What Klout Can't Calculate: Dimensions of Influence
Sorry to get your hopes up. This is not a screed against Klout. I'm not angry at if for ranking me too low, or listing a mortal enemy as one of my influencers (fortunately, neither is the case). Just the opposite, I find that Klout has managed to pull off something remarkable. The list of so-called "twitter-graders" is lousy with failure and lack of imagination. The volume of data created by the actions of the average twitter user is enough to fill a long, boring book. The minds at Klout took these data, decided which should serve as metrics, weighed the various streams and came up with first influence-measuring tool that stands up to the "five friends" test. Pick five of those you most closely follow on Twitter, plug them into Klout, and see whether, for the most part, you agree with what's served up about each. You probably will. That's huge.
Klout's new feature, a way to find, track, and list influencers, is similarly impressive. As can be expected this early after its arrival, it can be hit or miss. The way it locates online leaders by vertical or subject, however, is a powerful step in the right direction. Brian Solis has an accessible exploration of the mechanics behind this "Twitter list engine" over at PR 2.0.
But here's the thing: Klout and other tools like it do not track the offline influence of online personalities. This has a lot to do with a question as old as science: Correlation or Causation?
Are these people and brands influential because of their new media efforts, or did they already carry influence as they created a new media presence? What about the individual or brand that is highly influential, but has barely begun to leverage their reputation by building a social online presence?
This third type should interest conversation marketers just as much as (if not more than) the other two. Budding efforts are simply easier to engage with. Some will argue that it's better to target those with large networks and, therefore, extensive reach. But it's a trade off. Yes, these new media participants have the power to perpetuate your message through their extensive networks. Yet, your voice will be just one of so many vying for their attention.
Offline influencers with a limited new media presence are more likely to see and hear you. As one of the few that find and engage them, your message will be all the more resonant if you approach them in the right way. They are also more likely to reciprocate and to appreciate any help you send their way.
Smart new media marketers get in front of both groups.
Klout and other influence-measuring tools can't measure offline influence in any meaningful way, and we shouldn't expect them to. But should we want them to? A complete picture of one's influence is multidimensional. Such evaluation should require user input and a discussion about concepts that are unapproachable mathematically. To me, this is refreshing. There is still a need for a human touch in evaluating the influence of other humans.