The following is a guest post from Jennifer Leggio, a Forbes social media blogger and raconteur. Find more about Jennifer here: http://about.me/mediaphyter
I'll be the first to admit that I once called out social influence measurement to be, as they scientifically say, a bunch of hooey. After the deluge of self-proclaimed social media "gurus" in 2007-2008, I couldn't help but be skeptical. These influence measurement tools started as simple lists of users by network size and eventually grew to services like HubSpot's fun yet vapid TweetGrader. So, it's not surprising that when Klout was first introduced, I met it with the same eye-rolling skepticism that I gave to the others. "This is likely fun," I said to myself. "But probably not much more."
I feared what a lot of other cynics feared - yet another "popularity" tool for the social media “guru” squads to tout their own awesomeness. Over several months I watched people take advantage of the perks and post about their scores until curiosity got the best of me. Sure, I'll admit that it was fun to go in and see how my score would shift based on how often (or not) I used a social network. And, I did enjoy my mockery of Klout's ill-fitted influence topics (for example, Klout currently believes I am influential about oatmeal. I'm awaiting an offer from Quaker any day now, but I digress…). However, that does not mean that influence measurement tools are without merit, especially in today’s booming social business landscape. So, the question becomes: Was I wrong to be cynical or was I right to want them to do more? The answer is an ambiguous “yes.”
Remember the whole ROI and social media debacle? Sure you do, it’s still going. Companies were clamoring for proof of ROI for their social business investment, while the same merry band of social media “gurus” screamed, "What? Can't hear you! Social media is intangible!"
What does this have to do with influence measurement? Just hang in a bit longer. The foundation underneath both the influence and ROI debates is fear. In the ROI debate, people who truly didn't understand social business were trying to justify their existences. A common thread might be, "You can't measure this, but look at how many LIKES we got today?" and then, immediately cue the knees knocking and the teeth chattering. With influence measurement, you have the same fear. A common thread here might be, "You can't measure influence. Klout says my score is only 30, but really, I am way more popular because I go to tweet-ups." Narcissism notwithstanding, remove the fear and we can shine a spotlight on an activity that's not only growing in popularity because people can get free stuff, but because companies are starting to demand it, much like they started to demand social media ROI.
Because so many companies want to see results for their output and the right kind of influenced action, social media marketers who ignore influence measurement will do so at their own peril. The days of “we got 100 random retweets!” as a milestone are, thankfully, gone. Don’t agree? I liken this to a good public relations strategy. In the olden days of PR, any news coverage could be considered helpful. If Bob’s News Magazine Weekly Times Post ran a direct duplicate of a press release, some PR folks might’ve cheered. PR agencies would pack clip books full of these types of posts. The days of “we got 100 random stories!” are gone. Companies want targeted, meaningful, third party discussions of their wares in the media. The same goes for social. And unlike publications where circulation and readership (though sometimes debatable metrics in their own right) dictate reach, influencers don’t come with their own numbers. Services like Klout and Sulia and others exist to help make sense of all of the madness.
All of this said, there are some critical considerations:
1) Topical Influence – There is no “general” influencer. While measurement is helpful to companies, not any ol’ influencer will do. If Quaker is going to push a new flavor of oatmeal then, according to Klout, I am their gal. While my overall score might be decent and I am influential on breakfast choices, this doesn’t mean that I should be targeted for holiday gift guides (pet peeve alert). Just as you would with a reporter, target the ones who have the audience that give a hoot about what you’re selling.
2) Immature Market – The influence measurement market is still bouncing around in its jumper swing. Much like any market in its infancy, it needs time to grow and improve. Klout and Sulia are moving quickly toward more accurate topical influence but they aren’t there yet. And, that doesn’t mean they can’t be undone by a newcomer with a better, or even simply better marketed, offering (case-in-point: Groupon). For example, Kred has recently popped up, and they tout the ability to determine where you fit into a range of communities (aka topical influence). The challenge here is that they base a lot of this on Twitter bios (mine says hockey, but I am not influential there) and they also share how scores were determined, so the bumbling group of social media “gurus” could try to game it. Is Kred the company to knock Klout from its pedestal? I have no idea. However, we need to give Klout, Kred, Sulia and others time to mature this market the way that we gave social networks time to grow into business vehicles.
3. Influencers Are a Rascally Bunch - They vary by industry and preference. It’s important to note that an influencer doesn’t need to be the most popular kid at camp. He or she only needs to be influential to a focused audience (aka topical influencers). And, right or wrong, influencers can be bought. Algorithms can’t always determine what is, for example, a sponsored tweet versus a heartfelt one. These can work in certain situations, but this is a critical consideration when weighing influence targets for promotions or outreach.
4. Size is Not Everything - It’s been debunked over and over, but I’ll say it again. A network size does not always indicate the right level of influence. Influence inspires a new type of action, and that action is harder to measure beyond the initial click. Relationships are much more critical to influence measurement than actual network size. Influence measurement needs become more dynamic and contextual to truly help us get past this “more followers equals more amazing!” mindset. Again, it’s a young market, and in time size will become less relevant, and context will become more critical.
Here’s where I tell you in a few sentences what I just rambled about above: influence measurement, in all of its grand imperfection, is not going anywhere. It will improve, it will become more critical, and your clients or executives are soon going to demand it. Rather than laughing it off or denying it based on fear, start playing around with it, determine the good pieces and how you can take those bits and feed them into a true social business strategy. If not, the merry band of social media “gurus” awaits, and I hear that their membership requirements aren’t discerning at all.