Why Klout and Social Influence Really Matter
What’s your Klout score? It’s a question that you hear more often, particularly if you’re in the agency world.
So what is Klout and why is it important? That’s the more important question!
First off, if you haven’t tried it yet, go to Klout.com. If you’re signed into Twitter, it will ask you to connect your two accounts. Twitter has a pretty good application programming interface (API), so you can link two different services and share data. It’s pretty easy.
At first, Klout will probably give you a low score because it does not know how you interact with other Twitter users. But in time, it will give you some indication of your “influence.” You can read about how Klout scores influence, but suffice to say, it attempts to measure how many people repeat (or retweet!) what you say. It’s a modern, online version of how cool you are among your peers.
The mechanics of Klout aren’t as important as the concept behind social validation. So what is social validation and why should you care? Glad you asked!
Social Validation in 30 Seconds or Less
Social validation is like public relations. You can toot your own horn all you want, but it only goes so far to influence people. But if someone else walks up and toots the horn about your awesomeness, that gets people to pay attention.
Now, taking this out of the abstract, consider how public relations influences the media. If the media features your brand on television, there’s social validation from a third-party source. People who watch that television segment may look at your brand and think, “good brand.”
The media has validated your brand by discussing it during non-advertising air time. If the same message had been shared during a 30-second advertising spot, it wouldn’t carry the same weight, right? Right.
Social validation means that someone is validating your brand identity. And this is powerful stuff that Klout is trying to measure. (NOTE: I don’t know if Klout is actually doing a good job or not, but they are currently a highly visible social influence measurement tool.)
Types of Social Validation
There are dozens of ways to measure social media impact. Some of them are easier than others, but all of them have their own weaknesses as well.
For example, when Twitter first started, you could look at the number of followers and say, “that person has 1,000 followers, so that’s relevant to their level of influence.” But as I documented in a blog post, you can buy Twitter followers, which throws off that whole measurement.
Websites like Technorati.com offer rankings, based on links and mentions. Google measures the inbound links to your website or blog. Everyone has a score. Pick one and someone will quickly tell you why it doesn’t work. Social validation — no surprise here — is not universally accepted.
Klout.com attempted to unify the scoring of different channels by stripping out the people who game the system. So, for example, on Twitter it doesn’t matter necessarily how many people follow you. Klout measures how many people interact with you. They measure how many people retweet your content and what kinds of hashtags you use. Clever stuff, but as we all learned quickly, Klout could also be tricked.
This year, Klout famously changed their algorithm. People who enjoyed high Klout scores were shocked to see how their social metrics had dropped. This was an adjustment shock that made people wonder why everyone had put so much faith in Klout in the first place.
Think about it. Klout was a third-party validation tool that seemingly came out of nowhere. And Klout utilized clever social validation techniques to increase their own social relevance and ranking. In short, Klout scores got people talking about Klout. In return, Klout rewarded those people talking about Klout, which increased their scores. It was a nice ecosystem that literally fed off itself.
But by changing their algorithm, Klout caused people to question their Klout scores.
Why You Should Care about Social Validation
Social validation is everywhere. It’s in the types of jobs we have in society. It’s in the rank that we have within our role at work, home, and in our social circles. Often, social validation is determined by the title on a business card (e.g., “wow, this is the president of the company”) or by a uniform (e.g., “the police officer wearing a badge told me to show my license and registration.”).
As humans, we crave order and predictability. Social validation helps us to understand who is speaking and how we should interact with them. If someone has a police badge, you comply with their request to show your license and registration. If the kid at Dunkin’ Donuts asks you for your license and registration, you’re less likely to comply. (For more on this, listen to the Six Pixels of Separation Podcast: “Power, Influence and the Social Web” with Mitch Joel and Mark Schaefer. Super smart stuff!)
Traditionally, public relations and publishing were used to validate someone’s expert status. That is, you could go online and look to see if that person was quoted in articles or mentioned as a guest speaker at a conference. That’s validation. Or you could check Amazon to see if they’d published anything that was related to to their field of expertise. These were imperfect validation measurements, but they were part of an overall picture that you could sketch in your head about someone’s credentials.
Measuring social rank in the online space can be tricky. Anybody can claim to be anyone. Third-party validation can help give some context to someone’s claim of being “a social-media expert.”
Klout is one attempt at measuring influence. They are a third-party barometer. But Klout is not without serious flaws. I’m not going to tell you if these are fatal flaws or not. That would be either positive or negative validation of Klout. Ironically enough, I don’t think I am ready to do that with Klout. Google “Klout” and find out yourself. (Note: That was a validation Google.)
Looking Forward with Social Validation
If nothing else, Klout revealed opportunities in social validation. It showed professionals in the content strategy and social media strategy industries that, yes, there are still many ways to measure influence. And for as many ways to measure something, there are just as many ways to game the system.
Can Klout survive the onslaught of criticism leveled at their system? Maybe. Or maybe someone like Google or Yahoo will want to buy their brand.
Will all of these social channels continue to let third-party websites like Klout to measure their impact? Maybe. Or maybe Twitter will just provide this as a service.
Social validation is important, maybe significant enough for companies in the search engine marketing industry to create a new solution. Google, Bing, and other search engines already have the technology and credibility. Companies like Compete, Omniture and Webtrends already have analytics software that can help make sense of large data sets. And for the most part, they all have ways of measuring social traffic. It’s there, if you know where to look.
Don’t be surprised if any of these gold-standard players roll out solutions for measuring social influence. It could be a free service like Klout that continues to grow in importance and influence. They could continue to improve their algorithms and build upon their credibility.
More likely, social validation will become a freemium that adds on to existing analytics services. (“Already subscribe to our market research or analytics solution? Great, we’ll throw in the social validation package for just a few more bucks a month.”)
What’s (Really) Next
Looking forward, there’s no reason to think that this will go away. Social validation will grow in importance, particularly as media continues to migrate online. Upstart bloggers, Google+, and Twitter accounts will influence and motivate people to make a decision about a brand. As marketers, we want to identify these influencers, so we can connect with them and share our brand story.
It’s not hard to imagine an intense battle to become the de facto measure of social influence.
Oh, and one more thing. If you like this blog post, give it a +1. Tweet it. Follow me on Twitter. Reddit. Digg it.
These are one-click votes to let your social network know that you’ve found something share worthy. One click simultaneously validates my content and increases the value you add to your own social network.
That’s how it works.
- Twist Image by Mitch Joel
- Grow by Mark Schaefer
- My personal Klout.com account
- Why Your Search Engine Optimization Strategy Must Now Include Social Validation
- The Theory of Social Validation: Why you’re not great until someone says you are (Psychology Today)