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Marketers Seek Klout From Social Media Stars

August 4, 2011

A host of companies have popped up that monitor a person's effectiveness and influence on sites like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and FourSquare. Each provides a social media influence score based on a myriad of factors: the number of followers you have, the number of people you follow, and how you interact with each other.

Some -- such as Twitalyzer, PeopleBrowsr and mBlast -- are geared toward business-end users while others -- PeerIndex, Twitter Grader and Klout -- can be used for social purposes as well. The goal of all is to put some ROI behind social media efforts.

"It's very easy to use Twitter randomly, which is what a lot of people do," Twitalyzer founder Eric Peterson told pcmag.com. "But a business should be using Twitter to create some benefit for [itself]."

Klout, the leader in the space, quantifies a social media users' influence over his or her peers on Twitter and other sites in specific fields such as "sports," "politics" and "music." Users are assigned a score on a scale of 1-100, with 100 representing the widest influence based on 35 possible rankings.

According The New York Times, Klout's average score is in the high teens. A score in the 40s "suggests a strong, but niche" influence. The highest are reserved for celebrity tweeters; for example, pop star Justin Bieber scores a perfect 100.

"We're looking at all the content you create and analyzing what you're talking about," Klout founder and CEO Joe Fernandez told Billboard. "The algorithm will read your tweet and pick up mentions about music or baseball or fashion. And then we'll look at when you talk about music; does your network respond?"

Marketers appear eager to gain access to key influencers by offering "perk" packages to Klout users depending on their areas of influence. Nike, for example, offered first access to a Kobe Bryant short film to users influential in "basketball," according to Billboard. The Times noted that The Palms Hotel and Casino in Vegas is using Klout data to give highly-rated guests upgrades or tickets to Cirque du Soleil.

Besides scoring inaccuracies and bias, critics claim such services ignore other online activities like blogging as well as any offline influence.  But the biggest scare is just the scores themselves. With some already putting Klout scores on resumes, there is worry that such ratings could define future interactions.

"Now you are being assigned a number in a very public way, whether you want it or not," Mark W. Schaefer, a professor of marketing at Rutgers University, told the Times. "It's going to be publicly accessible to the people you date, the people you work for. It's fast becoming mainstream."

Discussion Questions:

Discussion Questions: How would you rate the opportunity for brands to use perks to influence influencers on social media scoring sites?  Are you at all apprehensive about the repercussions of social influence scores?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

How would you rate the opportunity for brands to use perks to influence influencers on social media scoring sites?  


Klout scores can be very useful for marketers who are looking for celebrity Tweeters to carry messages to potential buyers. However, Klout doesn't capture offline influence, which can be substantial. Implication: Klout offers part of the answer to Social Influence. Other factors need to be captured to truly rate the degree to which a person is Influential.

Using shoppers, Twitter celebrities and entertainment celebrities as media vehicles is the coming wave of marketing. "The budget and labor of marketing are shifting directly onto shoppers." - The Shopper Economy

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Liz Crawford, SVP, Strategy & Insights, Head of ShopLab, Match Drive

Currently, the technology is flawed. Just take a look at the people who Klout says "You Influence" or the people who "Influence You" and you'll see what I mean. The algorithm isn't perfect (yet).

The other fatal flaw with Klout and measures like it, is that it doesn't take into account people who are extremely influential, like social/technology authority Clay Shirky, who happen NOT to use Twitter as much as others. Despite the fact that Shirky is highly regarded and clearly influential in his field, his Klout score is only 61. Respectable but not stratospheric.

Having said that, this trend will find traction and is already being used by marketing companies in an attempt to find and reach influencers. As our ability to connect the dots of individual social graphs grows, it makes sense that influence will become more measurable, although I doubt it will ever be an exact science. True influence isn't and will never be strictly tied to social media.

Doug Stephens, President, Retail Prophet

It's always positive to move beyond popularity measures to actual influence. The trouble is that influence is subject to the methodology. To pick on Twitter scores for a moment, there are a couple issues: (1) one measure alone is not sufficient and (2) the scores need to rate response, not just awareness.

In measuring awareness, followers are a good starting point. But tweets get republished through LinkedIn, Facebook and elsewhere, so there are many more exposures than on Twitter alone. Blog mentions, searches, offline word-of-mouth (as Liz notes) and other indirect sources of awareness are caused by Twitter but occur outside the tool.

In measuring response, retweets are a good starting point. But marketers care about actions more than views. Measuring clicks on unique URLs, website visits, and actions taken on the destination site help close the loop, if they are measured over time (hint: same day is not sufficient).

More measurements are better because they enable better correlation to actual outcomes and make it harder for the system to be gamed. Ultimately the advertiser will decide what kind of awareness and response is satisfactory.

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Dan Frechtling, SVP Product and Marketing, CMO, G2 Web Services

Marketers continue to pursue an old mindset that suggests they control the message. In this case, "influencers" are the medium. What they don't understand is that social media will never be TV, radio or magazines. Social media is controlled by the receiver and not by the sender. Unless marketers realize that, they will do themselves more harm than good.

