Wasting Time on Klout and Influence Metrics

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The First Presidential Tweet
Klout only gives President Barack Obama an Influence Score of 48

It’s been an interesting week with all the news and ensuing hub bub about Klout’s new formula. Beyond the curiosity of the moment there’s not much to talk about, though. See, people that waste their time on Klout, determining influence on it, debating its merits, etc., are wasting time.

Enough has been said about Klout, high scores and their deficiencies, as well quantifiable metrics in general. Scores are an easy way for PR people to build a list of top voices in a topic area so they can spam, er, pitch them.

Yet great scores — the sign of someone who has had success — don’t necessarily produce context or relevance to an individual community or on a particular issue. Frankly, the most influential people in any given sector aren’t on social media. They hire other people to serve as community managers.

Still for the online game, you want those digital voices. In most cases high scores are demonstrative of context in one particular area. Without a relationship it would be extremely hard to get that high scoring influencer to invest energy into your effort. Instead you would have to focus on the magic middle and build your own influence from the ground up.

The best way to build community is to be a part of the community. Relationships are built by investing time in people. In the end, some sort of symbiotic relationships is built, quid pro quo. Further, understanding which influencers with the real levers in a community can only come by intimate familiarity.

When we focus on influence rankings — tools that quantify a media form’s participants like it was run by journalists — we walk away from the basic truth about these particular types of media. They are relational. They are SOCIAL media.

So, by focusing on lists and not dialoguing and adding value through relevant content and investment, a practitioner is not present. Their effort is bound to have fundamental weaknesses. Building relationships in real life at events, meetings, and through social media are the ways to cultivate better influence.

What is the real reason to quantify big social media influencers? If relationships are your desired outcome, why waste time?

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  • http://www.meritusmedia.com Sally Falkow

    Good post Geoff  The point of social media is that it is social. And it relies on relationships. However, it does help to know who is in your social graph and who is influencing your stakeholders.Klout may not be the way – it certainly has many flaws.

    Influence is not about numbers, eyeballs  or connections,

    Influence, by definition, means can you move someone to do something, or think differently, or  say something. And you won’t know that from a Klout score. It takes a lot more than that to establish who the influencers are  in your social graph. But it is well worth the effort.

    Sal

    • Anonymous

      Thanks, Sally. I guess what is missing is real value. I think this was an interesting way to measure attention, but not value or influence.  Not the same, necessarily in social media. More of a broadcast model. Good points.

  • http://twitter.com/benkunz Ben Kunz

    The purpose of measurement is to evaluate change or trend so you can do something about it. This is why Klout is meaningless. What action do you or I take if our score rises or falls? How do we treat others differently if they have high or low scores? What action does Klout inspire?

    A score without action is an illusion influencing nothing but ego.
    The irony, of course, is seeking mass influence is diametrically opposed to the original spirit of social media. If you want influence, become the next Glenn Beck on Fox News. Buy a newspaper chain. Launch a cable network. Get hired by Murdoch.

    Social media allows human, interpersonal, one-to-one communication. The real influence social media enables is touching individual minds and individual souls.

    • http://twitter.com/geoffliving Geoff Livingston

      Amen. I cannot emphasize enough with clients and folks that I am training that ter real difference with social is the relationships, as you said it, the interpersonal aspects.  We can’t mix the two… They are not the same. Broadcast/mass is not relational.

      • http://dempseymarketing.com/journal/media/ Robert Dempsey

        What you’re talking about here Geoff is a fundamental shift for businesses. Personal relationships was not something I was taught about in business school. I think what we’re seeing is a shift in how we as consumers expect companies to interact with us. Klout, as @twitter-4266261:disqus says, is an attempt to maintain the old way.

        Many people (on both sides) don’t know how to operate in the new way of doing things, and when someone isn’t sure what to do typically they fall back to past behavior.

  • http://dr1665.com Brian Driggs

    Well put, Geoff. I’ve held that scores like these merely exist to help the shills still trying to treat social channels like legacy broadcast network maintain the status quo. “Unable (read: unwilling) to interact with your customers like real human beings? You’re gonna love this!”

    Because you’re either clueless or callous.

