Entries in klout (7)


Klout May Not Be Serving Online Influence, But It's Sure Dishing Out Hope

Recently, Jay Baer over at the ever-insightful Convince & Convert blog, published a piece, Why Critics of Klout Are Missing The Big Picture. This post is an expansion of my comment to that post.

I'd highly recommend your reading Jay's perspective. Written in response to Paul Gillin's recent and excellent critical review of Klout, Jay's post and the comments that follow give a current barometer reading on the state (and still divided opinions) on Klout.

At the start, I'd certainly agree that Klout's growing list of marquee name Klout Perk partners makes it clear that companies desperately want this number. And as I've pointed out previously, Klout is certainly emerging as the de facto online replacement of the Q-Score for celebrities, an important metric for assessing consumer appeal.

But I will say I don't share his view that Klout bashing has been going on. Rather there have quite a number of quite comprehensive critiques of Klout's technical issues, including my own. Beyond Klout's inability to include offline influence, Jay's post does indeed describe some of the limitations but gives shortshrift to others: It's easily gamed per Adriaan Pelzer's bot experiments, it overweights frequency of tweeting over quality of content (itself related to lack of blog content input), and finally, user reports of continued high volatilty (aka high beta, large standard deviations). These limitations viewed alongside that we have one company with a non-transparent algorithm controlling an individual's published rating of "social net worth" -- and this has some people concerned enough to blog (not bash) about the meaning/accuracy of a Klout score. The 15-25% of negative sentiment ratings on Klout (my offhand appraisal) are, in fact, a healthy rebuttal by those concerned about the science of online influence.

For what's most concerning: If you read the online influence studies, there are some which support the view (eg. see Duncan Watts and C. Christakis' work - summarized here.) that influence is about smaller, tightly connected networks of easily influenced people -- not the large network factors Klout seems to be measuring. If these studies are correct, Klout may be moving us away from understanding online influence.


But isn't this all this academic, eh?

Actually yes. For true enough, as Jay Baer writes, Klout critics focused on its technical limitations are missing the Big Picture: Klout is emerging as a true marketing force to be reckoned with. It's becoming (become already?) the online Nielsen rating system for advertisers.

The irrelevancy of accuracy to the Klout score is captured by one commenter to Jay's blog post, who pointed out that Klout is really a marketing promotions company. To me, the reason for Klout's popularity and growing phalanx of ad partner-developers is principally due to the Klout Perks Program combined with Klout the company's laser-sharp understanding of human psychological factors, namely, the hope, the deep-seated need (and associated social pressure) to be a Big I Influential. (But remember- lest you swallow that little blue pill - if you buy Duncan Watts' arguments from his studies, that may have little to do with true online influence.)

Here's my somewhat oddball deconstruction of what matters most: From a marketing and ad effectiveness perspective (and with no disrespect to Klout whatsoever), the Klout score actually doesn't need to be an accurate measure of online influence at all. It only needs to be "the current best guess" and imply that it is (for instance, in the tagline) to enlist High-Klout-Wannabees to perform en masse for advertiser partners.

In the end ----Somehow it all conjures up cosmetics industry giant Charles Revson's famous quote, "In the factory we make cosmetics.  In the drugstore we sell hope". ;-)


Of Cheez Doodles, Sheep & Sleep: Signposts on the Social Media Wall

Despite all that Social Media has done for us, it does have its dark side: For in the crowd enthusiasm for the subject, there are now myriads of marketers  portraying themselves as Social Media Gurus and Ninjas, shouting out their " personal brands" and boasting their ever-pervasive influence scores (and associated Perks).

 One can't help but feel somewhat annoyed by some of this.

 If you too have gagged over the over-hyping of A-listers,  noted the outrageous claims done in the pursuit of high ticket consulting projects and, yes, despaired over the grossly simplified  pseudo-quantifications of social influence, you'll take some solace in these three recent irreverent posts.


1. How 'branding is ruining journalism (Gene Weingarten)

Feeling a bit tweeked out about the recent over-focus on personal branding? Washington Post humorist, Gene Weingarten's wry wit and pointed commentary on the subject completely lays waste to the fame game antics - so pervasive as to have entered the field of journalism. To give you a flavor of his style, here are some excerpts...


