The problem with influence scoring platforms

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Recently I was at a social media marketing conference. The final speaker of the day was the owner of a local business. He gave a great presentation. The passion for social media and his work was obvious. He talked about the culture of the company, how they value customer service and how they listen via Twitter and Facebook to respond to customer issues. He told stories about how they do fun things for customers and share interesting content about their industry. I was nodding my head and tweeting positive the whole time. And then he pulled up a slide with his Klout score.

I don’t remember the statement that followed verbatim. But it was something to the effect of: “We’ve embraced social media and become so active on Twitter that we even have a really high Klout score now, which is pretty cool and a great way to show how much progress we’ve made.”

What happened next is not Joe Fernandez’ or Klout’s fault. But it is what usually happens at conferences. People tweeted the speaker’s comment about Klout. Several attendees took down notes on Klout. Everyone kept silent, kept nodding. And the speaker, of course, went on with his presentation thinking he had just shared a great tip about a really cool tool that measures online influence. A tip he will probably include in his next presentation on social media marketing.

This speaker was not lazy. He was passionate and eager to share his experiences. He was trying to educate peers who did not have as much experience with social media as he did. And his presentation was compelling. But he fell victim to something most of us have fallen victim to once or twice before — the desire to succeed and be recognized for it, which is how he saw his high Klout score and the way he positioned it to the audience.


The other day one of my colleagues forwarded me an e-mail from a client. She had recently shared some of our blogger outreach work with her marketing peers. The outreach was to a niche blogger audience that was researched and targeted based on the client’s consumer demographics.

The research our client shared with marketing included two metrics we almost always consider in our overall influencer outreach evaluation -  Technorati rank and authority. When we do the research, these are two of several factors we consider. But they are two quantitative factors and people are generally drawn to numbers.

So one person on the marketing team e-mailed our client back and mentioned that the post was interesting but wondered how much of an effect it could have had since the rank number was so high and the authority number was so low.

Luckily, our client shared that feedback with us and together we were able to craft a response about the magic middle, targeted outreach and why it doesn’t make as much sense for this client to go after The Huffington Post or Mashable all the time. But it was an interesting example of how people view metrics.

I know the woman in marketing and she is not lazy or completely new to social media. In fact, she always seems eager to learn and hear different perspectives. But it is obvious she’s been taught that with quantitative metrics, bigger means better. And from what I hear and read on a daily basis, she’s in the majority.


He’s not lazy. She’s not dumb. He’s passionate. She’s trying to understand. They’re both misinformed.

I don’t want to sound all holier than thou. I hate when people sound all holier than thou. But I do think we as communicators have an obligation to educate where we can. So the next time you hear someone tout Klout as a stand-alone influence metric or take Technorati to task because the numbers aren’t low or high enough…say something. Please.

It’s the only way we’re going to change how people think and help them understand that influence is much more complicated than any one or two numbers can explain. We consider Technorati rank and authority in our influencer research at Fleishman-Hillard. We’re discussing whether we need to add Klout to the mix.

But even if I decide to evaluate all three of those numbers the next time I research influencers, they’ll never be the only criteria I use to evaluate. And that’s because someone taught me that influence was about more than just numbers when I didn’t know any better.

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alanchumley 5 pts

Spot on, Justin (and shonali, Sean/commammo)

A blessing and a curse, in my view. At least these folks are thinking about measurement and looking for a solution. The curse and the trouble lies in looking at only one solution.

Things like Klout, Twittalyzer, Twinfluence has pieces that are intriguing and useful. I'd like to Mr. Potatohead a few from each into a custom (hesitant to say index) something-or-other.

The gap in what I call these "o-meters" or "izers" is that, apart from being simple vanity counts, they rarely take content and context into consideration.

Authority (defined how ever you like--frequency, bookmarks, link love, tags, subscribers, followers, compet, Alexa, Technorati) for me is topical and contextual. some of these "o-meters" fail to account for the number of on-topic relevant posts or how frequently the poster/tweeter offers up commentary on or off topic.

On or off the topic of interest to us or our clients, I mean.

So, I may have a certain level of Klout or authority/influence (potential to influence, I should point out) on PR measurement but the minute I blog / tweet about my opinions on tires--a very different story.

The other challenge has to do with language and definitions. If we can't all agree on what engagement means, then authority and/or influencer (are they different? are they the same? is authority a pre-requisite for potential to influence?) are an even tougher challenge. There's a lot of both sound and silly thinking out there on this.

My view? One must be authoratative (including what I said above about on topic, relevant, topical, contextual) to be (potentially) influencial.

That in mind, my view on Influence:

Influencer=5 P's

Popular: visible, vocal, has a substantial following, reach. In-bound links, trackbacks, subscribers, bookmarks, followers, friends, views, listens, saves, downloads, etc.

Polarized in tone: neutrality does little to drive influence way or the other. A clearly positive or negative view will polarize readers/followers and is more likely to drive cohesion and mobilize advocates and have those advocates coalesce around a core theme, idea, or call to action.

