Does Social Influence really matter?

Social Influence?

The unveiling of Klout’s new algorithm last month prompted a lot of debate and discussion about “Social Influence”.  I particularly rated Neal Schaffer’s post on this in which he sought the opinion of 13 experts – balanced and packed full of common sense.

Personally, I don’t believe that influence has much value.  Particularly influence scores produced by free tools.  They’re flawed for two fundamental reasons: 1) the system can be gamed to artificially increase your social score, and 2) influence, I mean real influence, is relative.  Lady Gaga having a bejillion Twitter followers and a ludicrously high Klout score does not make her an über influencer.  What does she know about business?  Or social media trends?  Or football?

What’s relevant to you?

Think about it…think about the real world we live in – in your circle of friends you know who to turn to for a shoulder to cry on or to talk sport.  Similarly, in your work environment you know which colleagues to ask for advice.  In the media and blogosphere, you know who to follow to get breaking news stories or learn about emerging issues.  These are the people with influence.

To hammer the point home, Klout advises us what they reckon we’re influential about.  The top five topics I’m apparently influential about are: Public Relations, Social Media, Blogging, Media….and Travel & Tourism.  The first four I can live with, but Travel & Tourism?  What?!  Come on now.  I’ve tweeted a lot while on holiday or while travelling with work, but that does not in any way make me an authority on Travel nor Tourism.  This score can only be based on quantity not quality.  Likewise for other topics in my endless list: Investing, Markets and Surfing.

Yet people crave to have a high social score, whether it is on Klout, PeerIndex, Kred or one of the others out there.  Why?  To show-off and boast?  To prove their value to their business?  To get a job?  Hang on…surely a Klout score can’t get you a job!  Sadly, it seems some businesses (particularly in America) won’t give interviews to candidates who have a rating less that 50 on Klout.  Ridiculous.

Ok, I admit I check my social scores across Klout, PeerIndex and Kred from time-to-time.  But I stopped tweeting or broadcasting my scores a long time ago.  And I certainly don’t use them as a barometer of my “success” or “profile”.

Having said all this, there are some uses for such tools.  For example, in the media (and I mean traditional and digital media) it is useful for businesses to know which are the influential ones so they have an idea about who to engage with, educate and convert into being an advocate of theirs.

But come on now…if a business were serious about this, they’d use a PR agency’s expert knowledge of and close relationships with the relevant top tier media.

I predict a riot…!

Klout suffered a backlash (there was pretty much an online riot!) in October 2011 on launching its new influence scoring model, promising everyone it would be “the biggest step forward in accuracy, transparency and our technology in Klout’s history”.  They don’t appear to have learned, but sadly I don’t think they care.  They may proudly proclaim to be the self-titled “Standard for Influence”, but their business model is based on murky advertising and affiliate marketing partnerships through its Perks programme.

I’d like to end this post with something CEO and co-founder of Klout, Joe Fernandez, said in an interview last Summer:

“When you think about it, the idea of measuring influence is kind of crazy. Influence has always been something that we each see through our own lens.”

I think I will leave it at that.

About Dan Purvis

PR, comms, digital / social media specialist and advisor.

While consistently balancing the need for sustainable, impactful campaigns that incorporate PR, social/digital media and external communications in the mix, I ensure that game-changing strategies are aligned to commercial goals and objectives. Passionate about social media, the value of digital properties and PR, I have a proven track record of successfully leading various PR-specific and multi-discipline marketing campaigns. Internal comms, crisis comms and stakeholder liaison is also a core strength of mine.


  1. There are two flows of information on a job application–the interviewer may Google you, check your Klout score, and your credit rating. The person being interviewed also checks out the company to see if there is a good values match. A company that uses Klout scores is suffering from the idea that gamed social media is an actual measurement of something. What a great thing for a smart job-hunter to know about the company. And then avoid. No way you can create real innovation, positive change, or analytical problem solving answers in a company like that.

    • Couldn’t have said it better myself, Quinn. I tend to be pretty negative about these free social scoring tools, but I have to confess that they can provide a general (VERY general!) snapshot of someone’s digitial persona. But it should always be taken with a pinch of salt…nothing more than that.

  2. Hi Dan

    It’s great to ask the question.

    But I think you miss the bigger picture – which is the opportunity to make marketing more effective by understanding the referral value of particular consumers ahead of them being referrers. This allows for more appropriate treatment to consumers and smarter outcomes for marketing.

    We wrote about this in Wired:

    happy to chat further

    • Thanks Azeem – great comment and good article share too.

      Customer advocate networks are of huge importance of course – I’m not debating that and as you’ll see from my “Know Your eCustomer” post earlier ( in which I talk about the democratisation of the Internet and how the power has shifted to the consumer. I talk about the power of word-of-mouth marketing and how social media is the modern day version of this. Clearly, influential advocates need to be nurtured by brands – kind of like in the advertising industry where superstars endorse.

      For the record, I have a lot of respect for you guys at PeerIndex (and also those at Kred). You don’t purport to be anything you’re not. As your tagline says, you “value social” and don’t take your users for mugs.