 "...it is disheartening to learn that journalism schools are responding to this challenge by urging their students to market themselves like Cheez Doodles." ...
...."Now, the first goal seems to be self-promotion — the fame part, the “brand.” That’s because we know that, in this frenetic fight for eyeballs at all costs, the attribute that is most rewarded is screeching ubiquity, not talent. It is why Snooki — who is quite possibly literally a moron — has a best-selling book."
But go read the full post yourself for a chuckle or a good lulz.  (Hat tips to both Geoff Livingston and David Svet for sharing Weingarten's post.)

2. Make Yourself An Influencer by Playing the Klout +K Game (Danny Brown)

Like many of us, Danny Brown has a few reservations on the usefulness of Klout (aka The Standard of Influence) , and in particular their newish +K feature which allows you a tag a person as an expert on a topic.

To demonstrate the shortcomings, and particularly the gameability of  that feature, Danny and Dino Dogan (of Triberr fame) teamed up to create a hilarious video on Danny's  high K+ score on All Things Sheep Related. Here's the video below...


3. Lessons Learned from Go the F--k to Sleep (Marc Girolimetti)

Tired of all the rabid  pimpery and shiny object obsessions within the social media crowd? Technorati's Marc Girolimetti provides a fab Social Media Remix  of the best-seller, Go the F--K to Sleep. Marc's comic spin-off is one cathartic read, punking absurdities that deserve a good punking.

Here's a sample. (Preferrably to be read in actor Samuel Jackson's voice.)

The gurus nestle close to their tablets now.
The ninjas have logged on and are starting to creep.
You’re cozy and warm in your Tumblr, my dear.
Please go the fuck to sleep.

The bubble grows big in this town, child
The SEO pros StumbleUpon in the deep.
I'll re-tweet yoru ridiculous post titled "What's ROI?"
If you swear you'll go to sleep.

You can read the rest here...


Yes, Social Media needs more snarky posts like these. For just as the total number of posts on a subject serves as a sign of the market interest in a topic, the number of snarky posts on a topic can serve as a sign of a questionable approach or suspect technology.  Just as in the tale of The Emperor's New Clothes, too many hesitate to disagree with the status quo in the fear of being wrong and being punished . But the snark post is really the fearless jester throwing off the status quo, revealing that the king is wearing no clothes. 

And after reading these fine posts you'll agree: Sometimes the Social Media King is ...well...just laughably butt naked.


What social media practice or technology do you believe deserves a good snarking?


The Future of Social Advertising: Can We Turn Brillo into Art?


Andy Warhol once said one of his goals was to be regarded as such as a brilliant conversationalist that people would pay him to attend parties (and he could list his party expenses as a tax-writeoff).

 Who  of us, whether celebrity or not, would not like to monetize our personality?

 Pay for Tweet companies (think Ad.ly, MyLikes.com, Sponsored Tweets) know this only too well. Actually, the problem is, they don't care if you have an engaging personality or tweet talent, they only require your willingness to serve as a passive vessel for an embedded link.

 And yet, these folks have not had it easy. With the ethos of the TwitterSphere valuing  transparency and authenticity,  the imposition of the FTC guidelines on advertiser  disclosure  as well as Twitter's own advertising guidelines, the Tweet-for-Pay market has had its challenges.

Even with these barriers, social advertising, specifically, ads appearing in the social stream, is inevitable. In February, Twitter released a video indicating promoted tweets would be hitting the public timeline of users by April. Facebook too is moving to provide a version of Twitter's promoted tweets into the Facebook news feed. We've not only seen Skype introduce ads recently but investor confidence behind social advertising was signalled with the March $5.6 Million investment in MyLikes.com. Providing the backdrop to all this, Twitter has indicated that sponsored tweets result in a 3-5% engagement ratio compared against today's 0.3% CTR of banner ads.  So it's no surprise that advertisers are chomping at the bit to get in your stream.

