Have measurement tools like Klout really made influencer marketing easier than ever or are they fundamentally flawed? Given unique access to Klout and its customers, Mark Schaefer reveals all about the influence measurement tool.
“Target the influencers, and you can move the crowd” – a simple mantra that rather glosses over one tiny problem: identifying influencers in the first place is not straightforward.
To address this problem, around five years ago advertising agencies created E-scores and Q-scores for celebrities to approximate influence so that they could decide which athlete/model/actor, etc to use in their campaigns.
However, a combination of wide spread access to high speed internet and free easy-to-use publishing tools like Facebook and Twitter, has changed ‘influence’ forever. No longer is influence the sole preserve of the famous. Influence has been democratised.
This has pros and cons for brands. On the one hand, the balance of power has shifted towards consumers, with disgruntled customers able to wreak havoc with a company’s reputation. On the other hand, however, it opens up a world of opportunity.
“Some of the other traditional avenues for marketing and advertising are drying up, so we have to consider what are new marketing channels that we can take advantage of,” explains Mark Schaefer, consultant, blogger at the acclaimed www.businessesGROW.com and author of new book ‘Return on Influence’.
“Authentic advocacy is a powerful advantage. So instead of taking out an advertisement in a newspaper saying ‘we have the most delicious sandwiches in town’, think of the power of an influencer sitting in your restaurant tweeting about how delicious the food is there, or taking a picture of the sandwich and putting it on Instagram or Facebook. That is many times more effective and cost-effective than advertising.”
And just as advertising agencies worked to create E-scores and Q-scores to measure influence in the pre-social media world, so a raft of new tools have emerged that assess billions of pieces of content to quantify how successful people are at generating online buzz. These include Kred, PeerIndex and Klout. Unsurprisingly, businesses are all over these measurements as they seek to organically find influential people who love their brands, or influential consumers that they can turn on to their products/services.
In many cases, these engagements spare no expense - Virgin Airlines, for instance, partnered with Klout to give top influencers free round trip flights from Toronto to San Francisco or Los Angeles, while The Palms Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas created ‘The Klout Klub’ to provide influencers with additional amenities.
A waste of time and money?
But there are some that are not convinced that using Klout as the basis of influencer marketing is such a clever idea. There are those that believe providing perks to Klout-recognised influencers could be wasting your brand’s valuable money.
Critics have pointed to the fact that it doesn’t make its scoring algorithms public, and that its data is not audited by any outside authority for accuracy. Others have suggested that it is open to being ‘gamed’ by those looking to exploit the system. And at a fundamental level, there has been objection to the very idea that social influence can be calculated at all in a meaningful way.
Having had exclusive access to Klout and its customers during work on his new book, Schaefer has had a unique glimpse behind the curtain. And he believes that many of the criticisms levelled at the influence measurement tool are wide of the mark.
For a start, he says, the likes of Klout, Kred and PeerIndex have been transparent about the fact that they do not measure all of influence, and never will, so businesses need to check their expectations accordingly.
“It is important to recognise exactly what these companies do, because fundamentally they all do the same thing, and that is they try to measure how well your content – blog posts, ideas, photographs, videos, coupons – moves through the internet and how people react to it,” he explains.
“You can measure whether your content has been tweeted and retweeted, has your link been clicked, have people commented on your blog. These are all discrete things that we can measure that indicate buzz. But that is the only thing they are doing, it is the only thing they are measuring. So all of these companies are looking at one sliver of influence, not all influence, and they never will. Therefore, you have to be rational about what are really looking at.
“Each of these companies is differentiating themselves in their own way, but fundamentally they all do the same thing – and they are doing it increasingly well and increasingly accurately. And that is what brands need to understand.”
Is the system gaming you?
As for suggestions that these tools are open to manipulation, and that people are able to ‘game the system’ to improve their influence scores, Schaefer reveals that he conducted his own experiments into this as part of his book.
“We don’t know exactly what is in the secret formulas to determine these social scores but there is enough academic research out there to know what strings to pull to make these strings go up,” he explains. “I identified three different things you could do to make the scores go up and contacted a friend of mine to try this out. He was very excited about this opportunity to show that Klout is nothing but a game and is just a meaningless number.
“So he followed this recommendation and in 45 days he increased his Klout score by 30 points and he was very happy because he believed he had shown that this can be gamed. But then I asked him: are you more influential? And he paused and he said, yes I am. Because the steps he had to take involved creating an engaged audience, sharing content that would move through the system, starting a blog, creating interesting compelling provocative content, and he knew for people to share his content he had to share other people’s content so he was connecting and helping and being nice to people.
“These are all the things you would do anyway! So anybody who wants to have a more effective web presence should do all of those things. That’s all he was doing – he was just following best practice. The irony was that in order to ‘game the system’ you have to become more influential in the long run. So perhaps the system is gaming you!”
Return on influence
And there is a final nail in the coffin for the naysayers, according to Schaefer - brands are actually able to demonstrate the value of using Klout for influencer marketing because its return on investment is measurable.
He explains: “A traditional measure of advertising success is cost per impression. But if you take out a magazine ad or a billboard, what is the cost per impression? How do you really know? The nice thing about the social web is that everything is measurable. The problem isn’t getting data - the problem is identifying the right data. There is so much data coming at us that there is no excuse not to measure this. In terms of traditional measures, cost per impression, the finding is just as good if not better than traditional advertising.
“What is happening next is that they are actually beginning to assign a precise dollar value on influencers, because they can see patterns. For instance, let’s say there is a blogger that is passionate about music and they see these patterns that when he blogs about a certain artist his friends go out and buy their music over and over again. So now these record companies can put a dollar value on him, and nurture him as an advocate in the hope of creating awareness and buzz about artists and the company.”
He adds: “It is highly measurable and I think that is one of the things that is so appealing to companies because this return on influence will translate into a return on investment.”
Klout and its rivals will undoubtedly continue to have their critics, and the tools and the fundamental ideas propping them up will attract a certain amount of flak. But Schaefer believes that smart businesses should refrain from cynicism and embrace the opportunity to have easy access to such valuable information.
“Finding these powerful word of mouth influencers has been taking place since medieval times - since the very first marketplaces you knew that if you could get people who were respected and liked to advocate your product you were going to sell more. What is different now is that we can begin to find these influencers.”
He adds: “Advertising agencies have been trying to come up with their own formulas to find these influencers and it is a labour intensive and expensive process. This is basically disintermediating that. It is creating algorithms to do the work for you. And there are now mathematical models to do the difficult and expensive work so that lists of influencers are a lot more accessible.”