Social influence matters to businesses. After all, the promise of influencer marketing that engaging with those who have “influence” in social media can help to more effectively sell more products or quickly gain significantly more brand awareness is the holy grail that any business would want to chase. As more users join and spend more time on the various social media websites, and as more companies ramp up their social media marketing budgets, we can only assume that social media influencer outreach campaigns will increase. That’s why whenever the most famous of the platforms measuring social media influence, Klout, announce any changes to their scoring algorithm, it is big news to both companies as well as power social media users. This post, however, is not about looking at Klout from a consumer perspective but from a corporate perspective. In fact, it started with a question I received from Windmill Networking’s own contributor on Social Media Influence, Raymond Morin:
Are these new Klout Score changes really upgrading the influence marketing science, or just [trying to promote] sponsors with perks?
Let’s first get the social media user perspective about the changes out of the way. I am in complete agreement with how Jason Falls, author of No Bullshit Social Media and founder of Social Media Explorer, concisely put it:
Klout is a nice way of looking at influence but not the only way and dangerous if it’s all you care about. Changes in its algorithm are worth monitoring, but not worth getting worked up over. If you do, you’re putting too much emphasis on it. ~ @JasonFalls
But what about companies? If your active social media account starts to get more tweets and posts than you can respond to, how do you prioritize when you respond to who? What about Customer Service? Everyone wants to avoid the type of situation that @Dooce made famous in the early days of Twitter. Do these new Klout scoring algorithm changes mean that this is a metric that can now be trusted throughout the enterprise and used as the sole metric to determine social media influence and thus help in segmenting social media users? As Monsieur Morin asked, has the science of influencer marketing really been upgraded by this change?
Because Klout and social media influence is such an important topic, and upon Raymond’s excellent suggestion, I asked many people who I know and look up to as being authorities in social media and/or have influenced my own views of social media and influence to chime in on the subject. As you read through them, I am confident that you’ll get a comprehensive view of the challenges that Klout has, the positives (and negatives!) about the new scoring algorithm, and even the future of how we might go about measuring influence. [Note: Selective boldface was added by me to emphasize points, not the individuals being interviewed.]
Klout is already used by some large brands to segment customer influence. Klout is available in systems like Radian6, Genesys, and browser extensions so customer agents and marketing managers can segment those that have more brand impact vs those that don’t. To continually refine this, Klout has changed the scoring to reflect offline influence. Considering that pure social media followers can be gamed, and engagement can easily be gamed, Klouts new moves to tie in other sources of data are an improvement. With this said, Klout must continue to foster ‘relative influence’ on the specific influence in a topic, not just broad ‘absolute influence’ that assigns only a universal single number. Competitors like PeerIndex and Awareness Networks have focused on relative influence, providing brands with a more meaningful number — although Klout has started to already become an industry number many rely on.
The bottom line: Klout’s new changes show continued maturity in tracking influence, but the savvy user knows that relative influence by specific topic is more accurate than any single number. ~ @jowyang
Jeremiah suggests a shortfall in Klout’s metric in the creation a single universal number to measure influence on everything. The person who actually has the highest Klout score of everyone I interviewed, self-proclaimed “Social Media Change Activist” Jure Klepic is more critical of the shortfall in the way that Klout measures influence:
Klout don’t measure influence. Influence is power to sway. So in order to measure influence, Klout should measure behavioral changes or actions that change behavior. Instead Klout measure only “brand” awareness. Number of Tweets, Retweets, shares, likes, comments, recommendations and so on are only indicators of increased awareness. Klout is hyped because of its personal delivery of Maslow’s highest state of self-actualization — building YOURSELF. Klout, Kred and others aren’t influencing anything but ego of people. ~ @jkcallas
We find more criticism about the Klout scoring algorithm when we start to look at the social media channels that it seems to emphasize in its scoring. Mark Schaefer, author of Return on Influence, gave a great review of the new Klout algorithm. Here’s some excerpts from that post, in which after praising that Klout deserves credit for listening to their critics with regards to making the right moves in terms of privacy and transparency, they are sill missing the mark on the actual scoring algorithm:
By quadrupling the inputs to personal scores, the scope of their influence assessment far surpasses any rival. But it also adds substantially to the complexity of the algorithm and creates opportunities for things to go wrong. The changes will not significantly impact the fact that a Klout score will still be weighed more toward Twitter- and Facebook-centric activities.
