Influence THIS! Why influence scores don’t matter for your Social Media ROI

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Many social media marketers are struggling with measurement: they want to connect social media activity to the revenue they’re driving. It’s tough, though! Unless the path from social media activity is straight and direct (not the case for many sales cycles), it’s pretty hard to track successful, revenue-driving social media activity.

As a result, many of us are banking on the idea that the more eyeballs, fans, followers, RTs, Likes we get, the better the chance that someone will buy from us.  It’s the basic principle of word-of-mouth marketing: the more people out there hearing our brand’s message, especially if they hear it from an influential source, the more likely we are to sell something. We’ve become obsessed with so-called social media “influencers”: those with a large following, who can secure thousands of RTs with a single tweet and whose blog posts get shared, re-shared, and responded to in countless other posts.

Influence score EyeballHowever, those influencers are often popular not because of an ability to drive the masses to buy a product or service like your company’s, but because they’re celebrities.  Services like Klout and Kred have attempted to put a number (a social media influence score) on the degree of influence we all have in social media by tracking how many people are engaging with us or whether our posts cause a viral reaction.

None of this matters, though, if the general population isn’t your target audience.

These “influencers” may be talking to millions, but of those millions, most won’t care what your brand is or what you sell. A tweet or Facebook post from someone with a high Klout score probably won’t get you many extra sales unless that person is someone whose audience cares about the same things your company cares about. Justin Bieber might have almost 30 million Twitter followers, but 30 million teenage girls aren’t going to hop online and buy your project management software or register for your “Yoga After 60” workshop.

Klout has tried to solve this problem with the concept of +K for users on topics they deem them to be influential in, but as many users have noted, the topics Klout chooses as what you’re influential in are often wildly inaccurate (it gets some of mine right, like “online media” and “community”, but I’m hardly an expert or an influencer when it comes to “electricity” or “the Royal Wedding”). If I were trying to sell t-shirts with Prince William and Prince Kate on them, Klout might tell you I’m a natural target – which in reality, couldn’t be further from the truth.

While Klout understands that being influential about a particular topic is what really matters for marketers looking for social media ROI, their scoring system isn’t the best way to get there. For now, those scores aren’t easily translated into sales. What matters isn’t a quantifiable score determined by statistics, but rather a knowledge of what your customers and potential customers are into (determined by hand or using really smart software) and finding out who matters to them!

If you want your company or your brand to achieve real social media ROI, the key is being relevant, trustworthy, and sharing a genuine interest in the same things your potential customers do.

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Elisabeth Michaud
Elisabeth is a Social Media Marketing & Community Manager at uberVU, a tool that allows social media marketers to act strategically and to complete daily social media tasks more easily. Based in Boston, Elisabeth is a self-proclaimed social media geek passionate about brands, community, food and wine. Follow Elisabeth on Twitter @emichaud or, by day, @ubervu, or check out some of her additional thoughts on the uberVU blog.
Elisabeth Michaud
Elisabeth Michaud
Elisabeth Michaud

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  1. Excellent Elisabeth, I love the line " Unless the path from social media activity is straight and direct ", because those of us that deal with that on a daily basis understand that the path is anything but. The way I see it, that misunderstanding of influence those numbers have is what pushes normally good people to delve into black hat practices. I have some people that I am definitely gonna share this one with.
    Nice job a pleasure to read and share.

  2. Good post Elisabeth, in fact exactly, "A tweet or Facebook post from someone with a high Klout score probably wont get you many extra sales unless that person is someone whose audience cares about the same things your company cares about" correct! Social scoring really does not provide us with legitimate influencers. It is about engagement and awareness not numbers. Seek, develop and distribute relevant targeted content to your audience and do it "right" and you rise above the noise of the "so-called social media influencers." The trick is doing it "right!"

  3. So true, Elisabeth.
    Most of the clients we work with have never heard of Klout or Kred and couldn't care less that Beiber ahas a billion followers.
    What they do care about is influencing their own followers. I'd rather we put more faith in trust than influence. They're not the same thing. People buy from people they trust.
    Thanks for sharing this, Elisabeth.

  4. akismet-f5e0ded54352cdd7d45066b2bec9ade4 says:

    You hit the nail on the head with this article, Elizabeth!

    The other day, I was appalled to read that some companies actually do not hire people unless they have a high Klout score.

  5. ideagirlmedia says:

    Elizabeth,

    Great post! The fact that some still get all hot and bothered over Klout, Kred, Peer Index or similar makes me giggle. For they do not really measure true influence.

    This was a touchdown for me:

    "If you want your company or your brand to achieve real social media ROI, the key is being relevant, trustworthy, and sharing a genuine interest in the same things your potential customers do."

    It's really that simple.