Prolific / Relevant / Frequent: raw author contribution and # of on-topic, related posts

Prominent / Authoritative: are they an idea starter or spreader; source or spider? They may be prolific but are they prominent? Are they highly inter-related, inter-connected, and centrally located in the network? How engaged is this personu00e2u0080u0099s following in a dialogue? How much dialogue is there and what is its nature? Here we need to reconize, though, that authority is contextual and topical. One might be an authority on PR measurement but not on 18th century Russian literature.

Promoter / Advocate: how many of the followers/commentators active contributors advocating, endorsing, advancing (or the opposite) your position? Are they adding links, tags. Is the nature of the language they are using inter-connective, expanded, clarifying, reinterpreting? RTs, digs, fans, votes, buzzups, up/downloads, shares, likes, invites, favorites, embeds. (More active than the metrics in popularity)

Of course, measuring influence (or potential to, really) is only part of a more systems, network analysis, social capital-informed approach to social media measurement. For that, we need to consider the:
The 7 C's of Social Media Measurement:

JGoldsborough 247 pts

alanchumley Thanls for stopping by, Alan, and for your thoughtful comment. Look forward to reading the 7 C's post. Have you put your 5 P's to the test and used them in a influencer outreach campaign? How did it work? I like the areas you are covering with them.

Of course, my favorite part about your approach is that it considers more than one or two factors and emphasizes context. To me, influence is just like social media measurement. People want the silver bullet, the holy grail. It does not exist. It will not exist. Companies beware -- If any communicator ever tells you they have found the stand-alone answer to influence, leave him/her standing alone and find someone else to work with. It's not that easy and it's our responsibility to go the extra mile for our clients to help them understand what influence means to their brand.


Shonali 1326 pts

Justin, I have a feeling that when we meet next week, we'll keep talking about this! Oh, now you've reminded me that I must insert my Klout score into my KC/IABC presentation. Which is, of course, the ONLY reason that you guys are having me come out there. :p

I really like how calm you are when you write. It's clear that you feel strongly about these things, yet you invariably come off as extremely rational and reasoned. I love that.

I agree with everything you have to say. Numbers do make a difference to people; I've seen that myself, which is why, when I talk/teach/write, etc., I try to acknowledge that but also remind them that it's not the ONLY thing and should always be taken in CONTEXT.

The other day, a blogger and well-respected PR pro - certainly someone I believe is an influencer in that world - reached out to me re: a new client. It was in an area that I personally enjoy, so I signed up for the thingy (can't tell you what just now :)), and recommended 3 other bloggers who I know share the same interest. Two are very well-known as bloggers as well as extremely active on Twitter/FB; the third is someone very smart, but without the same level of acknowledged visibility.

But I recommended that person because I know that s/he is passionate about the topic and could quite possibly, if s/he enjoys the product/campaign, encourage others to try it as well. And to the PR influencer's credit, s/he reached out to them, without wondering "how big" they were or any of that nonsense.

No matter which way one slices and dices, the conclusion is always the same: context. Relevance. And most importantly, a little (or perhaps a lot of) elbow grease is what all of us need to keep in our line of sight.

JGoldsborough 247 pts

Shonali Elbow grease indeed. I appreciate the kind words about writing style. My point with this post is that influence and measurement are complicated stuff and we could all have been asshats :) on these topics if someone didn't help guide us along the way.

And solid point about really knowing what someone brings to the table because you know the person. I mean, a person could have no Klout score to speak of but have a huge network offline and be extremely influential on a topic or in a community. In fact, we have someone like that at our FHKC office.

Looking forward to next week. And don't worry, we put your Klout and Technorati scores in the program :).

Shonali 1326 pts

JGoldsborough Ass hats, eh? :p

So you put the scores in the program, eh? You mean you didn't blow them up and plaster them all over the WW museum?! :p

By the way, when you see the Klout scores that some dogs (I mean that literally) have ...

commammo 20 pts

Amen indeed, Justin. We can make the same argument when someone touts ad value equivalency (which is neither a measure of PR value, nor is equivalent to PR). Say something, please! What people want is a simple way of describing PR value and Influence. There isn't any. It takes work to figure these things out, and often, the language we use is academic and difficult. This isn't easy stuff! Put on your thinking caps and you'll know it true.

Thanks for advancing the discussion!

JGoldsborough 247 pts

commammo Well said. In the words of one of the songs on the Rocky IV soundtrack (yes, I am addicted to Rocky movies :)) -- There's no easy way out. If it were that simple, everybody would do it, right? Thanks for stopping by.

ryanknapp 35 pts

So the next time you hear someone tout Klout as a stand-alone influence metric or take Technorati to task because the numbers arenu00e2u0080u0099t low or high enoughu00e2u0080u00a6say something. Please.

Amen. Or think that they 'need' to get to someone to get their product out. 10 middle of the road influencers are better than one top one, IMO.

JGoldsborough 247 pts

ryanknapp Exactly. That is the premise of the magic middle. Build relationships with 10 targeted influencers that make sense for your brand and actually have the time to get to know it and you versus one Mashable that gets hundreds or thousands of pitches a day.


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