At the end of the day, Klout, Kred, and PeerIndex only measure one thing: Can a person create content on the social web that gets shared and elicits a reaction? That of course is a legitimate source of power on the web today in this Era of the Citizen Influencer where everyone can publish and have a voice. But after several years of effort, Klout is still missing out on a real gold mine of online influence — blogs and YouTube videos. These are the forums where rich content is created, discussed, and shared. Today, Klout scores are impacted only by activity on Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, LinkedIn, Google+, Klout, and Wikipedia. You can also connect YouTube, Instagram, Tumblr, Blogger, WordPress, Lastfm and flickr, but they don’t compute in your score. ~ @markwschaefer
Mark’s comment opened up an interesting discussion: Which social media channels should be prioritized to analyze social media influence? Jay Baer, co-author of The NOW Revolution, suggests that perhaps the future of influencer marketing analytics might become more channel-specific:
I like where Klout is headed in terms of adding transparency with their Moments feed. But I’m most interested in their new pie chart that shows what social channels account for your influence. In my case, Twitter is responsible for 49% of my influence; Facebook is responsible for 40%, and LInkedin represents 5%. Klout says I can drive more behavior on Twitter than i can on Linkedin. This is true, and I can look at my Buffer and Argyle Social stats to prove it. This is an important acknowledgement from Klout (who of course have always possessed this data, but didn’t show it), because nobody has evenly distributed influence. Nobody. Whether it’s Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, a blog, YouTube or any other corral, everyone has places where they are more connected and more capable of moving the behavioral needle. Sometimes this is evolutionary, stemming from how and why and when you joined/embraced a particular network. Other times it’s by choice, as with Chris Brogan publicly eschewing Linkedin and Facebook in favor of Google + and Twitter alone (which is one of the reasons I now have a higher Klout score than Chris, which of course does not reflect reality). Because influence varies by channel, I wonder if the future of influencer analytics isn’t with the single score from Klout (and Kred) but with channel-specific data from Plexus Engine, Peek Analytics, Pinfluencer and others? ~ @jaybaer
Jay Baer wasn’t the only one who found interest in the potential that the Moments feed – and analyzing influence by channel – can hold for the social media marketer. Leading social media strategist and the unofficial Queen of Facebook, Mari Smith, chimed in on the potential for Klout analytics to help our content marketing:
Measuring influence accurately — and influencer marketing — will only continue to grow over the coming months and years. Much as I take the various scores out there with a pinch of salt, I’m actually glad to see Klout increasing its’ scoring variables from 100 to 400+. The more components that go into making up an overall influence score the better (Kred is doing a great job with this). I look forward to Moments being active across all Klout profiles; this seems akin to Facebook’s Insights and Google+’s Ripples or services like Crowdbooster.com. Being able to tell exactly what posts resonates best with which of your social channels can certainly help improve content marketing. ~ @MariSmith
While there is agreement about some of the positive steps forward made by Klout, there is still general dissent as to whether measuring influence can ever be an accurate science or not. Deirdre Breakenridge, author of Social Media and Public Relations: Eight New Practices for the PR Professional, reminds us of the limit that any “score” will have on someone’s ability to truly influence action:
It appears Klout is moving in the right direction with the ability to analyze over 400 different types of “signals” to determine real world influence, online and offline. I still challenge one main question regarding the well known Klout score. Can you really uncover certain characteristics such as trust, passion and motivation that cause people to react or behave a certain way? Influence is about action and behavior; it’s different for everyone and it comes all shapes and sizes. We have to remember that Klout is a number and one score (even if it’s made up of more signals) can only tell so much about someone’s ability to steer behavior in a desired direction. ~ @dbreakenridge
Marcy Massura, Digital Strategist & Influencer Counsel for Weber Shandwick, also questions whether or not Klout is simply a tool to measure someone’s online usage and following – and nothing more.
