Natalie Brandweiner examines the social influence measuring tools available - and asks whether they hold the key to influencer marketing.
While the concept of steering marketing communications towards a small number of influential networkers was suggested as far back as the 1950s, it has been in the age of Web 2.0 that it has truly taken flight.
As social networks continued to grow rapidly, so has interest in influence. Global companies are realising the importance of targeting high profile bloggers, journalists and celebrities, and have increasingly sought to reach out to these influencers for endorsement and to drive word-of-mouth about the brand.
But FMCG brands like Snickers can easily identify popular celebrity bloggers, businesses in other fields can have a harder task to find relevant influencers. To cater for this, a new wave of influencer scoring, based on social media analytics, has emerged, most notably Klout, Kred and PeerIndex.
"Identifying who wields influence has lately become a hot topic of considerable proportions in marketing, PR and comms teams the world over," says Dan Purvis from the Meltwater Group. "As with most things in life, where there is demand there will surely be supply, and consequently there’s no shortage of people who want to appear to have influence and a growing trade in tools to tell you who has it."
So what do you need to know about these tools - and are they of any use?
Klout was the first major social influence measurement tool on the scene. Joe Fernandez founded the San Francisco-based company in 2008 after surgery wired his jaw shut for three months. Fernandez spent the time communicating with people via social media and became interested in the notion of influence on social networks.
Klout measures your influence based on your ability to produce action from your activity, and measures:
- ‘True reach’ - the number of people you influence such as the people who are acting on your content. When you post a message, these people tend to respond or share it.
- ‘Amplification’- When you post a message, how many people respond to it or spread it further?
- ‘Network’ – the influence of people within your ‘true reach’, such as how often top influencers respond to or share your content.
The site then assigns each user with a score that determines your overall influence with the average being 20, according to Klout. To compare, Justin Bieber is the highest rated influencer with a Klout score of 100. The longest-standing online influence measuring tool, Klout scrapes data from more social networks – including Foursquare, Y ouTube and Instagram – than any other tool.
Additionally, the site determines the topics that you are most influential, based on analysing the type of content you produce and others’ engagement. Klout will automatically designate topics as well as allowing Klout users to suggest topics for themselves and others. You can also help boost the score of your peers by giving someone a +K to acknowledge that they have influenced you.
So what’s the point of having a Klout score for brands and users? Rather than name top influencers to brands, Klout works by offering brands the opportunity to give ‘Klout perks’ to influencers. In 2010, Virgin Airlines partnered with Klout to give top influencers free round trip flights from Toronto to San Francisco or Los Angeles, expecting nothing in return. The Palms Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas also used the analytics measuring site to create ‘The Klout Klub’, offering superior influencers additional amenities without expecting any returns.
Launched in 2011, Kred is relatively new and rather than measuring users on scores, ranks according to ‘influence’ (when others retweet, reply or follow you) and ‘outreach level’ (when users reply, retweet or follow a new person or list).
So how does it differ to Klout? Well, unlike Klout, Kred provides a breakdown of your activity and updates your Kred score in real-time, rather than daily. Additionally, Kred lets users add offline ‘real world achievements’ that add points to your score depending on factors such as size of company, timescales and certificates. Similarly to Klout, Kred also uses a +Kred system for you to reward your peers.
Kred also places users in communities based on twitter bios and the hashtags and keywords from users’ posts. Each community receives a Kred score and Kred users that have shown particular leadership in their community are named ‘Kred Leaders’. Kred markets to brands by providing them with a list of Twitter users who are most influential in these communities.
PeerIndex is another social ranking site, founded in 2009. The site breaks down users’ scores according to authority – based on how others rely on your recommendations and opinion in general, audience – based on the size of your audience compared to others, and activity – based on how much you do related to the topic communities you are part of. The use of topics means users can search for top influencers in each category to easily discern who has most authority in the subject matter you’re searching. But unlike Klout, PeerIndex only scrapes data from Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Quora.
The PeerIndex dashboard shows a topic fingerprint graph to show your influence in each topic, as well as a graph to compare yourself to other users you know.
