How Klout Is Twerking Your Mind About Influence

Miley TwerkingWho didn’t see or at least discuss Miley Cyrus’ VMA performance ? This was a classic PR stunt – do something outrageous and you’re the talk of the town for five minutes. You become the most popular person – you’re social score shoots through the roof. But as the week goes on, the talk trickles away and everything fades back to normal. What really came of this whole stunt (other than a lot of shocked people)? This is a great example of how social scoring is more like a popularity contest and not necessarily an indicator of influence.

By calling social scores “Influence Scores,” companies like Klout (who’s tagline is “The Standard For Influence”) have set expectations in the market that influence can be measured with scoring algorithms. However, influence is much more complex.

By setting the wrong expectations, social scoring companies have changed how marketing and PR professionals think about influence, and how to identify it. Instead of finding influencers from a context and audience approach, marketing and PR professionals look at metrics like follower count, unique visitors, and social scores to get a glimpse on who’s “influential,” which in most cases doesn’t work – popularity doesn’t necessarily equal influence.

Many industry experts would agree with this:

I have no issue with Klout (or Kred, or Peerindex) whatsoever outside of their positioning as “the standard for influence”. It’s not what they do. Their whole business is built to amplify messages (through a clever perk system), not sway opinions (ie. influence). We meet many brands disappointed in the performance of their Klout campaigns but it’s simply because their expectations were vastly different from the reality of such campaigns. Had they walked in thinking they would get their message socially amplified, no more no less, most would have found these campaigns to meet expectations. Instead, they were expecting leads, sales, improved NPS, for which no silver bullet exists.” – Pierre-Loic Assayag, Co-Founder and CEO at Traackr

Martin Waxman wrote a good article about his Klout experiment, and how his score can be easily manipulated for the short term. He basically came to the same conclusions as Pierre-Loic – the positioning of social scoring is wrong.

Social scoring helped the market get to where it is now, but it’s an old method. As time goes on, and we understand more about social media influence, we need better metrics that can help us find the right influencers for brands, based on context and segmented audience data. And from what we can see, that’s where the market is heading:

Social scoring platforms are useful in creating lists of influencers for your brand. However, you can’t place a generic score on someone based on public data only; that misses a large chunk of information about that person that will truly define their influence, and how relevant that is to your target audience. Without relevance and context, social influence marketing is just another mass pitch with the hope that some of your message will be seen.” – Danny Brown, VP, Marketing and Technology at ArCompany

The biggest issue we have today is that people are using old scientific models to try and understand problems they were never designed for. Even though the market may not know there is an issue this came out in the results they produced. This resulted in the lack of faith the market has in them now. The problem is that since they were first to market they set the tone. I think the benefit is that people now know that is not the answer. There are still plenty of people new to marketing that are still learning that but for the most part the industry has turned the page on social scoring.” – Matt Hixson, Co-Founder and CEO at Tellagence

Influence marketing is similar to all other marketing disciplines in that the measurement of it depends on your goals.
For our clients, influence marketing is a strategic initiative that is more about cultivating trust within the many touchpoints that buyers face along the purchase journey, rather than pushing content from the brand onto an audience. Influencers create this trust, and how an influencer is defined matters when success is being measured.

It’s not the size of the influencer’s audience that matters, or even how/if the influencer talks about your brand. What matters is how others react to what the influencer says about your brand – which is one of the criteria we use to measure influence. The PR industry has been fooled into thinking noisemakers are the same as influencers. But when brands look to engage influencers with a more scientific way to identify those who are most relevant, they will see results that better reflect a more substantive change for their brand. It’s more engaging, authentic and genuinely helps the decision making process.” – Larry Levy, Co-Founder and CEO at Appinions

I have no issue with the idea of social scoring – it’s one of the many data-points available to marketers that might help identify potential influencers for their marketing initiatives. But I do have an issue with the positioning of social scores – they measure engagement and activity of the INFLUENCER, and not the relationship between the influencer and his/her audience. When marketers start focusing more on how to reach their targeted audience through influencers, and apply segmentation and context metrics to determine who’s best for a campaign, they’ll start seeing more success with their influence marketing efforts.

photo credit: zennie62

Daniel Hebert
Daniel Hebert is an award-winning graduate of Mount Allison University, Digital Marketing Manager at PostBeyond, and Co-founder at He has a passion for digital marketing and entrepreneurship. If he wasn’t a marketer, he would take his love for food and become a chef.
Daniel Hebert

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