    The most damning part of the whole Klout situation is their all but refusing to remove unauthorized accounts. They take your name and likeness, assign you a score, and present all of the above in such a way as to imply your endorsement of their product. It’s misappropriation, it’s wrong, and it’s illegal – yet it continues.

    On the plus side, it’s conveniently distracting the simpletons, making it easy for real people to build real relationships and affect real change. Influence, like brand, is a function of action.

    • http://twitter.com/geoffliving Geoff Livingston

      Yet another example of data superseding human worth.  That’s a shame. I agree that it does separate some wheat from the chaffe, and frankly most clients who bring it up are easily disavowed once you explain it to them.

  • http://richardrbecker.com/ Rich Becker

    Agreed Geoff. 
    I love metrics as a marketer, but not at the expense of humanity. 

    I’m convinced that people voluntarily/involuntarily being scored online for the purpose of judging them is wrongness on every level. It’s dangerous and irresponsible, especially when the score has nothing to do with the merit of their work nor measure of their contribution. 

    Best, 
    Rich

    • http://twitter.com/geoffliving Geoff Livingston

      Yeah.  And in this case I don’t think we are seeing much pragmatic use of the metrics because they are basically only good at determining attention (or black hat tactics). Anyway, we’ll see what happens. I have a feeling this will become the Cision/Vocus of social media.

    • http://dempseymarketing.com/journal/media/ Robert Dempsey

      I agree Rich. The amount of well-implemented game mechanics on Klout is what makes it addictive for people.

      I’ve heard (and read) a number of people telling me that companies are using Klout for hiring decisions. That’s absurd and not at all recommended.

      I’ve also been told that because companies are now “using Klout” for various (and unspecified) things that it’s a must for people operating online. Not sure if giving perks is what’s causing statements like that, or if people are attempting to use their Klout scores to get more consulting gigs. I’m thinking more the latter than the former.

      • http://richardrbecker.com/ Rich Becker

        Not only are some people using it to hire people, they are (in at least one case), using it to assign students grades. The company also no respect for privacy in that the score people who have no interest in the service. 

        • http://dempseymarketing.com/journal/media/ Robert Dempsey

          Give students grades? How does that work?! Pardon my french but WTF? Nuts…

          As for privacy I agree with you there Rich. GetSatisfaction got publicly flogged and had to change direction a few years ago when they started creating support sites for companies that didn’t sign up for their service. One such company was 37Signals which is very well known in the tech community for their apps and Ruby on Rails. They got in hot water for using logos and other assets w/out permission.

          I wonder if something similar could happen to Klout. It’s hard to argue that case with Twitter if your updates are public, but I’ve heard the stories of “invasion” into Facebook. Pam Moore wrote a post about that yesterday - http://www.pammarketingnut.com/2011/10/stop-the-social-puppetry-for-klout-and-other-influence-metrics/

          Another great read in addition to Geoff’s post here.

          • http://richardrbecker.com/ Rich Becker

            I included it in my post on Klout, but I’ll include the direct link here. Skip to about three minutes plus into the video and you will see something that will unnerve you. 

            http://online.wsj.com/video/the-measured-life-what-your-klout-score/DFE1848E-E3DD-4D9D-8CAD-6BBE3BC73BA2.html

            When I saw this, I realized I could no longer simply ignore Klout. It was especially unnerving because the student that was later hired by that university professor became so brainwashed that she claims Klout will be as important as a credit card score. Worse, this doesn’t touch just one student, but rather their entire MBA program.

          • http://dempseymarketing.com/journal/media/ Robert Dempsey

            Thank you for the link Rich. From the video I see a few things:

            1. That now companies can buy word of mouth advertising using perks. So how is this different than paid blogging? Not so much it seems.

            2. If you “engage” with A-listers you are rewarded. It’s the opposite with the “less klouty” people.

            3. People actually think a score like this has meaning for their life (sad but true).

          • http://twitter.com/CyberlandGal Monica

            Via Googling I found out the marketing professor you mention has lower Klout than most of his star pupils. I can’t be the only one who thinks it’s crazy to believe graduate students have more influence than their marketing professor (especially one at a major university). I wrote about this issue (and how you and Danny Brown inspired the post) at http://www.eventuresincyberland.com/2011/11/video-clip-of-the-month-branding-prof-eats-klout-crow/. I wonder if the professor will alter his online style (ignoring his students) or his syllabus moving forward?

