A High Klout Score Doesn’t Mean You’re An Influencer

Incoming Social strategist rant: proceed at your own risk…. 

Influencer programs are in vogue right now. And I’m totally a fan. Social network analysis has always pointed to “nodes”- people who have disproportionate influence within a conversation and subsequent actions. This holds true as well in the social media age. In 2012, Pew published a report called “Why most Facebook users get more than they give” featuring the finding that a small number of Facebook users have a disproportionately large impact in terms of social interaction- from liking, to tagging photos, to poking (remember that?!) to friending. Pew calls these “power users” but in our 2015 terminology the tendency would be to call at least a good proportion of these users “Influencers”: People who drive engagement and have a disproportionate reach through their networks. Strategically, therefore, Influencer programs are a terrific way to reach out to your audience and build relationships.

Unfortunately the concept has been twisted beyond recognition thanks to Klout, Forbes, and other such “lists” the belief is that there are just generic “Influencers” who you can go to and abracadabra get the output you’re looking for. This is totally inane. EVEN celebrities don’t have total Influence. They appeal to different demographics, across different issues, and with differing levels of credibility.

Going back to the Pew example- the “power users” that they identified are “influencers” on Facebook within their own networks. And that’s as much as you can glean from this data. The Obama campaign took the analysis to another level by analyzing the type of content that users posted and their social networks to make use of power users who were advocates for the campaign who had independents and other “persuadable” voters within their networks. But still- these were individuals on Facebook. No doubt they had a different set for Twitter- there may be overlap but this should never be assumed.

Note all of the research and caveats that go into defining these “Influencers”. If you want to build a social strategy around Influencers you must answer the “who, what, where, and why” before you can even start to compute data.

  • Who: What type of Influencer are you looking for? A blogger, a social network contributor, a big name offline as well as online?
  • Where: What circle(s) are you looking to Influence and on what platform?
  • Why: What’s the end goal? Are you looking to make a sale? Do you want to Influence opinion?

This is the level of analysis that you need to go into to identify an Influencer who will actually serve as an asset for your end goal. Seriously. So please put aside the lists and the generic scores (seriously analytics companies just give it a rest!). Those may be great for landing speaking gigs and building your personal brand- BUT they are not a measure of actual Influence when it comes to putting together a serious campaign where you’re looking for actual results.

So PLEASE let’s put aside the generic overgeneralizing in favor of something that emphasizes the need for serious research. I’ve taken to utilizing the term “niche-influencer”- but anyone has a better idea I’m all ears

Tweet me at @suzimcc 🙂


  1. I was always taught that when you are going to be negative you should sandwich it with something positive. Your examples have merit. However, I didn’t see an alternative to KLOUT. What Klout tells me is that if you are going to go for a social media manager or marketing position, you should at least register on the scale. Granted, the scores are based on the entire blob of people, but at least it shows that you have influence: which means, people follow you because you have developed a strong presence in social media, people will follow you because it appears as though your content is interesting and people tend to click on your links. I’ve been watching the debates since I joined social media in 2010, and read lots of pros and cons on Klout. Giving credit where credit is due, they have developed the reputation of at least taking the masses and identifying those who have recognizable awareness. Celebrities get high Klout scores because they have influence by shere numbers. To disregard this genre, would be to disregard the piles of money some celebrities are starting to get paid for Tweeting (like an endorsement) of a particular brand. I will gift you an article from Adweek (the authority magazine that the advertising community turns to for industry insights) http://www.adweek.com/news/advertising-branding/are-celebrity-social-endorsements-worth-big-bucks-or-gamble-152781 — real examples of celebrities being paid to endorse products. There will be a day, when brands will seek out individuals, non-celebrities, to endorse their products for financial reward. That should be championed because of the many efforts, great causes the average Joe or Josephine support because they care, they don’t expect anything back. Until someone comes up with a better idea, Klout will rule.
    Jeannette Marshall


  2. Well, Suzie, you may have something here. As with many things, ‘influencer’ hype does not equal influencer efficacy. I like the term you’ve coined: ‘niche influencer.’ It’s as good as any I might come up with. The truth is, as you’ve stated, we each have only limited influence, even in our intimate networks (that fraction of followers that are actually listening). But this is where analytics, used appropriately, may come in. The issue, as you say, is analyzing the right things. I don’t think analytics are sophisticated enough yet to tell us what ‘nodes’ correlate to specific topics and issues and sentiments with enough certainty to target messages with any accuracy. But hitting the right ‘niche influencers’ is a start…


  3. […] I’d like to say that this is a great news for social strategists but unfortunately it tends not to be. Many CMOs still see the world in terms of old-school marketing tactics where reach and impressions are what matter. They want quantitative results and have no time for the essential qualitative component that social strategists provide. Consequently the complexities of Influencer marketing, for example, often ends up being measured by the blunt instruments of clicks, retweets, follower count and Klout scores. A social strategist knows that approached in this way the promised results of influencer marketing will be severely diluted. Influencer marketing must be coupled with social network analysis. […]


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