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.

Ian Greenleigh
Author | Turning data into stories | Sr Mgr, Content & Social Strategy, Bazaarvoice | Former baby
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  • http://www.klout.com Joe Fernandez

    Hi, my name is Joe Fernandez and I am the CEO and co-founder at Klout. Thank you for checking out what we are working on!

    You’re absolutely right, we (and other online tools) are only getting part of the story when it comes to identifying influencers. Warren Buffett, for example, is way more influential than any person we might rank as highly influential about the stock market or investing. We see our data as a way to augment or balance the “human touch” that will always be needed to identify influencers.

    Great article and thanks again for checking out what we are working on!

  • http://mhisham.org Mohd Hisham

    Hi there,

    I have been @klout user for almost a year (since they first made public of their existence slightly before #UnConf09 – the Singapore UnConference 2009). I have been quite impressive of their ability to track down, who particularly, influence me, and even at an early stage, manages to guide me on what I should be doing to move figures.

    You are definitely spot-on by saying, all @klout and most other twitter graders does is measure the online influence of a person. I think that is, and should be sufficient, for a system that is provided freely.

    I am not saying that, having a commercial value for a twitter grader would work better, just that, it would incentivise the people behind the twitter graders to do more. Already, we have customised reports done by PR or corporate agencies for well-meaning individual or corporations to track the success & failure of their online/offline presence & engagement.

    Thank you for writing about this though. It was mentioned in a tweet by @klout which shows they themselves are asking the same questions. And that is good for the future!


  • D2C


    Thanks for your response! This post didn’t require any kind of rebuttal, because I tried to be very clear that Klout is an awesome tool and I can’t blame it (or any other tool) for not calculating something that even I admit is potentially incalculable. I was simply trying to start a conversation about influencers and how we engage them. One thing I do want to make sure everyone understands is that in every case above, I am speaking of a brand or individual who does indeed engage in new media to at least a limited extent. I wasn’t writing about people that have no social web presence–obviously that is the vast majority of powerful individuals, and they can all be considered influencers. But there is another way to look at influence, as I touch on above, and also a question as to whether, as a marketer, we need to think about who to approach, and how, in a multidimensional way. Thanks again for responding, especially because you didn’t need to!


    I agree with you, but I’ll take it a step further. Even if Klout wasn’t free, there would still be an argument for paying for something of its utility and value. But there is, and should always be, a need for human input to wrap our heads around words like “influence” if we wish them to really mean anything. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  • http://www.wildapricot.com/blogs/newsblog/default.aspx Rebecca Leaman

    Klout is one of my favourite analytics tools, and I very much like the way it helps new users of social media to understand how their various actions interact to influence how they are perceived online. But it is very good indeed, in the shiny-shiny excitement around social media and social media measurement tools, to be reminded that online influence is only one part of the big picture. And I very much like the point you make about connecting with offline influencers who are just beginning to establish their online presence: feels like a real opportunity there for “little guys” who might otherwise despair of building strong relationships with the A-listers in their sphere. Thanks for the brain food.
    .-= Rebecca Leaman´s last blog ..Facebook Bra Color Meme: So, Did It Work? =-.

  • http://conversational.ly Rich Baker Digital Engagement

    Hi Ian – a great post. Thank you. I interviewed Joe, Klout’s CEO on my site and agree he is a great chap.
    I’m not sure it matters too much about offline influence. For a start it is incredibly transient and actually, in the online environment I care about who is influential online. If I wanted to check who might have influence offline I would probably pick up as newspaper (assuming there are any left!)
    What excites me is the ability for Klout to recognise the ‘little guy’ – the people who work hard at using Twitter to build a solid base of engaged friends and followers. It’s easier – at the moment – to leverage a high offline profile and translate that to online. Usually its taken a lot of marketing dollars to achieve that.

    Social media is democratising influence and I, for one, am pleased about it!
    .-= Rich Baker Digital Engagement´s last blog ..UK Exclusive – a conversation with Shane Rich of oncemany.com =-.

  • Ian Greenleigh


    Thanks for stopping by. This is true, but take this recent example: I was nominated this month for a Texas Social Media Award. That should speak to my online influence, but it won’t figure into Klout’s calculation. Tools that balance algorithmic and well-regulated human input seem more accurate.