Interestingly, while the Tweet-for-Pay market was stalled in 2010, Klout, with its Klout Perks reward program, thrived well. Even as much as the exuberance for Klout is somewhat waning, CEOs of Tweet-for-Pay companies must surely look upon Klout's PR and market  position with some envy and frustration. Klout traffic is up nearly 50% over the year, whereas Sponsored Tweets is down 25% and Ad.ly down 71%. (Now some of these companies may argue that traffic isn't an indicator as they've repositioned for the exclusive celebrity tweet business. However, I will argue later, that that may be problematic long-term.)


Soure: Compete.com

On the one hand, Klout Perks and  Tweet-for-Pay are not that different: In the end, both business models reward tweeters, one with direct monetary reward, the other with sponsor gifts. On the other hand, there are some critical differences, ones which suggest some lessons on how future advertising might be incorporated into Twitter with less disruption.

Differences that Make a Critical Difference

1. Klout Perks are a Customer Loyalty Program

Klout Perks are achieved not by advocating specific brands, but rather by attaining a high Klout score, done only through online engagement.  Avoiding the FTC challenges, Klout Perks specify that rewards are received with no obligation to acknowledge the sponsoring reward company or its products. The company knows that many of the Klout Perk rewardees will in fact cross the line anyway and, in so doing, reward sponsors with their due.  This is powerful psychology: Leveraging the guilt of accepting the gift motivates the tweeter to mention the advertiser's name. Examples of these actions (and the envious/admiring reactions of others) are shown below:


2. Klout Perks Do Not Obnoxiously Intrude upon the Twitter Ecosystem

This one I realise is debatable. But overall, Klout Perks have a fairly high threshold to achieve a reward. Even while the average twitterer has a Klout score of 11, generally Klout Perks do not kick in for scores below 40  and for follower counts less than 2000-3000. [Post Update: Pls note these numbers are based on my qualitative observations, not on any known published figures from Klout or others.] As much as this high threshold eliminates a great deal of the Twitter hoi poloi, the relatively infrequent post of the Twitterati boasting of their Perks, keeps the Twittersphere abuzz and Wannabees reaching for the prize.  Happy Happy Closed Loopness.


3. Klout Perks are also in Twitter's Business Interest

As Klout rewards high Klout scorers on the basis of their participation levels in using Twitter (and yes, Facebook and LinkedIn) their interests dovetail with Twitter's desire to encourage participation on their platform. (Contributing to keeping the two companys' business goals in line, Klout has overlapping investors with Twitter.  For awhile, both companies even resided in the same building.)


4. Klout Perks Create a Game-like Atmosphere

As pointed out by Thomas Moradpour, Klout's social scoring system provides not only a game-like, addictive and competitive vehicle, but in viewing the Klout score components, users better understand the levers to increase their online influence. Yes, I've pointed out in the past this can be used to game the system, but it also can be used productively.


5. Klout Successfully Interloped the Celebrity Tweet Ecosystem

Living out Andy Warhol's vision of getting paid for personality, today many celebrities have lined up for the MyLikes, Ad.ly and Sponsored Tweet programs. However, most of these programs also use the Klout score as a core component in calculating the $1000 - $25,000 dollars paid for a celebrity tweet. Effectively, Klout has seized position as the online Q-score for celebrities, allowing it to fulfill the role of a "Nielsen rating for Social Media". This has allowed the entrance of a new generation of social media stars that also need a metric for calculating the value of their tweets. In the end, we remember that it was Klout, not Sponsored Tweets, that Britney Spears managers came to when they wanted to increase the star's social pay-grade.

When it comes to winning over the hearts and minds of Twitter (and after all, that is how a company connects the users to advertisers) Klout has taught the Pay-for-Tweet players that you have play into the Twitter infrastructure, making it a win for the service provider too.  As Twitter develops its own advertising model, it will become even more imperative for  Pay-for-Tweet companies to achieve synergy, not competition, with Twitter.

The Future of InStream Advertising: One Scenario

It seems there are two very different underlying currents driving future social advertising: Everyday Joes and Janes seeking to monetize their tweets and Celebrity Tweeters, a world that traditional advertisers are familiar with from the old school channel world of celebrity endorsements.

