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Finding (or becoming) an influencer is often seen as one of the core goals for businesses utilising social media, and the search and measurement industry is rushing to fulfil this need.
Finding a great exponent for your brand who has a powerful presence on your social platform of choice and engaging them is a great way to get plenty of bang for your social media buck.
Increasingly leading measurement tools such as Klout are being seen as a good way to prove success in the social arena, with some companies starting to request a minimum Klout score as a deliverable when hiring an agency.
Unfortunately some of the systems that provide this measurement may still be relying on the wrong metrics, providing you with a skewed perspective on your audience and making them ripe for exploitation by unscrupulous users.
I'd decided to try out a few different things myself and set up a dodgy ‘celebrity news’ stream as an example of how not to tweet. The stream amalgamates RSS feeds from various celebrity news sites and sponsored tweet sites and pumps them out at the rate of one every two minutes or so.
Obviously I also maintain a personal account where I tweet...well, any old rubbish really. But I do actually engage on a personal level there and usually garner a few retweets, particularly when I link to an Econsultancy article.
Given the vast difference in these two accounts it stands to reason that the ‘Real’ one should be far more influential than the ‘fake’ one. On my account I reply, retweet, link out.
In short, I engage on a one-to-one basis and try to be a half decent digital citizen, while my bot account does none of these. You can shout at it to quit spamming you all you like; it doesn’t care, mainly because I only check it about once a fortnight.
Examine the numbers however, and things get interesting:
Both accounts now have a similar number of followers (There are obviously a lot of Justin Beiber fans out there). My own account has around 1200, the bot around 1150, putting us both in the top 1% of Tweeters, if not at the superstar level.
Of course, follower counts aren’t the best metric are they? Especially not if they consist largely of teenage pop fans and desperate Z-List celebs.
Unless you’re social measurement tool Klout.
While a recent change in Klout’s algorithm has given my personal account a slightly higher rating, if I run a quick search for the bot, Klout tells me:
You actively engage in the social web, constantly trying out new ways to interact and network. You're exploring the ecosystem and making it work for you. Your level of activity and engagement shows that you "get it", we predict you'll be moving up.
Which is of course, complete garbage. The bot doesn't engage with anyone, it doesn't network, it doesn't 'get' anything.
On the surface, this is a bit of fun, it lets you know if you’re doing things right or not and drops hints to help you improve. If you are using these figures for business though, it soon becomes apparent that the metrics being used are woefully inadequate, and possibly detrimental.
The problems are compounded when you consider that some businesses are now offering users special deals based on their social media influence.
The Las Vegas’ Palms Hotel recently went as far as setting up a ‘Klout Klub’, allowing influencers access to exclusive events, free drinks and deals at the casino.
On the surface this is a good idea, it means you’ll get influential people rating and reporting on your products. Or you’ll get a bunch of gamers with several bot accounts taking all the free drinks.
You can also tie Facebook data into your Klout account for added social power, but these figures make the crucial mistake of ignoring content.
Number of followers has very little to do with actual, tangible influence. I’m not going to buy a new lawnmower based on MC Hammer’s recommendation, and my Facebook account is an entirely different entity to Twitter
Frequency might be slightly more useful but again, it means that Klout is fairly easy to exploit because it doesn’t take the content of all those tweets into account. Sentiment scores are also fairly hopeless because “nice work breaking down again train company X” tends to be assigned a positive score.
In short, you can’t afford to remove the human element from your measurements. These measurements are fine for grabbing an initial feeling for a user, but you’d be just as well served by looking at their blog’s Alexa rank. These tools do have a function,but they are simply not mature enough to accurately deliver actionable data in this way.
If you are attempting to map your user base or reward influencers, you need to be prepared to spend time and effort on it.
Tools and apps simply cannot compare with human input. When finding influencers you want to engage, by all means look at the big numbers, but only as an initial benchmarking technique. Once you’ve found some likely candidates, you can spend time examining profiles manually.
To put this in context, ask yourself: would you hire a new head of marketing based purely on the amount of recommendations they received on LinkedIn? Of course not, you’d interview them, and if you want to succeed at social you'll need to be prepared for a lengthy vetting process.
Influencers can be useful, but only if they are contextually relevant, and it’s dangerous for businesses to rely on externally created numbers when attempting to leverage social influence.