?

2.) A person’s influence on a subject matter depends on his or her expertise in that field. Rupert Murdoch and crew don’t seem to get new media and the blogosphere. If people judged me by News Corp’s record in new media, I could actually lose influence by association.

3.) Influence must always be considered qualitative as well as quantitative. I don’t respect Rupert Murdoch. Say I went to a PR firm and said, “I want media influencers with Klout scores above 60 to tweet about my blog”, they could very easily return to me with someone like Rupert Murdoch. Do I want his endorsement, or the types of clients he would bring? What if he becomes my #1 nightmare customer and his followers are almost as bad? I marketed to him because he’s big instead of paying attention to whether or not his followers would benefit by my product.

4.) PR is just as much about building community as it is “spreading the word”. When you judge people purely on their influence number or Googlibility, you get a bunch of people who are “kind of a big deal”. People who are “big deals” can be demanding as customers, and often demand completely different things. That can make a product that appeases the majority of them very difficult.

I’m not saying you should ignore Klout completely. I just question practices like judging customers based on some sort of score instead of taking the time to evaluate how much value you can offer their friends and followers. Klout works best through a software API and paired with other metrics.

**Relax. I don’t actually know Rupert Murdoch and I’m not tapping your phone. I do sometimes sneak in your house and rearrange your furniture though. Anywho…

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Scott-Gress/528455377 Scott Gress

    Is it too late to comment on this, since I saw it on the way to your Steve Jobs post?

    As someone who is not on Twitter and thus not in the least way influential (besides the dubious celebrity status imputed to me by my non-membership), I have this to say about Klout:

    It measures…something.  But we’re not exactly sure what it is, and neither are they.  And we may never know exactly.  

    If it were an algorithm designed to predict an outcome that could be empirically tested–if, for example, people with higher Klout scores were supposed to end up making more money–then it would be very easy to determine both what was being measured and how accurate the algorithm turned out to be.  

    When, on the other hand, people start giving out freebies to people with high Klout scores, it becomes a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy.  Hell, if I worked for Klout I’d just pump up my own score and have me a sweet Vegas vacation.  

    I’m not saying it’s a hoax; it obviously gives credit where credit is due, so to speak.  But it’s also something that, as you say, needs to be taken with a grain of salt.

    • Anonymous

      I guess I’m an anomaly in this space.  I’ve always supported things because I thought they were good, not because they were influential.  Sometimes they are, and sometimes they aren’t.  Influence is never static and what’s hot today could be ice tomorrow.

      As a marketer, I’ve only advertised and associated with blogs and people that emulated a company’s values or somehow reached an audience I wanted.  You’d be shocked what can happen when you give a little support to something that “isn’t quite there yet”.  You become the supporter that was there when no one else was.

      • Anonymous

        Oh, and thanks for stopping by and leaving feedback on my blog, Scott!  It was nice to see you the other day.

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