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Clout vs. Klout – Or the Real Meaning of Social Influence

I’ve done some reading lately which has brought together and focused my theory of marketing through online influencers. Awareness Networks published a white paper entitled “3 Keys to Influence: Understanding and Leveraging Influence.”

They report several strong reasons why marketers should seek social media influence:

  • 90% of purchases are subject to social influence
  • 90% of consumers rely on recommendations from people they know
  • 67% of shoppers are willing to spend more money online after seeing recommendations from friends

So, the theory goes, if we identify the main social influencers, we should be able to effect change or motivate action. That’s where the debate begins…who are the influencers and how do we find them? The Awareness Report then lists elements of influence as authority, reputation, rank, and status. While some of this makes sense, I believe they put too much emphasis on rank.

They say rank is the key to identifying an initial set of influencers and suggest using a Klout score as a good way of identifying rank. But a recent Forbes article, “Don’t Fall for this Sneaky Klout Trick Designed to Suck You In,” highlighted the lengths Klout goes to in order to motivate users to artificially increase their rankings. The article shows how Klout tries to make users feel bad about themselves by assigning an initial low score of only 10. They then offer suggestions on how you can go about increasing that score – they are not ranking you based on what you are doing; they are ranking you based on your willingness to do what they want you to do! By taking this approach I believe Klout and other influence measurement tools are misleading the brand with regards to influence.

Although the idea of influencers goes back as far as marketing itself, this most recent strategy of finding a few key influencers can be traced back to Malcolm Gladwell and “The Tipping Point.” His theory is that there are a few people with a significant reach. If you want to create a movement or promote a product you need to reach and influence these people. However, I believe that trying to find highly influential people is a risky and expensive strategy.

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In fact, another thought process points in just the opposite direction. Duncan Watts has authored a book called, “Everything is Obvious – Once You Know The Answer.” He points out that social marketers have a great deal of difficulty identifying influencers in advance. Although it seems obvious after a marketing campaign is completed that one person may have had more influence than others, he states that predicting the next major influencer is fraught with danger.

Watts was part of a research team that published a report called “Everyone’s an Influencer: Quantifying Influence on Twitter.” In it, they came to two dramatic conclusions:

  • “Word-of-mouth diffusion can only be harnessed reliably by targeting large number of potential influencers.”
  • “The most cost-effective performance can be realized using ‘ordinary influencers’ – individuals who exert average or even less-than-average influence.”

In his book “Grouped” author Paul Adams summarizes this by saying that, “The loudest, most visible people are not correlated with influence.” He also advances the theory that instead of looking for overly influential people, businesses should look for regular people who are likely to be interested in what they have to say.

This all supports the substance of what I have been saying all along – popularity is not influence and influence is not popularity. I believe that the strategy of finding influential people is an old marketing tactic. With the web, we should focus on established connections and not simply on influential people. These people may not be as visible as the celebrities, and they may not have the highest Klout rankings, but they have the right attributes to produce the positive results you need.

In my April 17 blog, “The Most Remarkable People on Social Media Today,” I listed out some people who are using today’s social media tools to change the world for the better, and proving along the way that one person does matter and one person can be significant.

Marketers who can find and motivate large numbers of people with this type of clout will fare better than those who rely on celebrities with Klout.

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