Thursday, December 02, 2010

The Numbers Don't Add Up: Popularity Doesn't Equal Influence

The golden ring in public relations and social media is influence and reach. It's something that has been worked on for eons and why measurement and all that magic (including sentiment - in particular sentiment) occasionally plays front and center in public relations.

This has been the way long before social media came onto the scene (the gentler times of PR). It's why there are those rules of thumb - circulation is one number, readership is 2.5 times circulation (it's the pass-along thought, as well as the word of mouth play-in). It's why analysts are pre-briefed and key reporters are given exclusives, and why news is embargoed: PR is reaching out to the key influencers in media and making sure the analysts that are called know the full story.

It's what PR is about, at the end of the day.

And now it's what social media is about. It's about reaching the right people, but how do you know who those people really are?

That's the hole that Klout is trying to fill. There's a lot of discussion on Klout nowadays - from the lack of transparency by Klouters (despite Klout's very good transparency policy), to the questioning about their numbers (heard very often that the database isn't kept up-to-date so numbers are both too high and too low for some), to some flat out love for the service.

I talked to Klout a few months ago to get a better handle on what they consider Klout and how it overall plays in the influence game - and (personal interest), how does Klout translate into relationships and community for the brands that engage with Klout.

Klout itself is based on engagment, volume of mentions, and retweets, particularly who the people are that are retweeting you. Klout may seem skewed to social media people and geographic location, but as the network grows, it will likely even out and show influence beyond the circle.

Per Klout, the average score is 11. If a person is getting above 20, it says that you are using Twitter (social media?) pretty well, and 30 is really well, while above 50 is a social media "celebrity".

It IS a pretty good system for corporations that want to engage people on Twitter. And we've seen the brands that have used Klout for campaigns - Virgin America, Fox, Covergirl, Starbucks, Disney, Audi - and I'm sure there are others. The brands are getting an easy-to-use system to engage a bunch of "influencers" on Twitter (and Facebook) through Klout. It's a win-win-win for everyone involved ... in a way.

But besides Audi (kudos to Audi for this one), the brands seem to drop any community engagement or building after the Klout engagement. And while it might depend on what each brand is looking for, it seems to be a waste for them to not even follow the Twitter accounts that, well, participate in Klout campaigns. This isn't a failure on Klout's part, but a big lack of understanding that social media isn't Klout alone, and not a drive-by thing. It should be about community building, but the brands aren't engaging. And while Audi followed me post-Klout tweet (well, a few days later), I don't feel that engaged with them.

Taking a step back, I like Klout. I like the idea of Klout, but it's obvious that its clients don't get the bigger idea of building relationships that stem from these engagements (I've never heard from FOX post-Lone Star), nor from Virgin America. Brands - or internal people - are using the tool that Klout has built and do one-off campaigns that are just blips for the brands. Is this because the campaigns are buckshot instead of laser focused? Per Klout, campaigns can be very specific, and they do know what topics people care about ... so Klout campaigns could be germane for the people. When I see people that are getting invited to events that aren't appropriate and make no sense, you have to question what is going on.

There are some issues I have with Klout is that I look at some of the people that have high Klout scores and would never take recommendations from them. As one person pointed out to me, the numbers don't seem to add up at times. While my Klout score is 8 less than his, and 16 lower than a mutual friend of ours, my "true reach" is 2.5 times more than his and five times greater than the other people. It seems a disconnect.

And while I applaud Klout for adding Facebook (and soon LinkedIn) to it's algorithm, is that really the right thing to do? Twitter is a conversation and with a large group of people you may or may not know. Facebook is supposed to be people you really know (I'm slowly culling my friendships on Facebook to real friendships - such as people I have at least met and talk to); while you have a real greater influence on, well, real friends, too many people just add people on Facebook. Is that real influence? And, as for LinkedIn, that number is for people you've actually, well, networked and worked with (in my opinion); how does that go into influence, unless you're speaking about work recommendations.

The issue of looking at Twitter numbers is that you REALLY need to look at Twitter numbers. If it's a 1:1 following, you have to wonder if the person is following every person that follows him or her. What value is that there, when it's not really going to ever be a conversation? Or you have to wonder if that person is a number collector, adding as many people as possible to game the system and then unfollowing them. Does that person have much value as an influencer? Likely not, they are just gaming the systems to get free stuff.

And that's the issue with social media - many of these people that you know in social networks are pseudo-relationships, not people you would take REAL advice from on purchases, especially a large purchase. Too many people in social media - especially gurus - are in the pay me mindset, looking for as much free stuff out there as possible. These are shnorrs that bring no value to any brands, but looking for freebies.

There's a reason that, as a PR person, I go to consumer electronics reporters and bloggers when launching a program, as well as certain bloggers. While the product might have wider appeal, I go to those influencers that I know have the widest reach (such as Walt Mossberg with the mainstream world or Robert Scoble in the online world).

Now, full disclosure, I've played with Klout and got a cool gift bag from FOX for Lone Star (didn't help it from being the first cancelled show of the season), was invited to the Virgin America to Toronto flight (a "free" ticket that would have cost me about $90) and just got invited to go drive an Audi A8 (and those that know me know I hate driving and am one of the few LA people that doesn't own a car). So add that all up about my Klout and targeted campaigns...
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