Wasting Time on Klout and Influence Metrics

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?

Overvaluing Twitter

Scale-A-Week:  25 November 2010
Image by puuikibeach

Given the increased focus on “Twinfluence” thanks to measures like Klout, there are many organizations eager for success with so-called influencers (at least by Twitter metrics). Though some of these measures integrate more than just Twitter, they tend to be extremely 140 character centric. That may be a huge mistake for companies and nonprofits who overvalue the importance of Twitter in the larger social web context.

Let’s start with the fact that Twitter doesn’t even represent a strong minority of the U.S. population. According to Twitter’s last update in September, the network has 145 million members worldwide. Yet regardless of the number of accounts worldwide, active users are estimated to be significantly less. One study released a year ago pegged the active rate at 21%. Can you imagine literally reducing Twitter follower counts by 79% to get the accurate number?

How does this translate to the United States? According to Edison Research, while 87% of Americans are aware of Twitter, only 7% are active users, or approximately 21 million Americans. Compare that to the 41% who are active Facebook users (approximately 123 million Americans).

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Want more statistics? Pew Internet pegged Twitter usage at 8% of the American population. The numbers get worse, according to Pew. Only 6% of American households grossing more than $75,000 use Twitter. Additional analysis reveals that 48% of all active account users check other users’ updates every few weeks at best. Half of your followers are not listening!

This should tell a communicator that only 3.5% to 4% of Americans are actually using Twitter AND are actively reading their update streams. It sure seems like marketers are spending a lot of investment on influencer programs for a relatively small percentage of the population.

So why all the hype still? Unlike Facebook, Twitter is public and searchable (see Google Social Search story). And that makes Twitter imminently more friendly to two key stakeholder communities; marketers and content publishers, such as the media. Given what marketers and media companies do professionally, everyone hears a lot of noise about Twitter, but that awareness has not converted to actual usage (thus Edison’s very revealing statistics).

In 2009, the New York Times has attributed 10% of its web site traffic to Twitter. But according to Pew that gives the New York Times access to three audiences; young adults, minority internet users, and of course, urbanites. At that, consider that these are still small percentage of these demographics. What about the other 96% of the country?

One can have a lot of success with Twitter. But it is not the primary social network, and one with a lot of inactive accounts and relatively limited portion of the population. Proceed with caution if your market needs to reach more than this limited group of communities.

More importantly, make sure you know who your communities are, and where they like to talk. Don’t over value Twinfluence. Given that 92-93% of Internet using Americans don’t actively use Twitter, consider looking elsewhere an essential part of your research.

What do you think? Is Twitter overvalued as a medium?

What ARE Influencers Good For?

Towed Out to Sea

The influencer hype bubble overvalues the role of popular digital voices in an online marketing program. Influencer attention can’t sustain a community over the long term, and using them often fails to produce strength of online community and actual business measurements. Rather than producing another post deconstructing the influence model, let’s try to take an objective look at what influencers can and cannot lend to an organization’s communications program.

It’s important to understand what influencers achieve in the larger social context. For the most part that consists of bursts of attention, and a perception of validity. In essence, this is the online version of media relations: Earned social mentions creating an aura of credibility.

Just like the traditional PR world, this tactical choice has its limitations. Mostly, it simply creates a word of mouth opportunity that needs to be backed by an actual product and service that a real pre-existing community likes. In addition, if deployed in an advisory role, influencers (the trusted servant kind, not the personal brands) can serve as a barometer for how a community will respond to an initiative.

Conversely, influencers don’t create the day-to-day participation and conversation necessary over long periods of time to develop and sustain a community. They can’t create valuable content for your stakeholders — unless you’re willing to sponsor full time bloggers. Influencers don’t manage communities and distributed networks of loyalists in such activities as crowdsourcing. Finally, influencers don’t produce the business outcomes that a loyal community delivers when it has embraced a symbiotic two way relationship.

A tow boat can only take a freighter out to sea, but if the actual ship is not sea-worthy it will sink with or without the tow. Similarly, influencers can only draw attention to something, but they can’t make a business, cause or idea succeed over the long term. Far from it. Let’s take a look using a familiar and recent case study.

Quora’s Mountain of Hype

Quora Traffic Post Influencer Bubble

As you can see by the above chart, the excitement over Quora has slowed down after the Silicon Valley influencer-driven bubble that started during the holiday season. It’s also interesting to note the drop in traffic preceded recent criticism and squabbles about Quora from that same Silicon Valley influencer community. Arguably the debates have given the site small, barely noticeable spikes. However, Quora’s overall traffic has increased since November, indicating the social network has successfully retained a minority of its new users.

The post-influence bubble decrease in traffic occurred because many found Quora’s product to be less interesting than advertised (and somewhat misrepresented as a blogging service). The spike featured industry specific conversations, and did not offer a broader consumer or cross-sector appeal. In essence, the influencers served as trade press, creating an echo chamber, but one that failed to compel non-insiders.