In pursuing both these groups, Tweet-for-Pay companies can learn much from observing Klout. Should they too diversify their offerings to provide a rewards program, balancing their existing FTC issues? Should they not be rewarding for pure engagement also, allowing a better fit to Twitter's own business model,justifying additional server infrastructure? What can they do better than Klout? Certainly, leader boards would urge-on ad-tweeters in a more game-like, addictive fashion. And, as pointed out by The Brand Builder , there are openings for Klout or a reward-diversified Tweet-for-Pay company to better match the gifts received to influential blogger's interests. (Hint: Olivier Blanchard wants Faconnable and chihuahua accessories, Beth Harte wants Hermes).

Whether it's Klout, Twitter or others meeting these needs, a serious upswing in Social Advertising is clearly in our future timelines. But as obnoxious as it is to do a Twitter Search on terms like "MyLikes" or "ad.ly" or "sponsoredtweet" and see the roiling carney show of artless broadcast advertising, I do not think the Tweet-for-Pay companies are ignoring the lessons of the Klout Perks program. Please don't - for the quality of the Twittersphere and your own survival depend on it.

How will the social ad market play out? The figure below is what i believe is the most likely play-out of Advertising's entrance into the Twitter feed, shown by the projected ratio of ad-related tweets to generic tweet volume. (The envelope reflects both the tweets of individuals seeking to monetize as well as celebrity tweet ads.)


Yes, initially, we can expect a steep uptick in the volume of sponsored tweets.  However, this initial hyped volume will not be sustainable for several reasons:

  • A likely  initial rebellion by the "Let's be authentic" twitter population. (Twitter's March ad video forecasts this.)
  • Increasing pressure on Twitter's server load, and related, 
  • The  conflict of some Pay-for-Tweet companies with Twitter's own advertising model.

Even post an initial shake-out, I do see a secondary but damped peak as advertising companies take on a more sophisticated "Klout-like" model,  providing engaging leader boards as well as encouraging more artful, entertaining ad-tweets (including @MayorEmanuel style parody accounts and the equally hilarious Big Lebowski and Seinfeld tweet bots).  

In the spirit of turning Brillo into Art, there are efforts by celebrity tweet advertisers to keep the advertising in the style of the celebrity's own personality. For instance, Snoop Dogg's tweet for Toyota's minivan...

 Some of this Brillo-into-Art alchemy will work: But will Charlie Sheens' tweets sell more JagerMeister or bring on more Miami Bang Van customers? Maybe in those cases. But overall, in the second (green) phase of social advertising, I expect a decline in overall celebrity pay-for-tweet volume  associated with poor ROI results. Why? As I've posted before on the ill-begotten belief in large numbers ,  there is good data  that large follower counts do not necessarily lead to online opinion change or product sales.

After the Celebrity Tweet Bubble bursts, we can expect a damped third peak(blue phase) leading to a sustainable level of sponsored tweets.  This will be driven by  then-smarter advertisers and their agencies redirecting sponsored tweet dollars and gifts toward less-connected users but ones with identifiable networks of influence for particular product/interest groups. Because this is where the ROI lies.

The good new is there truly is a New New Market for non-celebrities  to monetize their tweets. The Twittersphere will tolerate this - a normalizing market correction - by users opting out, un- following those whose  tweet ads do not fit their line of interest.

In the end, instream advertising - especially where it is artful and engaging - will prevail.  

What's your vision of the future of instream social advertising? Do you think we can turn Brillo into Art? Or is Twitter doomed for ad clutter, where our Art  will turn into Brillo?


Image 1 credit



Mean Girl Smackdown on Klout

With last Friday's announcement that Klout scores are now displayed in Twitter (at least for everyone that installs the Google Chrome plugin ) there's a startling realization that Klout has now officially entered the mainstream. It's not only the end of the Summer of Tweet Love, it promises to change the way people interact online.

Click to read more ...


Online Social Influence: When Smaller Numbers are Better

Of late, the social blogosphere’s been  much abuzz with talk of influence and social scoring systems. Yet many, including myself, have pointed out, there are clear failings in the single-number-of-influence approach: To name but a few, most single number metrics today take no account of offline influence, blog content, industry-specific influence and, yes, at least for Klout, they overvalue tweet frequency and volume in their weightings.

