It’s Just a Game: My Take on Influence and Social Scoring

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There has been much discussion as of late about social scoring and its connection to “influence marketing.” I am not an expert on the matter like Mark Schaefer or Danny Brown and Sam Fiorella, but I figured I would weigh in. The debate centers around whether or not social scoring metrics translate into real influence. And, to clarify further, the real argument is whether or not someone with high scores on social media platforms has a greater likelihood of influencing purchasing decisions than someone who does not. In other words, does Klout really mean clout?

In short, my answer is a resounding, “No!” Until someone comes up with a social scoring platform that connects dollars spent to social media interactions, I will not be convinced otherwise. Just this past week or so, Klout–the company that really brought this debate to the forefront–announced the rolling out of Klout for Business. In my opinion, this is taking it way too far. I’ve heard stories about employers requiring a minimum Klout score from applicants, but this? Marketing departments spending actual money for access to these arbitrary metrics? I must be dreaming.

What does Klout (or other “social scoring” platforms that are more transparent like Kred) actually measure? Well, it has nothing to do with money. As I understand it, it is simply the quantity and quality of “conversations” people have with other people online. By quantity, I mean consistency. If you drop off social media, your scores plummet. By quality, I mean that you are interacting with other people who have high scores.

The first problem is that measuring a person’s ability to talk to people online is not the same thing as measuring that person’s ability to influence purchasing decisions. The second, more difficult problem (as Margie Clayman gets at above) is that platforms like Klout are so easy to fool. Countless stories have been relayed to me about people intentionally “gaming” Klout and becoming influential on silly topics like, “Unicorns.” You can convince the platform that you are “influential” as long as you have a lot of connections who are also “influential” and talk about the same thing all of the time.

For example, right now, Klout says I’m influential on football, dentistry, and Chicago–three things about which I am very uninfluential. But, somehow, the platform picked up a discussion on those topics in which I was involved and, presto, I have influence. So, if you’re a football player in Chicago looking for a dentist, I’m your guy…but it’s going to cost you ;-D

What These Social Scores Are Really About…

A couple of weeks ago, Daniel Newman left a comment on Facebook asking the very same question that I’ve been pondering:

“Maybe this is a pot stirring comment…But at this point can anyone tell me what the point of Klout is? I just checked in for the first time in a quite some time and thought…why am I here and what the heck is the point. Just curious if anyone else is wasting their time wondering the same thing.”

My response to Dan sums up how I feel about the whole matter:

“Klout’s a fun game for celebrities and teenagers, but for professionals doing real work and building real relationships, yeah, it’s meaningless. If someone ever asks me in a professional setting what my Klout score is (hasn’t happened yet) I don’t think I’ll be able to keep a straight face.”

Klout is a game. Kred is a game. Empire Avenue (remember that one?) is a game. I am perfectly okay with people “playing around” on these networks and trying to beat out their friends on social media. But, seriously, let’s leave it at that. It is nothing more.

Until Klout adds PayPal and Square to its slew of social media platforms it is measuring, I would not recommend it is a gauge for making business or marketing decisions. Be smart with your money. Understand that this is all just a game. Play it if you want but please, I’m begging you, don’t spend money on it.

23 comments
ArCompany
ArCompany

You mean Jure Klepic sounds like me Amy:) ^HJ

ArCompany
ArCompany

Marketers have to get back to basics and use tried and true methods as well: and not rely solely on NEW methodolgies to reach and resonate with their audience ^HJ

Douglas E Rice
Douglas E Rice

Definitely. I think it's probably my most anticipated read at the moment.

KristenMatthews
KristenMatthews

Dig this post. Especially dig that I come across way more articles that "Klout bash" than "Klout rave." It seems people are getting it and Klout  is on it's way out. 

Amy McCloskey Tobin
Amy McCloskey Tobin

Me too. I'm going to love it even more when Danny & Sam's book comes out. It's going to shift the conversation.

jureklepic
jureklepic

What is most troubling with these current measurement tools is that the traditional model of “influence” does not work in current social media environment . The old-fashioned, top-down approach of looking for someone who is well-known to promote a brand doesn’t have the same impact in social media. Yet these services persist in identifying individuals who are “broadcasters,” even though this awareness does not translate into a capacity to engage others or the ability to influence or sway attitudes and change behaviors.  Influence is power to sway and as You said comes down to purchase. Jet many will say to you that online influence is all about content... On the end if you just produce content and get lots of reactions but reactions did not translate into purchases you just increase the awareness. But awareness is not equal influence. But is quite of fashion this days to make up new terms.... 

 

AmyMccTobin
AmyMccTobin

Of course, as a partner of Danny's a friend of Sam's, I've been paying very close attention to this debate.  As a Marketer I hate Klout, had hope for Kred and really like Andrew Gill's willingness to dialogue about the issues, but I do not value either platform.  We all know that influencers exist, but it's HOW you measure them that we continue to debate. When Sam and Danny's book comes out shortly I think a lot will be clarified. And yes, I'm going to do it - I'm going to sharet the link. And Ha! Danny posted his comment before I could hit Enter: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0789751046/ref=as_li_qf_sp_asin_il_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0789751046&linkCode=as2&tag=danbro05-20

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

Hey there Doug,

 

Great conversation starter, and thanks for the kind nod, mate. For us (Sam and myself), it boils down to a clear path:

 

- Social scoring (Klout, Kred, PeerIndex) are useful starting places if you want the large-scale identification of *possible* influencers. PeerIndex have even said themselves that they're about big numbers - if you want to get to the micro influence stage (which is where the real data lies), then scoring is not for you.

