Under the Influence: Klout scores and their role in marketing

Many advertisers in the US have partnered with Klout to offer free perks to influencers

How influential are you on the web? Tools such as Klout and PeerIndex, which assign scores based on analysing your social media activity, cropped up a few years ago, but it is only recently that advertisers are beginning to notice. In the US, Chevrolet, amongst others, partnered up with Klout to offer free test drives to those with high scores.

At face value, this feels like an efficient way of targeting and influencing those consumers who are not only the most likely to be talking about brands, but the most likely to be listened to. One tweet from them about a brand will not only be seen by their thousands of followers, but there is a higher likelihood that the tweet will be retweeted or replied to.  This endorsement will have the added weight of not be coming from a faceless brand but a trusted voice. Further to that, the desire to get free perks will in theory encourage other people to strive to be influencers. They will make the effort to increase their score, by increasing their followers and improving their technique for getting retweets. They will themselves tweet about brands and their new followers will see (and hopefully engage) with them. A few free perks will in theory result in a huge number of impressions for a brand, all coming from trusted sources.

Unfortunately, at the moment the reality is (as Monty Munford, among others, has already pointed out), these tools are not always accurate. The algorithms differ between the tools: someone with a high score on Klout may do incredibly poorly on PeerIndex. True, they are constantly amending their algorithms, but there nevertheless seems to be large room for error, and worse, manipulation. People who want a high score know how to play the system: fake accounts spamming their followers can achieve higher scores than a real person giving less frequent, but genuine (and genuinely interesting) opinions. Even the topics of influence on Klout don’t always make much sense. Sample size of one: My personal Twitter has a tiny Klout (I keep my tweets private so my pride will survive), yet apparently I am highly influential when it comes to shopping. I have no idea how this has happened. Most of my tweets are about me making a fool of myself in airports or talking about Whoopi Goldberg yet somehow the algorithm decides that I am influential about shopping.

Even once the algorithms get sorted (or people learn how to read scores with the required pinch of salt), it all comes back to that much-quoted statistic that 90% of word of mouth is offline. It may come as a surprise to some, but not all influential people have a Twitter account (Whoopi only has hers as a way to avoid Twitfraud). Certainly, digital influence must play a large role in many brand campaigns, but Klout and PeerIndex are not tools that are relevant for all brands. Those whose core audience use social networks as an intrinsic part of their life should of course learn about these tools and how best to use them. Others, whose most influential exponents may be voicing their opinions outside of the online sphere, should not fall into the trap of assuming that unleashing a Klout campaign ticks off their desire to engage with influencers.  It is tempting to get over-excited by the prospect that there is a quantifiable way to measure influence on social media. When that measurement is still flawed, and not even relevant for many brands, we should not fall back on these measurements. We should instead continue to  use creativity and common sense to make sure these campaigns are working at their most effective.

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