When it comes down to it, it seems that one of the core assumptions behind some of the single-number influencer scoring systems is that ‘bigger is better”. And, on the face of it, doesn’t that make sense?  Consider Klout scores. Key components of that score reward more followers, more tweets, more tweets per minute, more re-tweets. When all these variables are combined via the the magical black box scoring algorithm, don’t we all see some logic in the rank ordering of the influential twitter accounts?

What's more important are Klout clients and agencies investing in Klout Perks programs getting their return? Are we going to expect the best results - the spread of influence - from rewarding high Klout scorers? I think marketers need to be aware of some lesser known data points  before creating their strategy. So here we go...

First to be aware of is that there is a huge big numbers bias. Where I think this "big number" bias stems from is that influencer scores like Klout seem to adopt what influencer researchers call, "The Influentials Hypothesis", namely,  the notion that the most connected nodes in a social network are , by definition, the most influential nodes. In layman's terms, there are specialized individuals in every population who tell us what to do.

When Big Numbers Fail

But is bigger always better in terms of actually influencing our online behavior?  A tantalizing mini-test of this was posted by Megan Garber at Neiman Journalism Lab, describing a social influence experiment done by Nicholas Christakis in promoting his book, Connected.  In order to drive sales, Christakis armed three “influential” twitterers with an endorsement tweet, including a link to Amazon to buy his book.

The celebrity actress’s tweet had no effect whatsoever.  The well-known tech-book publisher achieved only 1 sale for his tweet. But in defiance in our belief in the power of large numbers,  Susannah Fox, the Pew Internet Trust analyst, sold three copies of the book into her relatively scnat 4,906  follower base (measured at the time).

 Data from Neiman Journalism Labs post

Yes, this is a very small and casual study. But the direction of the results is not in line at all with expectations for influence by either  follower counts or with the Klout score of these individuals.

Lesson 1: Celebrity tweets (or just any user with large follower count’s tweets) may not help sales of an academically-oriented book on social networking. 

Lesson 2: Interests seems to matter.  Ms. Fox’s intellectual leanings and interests - which overlap the subject content of the book- may have something to do with her relatively better performance with book sales.

Is there more? Studying a database of over 500 million tweets, one Stanford study  looked at the relation of twitter follow count to the ability to propagate hashtags.  Users with large follower counts did not propagate as well those with smaller follower counts (<1000 followers). UPDATE: In another study of 90 million Twitter posts, of influence diffusion looking at high influentials and low influentials, the authors found "...under a wide range of plausible assumptions the most cost-effective performance can be realized using “ordinary influencers”—individuals who exert average or even less-than-average influence."

Could it possibly be that it is the little nodes in the social graph, the smaller networks out on the edges of the social graph,  which direct strong ties of influence? With some marquis consumer brands paying up to $10,000 per endorsement tweet , perhaps the results of these (and hopefully, follow-on) studies deserve more attention.

Better View from an Interest Graph?

These studies suggest we need a more refined view of our social graphs and how influence is diffused. One attempt in the right direction, one promising to provide a deeper understanding of the  role played by social network infrastructure, is provided by Brian Solis’ recent study of the interest graph for Starbucks top followers, using Research.ly and Peoplebrowsr.  In this study of 50,000 twitter accounts, Solis was able to show patterns of like-interest groups among the Starbucks top followers, diving a level deeper into showing who these followers are, their shared topics and their relationships.

In the long run, perhaps it is not the single-number influence scoring systems that will help develop our knowledge of how influence works, but rather those emerging data analytic tools like Research.ly mPact and Blogdash which look at social data sets and track keyword usuage and the users who tweet them.

Above all, the  studies hint to me that we need to cast off our inherent human fallability, our bias, that the large numbers in the top-level variables (eg. follower count,tweet frequency, amplification) within our current data view of The Social Graph are the primary drivers of influence. 

Ironically, viewing the final Starbucks Interest graph produced, there still seems a strong visual bias to depict the large nodes, the large follower count followers, suggesting these "large node" users  are driving the key interactions.

But what if , as in the Christakis social experiment and the Stanford study on hashtag propagation, the real driver of influence, namely the decision to purchase a latte/go with friends for a Starbucks cafe experience, is stemming from users with low follower counts.  See those little nodes out on the outside of the social network? Are they having tighter engagement with their followers?

