When it comes to social media, are you influential or just popular?

The recent debate about Klout’s metrics for measuring a person’s social media influence, it made me wonder about that exact question. Some point out the problem with Klout by using an example of a fake celebrity account which has a Klout score of 78 (out of 100). The account is following no one. How does that equate to a high score?

Take the official Justin Bieber account, or someone like Kanye West…Bieber only tweets about his own personal appearances, etc. (with way too many exclamation points) and West does not follow a single person nor does he link to or share any substantial content. They don’t engage with others, they don’t attempt to build relationships, they don’t ask questions and ultimately they provide no call to action with their tweets.

But their Klout scores are extremely high. Why? Because they have millions of followers. As the Boston Globe suggests, this makes social media influence equivalent to a high school popularity contest.  

Do those millions of followers really make them influential? Or, are they just popular?

 To me, someone who is influential provides something valuable that I can learn from or engage with. They tweet about different subjects, link to outside content, retweet others’ content, ask questions, and provide opinions and/or thoughts we might not have otherwise considered. I think influence requires effort: engagement and relationship-building take time, but that’s ultimately how you influence behavior…right?

It’s also important to note that influence cannot be defined universally. What (or who) might influence one person is completely different than what/who might influence another person.  It’s a matter of segmentation and finding the influencers in your market, depending on what you’re interested in hearing more about. 

That being said, tools like Klout really can’t be considered accurate because they don’t take either one of those aspects into consideration. Does Klout consider if your content drives behavior (i.e., you tweeted about donating to a good cause and someone actually donated)? Does it know if you’ve met up with someone in-person after building a social media relationship? No. But in my opinion those are areas that define influence—the aspects of social that make you take action.

This is especially important to those in a marketing-related profession because we’re constantly trying to figure out how to measure social media’s impact as it has become an integral part of many campaigns. Marketers want to get their brand in front of the “right” influencers. But according to Klout, that means the people with the most followers, when in reality that might not be the target audience at all. 

The millions of people that follow Justin Bieber and Kanye West might be part of who you want to reach, but even if some of your target is among those followers…how do you know you’ve made an impact on them just because Bieber or West tweeted about your brand? 

Are people really influenced by them, or do they just follow them because they’re celebrities?

The bottom line is that social media influence is different to everyone. But if we define it by the number of followers, friends, likes, etc. then all we’ve done is create a popularity contest. Klout might as well say, “Sorry, you are not influential. Come back after you get a few more followers.”