Measuring the Influence of Influence

Feb 17, 2011 Beth Monaghan

in·flu·ence [in-floo-uh ns]
The capacity or power of persons or things to be a compelling force on or produce effects on the actions, behavior, opinions, etc., of others

This week Klout updated the way it calculates online influence scores. For those who don’t already know, Klout measures “your overall online influence.” Klout then puts you into a category depending on your score. Ironically, @THE_REAL_SHAQ has a score of 76 and is a “thought leader,” while @katiecouric has a score of 75 and is a “celebrity.”

According to Klout, your score is determined by the size of your engaged audience, the likelihood that others will act upon your content, and the influence level within your engaged audience. This week’s changes caused many people’s scores to go down, including my own. In truth, I have no idea if this is a good thing or a bad thing. Should I aspire to be a celebrity, a thought leader, a taste maker? Does it matter?

What does matter is how we perceive and measure influence. Jessica Vascellaro at The Wall Street Journal wrote a thoughtful piece on the obsession with amassing online influence, titled “Wannabe Cool Kids Aim to Game the Web's New Social Scorekeepers.” In it, she provides a good overview of the leading companies in online influence measurement. She also writes about some enviable perks given to those who have attained the status of online influencer – free flights, invitations to lavish parties, and more.

The quest for status is certainly nothing new. In the world of marketing and social media though, there are real world implications that fall out of any measure of influence. Influence = awareness = action. And in this game, our job is to know how to drive someone to action. The question is how to identify those people online and then how to leverage that information in a meaningful and measureable way. Klout and others are the first to try and solve this problem, but while we’re in the midst of it, I think we should examine the meaning and power of influence.

What is the true measure of influence? Achievement, title, a point of view, expertise, wealth? Or followers? Looking back through history, a few influential people had some thoughts on notion of influence that are worth considering as we seek to harness and define it. I’ll let them speak for themselves (consider the sources):

  • “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.” – Mark Twain
  • “The herd seek out the great, not for their sake but for their influence; and the great welcome them out of vanity or need.” – Napoleon Bonaparte
  • “We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower

As we work to exert influence on our own markets, we should make sure that we understand who is really influencing our target audiences, and the factors that okay into influence. These are undoubtedly different for every market. Someone’s number of Twitter followers is a sign of acuity in social media, but not necessarily of their influence. There are certainly important influencers who have lots of Twitter followers, but followers alone do not equate to influence.

Companies like Klout are trying to address this important issue by incorporating other important factors that go into making someone influential. Still, very recently I could make my Klout score go up simply by reducing the number of people I was following on Twitter (I am not sure if this is still possible given the changes Klout implemented). Am I more influential today than I was yesterday because my score went up when I reduced the number of people I was following? Of course not. Until we find a definitive measure, I think we should use our common sense about who is influential and who is not and apply the measure of ROI to influencer relations efforts.

Expect more posts on the topic in the future as we here at InkHouse continue to think about the important topic of measuring influence.

Topics: Public Relations, Twitter, Social Media, Thought Leadership
Beth Monaghan

Beth is the CEO of Inkhouse, which she co-founded in 2007 and has grown into one of the top ranked agencies in the country. Beth’s been recognized as one of the Top Women in PR by PR News, the Top 25 Innovators by The Holmes Report and as an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year finalist. Beth believes that shared values, and the freedom to create are the foundations of all meaningful work. She brings this philosophy to building a culture of creative progress at Inkhouse.

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