In Defence Of Influence Metrics

Updated on January 26, 2014

Is Klout getting a bum rap, spitefully pilloried in critical commentary such as my post on November 12 on opting out of Klout? Guest author Tammy Kahn Fennell believes that services like Klout and PeerIndex deserve fairer assessment.

Let me open with this. I am not invested in any influence score company. My company, MarketMeSuite integrates with Klout and Peer Index as one of about 20 other integrations. And we also have the option to turn off influence entirely.  I am writing this because from where I’m standing, influence (specifically Klout) is being given a bad name not because of what it measures, but because how the company profits from it. I thought it was time to think long and hard about whether we want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Neville was nice enough to give me a chance to post an opposing viewpoint to his “Out of Klout” article. Thanks Neville.

Let’s look at the facts of recent events:

Klout made an announcement they were shifting their algorithm to focus less on how much you post, and more on how engaging you are.

They gave people a week’s notice for this.

A couple of weeks ago a whole lot of people woke up to realize they were a fair bit less influential than they were the day before.

Whenever there’s a big change, it causes people to re-evaluate. And when an algorithm shift “disses” a whole bunch of people and flat out says “you’re less cool than you thought,” people can get a little angry.

Anger Turns To Spite

But what I’ve seen happen goes beyond anger. What I’ve seen happen is that people have turned incredibly spiteful toward influence metrics.  Now, if you think it’s a load of BS and that there’s really no way to measure or rank, then fine, I’ll leave you in peace. But what I’m striving to put to rest is the ambiguity around whether people are attacking influence metrics themselves, or just Klout. Neville pointed out in a comment reply to me that he doesn’t feel the same about Peer Index, because he feels the company is run by a nice group of people and that may be true.The folks over at PI are very nice, that’s for sure, but, when my PI score and Klout score are within points of each other, one can’t help but wonder if the metric is actually correct, and that people are condemning influence as a metric because they have it in for one company, Klout.

(As an aside, I have spoken to the folks at Klout and have never found them to be the Ogres they are being painted as, but that’s not the point of this article. We must not judge usefulness on how much we like people in the company, but on whether it is actually useful.)

Saving Time

Could I do a lot of what Klout and Peer Index do on my own? Sure. I can go ahead and check out fan pages, see how engaged they seem, look at follower to following ratio, see how often they tweet… but I’m a busy person. I work full time and have a two year old at home. I rely on metrics to help me do things faster.

Here’s how I use it…

Someone contacts me to do some kind of joint promotion or guest blog. I have a quick glance at influence.  I then jump over to their site, have a quick look at Alexa ranking, and Google Page Rank.  And it’s the combination of these things that gives me an idea of their reach. I have created ‘tranches’. It’s not the exact score or rank, but more just basic levels. Less than 20 Klout, over a million on Alexa, page rank of 1 or less… probably not a lot of reach.  Over 40, under 100,000, PR of 3 or higher, now we’re talking.

Could they be more forthcoming?

Sure, I suppose Klout, PeerIndex, and any other metric that pops up could be more forthcoming with what goes into their algorithms. Wouldn’t it be great if Google was? But, when you think about it, an algorithm is really the “secret sauce” for those companies, so I think I’ll forgive them for not sharing every ingredient.

I’ll also hasten to add: THEY ARE NOT PERFECT. I am the first to say that there are inaccuracies. For a few weeks I was influential on Klout in “lightning” because of an article, ironically, about Peer Index servers going down when the Amazon server was struck. But I think they are evolving… Scores seem to be settling, and being effected less by volume of post, and more by quality of interaction. This is evident in our test account @VinceFairfax recently dropping from a respectable 30 to a 16. Vince never engages, he just posts out an insane amount.

The question you have to ask is this:

Is the decision to “opt out” of Klout because you truly don’t find any use in what their doing?

Because if it’s a distaste for their business model because the “product” they are selling is you, then you should probably opt out of Facebook, Twitter, Google and really any free service on the market. You are the product, you have always been the product. You think you’re not the product for Peer Index? You are, and you know what? I’m ok with it. I’m ok with knowing that as long as I’m getting some value, they make a living. Think perks are stupid? Fine. Don’t take part in them. I’ll take my free sample of perfume.

We live in a free market (well, sort of, but that’s another post for another day). If you don’t like their business model and don’t want to take part, that’s fine, but ultimately is that it? I have found use for influence metrics in this ever growing social world. I have no idea if their revenue model will stand up. I’m not sure if anyone cares about getting 200 free business cards. Maybe they do. All I care about is whether something makes my life easier. The bottom line, to me, is they are useful.

Think about it…

So, I’ll leave you to ponder: Are influence metrics as a whole (and you have to group ALL companies in with this then) just not useful to you?

