What Klout Really Measures

I haven't touched upon influence measures in this space for a while, but after a bit of a brainstorm this morning, I think I've finally put my finger on just exactly what things like Klout, Kred and PeerIndex are measuring, and how a smart marketer can use these measures to actually do something worthwhile. I've been skeptical of these services here in the past (note: that's skeptical, not cynical) because they don't actually do what they say they do. Klout, "The Standard Of Influence," does not measure influence and never has. Because of that, it's easy to be dismissive of the entire category of influence measures with their ridiculously reductive "scores" and easily-gamed mechanics. Influence is swaying someone else to produce a change in state, and there is no demonstrable evidence that a higher Klout score gives you that magical power. Let's stipulate that, and move on.

The fact is, however, that influence scores measure something. The smartest thing I've heard on the matter is from my friend Mark Schaefer, who posits that influence scores measure your ability to move content--to spread a message throughout "the system." I think that's a pretty good read on the "what" of influence measures. I'm equally interested, however, in the "how" and the "why," and for that, I turned to the dark recesses of my shameful past.

You see, before I started my market research career, got my MBA and my statistical training, I was an English teacher. In fact, I was a lecturer in Rhetoric and Composition for two years at Penn State, where I taught incoming Freshmen how to frame an argument and convince their readers to adopt or consider a certain viewpoint. You know, influence. The study of Rhetoric predates the development of Klout by, well, more than a few years, and stems from the teachings of Aristotle (now, do bear with me, here.) Aristotle posited that there were three specific appeals that a writer or speaker could make in order to sway their audience, and those appeals are still taught in rhetoric/composition courses to this day.

These are the three appeals: Ethos, the argument from the author's credibility; Pathos, an appeal to the emotions of the audience; and Logos, or an appeal to the audience's sense of logic and reason. Writers who skillfully weave Ethos, Pathos and Logos (and also starring Orlando Bloom as the hot-headed D'Artagnan!) stand the best chance of swaying their audience to change their state.

I believe that what "influence measures" are working towards is this: a quantification of Ethos. They aren't there yet, but they are iterating rapidly. And I can buy a Klout score as a representation of Ethos, especially if they would finally get around to applying these scores to individual topics. But Ethos alone is insufficient. What all of these scores fail to measure--indeed, cannot measure--is the effect of the message itself. After all, Jay Baer might have a Klout score in the 70's, but if he tweets "Hey, everybody--let's go club some baby seals!" you'll see right quick that Ethos alone won't get you that new sealskin coat you've been jonesing for.

What this means to marketers who are crafting "influencer" campaigns is this: use Klout/Kred/PeerIndex et al as a first pass to identify the messengers, but know that even nailing that is barely accomplishing one third of what you need to do to actually sway people.

What's left is the hard part: first, crafting the message that you want the influencer to deliver, and if you are doing the work, that's an influencer-specific message. That's the Logos. Equally important, however, is getting the influencer to engage with that message--and that's the Pathos. I've had my own experiences with influencer campaigns, and here is something you can take to the bank: if all you are getting from your "influencer" is a retweet, that and 4 bucks will get you a latte.

If you can engage the influencer's passions, and work with them to craft a compelling logical appeal, then you can leverage the credibility of the influencer to actually sway hearts and minds. Otherwise, you're just piling up metrics like mentions and retweets that might be proxies for nothing.

Of course, this means that you need to stop thinking about Influencer marketing as a "push" campaign, and more about a partnership with the right influencers. Logos, Pathos AND Ethos will get you pretty far.

Finally, no seals were harmed in the making of this blog post.