      My point on Social Influence was more about making people understand that it is not 100% accurate and should not be viewed in isolation. There are so many variables that need to be measured and counter-measured. Indeed, there are many sophisticated business social media tools out there that provide a more accurate social score, but you have to pay for them. It’s also about transparency – Klout brands itself as the “Standard for Influence”, which irks because they can’t possibly back that up. What they are is an affiliate marketer’s dream, and with good reason. As a business model it stands up well, but they need to stop force-feeding us with how they are focused on the user and provide accurate scores, and instead better explain how they use our digital personas and what the mutually beneficial relationship is between them and us…and the affiliates.

      Lastly, I find it laughable that some companies will not even interview a candidate if they have a Klout score of less than 50. That’s just wrong.

      I’d love to conduct an interview with you on this and related topics – please DM or email me if you would be open to this?

      Best regards

  3. The word you’re looking for is context. An algorithm [often secret] that takes a number of data points – the same data points for everybody – and generates a score based on them has no context. Just because you receive a lot of @ messages, or your tweet is retweeted many times doesn’t actually mean that what you’re saying is seen as valuable by people with real credibility and influence on that topic.

    Some of the most influential people [and I’m talking real-world influence] I talk with on Twitter have low Klout/Kred/Peer Index scores. Why? Because they spend their time arming themselves with the information they need to be influential on one topic of another. Influence is also not something that can be measured on a 30-day cycle!

    • Exactly – relevance and context. Individual tweets taken out of context have little meaning nor, potentially, relevance.

      It is refreshing to see, however, the likes of Klout seeking to source offline “influence” data to help the accuracy…but this is not an exact science. As you can see with Kred, you can upload proof points showing how influential you are in real life…so blatantly open to gaming etc.

      A contentious issue for sure!

  4. Well written Dan. If you do plan to expand upon this and interview others in this space, keep us (PROskore) in mind. I would be happy to provide you with additional insight into our approach – which factors in offline accomplishments to determine an overall professional reputation score.


    • Thank you, Bill! I am indeed conducting a series of Q&A’s with various industry leaders, so it would be great to get your thoughts on this subject. I’m most intrigued by how offline data points can be brought together with online scoring systems to garner a social influence metric. For example, as per my reply to Lyndon’s comment (above), how do include robust checks and measures to prevent people gaming the system?

      Please feel free to follow me on Twitter (I’ll follow back) and then DM me so we can sort out next steps.

  5. Well, what a Johnny-come-lately I am to this blog..! Well done on getting it up and running, Dan.

    This is a great post and a topic that still gets people excited.

    It’s a shame to see the word “influence” go the way of so many other words that had actual meaning before they were hijacked by the self-serving marketing and consultant lingua-taliban.

    The question almost never asked where this stuff is concerned is “influence over what?”

    It’s not influence that Klout, Kred, Peerindex et al measure. Hats off to Peerindex for coming on here and joining in the conversation.

    I think there are two points you make in your piece, Dan, that encapsulate the whole thing neatly.

    The first is the “influential about travel & tourism” thing from Klout. As you point out, just because you mention something on twitter doesn’t mean you are knowledgable, never mind influential. I saw this myself when Klout said it believed I was “influential about banjo.” Yes “banjo” in the singular. That’s not even a thing one can be influential about. But it was a lovely illustration of what utter rubbish Klout spouts.

    The other thing you refer to that I really like, is that any company out there making hiring decisions based on someone’s Klout score is a company no one in their right mind would want to work for. Only blinkered idiots would view the world in such a simplistic way as to think Klout is in any way an indication of someone’s employability.

    I deactivated my Klout account months ago. I looked at Kred once, and despite having a lot of time and respect for Andrew Grill, I wasn’t convinced by anything I saw there. I had forgotten Peerindex existed until they emailed me a few days ago (sorry Azeem).

    Keep up the good work Dan..!
    (comment posted unedited – life’s too short to proof-read rants, after all)

    • Thanks Sean! It’s been a right old effort…but worth it!

      Yes – what a “marmite debate”! You make some great points – appreciate you taking the time to share your views.

      You’re right about the term “influence”. It’s been used and abused…I try to avoid using it, but somehow it seems pretty tricky to find another word without sounding like jargon.

      I’ve got two more influence-based posts coming up in the next few weeks, so keep your eye out for them:

      > What does “influence” really mean? Defining it in terms of what Klout et al deem it to be, and then defining it in terms of what it means in the real world
      > What’s the value of “influence”? I do believe that businesses who take the time to acquire the knowledge (the 360 degree digital profile) of their target audiences, and then use it to better their business/products/services has immense value. But only when done right. (Kind of linked to my earlier Know Your eCustomer post:

      Thanks Sean – hear from you again soon! :)

  6. I’m a believer in the networked approach. Rather than try to identify so-called “influencers” and predict behavior when person A affects person B, it is more interesting to look at the network as a whole, and identify situations where the network is more susceptible for information to spread. People aren’t always rational, and are governed by a whole slew of factors that affect them. By looking at the network as a whole, how people are interconnected, general behavior, etc, we let probability do the work for us.

    Wrote more about it here –


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  1. […] last post really brings the matter into perspective – read ‘Does Social Influence really matter‘ by Dan Purvis. He does indicate that social influence scores cannot be used as […]

  2. […] have seen from my Does Social Influence really matter? post that I’m quite a cynic when it comes to artificial intelligence and algorithms that try […]

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