Report: Klout doesn’t measure what it claims

A new analysis from the Altimeter Group finds social scores from services such as Klout, PeerIndex and others, don’t measure influence. Yet those scores aren’t useless.


Are you sitting down? All right, here goes: Your Klout score isn’t a measure of your social media success.

According to a new Altimeter Group study by analyst Brian Solis, scores from services such as Klout and PeerIndex don’t even measure what the companies behind them claim they do.

“The inspiration for the report actually started with a finding that none of these services actually measure influence,” Solis says. “[My] mission was to define what influence is, what influence isn’t, and, once understanding that, recognize what these services actually measure and where the value could lie within it.”

Jeff Beford, an account coordinator at Anvil Media, says social scores are “imprecise, if not rubbish altogether. Not only are algorithms often being changed, creating massive fluctuation in scores, but competition is flaring between individuals battling for the highest score.”

Solis agrees. In his study, he quotes research that says measurement becomes harder to execute the more that people attempt it, because so many participants are trying to gain the upper hand. But that doesn’t mean the scores are useless, he says.

What Solis ultimately found is that brands can look to their own scores and the scores of other social media users to measure social capital, the currency that social media users build to become influential.

Klout scores and similar metrics provide guideposts to social media users with whom brands can connect, the report concludes.

“What we’re talking about is a brand having the ability to earn influence within these networks by connecting with these individuals,” Solis says.

Real measures of success

A Klout score of 74 isn’t a return on an investment, Solis’ report on his study states. What does matter is what has always mattered in public relations and marketing: brand awareness, sales, sentiment, demand, and audience growth, among other elements.

For any company looking to get something out of using social media, “you have to start with the end in mind,” he says.

In Solis’ outline for what he calls an “influence action plan,” he states that developing a campaign should come after benchmarking where your brand stands now, determining who your audience is, and outlining your strategy, which includes determining which outcomes you’re seeking.

Building capital

Brands and other social media users build social capital by being an active part of a community, Solis says. In his report, he lays out three “pillars of influence”; these are the fundamentals of social capital, each having three parts:

  • Reach, which includes popularity, proximity, and good will.
  • Relevance, which includes authority, trust, and affinity.
  • Resonance, which deals with frequency of mentions in social streams, the period of time a mention stays visible, and the amount of engagement.

But that structure creates something of a chicken-and-egg question. How can a brand gain relevance or grow an audience when it doesn’t have any good will, authority, or any of the other building blocks of Solis’ three pillars?

It has to “draft” the social capital of those with influence, Solis says. “The premise of this report is that people are becoming more influential than you in these networks.”

Finding connections

The process of targeting social media connections involves a lot more than looking at someone’s score, but that score can be a starting point. In a lengthy appendix to the report, Solis examines how some companies measure digital influence successfully, and just what those numbers mean.

Instead of simply approaching people with high social scores, “there’s an opportunity to have a more thoughtful approach,” Solis says.

Once you find someone with a high score, there needs to be a vetting process, he says. For example, PeerIndex measures relevance in eight sectors, including arts, technology, and sports. But those are wide-ranging categories. If a company sells track and field equipment, someone who ranks high in the category of sports may not always be the best fit, especially if all his or her tweets are about ice hockey.

“Different people are influential for different reasons,” Solis says.

Heather Whaling of Geben Communication says brands can’t take shortcuts just because social media seems to be faster than traditional ways of making connections. You can’t automate everything.

“This isn’t a new phenomenon,” she says. “A decade ago, I was working with a public school district on a levy campaign. We identified ‘gatekeepers’ in the community—religious leaders, PTA and other influential parents, neighborhood block and homeowner association captains. There was no score then. You just had to roll up your sleeves, do some research, talk to people, and ask for their input, etc.”

Matt Wilson is a staff writer for Ragan.com.

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