    Thanks for sharing,

    ~Keri

  6. Well said, Elizabeth! I know too many marketers who measure all of their successes in likes and retweets. And don't even get me started on Klout scores! Every time I log in to Klout, I'm apparently influential in a new random topic I mentioned once or twice (for example: homework). I've kind of given up on that service, to be honest. I wish more people would focus on building relationships instead of building only numbers…

  7. Respectfully Elisabeth, you misunderstand what Klout and the others are trying to do. In fact, you do not need to have a large audience to have a high Klout score. You do need to demonstrate an ability to MOVE your content through your audience and beyond. As I write this, your post has been tweeted 207 times. Would your impact be more or less people if it were tweeted 5 times? 500 times? Doesn;t it make sense that who consistently creates original content that was shared broadly (like Brian Solis) would have a higher Klout score than somebody who posts occasionally and rarely gets their content shared? Wouldn't that score provide a useful insight, especially if it is coupled with a topic of influence. That's really all it is. And yet, it does measure SOMETHING and that is increasingly useful in a world that values the widespread sharing of content. I actually studied this subject for more than a year and wrote a book about it. I'm convinced Klout is on to something (and so is Microsoft and other high profile investors by the way). While it is certainly fashionable and expedient to bash Klout, I would encourage you to look at a little more deeply at what is going on here and how it might be useful to marketers.

    • Hi Mark – Thanks for bringing up this point. While I agree that quantifying the size of someone's influence is a good start (and very glad companies like Klout and Kred are tackling the issue), I think I'm still on the team that would argue against too much emphasis on vanity metrics like these. My point is that as high as your Klout score may be, and until the topic areas are refined (Philosophy is the first one that comes up for our uberVU account?), I'm still going to be skeptical of how much influence, in terms of driving actual dollars, they're really measuring.

      Like you, I plan to keep an eye on what these social media scoring tools are up to in the future – when they are able to measure more directly the revenue that's driven by influence, I'll be happy to jump on board. Til then I plan to keep my Klout score in the corner of my eye, but look to other metrics to assess my real social media success. Will have to check out your book, though – I'm interested to learn more!

      • There is a big difference between "let's keep any eye on this" and "Why influence scores don't matter …" If that's the way you really feel, your headline and post are pretty misleading. I would invite you write another post called "Why you need to keep any eye on social scoring metrics" if that is where your beliefs are. Let's be honest, not sensational in out posts and headlines. Thanks.

    • Good Morning Mark,
      Seems we have had this discussion before in WV ;-). You know where I stand on the issue of a Klout score, I do believe that there is value in Klout, especially providing me with information regarding what I am perceived to be influential in, If I see I am influential in bacon and I am trying to establish myself as a tech engineer I've clearly got some work to do. That being said, I think the point is how others perceive that score, especially in light of the controversy of how easily Klout can be gamed to increase the score. The problem lies in those that use the score who don't fully understand what the score represents. For example companies that hire because someone has a high score thinking that the score represents a better equipped or more experienced candidate. Add to that those wear the Klout score on their sleeve like a badge rank, I can see where it can become a problem.
      I think in the end you are both saying similar things. clearly the score measures and means something, but just what, and how it should be interpreted is where it becomes cloudy. Thats just my two cents, okay well maybe 4 cents (have you noticed there is no longer a "cents" symbol on keyboards) worth. Always love a good debate from those that understand debate does not mean argument.

      • The problem in this business is that few, if any, are applying any critical thinking to Klout scores. Bloggers are simply repeating the same old crap over and over again from other bloggers without thinking or doing their homework. I could literally spend my entire day debunking faulty Klout blog posts. It's quite a lesson on how this stuff gets transmitted and goes viral. People just copy others without thinking.

    • Daniel Hebert says:

      Hey Mark! Thanks for dropping by and appreciate the comment! :)

      One thing I do agree with, Mark, is that Klout does measure something. And you could assume that the people with the highest scores are probably those that are most active/mentioned in the social space – but I have two real issues with Klout: Does the score actually mean influence? (I think in some cases yes, in others it's only popularity), and how do you distinguish between who has a real score of influence that matches topics, vs others that are popular or game their stats? In my opinion, Klout does a poor job of distinguishing the two, which is why I'm a bit weary about the score. But I do agree that Klout does measure something – but is it actually what they claim to be doing? (i.e. measuring influence). I'm excited to see how Klout develops in the future :)

      I know you have been studying this subject for a while, so I'm looking forward to your response :).

      • Here's my response.: Read my book. Really. It's cheap. If you honestly want to know the truth about Klout that would be a good place to start. If any blogger writes a post about Klout, why wouldn't they look through the book first? I'll even make it easier for you. Just read chapter six.

        Part of the problem is that you are applying an outdated paradigm of "influence." There are MANY differences in how influence shows up in the online world versus the real world, Dr. Robert Cialdini, who literally wrote the book on influence agrees and validates my premise in the book. I am not going to repeat my book here, but let me ask you this: If somebody clicks a link, is that a quantifiable action that demonstrates that you changed a behavior? Yes, of course it is. Does it change the world? No. Did you take a new action? Yes. Just merely having a larger number of "likes" or "followers" influences attitudes. That is an unpopular notion, but undeniable. Let's deal with it.

        Here is what I would invite anyone to do. READ the book. Then comment on Klout. If you disagree with me, then it will be from a point of logic, not just another example of the blogging echo chamber.

  8. "A tweet or Facebook post from someone with a high Klout score probably won’t get you many extra sales unless that person is someone whose audience cares about the same things your company cares about."

    …enough said.

  9. ChuckBartok says:

    "The key is being relevant, trustworthy, and sharing a genuine interest in the same things your potential customers do."
    Very well stated and should be heeded by all aspiring to be involved in commerce On-line and OFF-LINE

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