This post was written and published on Huffington Post.
Measurement platforms that say they measure influence are misleading their users. Even though they wrap it up in pretty marketing talk, Klout, Kred and others, are really charging customers for a measurement based on popularity, not influence. Influence is the power to sway and the ability to change behavior. There are nuances involved like novelty, creativity, attractiveness and mattering that can’t be boiled down to simple formulas and equations. Yet that is precisely what many of these measurement tools attempt to do.
Measuring online influence is not an exacting science springing forth from today’s social media vehicles, even though that’s what Klout tells you. They’re using a façade of what’s happening today to cover up the simple fact that influence has existed for centuries and can’t be measured as easily as they state. In fact Klout, Kred and the other tools work very hard to make us believe that the awareness they are measuring is equal to influence.
Kred says they measure the influence of community, which would be nice if this were really true, but it’s not. Kred assigns a community to a user based only on data found in the user's twitter profile. So, for example, if users include the phrase “Social Media” in their profile, Kred automatically assigns them to the Social Media Community. Not all communities are available at Kred either, and you have no ability to suggest forming new ones. If there is a phrase that is crucial to your success and they don’t have a community for it, you’re out of luck.
Kred also looks at who you’re talking to or engaging with on Twitter, which can be a bit trickier. For example, you may subscribe to a mothering blog because a friend writes it, but haven’t put anything in your profile that you are a mother because you don’t want that included in your professional persona. But just because you engage with people on Twitter who blog about motherhood, you are put into this community by default. This is not what really defines a community; it merely gives an indication of interest. There are three major faults with what Klout, Kred and the others are doing:
there doesn’t seem to be the broader perspective of what true influence really is;
as a result of this lack of understanding, they retro-fitted existing awareness data to form a psuedo-definition of influence; and
their tools, which are subject to easy manipulation, are lacking in validity and conceptual rigor.
So What DO They Measure?
Despite the fact that these tools operate under a false definition of influence, they do have some usefulness…if you understand what they are really measuring:
KLOUT: This tool is helpful for one reason…topics, but don’t let their topic information mislead you into thinking a person is influential on that topic. Use their topics only to understand how people are interested in different subjects. It can also be helpful to look into the activity breakdown to determine if a person is spending more time on Twitter, Facebook or Google+. But here again, knowing how users are instructed to game the system by Klout itself, this data should be used with a grain of salt.
KRED: This is a real time measurement tool using the last thousand days of activity so users can see a person in action, as opposed to Klout, where scores only change once a day. It’s extremely transparent as well. If you know their scoring system, you can see the activity of every user. Kred has two scores – influence and outreach. Completely ignore their influence score because it is based solely on the number of tweets, RTs, @s and number of followers. But their outreach score can be quite interesting as it gives some indication of how engaged the user is. Just be sure to verify if this engagement is unique and not automated activity. Their Leadership Boards are great tool for developing and discovering the engagers in social space who are talking about products or brands. The Leadership boards are custom made using the hashtag. They are available to brands on request.
TRAACKR: This is a great contextual tool with a decent algorithm, but it still feels like there is something fishy here. They are expensive and slow, and you need to use at least twenty keywords, which is just too time-consuming and unnecessary. They advertise that they help you “find influencers who impact your bottom line,” but when asked about it, their answer is: “it is better to give our users the ability to do it themselves.” This sounds somewhat like buying a car without an engine, and the car manufacturer asking buyers to build and handle the most vital part of the car themselves.
On the other hand, Appinions seems to get the closest in considering influencers for two main reasons. First, there is no direct contact – since consumers can’t just log in and check their score, it is almost impossible to game a score. Second, they measure the source of influence versus the number of retweets, tweets, links and so on. This is the tool that better approaches providing some indication of influence.
WHAT’S A MARKETER TO DO?
These so-called influence measurement tools define influence as something that is all warm and fuzzy, and easy to measure, instead of acknowledging that the real meaning of influence is concrete and stronger. In fact they ignore core elements of influence that don’t fit neatly into their score: power, changing behaviors, advantage, authority, effect on people, and benefit.
Instead of measuring awareness and masking it as popularity, as Klout and Kred do, what we need to do is measure the person’s “affect” and “effect” on others – how they motivate others to do things and what that’s worth to a brand or business. This takes an understanding of the bifurcated nature of influence (influencer and receiver) as well as how culture drives people’s behavior and actions. So instead of just gathering statistics, let’s gather data that is meaningful and useful.
Marketers need to develop a robust conceptualization of influence within the context of social media so they don’t have to rely solely on the definitions provided by Klout, Kred and other tools. Only then can we really begin to develop possible alternative ways to formulate these components into a valid influence measurement tool.
So there you have it, the unspoken truth of what the measurement tools are actually measuring. Marketers today are wasting too much time, effort and money trying to find social media influencers using these tools without really understanding what influence is. Although these tools can help point you in the right direction, be sure to look before you leap into the social media universe. Don’t just believe the hype they are giving you. Think twice before basing your social media strategy on information obtained from Kred or Klout, and make sure you understand what they really do measure.
To learn more details on Influence Measurement Tools I strongly recommend to read The Realtime Report's Guide to Influence Measurement Tools.
As a matter of full disclosure: I am serving in an unpaid, advisory position to Kred as a "Kred Leader." I have no affiliation agreement for The Realtime Report's Guide to Influence Measurement Tools mention in this post. The opinions stated in this post belong solely to me.