If You're Interested In Influence, Social Scoring Is Of Historic Importance

While it's easy, and maybe trendy, to hate on it, Klout and its peers are becoming legitimate channels for indexing and connecting with word-of-mouth influencers.

If you hate Klout—and you probably do—try to take a deep breath and read ahead with an open mind.

Few things are as frenzy-inducing as Klout and its attempt to measure personal "influence."  I have studied this social scoring trend for more than a year and, unlike every other blogger on the planet, it seems, I've come to the conclusion that this is indeed an important development. For marketers, being able to measure social influence is of historic importance.

Before I get into why, let's knock a few obvious facts out of the way:

  1. Klout cannot measure every type of influence. Never has. Never will.
  2. Klout can be "gamed." Is there anything on the Internet that can't be?
  3. It sucks being publicly rated and compared to other people.
  4. Klout made some PR and privacy blunders and deserves much of the criticism it has received.

But there's way more to Klout than that.

Now, For A Different Perspective

Before the Internet, you had to actually accomplish something to be a celebrity.  Today, anybody can drum up attention with content that moves through the social web.

Even me.

I'm not what you would call your normal "influencer." I haven't held office, I didn't go to Harvard, and I don't play for the Yankees. I have a small business, consult, and teach at Rutgers University.

But give me a blog and Twitter and I suddenly have people from all over the world telling me that I have impacted them. I've been quoted in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal for one reason: I am able to create, and move, my content through the Internet.

A nobody like me can become an influencer. And that's pretty cool.  Influence has been democratized—and, with Klout, quantified.

Content Is Power

The ability to create and move content is the absolute key to influence in the online world. So think about this—to the extent that you could measure that, wouldn't you be indicating online influence?

That's what companies like Klout, Kred, and PeerIndex are attempting to do. They are finding the people who are experts at creating, aggregating, and sharing content that moves online and creates a measurable reaction. Nothing more. In the old days, we called this "buzz."

That may seem rather simple but it's actually complex, and from an academic and business point of view, a significant development.

"Influence" has been one of the most studied aspects of politics, marketing, sociology, and psychology, and yet it has never been measured in a statistically valid way on a mass scale. Until now. Creating content is an action. Having a link clicked, or a message re-tweeted, is an effect. Finally, there is something to measure. In fact, there are billions of actions and effects to measure and compare every day.

And this trend of measuring social influence is getting more sophisticated month by month. The startup company Appinions now looks for influencer data across 4.5 million sources. Klout is getting closer to developing models that demonstrate influencer impact on purchase intent. You can sort customers by Klout score on Salesforce.com and universities like Florida State, Northwestern, and NYU are incorporating Klout as a teaching tool in the classroom. Notable venture capitalists like Kleiner Perkins, David Pakman, and Michael Arrington have invested in the company.

A word of mouth revolution

For decades, companies have spent big money trying to identify and nurture word-of-mouth influencers. This is an expensive and inexact science. Klout is disintermediating and unleashing that process, at least in part, by providing almost instantaneous lists of potential brand advocates.

By dissecting and analyzing millions of pieces of social media content each day and tracking the content's movement, popularity, and reactions, the company distills your social influence to a single number between 1 and 100. It's kind of like a credit score for influence—it doesn't tell you everything about a person, but it's an indicator of how well a person can create online buzz.

From stay-at-home moms blogging about couponing to a shy L.A. web developer who tweets more than 200 times a day, a new era of citizen influencers with hefty Klout scores has emerged as a word-of-mouth force ready to post, link, and Instagram about their favorite products and services. And that is attracting the attention of major brands.

Although the technology is still in its silent film stage, some of the biggest and brightest marketers like Disney, Audi, and Nike have already incorporated Klout influencers into traditional marketing efforts. And it seems to be working. According to Klout, each influencer in one of their "Perk" programs generates an average of 30 pieces of content and millions of possible impressions. The cost per thousand impressions is low compared to other forms of advertising and, being that that ripples are generated by people who love genuinely love the brands, the impact is organic.

So while it is easy, and maybe trendy, to hate on it, Klout is becoming a legitimate channel for indexing and connecting with word-of-mouth influencers.

Cut through the noise and keep an eye on the signal. Klout and the social influence movement is on the rise.

Mark Schaefer blogs at {grow}, teaches at Rutgers University and is the author of Return On Influence, a book that examines power, influence and Klout on the social web. Follow him @markwschaefer

[Image: Flickr user Eduardo Meza Soto]

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  • Hans Peter Bech

    We do live in interesting times when a relative "nobody" can develop "influence" on an international scale at a rapid-fire pace.  When brands pay attention to influencers- not because of their wealth or even political ties- but because of the strength and breadth of their networks. Although Klout has been much maligned and has made some blunders, kudos to their willingness to try to put a measurement to this elusive "influence".  It will be interesting to watch as others jump into the fray.  

  • susan borst

    Historical importance? Not sure it's 'historical', but,... Social influence monitoring is here to stay and will only become more important, particularly with advancements in the local space with mobile.  There are many companies in the social monitoring space.  Brands/Agencies want to identify influencers.  The big issues that need to be resolved are quantified data reporting and privacy, Marketers need to know what they are getting for their money - until there are some industry accepted guidelines, it's a no-man's land.  

  • Donal O'Conghaile

    Have you considered brand activation platforms such as Smiley360, Bzzagent & House Party? These are considered much more effective at reaching influencers, creating brand advocates and actually capturing and measuring results.

  • Alanna Santini

    Just because you "Speak" doesn't mean you're "Heard" - 
    Activity does not beget influence and agree that it kills serendipitous posts.  
    Also, be sure your privacy settings are updated in Klout, folks.  

  • Steve Ardire

    Mark - good post and yes Klout is a player but your phraseology of becoming 'legitimate channel for indexing and connecting with word-of-mouth influencers' comes across a bit like aggressive hype !

    Martin - I agree with your observations on Tellagence but I'm also an advisor ;)

    Tellagence predicts behavior of relationships for better determining the right message to right people to cause a greater effect.

    Klout, Kred, PeerIndex do NOT do this.....period.

  • Brian Vellmure


    Some valid points related to the larger conversation of being able to measure and rank digital interactions. However, I disagree with the following conclusion. 

    "So while it is easy, and maybe trendy, to hate on it, Klout is becoming a legitimate channel for indexing and connecting with word-of-mouth influencers."

    Klout and others, are actually pioneering a very important topic for the next decade - perhaps the most important. However,  Klout is hamstrung by its current revenue model in order to be what it could or should be. 

    More thoughts here: http://www.brianvellmure.com/2...

  • Martin Johannsen

    Is this an article about Klout or about how much ego the author has? If you want true influence metrics and context, look at the guys from Tellagence in Portland, who actually measure connections, ripples and actions as opposed to activity. Which, despite what the awesomely-influential nobody (author) may think, is where the true future for brands lies.

  • Mark Schaefer

    Martin, I assume you have some stake or attachment to Tellagence but according to their website, the product has not even launched so it would have been difficult to include them in this article. This is getting to be a crowded space and my point in using my own story as an example is that this is an amazing time for all of us to be herd and recognized. Thank you for your comment. 

  • Awedience

    Hi Mark, your typo (herd not heard) is a wonderful Freudian slip :). Some people are nervous about the rise of the metrics companies if they themselves become the hubs of influence. An individual might be very influential but if CompanyX says he's not, then that's that. There is a real danger of us all being herded without thinking for ourselves. Chris Arnold