I’m all for having an open and honest debate about this. I just wanted to drill down to what really matters. Is the metric useful, or not?!  I look forward to your comments. I’m a nice person, be nice ;)

TammyKahnFennell
Graduating with a degree in Strategic Communications from University of Wisconsin’s School of Journalism, Tammy Kahn Fennell has been putting her marketing expertise to work since 2003. In late 2009, after spotting trends and recognizing the future in social media, she co-founded the popular social media marketing dashboard, MarketMeSuite. The company now has a fast-growing global customer-base of businesses and consultants. She also runs WeAreSocialPeople.com. Connect with Tammy on Twitter: @TammyKFennell.

Image at top used with permission (cc) Kenneth Yeung – www.snapfoc.us.

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Tammy

    Hi Neville,
    I just wanted to say thank you for being open minded enough to post my piece. I am really looking forward to hearing people’s thoughts!
    ~Tammy

  2. Richard Bailey

    I also think Neville’s bought into the Occupy movement (Occupy Social Media!). Google, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and numerous other Web 2.0 businesses seek to profit by giving us something for free and learning a lot about us in return. Perhaps we should privatise the lot of them, but where would be the social gain in this?

    I personally object to perks being associated with influence (that applies to PeerIndex as well as Klout) but I guess some people are motivated by a game.

    Like you, I think these services are useful in that they’re an indication of something important – and they save time.

    • Tammy

      Hi Richard,

      Agreed about the “give and take” and it being free and based on public data. And it’s funny, I’m a very private person when it comes to a lot of things. I am one of the people in the US when the census people came to the door told them “3 people live here,” and when they asked for more, enlightened them about the fact that they have no legal right to obtain anymore information than that. But when it comes to the free market, I’m making a decision to use the service and get a benefit. Even before I was “signed in” to Klout, I had a score, and you know why? They are using public data from other platforms that I decided I wanted to share information on. We have made a choice to be on social media and anything we deem public is fair game for analyzing. Above all though, for me, I find it a useful metric.

      Thanks for commenting!

  3. Chris Hambly

    Tammy, for me it is:

    “Is the decision to “opt out” of Klout because you truly don’t find any use in what their doing?”

    Yes 100% it should be called something entirely different than “influence”.

    I am bothered by systems which don’t do what they claim to do, and at worse where an industry adopts them as “gospel” which you may or may not do, but many do.

    Here is the REAL DEAL >> Influenced by Measurement >> http://socialoptic.com/2011/11/influenced-by-measurement/

    Call the platforms what you will, follow counts, fan counts, post counts, whatever but they AIN’T influence. A very simple way of seeing this is a brief look at Google Ripples. Some posts will have huge influence, others by the same person absolutely zero. You can’t put an influence metric on “an account”, you can “on a message”.

    • Tammy

      To me google ripples measures reach, sure. But there’s no # assigned to it so I would know, first glance, whether someone’s G+ posts tend to get ripples. That’s why i think a metric is important. I assume Klout will start measuring ripples when the API opens. Peer Index as well I’m sure.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment :)

        • Tammy

          I disagree. You can put an influence metric on an account because, if done right, it’s the sum total of all the messages. I want to see if having you, Chris, say something if it’s likely to ripple… a metric could help me determine that based on ripples in the past, etc.
          Same with a page ranking or alexa score… That’s the sum total of the “reach” all the posts on that site.

        • Chris Hambly

          In addition you only have to look at ANY advertising campaign on channels such as TV or newspapers – some work, others don’t at all and make a huge loss – does that mean TV has no influence? – no, or yes, sometimes, not always, its the message that was wrong, misplaced, mistimed. Neville would be able to write a thesis about that, I’m sure.

          I understand why you want it to work Tammy, you’re flogging a service which needs such things.

          I wonder what the advertising standards agency would make of “The Standard Of Influence” – it does not measure influence.

          It remains snake oil.

  4. Kirk

    I dropped out of Klout the other day. It was way off on influence topics and forces people to be noisy. Want to boost your reach? Talk about something controversial (and most of the time it’s not on topic for the business). But that doesn’t always play into the social strategy of the business.

    Getting email reminders telling me my score dropped is a little bit of an ego deflater (no different than losing mayorships in Foursquare) but in the big picture, what do these numbers really mean to my business? Nothing. I can engage my fans every day and not generate a lead or sale. But my Klout score will rise. What value does this give my business? Now for social media related businesses, they’re caught up in the hype of these things and unfortunately people value those companies based on high amounts of followers. Klout fabricated a number and leveraged themselves into the “you MUST have this to be someone” field.

    I think people should stop worrying about the secondary metrics and focus on their own website content and stats. Yes, FB, G+, Twitter, etc are important avenues to drive traffic, but gaining a million followers or having a huge reach won’t get you sales at the end of the day unless you have quality content and services to back that up. Besides, the average user (not in the social media world) doesn’t care that Coca-Cola’s Klout score is 70 (1 point higher than Pepsi).