The higher plateau post influencer attention shows that Quora was able to retain some people who like question-based and information wiki-like products online. This can be credited to the preexisting community that had already seeded many questions and served as moderators. In actuality, the site was already growing in traffic naturally without the influencer bubble. The newly retained traffic after the influencer spike may have hastened Quora’s growth, but not by anything more than a few months.

Similar to an advisory board’s role, the usage created public feedback about problems with Quora, from its wonky interface and geekiness to popularity based answers as well as questionable moderation and editing. In some cases, influencers complained about censorship and their posts disappearing. Quora will need to respond and address these serious flaws if it hopes to become anything more than a niche community.

All in all, using the tow boat analogy, Quora has been brought to sea, but there are serious questions about its sea worthiness. The ship labors off the coast.

The influence bubble brought great attention, but Quora did not fully capitalize on the opportunity. It also needs to get beyond the confines of the Silicon Valley influencer circle and generate a much broader series of topical questions and answers if it intends to become a mass market success. It should be noted that there’s no business model in place to monetize, and given the large influx of traffic, this too can be considered a lost opportunity.

Conclusion

While Quora was “discovered,” its experience serves as the perfect example of the positives and limitations of influencers. As such, it should serve as an example of what to use influencers for… And what they cannot offer in the context of larger marketing programs that include product marketing, broader public relations efforts, advertising, as well as additional Internet marketing and tactics.

As for Quora itself, the question-based social network has work to do, but it still has business value, and should be monitored by professionals. Keep in mind that overall, in spite of the spike, traffic is still increasing.

What do you think an influencer’s role is in an online program? Does Quora have what it takes to make it?

P.S. Quora users seem uninterested in the question, “What are online influencers good for?

Strength of Community Supersedes Influence

Chasing Windmills
Image by Annie Siegal

With the current overfocus on influence metrics, companies and nonprofits are left to wonder at the digeratti’s navel gazing via participation scores. While influencers play a role in social media, for a company or nonprofit that role is ultimately very small. After the influencer “graces” everyone with their presence, the organization’s community remains. After a sales or advocacy campaign winds up, the community remains. When those initiatives are needed again, they require a strong community in place, openly receptive of such overtures. That’s why the most important metric should always be Strength of Community.

Direct ROI — i.e. sales, donations, tonality and other key performance indicators (KPIs) — also represents a critical measurement set. It can be easily measured using KPIs and a corresponding strategy (though often overlooked). Businesses want loyal customers who buy their stuff, and refer new clients. Nonprofits want donors. However, to get hard ROI organizations need a vibrant accepting community. The juxtaposition between strength of community and direct ROI cannot be underestimated.

Strength of community measures the health of an organization’s core social network. Core aspects of community strength cannot be measured in a quantifiable manner by an algorithm, for example members’ interest in taking responsibility for aspects of the community such as moderating a group. But there are plenty of activity metrics that can be quantified with a well integrated social graph; return visits, pull through visits to the main web site, repeated comments, performance and volume by demographic, recency and frequency of posts (hat tip: Paul Fabretti), repeated actions, advocacy outside of the community (Facebook, Twitter and individual blog posts), etc., etc.

Yet, there’s no real focus on developing social media based strength of community metrics. There’s a series of tools that can help like Facebook Insights, Google Analytics loyalty measures, AddThis Analytics, and a small group of emerging hybrid solutions like Badgeville. But without a robust enterprise tracking solution like Eloquoa, one is lost.

Instead the market is left with an increasing dearth of influencer metric solutions, catering to the PR 2.0 community and its need to qualify influencers. To be fair, some of the influencer metrics have community details to them such as total number of community members who like or retweet a post. At the same time they are woefully inadequate in providing a composite community picture.

Influence is being touted as the measurement set to understand social media, but of all the metrics, it’s the one that is least needed. In fact, the influencer conversation (read Shonali Burke’s discussion) is like watching Don Quixote chase windmills. That’s why Twitalyzer CEO Eric Peterson’s post discounting the use of influence metrics in personnel decisions was so refreshing.

facebook-insights-new.jpg
(Image from AllFacebook)

Instead of getting distracted by influence, focus on strength of community metrics. They mean more to an organization than any other social measurement solution out there. Strength of community is the fly wheel that drives desired business outcomes as defined by KPIs. An organization would much rather have a vibrant community of 150,000 members than a sexy influencer program that garners 50 unique blog mentions. This is the next frontier of social metrics.

The opportunity has not escaped some minds. Badgeville, a community rewards and analytics company, is building a new set of analytics to provide organizations a deeper view of how their community’s engagement behaviors. Communities can usually integrate Badgeville’s solution via an API within a week. In a conversation with Badgeville’s Adena DeMonte, she discussed how critical it was for an organization to measure individual community member actions, including a visit(s) a store, and whether or not purchases were made.

As organizations become more savvy about social properties and their corresponding role within the larger mission and strategy, it is only natural that they will want to focus on strength of community. Measurement solutions that provide diverse analyses of community actions across networks have their role in determining the health of an organization’s effort.