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Gene Detroyer, Professor, Independent

The notion and the motivation behind Klout are very real, worthwhile, and offers value, if the methods for analysis are accurate, and I think it's too early to know.

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David Biernbaum, Senior Marketing and Business Development Consultant, David Biernbaum Associates LLC

When it comes to influence peddling, tracking quantity without quality can lead only to a hollow metric. Outside of the celebrity sphere, these scores seem to carry little real meaning.

Just because it is easy to count a thing doesn't make the thing more important. One may well argue that a very high count of twitter followers and tweets is an indicator of how much time an individual wastes in the average day.

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James Tenser, Principal, VSN Strategies

From a communications and marketing perspective, services like Klout pinpoint influencers not solely based upon perception, but based upon performance as well. As the term "celebrity" becomes more loosely defined, everyone is defined, both online and off, by what they've done recently.

Someone who can use Twitter to capitalize on a popular story or trend (like the Central Park Cobra), earn a high Klout score for a few weeks, and then fade away. Tracking metrics like these can be incredibly powerful indicators for marketers to know where and when they make a spend, and when it's time to shift focus.

Andrew Pettit, Director of Marketing, TurnTo Networks

If "Klout" is actually a valid measurement, there could be an excellent opportunity. But some experts have already publicly doubted the real value of Klout scores, and they are probably biased in favor of people who spend much of their time on social media, which may mean they have little influence in the "real world."

Dan Berthiaume, Editor, Independent consultant

I have seen no reliable demographics for social media and therefore have little confidence in any testing or scores showing how and where to capitalize. Companies that have money to spend on IT should concentrate on data security and ease of site use to stay ahead of brand X.


Hi Tom,

Interesting piece. Thanks for mentioning our service. I think you've made an important point when you say "critics claim such services ignore other online activities like blogging as well as any offline influence." In terms of offline influence ... well there's not going to be any online influence scoring system that measures that, but that's just the nature of what we, Klout and others are doing.

But your point that other online activities are important is right on the money. We believe that the medium a person uses to exert their influence doesn't matter. What matters is the impact that they have on their target market or community. So we designed our products to look across the Web, not only at social media like Twitter and Facebook, but also across the breadth of the blogosphere (blogs, as you may know, are still read more widely and frequently than Twitter despite all the press Twitter is getting these days). We also include articles in online newspapers, magazines, trade pubs and other "traditional" online publications in our measurement, because those influencers while supplemented by social media have not been supplanted -- they still matter and they're still influential.

The other thing I would add is that topicality and context matter. A lot of influence measurement solutions assign a single homogeneous score to an influencer; which doesn't tell you much except perhaps the size of their audience. We take a very different approach, looking first at what someone writes about and then measuring influence -- so a person will have multiple scores on multiple subjects. Justin Bieber may have a "perfect" Klout score, but if you're looking for influential people writing about, for example, mobile gaming apps, he's probably not the person you need to follow or engage in your marketing campaign. By searching as we do, by topic first, you'll find dozens of people with the right mix of topicality and "raw" influence who in fact are influential on the subject you're interested in. A single score will never give you that.

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

Gary Lee, CEO, mBLAST

Finding advocates is clearly an exciting opportunity for marketers. These new services clearly don't deliver the panacea on this.

However, I am looking forward to the mindset shift this will drive around focusing on important customers and "rewarding the behaviors you seek." I'm also looking forward to the possibilities that combining these new data sources could provide.

Matthew Keylock, Senior Vice President, New Business Development and Partnerships, dunnhumbyUSA

Understanding social influence and your consumers' power to extend the reach of your brand and increase purchase intent (conversely damage your brand reputation) is the next generation measurement for valuing your customer database. RFM measurements and CLV (customer lifetime value) are no longer enough to tier and reward segments.

Now you need to take into consideration social influence. Using a company such as Klout to identify high value customers with the power to influence (such as the Palm in Las Vegas has done upon check in) is a great way to start.

Yet, we need to remember this is merely a propensity score. Just because someone has the ability to talk about your brand doesn't mean they will. And just because they may talk about your brand doesn't necessarily mean their hundreds/thousands of followers will listen. What really matters is actual behavior. Brands need to start connecting their CRM database to the social space. They need to start tracking behavior and creating their own scores and factor in influence, engagement and the ultimate measure: customer purchases (i.e., sales)!

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Phil Rubin, CEO, rDialogue

The biggest challenge I find with colleagues and clients is getting them to regularly engage in the social atmosphere. Everyone is looking for social media ROI. Social business: Monetization of social media. These great, free tools are wonderful. However, too many people are looking for sales leads to come from their activity. Social media needs to be looked at as simply a tool, itself, to be utilized with other tools, including whitepapers, solution briefs, etc., to drive industry eminence. Period.

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Ralph Jacobson, Global Retail Industry Analytics Marketing Executive, IBM

Here's one more number for marketers and consumers to evaluate. My question is, how often does Klout update their rankings?

Odonna Mathews, President, Odonna Mathews Consulting

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