Klout has always done one thing extremely well, and that is measure online activity. Not necessarily the quality of that activity…but rather the volume and frequency itself. The concept of ‘measuring’ influence is fairly hysterical to most people (a bit like having a measurement tool for charm or charisma), so no matter how many tweaks or changes to their algorithm they make- they are never going to be accurately assessing the power of someone’s word to their followers. As I recall they have made at least 3 other ‘adjustments’ to their formula since launching, and each time seems to do little for accuracy. For instance this last update says to include ‘offline influential factors like book authorship’. Which again SOUNDS good, but does the fact that someone claims to have written a book REALLY make them more influential? I do actually love Klout – as a very quick way to establish someone’s online usage and following. But beyond that – we are all bit silly to think it represents anything more. ~ @marcymassura
Maximize Social Business’s own Influencer Marketing contributor Raymond Morin was even more critical of Klout’s changes, likening them to an imitation of the approach taken by one of their competitors, Kred:
Imitating is not innovating. The changes in Klout’s algorithms, and the new features they announced, were supposed to be innovative, and helping us to get more complete and relevant measures of our social media influence. In fact, these four new features and metrics look very similar to what Kred already proposed. Is Klout trying to imitate what it considers to be the differentiator of one of its principal competitors just to gain more users? Or are they just trying to achieve more efficiency for their perks programs they developed with their client brands? The Moments feature wants to help us to determinate what makes a user’s social score rise (or fall), but will it enable us to know precisely what are the metrics that build this “Hall of Fame of content creation?” Now, they cover 90 days of social media activities to establish the Klout Score, but will it be relevant enough to tell more about real influence? And, they pretend that they will introduce new metrics of real-life influence by adding signals from Wikipedia and LinkedIn, as by scoring the +K received by users. Klout explained that they now filter more than 400 different metrics to determinate the Klout Score, but we still don’t know which ones. If you already use Kred, you’ll recognize that all those changes are very complimentary to Kred’s own metrics.
So, do Klout’s changes add value in the new science of social media marketing? Personally, I don’t think so, and they are certainly not an innovation. And, the fact that Justin Bieber is no longer the most influential social media user on Klout, replaced by Barack Obama (oh surprise!), will not make me change how I view Klout as a measure of social media influence. ~ @RaymondMorinV2
I wanted to get an even broader perspective of how experts view the Klout changes, so I went outside of the marketing realm to ask Windmill Networking contributor on Social Media & Public Relations, Judy Gombita, how she felt about the new algorithm from a corporate PR perspective:
Personally, I’m agnostic to Klout-style influence. From a corporate perspective, I’d be hard pressed to think of a public relations benefit (“reputation, value and relationship building”) to highlighting an employee’s high Klout score (even in the C-suite). Likely that would induce smirks in the majority of sectors (or media). From the marketing department’s perspective, I suppose its influence marketing science improved, as Klout increased ranking factors (from around 100 to 400). For example, if your company makes use of Mom Bloggers in its outreach, it wouldn’t hurt to know they have an increased external profile beyond Twitter or Facebook. (An example would be bloggers or subject experts featured in the Monetizing Mommy-hood radio doc.) I tend to doubt many Klout influencers that focus on the social side of things (in-house, agency or consultant) would have a Wikipedia page, though. If a lot of them do, I’d be worried about the declining influence of Wikipedia!