Here’s a crazy thought experiment to consider: If the “Susannah Fox” effect is real, doesn’t that suggest that, at least to increase book sales conversions, rather than use one high profile “influential” with 1 million followers, book conversions would do considerably better to pay 200 Susannah Foxes, each with some 5000 followers? If such moderately connected influentials could be identified (aye, that’s the rub), Nicholas Christakis might have sold 600 books with one tweet. Now that's a  hypothesis worth testing. (And yes- I'm motivated to read Christakis' book now.)

Who Are The Influencees?

It's clear we are still in the discovery phase. We know too little about the nature of influence. The real problem I have with single-number influence metrics is that, while useful as online Q-scores for celebrity marketing deals, these numbers turn off our brains on thinking about influence. And that's dangerous for marketers leading an influence strategy toward ROI for clients.  Our inherent human bias to seek shortcuts and easy solutions may well be holding us back from asking deeper questions. Far too often clients ask "How do we find our influencers?" when, as Christakis has pointed out, we might more pertently ask, "Who are our influencees?"

It turns out this viewpoint is a much less-travelled existing road in influence research, one which posits that it's "the influencees" or "the susceptibles" that we ought to be focusing on. One seminal 2006 study titled Influentials, Networks, and Public Opinion Formation used mathematical modelling to examine the dynamics of how influence could disseminate. A key finding of the paper is:

Large-scale changes in public opinion are not driven by highly influential people who influence everyone else but rather by easily influenced people influencing other easily influenced people.

Who are these highly influenced people? Interestingly, a 2009 Harvard study,  Do Friends Influence Purchases in a Social Network?  found that it was the moderately connected people, not the highly connected,  that were the most likely likely to be influenced by friend's purchases.

slide from Paul Adams' The Real Social NetworkWhile we're here, if you're not one of the 500,000 people who have already viewed it, Google researcher, Paul Adam's presentation on "The Real Life Social Network"  makes some great points on how we might focus on smaller group structures  within our larger social sphere to get better insight on influence.)

In the end, the secret to understanding the the still nebulous concept of  influence,  the recommendations and endorsements that really drive our actions, may lie in understanding the bonds within smaller networked groups of "susceptibles". (Obviously, this is nothing new to the influence researchers. However, marketing folks throwing large dollars for client companies with celebrity tweets ought to be reviewing the details of their strategy.)

Just maybe, fuelled by our addiction to the ease of one-number-influence scores, we’re attacking this problem upside down. Inconceivable as it may seem to us now --- maybe it’s not the activity within the low-to-medium Klout scorers, so-called "low influencers", but the activity of the high Klout scorers that is specious and distracting.

Take away:  Maybe the marketing agencies and clients aiming to influence through Klout Perks ought to aim, not at the celebrities (including social media celebrities), but at the lesser knowns who are moderately connected and whose interest graphs centers on their product and/or service.


Image 1 credit: Carter Hodgkin



Internet Fame and The True Impact of Influence

Join us to talk about Internet Fame and the True Impact of Influence in a BlogTalkRadio show on Wednesday February 9 at 10pm ET. Show Topic: You may be aware that there is a big debate going on in the social media blogosphere about "influence". We're all familiar with the mantra that we should be out there leveraging influencers in our communities in order to get the word out about our causes, brands or services... and that makes total sense from a generating-word-of-mouth point of view. But hold on. If you're trying to do this, and you don't actually know who your industry influencers are (perhaps because you're not really immersed in your own open community, or because your community is too large or public-facing to be able to list your champions in an organic way), and you're looking at some tools out there that purport to measure influence.... maybe you're starting to think "this is not as easy as it sounds."

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Klout & Critics: Time to Close the Door or Kick it Wide Open?

Much has recently been written about Klout, the latest darling of social scoring that aims to measure social clout, an individual's ability to influence others. In fact some may say we are all klouted out. Isn't it time to stop railing and leave the developers to fix the known issues? Alas, market opportunity does not always wait for engineering. The post explores the slippery slope of one party controlling "social net worth".

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