 

- Influence marketing is, as you rightly say, about bringing dollars into the storefront, whatever that may look like. Awareness is great; social shares are great; blog posts are great. But if they don't result in a sale, they're essentially wasted marketing dollars.

 

- Influence as it stands today is placing the focus on the wrong people. Because of this, the true value of influence is being missed: how to guide a customer along the purchase cycle, as well as identify where a potential customer is in the decision-making process when it comes to a product. Are they researching; aware of a product; intent to buy; are there factors disrupting that decision being made? 

 

This and more is where influence needs to be moving, to introduce the real benefit to businesses - advocacy. 

 

Sam and I have provided a framework for this and more in our book, and we look forward to sharing very soon.

 

Thanks for keeping us thinking, mate.

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LauriRottmayer
LauriRottmayer

I agree with you. I deleted my klout profile several algorithms ago when they decided they would penalize my score if I talked to people they deemed "less influential" than I. I'm no one's mean girl and I think that's a crappy way to decide if someone is worth your time or not. I gain value from every single person I connect with no matter how "influential" klout thinks they are.

nyerr
nyerr

It's great to see the roll that you, Mark Schaefer, Danny Brown and Sam Fiorella and playing in educating the marketing community about the pitfalls of "gameable" influence measurement tools. Having a credible way to measure influence allows the conversation to shift from “gaming” to “context” and “engagement,” which gets to the heart of what marketers are seeking and helps move the focus away from arbitrary numbers. 

- Nyerr, Marketing Manager, Appinions

douglaserice
douglaserice moderator

@KristenMatthews Il not normally one to "bash," but I think Klout pretty much deserves it. Not only do they have transparency issues and dubious measuring techniques, but they also are incredibly disengaged with their users. Despite all of this, they are feigning ignorance to the multitude of marketers who are skeptical and launching Klout for Business anyway. In my mind, this can only mean that their strategy is prey on the weak, misinformed business folks that don't know any better. Not very commendable in my book.

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douglaserice
douglaserice moderator

@jureklepic Excellent point, Jure! I recently reviewed a study about seeding viral content (http://www.douglaserice.com/viral-context) in which the authors concluded that an influencer with a small number of strong connections is preferable to one with a large number of week connections. It's not just how many followers someone has--it's who those followers are that determines how behavior is affected. Thanks for weighing in!

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douglaserice
douglaserice moderator

@AmyMccTobin Right on, Amy! The fact that influenced is being measured is a good thing. But HOW it is being measured makes it better to have not been measured at all. As far as I could tell, there are two things that are measured: 1) How well-connected a person is online and 2) the keywords that person uses in his or content. What is clearly missing is the causal link between those things and actual behavior. By the way, I wanted to give the benefit of doubt to Kred for its transparency and Andrew's openness as well but, in the end, it's still a product that doesn't work. So I can't in good conscience endorse it. That being said, I have MUCH more respect for Kred than I do Klout.

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douglaserice
douglaserice moderator

@Danny Brown Thanks for thoughtful comment, Danny. I have no doubt that I only have a rudimentary understanding of the way influence works. But I believe you hit the hammer on the nail when you talk about "large-scale identification" In my mind, not all influence is created equal. A single "influence score doesn't tell a business how influential a person is in swaying people to their products anymore than a student's lifetime GPA can predict his or her grade on a single paper for a single class. Business aren't (or at least shouldn't be) worried about how popular people are IN GENERAL but instead how influential they are within the context of the business's products.

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douglaserice
douglaserice moderator

 @LauriRottmayer Good for you! I know several people that have opted out of Klout. I simply stubbornly refuse to do it because it's conceding that I think my score matters. "I gain value from every single person I connect with." Spot on. How silly to ignore people who are inexperienced or inactive on social media. Probably 90% of my clients have Klout scores less than 50. Should I ignore them as well?

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douglaserice
douglaserice moderator

 @nyerr Thanks for the comment. I'm flattered that you through me in there with those guys. You bring up an excellent point. Measurement DOES matter. You don't know if anything's working unless you measure it. It's all about WHAT you're measuring and HOW you're measuring it. And I don't think Klout or Kred are measuring the right things when it comes to a person's ability to influence purchase decisions.

 

By the way, kudos to you for joining in the conversation. I haven't really looked into Appinions, but the concept of "measuring opinions rather than mentions" is rather fascinating. I'll have to check it out...

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Kristen Matthews
Kristen Matthews

 @douglaserice  @KristenMatthews Good point about how their strategy is to "prey on the weak." Hopefuly these misinformed business folk will come across your article or one of mine or one of many for that matter, that emphasizes how Klout has never equated to audience loyalty. 

douglaserice
douglaserice moderator

@KristenWords @KristenMatthews it's only a matter of time. A quick stroll down Google Lane is beginning to show Klout for what it really is...

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