Explainer: Klout

Like Kleenex and BandAid, Klout the brand has become synonymous with online social influence measuring services. In addition to Klout, there are a slew of new services that generate some version of a social influence grade. What do these scores mean? Are they important to consumers? To marketers and advertisers? Here is what you need to know about online social influence measurements like Klout.

What it is: Klout evaluates Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook users’ behavior using algorithms and content analysis in order to generate a social influence score, 0-100. On Twitter, Klout’s influence score is based on a user’s ability to drive action, that is, responses, re-tweets and clicks on links. On Facebook, Klout measures likes, comments and clicks. The company has recently added LinkedIn to the arsenal of sites that it evaluates to determine users’ range and sphere of influence. Klout insists the measure is more than just who has the most followers, although that’s clearly a driving factor of those with high influence scores. Once users with a wide reach are identified, brands reward those users with experiences, including movie screenings, freebies and other experiences that Klout hopes, they will then tweet about.

Why it matters: Until very recently, social influence, although of incalculable value in brand building, was hard to quantify and almost always emanated from those in the public eye — celebrities, politicians, local movers and shakers. Now just plain folks, albeit technologically savvy just plain folks, can achieve some measure of notoriety by building a large and active online following using social media.

Who’s doing it: Even though Klout has jumped to an early lead in the social influence space, other companies are coming at the category from new directions. In late April, OneRiot launched a service that uses social influence to deliver mobile ads to those consumers most likely to respond. According to the company’s blog, it employs social influence metrics to assist brands in moving beyond location-based marketing or platform information (for instance, sending a Volvo ad to every iPhone user in Chicago) toward a more targeted and tailored approach (sending a Volvo ad to every married woman, aged 25-45 with 2 children in Chicago). PeerIndex and Twitlyzer also provide social influence report cards along the same lines as Klout’s.

Assessment: The science behind Klout and the other services in this space remains murky. They do a pretty good job of sorting and assessing a Twitter (or Facebook, or LinkIn) user’s reach. Beyond that, the question is what that reach is good for is not clear. Because the tweeting world is chock full of users who, for whatever reason, have set out to acquire as many followers as they can, there is sometimes a disconnect between the number of followers a user has and the actual influence he or she wields. Both Charlie Sheen and the now re-incarcerated cobra that escaped from the Bronx Zoo last month have extraordinarily high Klout scores. But is unlikely that brands want to pay to be associated with either the snake or the boa. Users with large followings are only useful if their followers trust them. And that trust quickly dissipates when it becomes apparent that users are selling their influence to the highest bidder. The challenge for marketers is to find that users who have genuine enthusiasm for specific products or services and develop a relationship with those users.


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