          • http://richardrbecker.com/ Rich Becker

            Monica, 

            Some animals cannot change their spots. 

            Rich

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  • http://dempseymarketing.com/journal/media/ Robert Dempsey

    +1 Geoff. Measuring influence is more than looking at interactions on social networks. I’ve had many clients contact me who never tweeted or commented on my blog even though they read it for months before becoming a client.

    How can you measure that with Klout. Oh yeah, you can’t. That’s the kind of influence I care about helping my clients have, not being part of the “big names” on Twitter or Facebook.

    • Anonymous

      It’s what moves customers, for sure. And so your clients are lucky to have you!

      • http://dempseymarketing.com/journal/media/ Robert Dempsey

        I’m lucky to have customers that focus more on the right numbers for their business, and the numbers that their vendors work to improve for them – ones that truly matter.

  • http://davefleet.com davefleet

    Geoff – I agree, but as you say, from the perspective of a PR guy, there is a need to choose who to focus on, as resources are finite. I agree that community involvement is key to building relationships, but how do I know where to spend scarce resources to build the most beneficial relationships and deliver the best results from those relationships?

    I see the arguments about ‘ignoring humanity’ and the like, but to me these reek of naivety and a lack of experience of having engaged in this kind of activity at scale. In a perfect world the answer would be “build relationships with everyone”, but we’re not in a perfect world – resources aren’t infinite and in the case of large companies with millions of fans and connections you just can’t build relationships with everyone – so choices need to be made.

    You could argue that community participation makes the key influencers apparent, but even with that route you need to find a set of criteria for floating those people to the top. I’m sure you’ve experienced a client asking “why are you suggesting we focus on *these people*?” – I know I have. “Community interactions” isn’t a good answer, so whether you use commercial systems or your own, you wind up using metrics to identify influence.

    So, while I have a natural uneasiness with influence metrics and agree that people who define their online self-worth are making a mistake, I see the value the good ones can provide.

    • Anonymous

      I understand this dilemma, but I also feel like companies that aren’t wiling to invest in  learning a community and only want to invest minimal resources, don’t really care about a community.  There are other forms of marketing that may make more sense than social for them.

      • http://davefleet.com davefleet

        I agree with the sentiment about companies that aren’t willing to invest, but what about those that HAVE invested and have built communities numbering in the thousands or even the millions? The resources necessary to go 1:1 at that scale just aren’t realistic.

        • Anonymous

          Of course not. But we all know that only 10% ever comment or interact, and much less than that interact regularly. Not having the capacity or community management resources to interact and respond is just a demonstration that a company doesn’t care about the medium, or values it less than other areas. Which is fine. I realize most companies are that way.

          But Klout won’t make them better for it. A band-aid can’t heal a wound.

  • http://twitter.com/LewisPoretz Lewis Poretz

    Klout accomplished the ultimate feat. They gamed the gamer…..

    • Anonymous

      It’s a pretty strange time.  BTW, how are you Lewis?

    • http://dempseymarketing.com/journal/media/ Robert Dempsey

      I’ll give them credit for creating a compelling game full of psychology and game mechanics. Well played on their part.

  • Anonymous

    Geff, Great discussion! I’ll admit to being a bit obsessed with checking my score since the Klout change. I noticed Barak Obama is now at 88. Do you supposed they saw your post?

    • Anonymous

      i am sure they did.

      Sent by Billy Bob Thornton (my iPhone)

  • http://twitter.com/catarinaalexon Catarina Alexon

    Great post Geoff. Have long been sure that Klout doesn’t measure real fluence online. They for instance punish me for accepting Linkedin readers with low influence as connections. 

    Only joined because blogger friends of mine kept telling me it was a great idea. But now when they changed their algorithm suddenly my teenage nephew showed up in people i influence. He’s on Facebook with his friends in the same town. But according to Klout he has more influence than some bloggers that are really influecial. Can’t help wondering if Facebook somehow has a finger in this?

    One of those influencial bloggers that I know is against Klout but never-the-less rated by them. 

    Would like to opt out but don’t want to end up like her, with a flawed rating

    Do you know if it’s becoming a mass movement to opt out of Klout? Certainly hope so. 

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