A new study about digital influence says Klout and other social media measurement tools don’t really define how users influence their networks.
All too commonly, sites like Klout and PeerIndex claim to measure influence — and maybe they do measure influence. But what does digital influence really mean?
Brian Solis, author of The Altimeter Group report, says social websites that rank users’ social media influence don’t measure influence like they claim to do. Rather, Solis says a user’s social media score measures the “capacity to influence.”
“Scores can be measures of social capital, but not true influence,” he said.
Solis came up with his own definition of digital influence: “the ability to cause effect, change behavior, and drive measurable outcomes online.” Solis conducted qualitative research by interviewing vendors, conducting software demos, and reviewing brands with piloted digital influence programs.
He also says brands don’t really understand influence.
“While these tools use sophisticated algorithms to calculate a corresponding number, they do not take into account all of the complexities of influence and the nature of relationships between people in social networks,” Solis says. “As a result, brands are potentially misallocating precious resources based on the lack of understanding of what influence is and the role influencers play within customer markets.”
Klout said it was well aware of Solis’s report before it was published — the company even had an advanced copy. But Lynn Fox, Klout’s spokeswoman, would not say whether Klout agreed or disagreed with the report.
“The report reinforces that we came in early on and we are furthest along in the process of measuring influence in this market,” Fox said.
The 33-page report outlines the three pillars of influence, which is the ways brands become influencers, Solis said. The pillars — reach, resonance and relevance — determine how a brand or person can cause change or effect in their social network. A social media score alone does not mean a brand is an influencer, he said.
“The Pillars of Influence contribute to social capital, which indicates the likelihood to influence behavior, but a “score” does not predict the resulting actions or outcomes,” Solis said. “A score of 74 only represents the capacity to influence, but other variable come into play as defined by the Pillars of Influence.”
Azeem Azhar, the CEO of UK-based social media influence ranking site of PeerIndex, said the study is a great conversation driver, but the conclusion of the study doesn’t mean much. Social media rating sites are all in the realm of influence and the rankings branded as measured influence aren’t misleading users, Azhar said.
“We are in a semantic battle here rather than a practical battle,” Azhar said. “I don’t think there’s much difference between the capacity to influence and influence itself.”
He illustrated this with an anecdote about martinis. If a person drank martinis the past 10 Friday nights, it’s likely the person will drink a martini the next Friday night, he said.
“Or we can say it’s likely you have the capacity to drink a martini,” Azhar said. “I don’t see a difference.”
Klout openly says on the site has an algorithm to measure influence. The algorithm has come under scrutiny in the past, but Klout says its scientists and engineers work to make sure your influence score is accurate.
“Influence in general is a challenge to define, but the point is that the data exists and influence is the ability to drive action,” she said. “Our focus right now is continuing to unlock influence for consumers.”
Does this report uncover the limitations of a social media score, or is this a semantic battle? Are the three social media pillars needed to be a digital influencer? Tell us in the comments.