    • Tammy

      You’re right, the average person doesn’t care that Coke is slightly more influential than Pepsi, I’ll give you that one ;). But i’m not really look at it as a consumer tool — more as a business to business tool. As a business I need to try to connect with as many people who are good candidates to spread my message… and I find it’s a metric that helps me identify. But as I mentioned above, I wouldn’t not base a decision solely on influence score.

  5. Luke Brynley-Jones

    I have to say I’m with Tammy on this one. I take Chris’ point about the definition of “Influence” but having also engaged in public debates about the meaning of influence for several years, I’m starting to think that – whatever you call it – what Klout, Peerindex and other services offer is useful for the precise reasons that Tammy suggests. If you’re a global brand looking for bona fide “influencers”, you can pay for bespoke influencer analysis that meets your own definition. For those with less money Klout/Peerindex provide a rough guide to someone’s social media value.

  6. Neville Hobson

    Reading all the comments here, thanks for contributing such great points of view. Just to add two pence worth of further thought.

    I like Tammy’s argument supporting influence metrics with which, overall, I largely agree, ie, on their potential value. Let me be clear, though, on why I opted out of Klout as I sense there may be some belief that the reason was a falling Klout rank or some such. The reason has nothing to do with that but everything to do with Klout’s business practices in how it scrapes information (public information or otherwise, I don’t care about a differentiation), its marketing practices for perks, and its misinformation about what its business really is. That’s what I wrote about in my two recent posts.

    As a user, I’m completely happy to not be involved with Klout any longer and currently have no intention of returning to them. From a marketing point of view, I wouldn’t give them any premium attention at all when looking at identifying people online who I may wish to connect with or perform some other kind of outreach for a client, relying instead on tools that I believe have serious credibility; such tools include – but are not limited to – Radian6 and the interesting-looking Adobe SocialAnalytics launched in the UK last week.

    In essence, I believe Chris Hambly sums it up well in his comment here earlier:

    I am bothered by systems which don’t do what they claim to do, and at worse where an industry adopts them as “gospel” which you may or may not do, but many do.

    Someone will likely get it right. I can’t see that someone being Klout.

    • Tammy

      Hi Neville,
      Thanks again for being so open to a debate that you posted my article! I hope nothing in my article insinuated that you dropped out because of spite. That was never my intention. I have way too much respect for you to ever think that. You fall into the category of “We live in a free market (well, sort of, but that’s another post for another day). If you don’t like their business model and don’t want to take part, that’s fine.” We all have a right to opt out of things we don’t like. Except for TV licences… but that’s another rant entirely ;)

        • Tammy

          Yeah, imagine if you were told that Klout was the choice score of the gov’t and you had to pay for it even if you didn’t like it, or use it… and companies like Peer Index are left trying to compete in a not so free market… That’s my feelings on TV licences… ok, done!

  7. Stuart Bruce

    Great discussion going on here. I half agree with Neville’s points, but not enough so to want to ‘opt-out’. My view is that real influence is far too complex to accurately measure as there are far too many variables, not least that none of the ‘systems’ are capable of addressing offline. The point for me is that Klout, Kred, PeerIndex all provide me with clues, a little bit of extra information I’ll include in my real human brain analysis. If someone scores on the system it means I’ll take a look at them, no more and no less. I’ll make the decision, but it might have prompted me to look. Deciding who is influential remains a huge element of ‘gut instinct’ but that instinct is based on lots of ‘data’ including influence scores.

    • Neville Hobson

      Good points, Stuart. For me, though, it’s a matter of trust. I simply don’t trust Klout any longer for all the reasons I’ve mentioned. Therefore, I won’t use it and if a client asks me, I won’t recommend it as I did before.

      In fact, I think they’ve damaged overall trust on all such services that purport to measure influence, whatever that is. That’s a pity.

  8. @LStacey

    As much as I want to believe in metrics such as Klout, the fact that I (and anyone else in the know) can easily game the score suggests the their algorithms are very flawed and not nearly as complex as they like to make out. To at they are “not perfect” doesn’t even scratch the surface. As a measure of influence, they are just complete rubbish. As a measure of conversation within set bounds and/or ability to game the system, now that’s more like it.

    Some of the most influential folks I know have Klout scores under 30 and equally shameful Peerindex etc. Why? Because they’re not overly active on Twitter or the other measured platforms. Where’s the measure for feed subscriptions, blog comments, blog shares, forum activity and so on…

    OK so it’s still early days and I’m sure these things will get better but for now, these measures are about as useful as the number of likes on a Facebook page or a Twitter follower count… both of which seem to (wrongly) be major factors in most influence scores.

    • Tammy

      @lstacey

      Thanks for commenting. I agree they have to start measuring more things to maintain relevance, but as long as you take it with a grain of salt, and understand what the limits, then I still feel it’s useful. As I said though, it has to be used in conjunction with other metrics.

      Best,
      Tammy

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