The holy grail?
And there are other tools with similar properties available as well - such as PROSkore, Identified and Twitalyzer. So the question is, are these tools really the holy grail of identifying your brand's key influencers? And if so, how do you decide which one to use?
Klout has certainly had its detrators in recent times. But much of the criticism levelled at it, is just as relevant to the other tools. For instance, in a recent blog post about Klout, Chris Bucholtz argued that it fails to do what it's supposed to because it tries to automate the idea of influence, which is a supremely human thing.
"It’s not just the volume of re-Tweets that indicates influence – it’s the impact they have on those that receive them, the timing of their reception, and ultimately whether or not the cause someone to behave differently," he wrote. "Without those admittedly hard to measure factors involved, Klout becomes a popularity contest.
"For instance, the very influential analyst Ray Wang of Constellation Research has a score of 60. Paul Greenberg, the most influential voice in CRM, has a 54. Comedian Norm MacDonald has a 64. Snooki from “Jersey Shore” has an 86. The squirrel that ran on the field during the National League playoffs has a 27, perhaps being chased by the Cobra that escaped from the Bronx Zoo in 2010. That reptile has a score of 57. So, according to Klout, a venomous serpent has more influence than the author of CRM at the Speed of Light."
Bucholtz adds: "While comparing Klout scores is a nifty little social-era parlor game, making decisions based solely on a Klout score is a terrible idea."
An incomplete view
Others have argued that such tools can have useful applications, provided they are not used in isolation, as this will only provide an incomplete view of the customer.
“The folks at Klout have done a good service to the industry, but I must warn against blind enthusiasm to note that a single metric is not sufficient," wrote analyst Jeremiah Owyang in a recent blog post. "In fact, a single metric, like Klout’s 100 point scoring system applies well for Absolute influence (global influence) [but] it’s unable to provide Relative influence, or influence related to a specific market.”
Nathan Murphy from social media monitoring company Repskan argues that the problem with these tools is that they are heavily dependant on very basic Twitter metrics, such as ratios between number of followers and follows.
He says: "This gives a very basic indication of 'influence' but is also very easily manipulated and does not take into account what they are influential about. We see it that there are two types of 'influence'; world influence and sector influence.
"World influence can be based on various statistics based on your follower, connections and perhaps more importantly your reach. Reach could be looking at which publications an influencer contributes to or produces. Sector influence is taking where these world metrics but applies it in a sector specific way - how many follower and connections are relevant to your industry, how relevant is their blog, or sites they feature on, to your sector?"
He concludes: "To find influencers in this way requires looking at all the relevant sites/blogs/people in a particular sector and understanding how they connect with each other; in a way doing a mini-google on a sector database of websites and individual mentions. This way you can discover a much more accurate picture of which individuals are influential in your industry."
Useful but limited?
Influence expert Paul Gillin, author of New Influencers: A Marketer's Guide to the New Social Media, believes that all of the influence measuring tools are useful but ultimately limited.
He says: "I believe all those tools have value - but also significant limitations. They all do a reasonably good job of measuring someone's ability to drive response in public online channels like Twitter and blogs. If you want an algorithmic approach to measuring influence within a very limited domain, they're useful."
But he adds: "Depending on the context, influence has many dimensions, and the ability to attract retweets is not the same as the ability to drive decisions. The best example of this is celebrities. Movie stars and athletes may have large and enthusiastic followings, but that doesn't make them influential about what car to buy or pair of jeans to own.
"Influence is partly the ability to drive awareness and get recognition, but it is also a function of credibility, expertise and the ability to convince people to make decisions. In many situations, salespeople are the most important influencers of decisions, but they may not have any presence in social media."
He concludes: "Like most things, the answer is situational. For consumer companies with mass audiences, the factors measured by Klout and PeerIndex are probably pretty good indicators of a person's ability to create awareness. For B2B companies, you need to look entirely outside of those areas. Analysts, media, peers, resellers, government officials, regulators and even academics can be far more influential than anyone in social media."