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Thursday, December 01, 2011

Klout, Influence, and Impact

For years marketers have tried to understand and track how consumers purchase and what influences buying decisions. From market research to focus groups to creating customer personas, understanding as much as possible about your potential audience is essential. The ability to tailor messages and content appropriately for every individual has always been a smart strategy. Now, with the expansion of social media and customized content, it is more important than ever to provide information that is relevant to the audience or it results in a quick click to delete your efforts.

As marketers seek to understand more about influence in the online world, one of the tools that has emerged and grown rapidly is Klout which “measures influence based on your ability to drive action” online. The simple question: does it work? That’s where it gets complicated.

Klout uses an algorithm to
measure three categories
Reach, Amplification
and Network

Klout uses an algorithm to measure three categories: Reach (the number of people you reach), Amplification (how much you influence people based on responses and shares), and Network (how often do influencers respond to your content) and calculates a score based on these inputs. Ever since the introduction of Klout there has been a significant amount of controversy and some backlash against how the tool assigns value and influence. Some of the issue comes from assigning a numerical value to people, which some disagree with on principle. However, over the last two years, despite seeing hundreds in the social media space question or downright mock the ability of a tool to measure “influence” online there was significant public outcry when Klout changed the formula and many users scores went down. Many who had said Klout was irrelevant or said they didn’t care about their score were suddenly extremely upset about the change. In mid-November Klout posted commentary about the vision of the company to attempt to address some of the questions in the community.

I applaud the effort and thought behind Klout. A company seeking to understand how people make decisions and engage is a tremendous undertaking that every communications and marketing professional should appreciate. That said, there are a few considerations that we collectively need to evaluate to determine how this (or any other) tool can be utilized in our field.

- Quantity versus quality

One concern about a tool like this is how heavily it implies that by posting a great deal that someone is influential. By posting often it impacts the score and also gives more potential for shares/retweets/engagement which also drives a Klout score. However, there are many industry leaders online that simply don’t have the time to post a great deal. They’re busy creating new programs, helping lead client strategy, or working to grow a business.

- Singular number representing all industries and audiences

While Klout attempts to break out categories of influence (attempt is key as I’ve allegedly been influential on topics where I clearly have no idea like Ruby on Rails and Models) it still provides one final score talking about online influence. The danger lies within seeing a high Klout score and really assuming impact. Our job is to dive deeper and provide real counsel for our clients or employers. The fact that Justin Bieber has a Klout score of 100 clearly doesn’t mean he has relevant impact across all audiences or industries. Does he have tremendous influence? Absolutely he has great influence- with teens and particularly teen girls. Would I ever consider paying the beloved Biebs to speak on behalf of a B2B service in the technology market? Not a chance.

- Differing uses of channels

Also consider the fact that even legitimate online influencers use different online channels differently. A heavy Facebook user may have made the strategic decision to focus on that tool as it fits their business model well but does not believe that Twitter is a good fit. In cases like that, users are “penalized” somewhat by not having a presence all over the web though I fundamentally disagree with the premise that ten lousy networks is better than one strong, committed, and engaged two-way network. One of the best examples I’ve seen in illustrating this particular issue was done by Paul Gillin on his blog.

Ultimately, Klout or any other online “influence” tool will inherently have flaws. That doesn’t mean there isn’t value to be mined from the tool. By looking at categories of interest on Klout you may find a decent starting point to look at a topic and people that are discussing the topic online. The key is understanding that there is no magic Web success button where you push it and your perfect audience and influencers pop out the other side. A comprehensive strategy whether online, offline, or a combination of the two needs to begin with a deep understanding of your goals and of the market. This cannot be gleaned from a single data point but requires analysis and context. So use Klout but don’t leave your research skills, analytical thinking, personal experience, and some common sense at home.

-- Dave Folkens / Community Business