At Social Media Week Toronto or Brainrider-sponsored #torontob2b (case studies) meetups, I look to people doing innovative offline work in social businesses, not to online chatterers. After all, per Philip Sheldrake, “You have been influenced when you think in a way you wouldn’t otherwise have thought or do something you wouldn’t otherwise have done.” Ergo, if Klout is looking to better promote sponsorships with companies and/or perks to its top-ranked influencers, I would remain lukewarm to participating from a PR perspective as a social business. ~ @jgombita
At the end of the day, did anything change? Despite the “huge” change promised by Klout, some experts I interviewed didn’t see their scores change at all. Here’s what blog marketing expert Kristi Hines had to say:
Last year in September, before Klout made the major update that resulted in a lot of people’s scores dropping, I had a score of 73.26. Fast forward to almost a year later, after the most recent change, and I have a 73.42. It’s hard to believe that with the addition of 7,000 followers on Twitter and the integration of activity from Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, and other networks that my “influence” would change so slightly over the course of a year. It is nice that they have added some insight into what goes into their scoring. Of course, I think they should take a look at Facebook page likes & interaction vs. profile friends & subscribers as well as blog engagement to really get a better scope of someone’s overall influence. ~ @Kikolani
My own conclusion? Influence will never be able to measured accurately by any one algorithm, and perhaps this explains why every change in Klout’s algorithm is met with fanfare but little seems to change, as Kristi Hines found out. In fact, the need to repeatedly make major changes to the algorithm -and then announce them with some fanfare – remind us of the challenge that any measurement platform has. I still feel that, as Marcy Massura suggested, that Klout is one measure of online activity, and as a social media marketer any tool that helps us to segment out social media users online activity is a welcome addition to our social media marketing toolkit.
The problem is, as co-author of the brand new book Solving the Social Media Puzzle, Kathryn Rose, reminds us, that it’s unfortunate that many brands don’t look beyond the singular scoring number:
Whether we like it or not, influence scoring models are here to stay and Klout at least is answering some of their critics by expanding the data points of their rating system. By expanding to include sites outside of traditional social media i.e. Wikipedia, and using the number of inbound links, they are attempting to even the playing field.
The idea that a company can measure something as subjective as influence is a bit absurd to me but the fact is, potential clients, journalists and some retail outlets actually use it to decide which person to hire, interview or even allow in the door! Is Klout a marketing company disguised as a measurement tool? Perhaps, but they are offering a sought after service to brands much like Nielsen which rates the number of viewers a TV show gets. Klout sells access to members they deem influential, and Nielsen sells its research. It is unfortunate, however, when brands don’t look behind the score. Like with any measurement tool for social media, there are no absolutes. Just because someone has a high Klout score doesn’t mean they’re necessarily engaged or influential. Klout is just another tool in the toolbox and can be used to build relationships but should not be used as the only measure of one’s influence. ~ @katkrose
Another Windmill Networking contributor, Lilach Bullock, who’s Secondary Customers: Talkers, Influencers and Social Media Power Users post is a must read to help distinguish between true influencers and mere social media power users, ends our roundtable interview on this note:
What a relief that Klout have finally realised that influence isn’t only about vanity numbers game. The change in Klout algorithms is welcomed because as they say they it now incorporates four times as many variables including balancing real world influence with your cyber Klout. My own Klout has gone up as a result which is nice; but let’s just wait and see if it makes a real difference in measuring how influential a person is rather than simply just raising the bar for everyone. ~ @LilachBullock http://www.socialable.co.uk
At the end of the day, I would simply repeat exactly what I blogged last year after Klout’s previous algorithm change in The Final Word on Klout?, which I think still applies today:
At the end of the day, market economics will determine the success of Klout. Will brands feel that the new algorithm is better? Will those that they choose to be “influential” because of their Klout score “deliver” what they were looking for? One brand that I am working with realized that they did not even need to use Klout scores to determine potential influencers and merely reached out to a few people that they considered “influencers” and asked for their recommendations as to who had social influence in a particular sphere.
Perhaps some of the competition, such as PeerIndex and Kred, will look at this as an opportunity to gain influence (pun intended) with their services.
For social media marketers, having a selection of various metrics to choose from in measuring social media influence can only be a welcome addition to our toolbox. Just as brands will have to determine if they feel the new Klout algorithm is a step forward or not, we social media marketers will also need to determine which metrics we feel best justify “influence” or at least help us in our analysis of social media users. ~ @nealschaffer
And, as I ended that post, I will do the same here: I still expect continued debate on this subject of social media influence and Klout, here and on Twitter, so here’s your chance: What’s your take of the latest algorithm changes?