Kill Influence Scores; Improve Influence Marketing

By: Guest | February 12, 2013 | 

Today’s guest post is by Sam Fiorella.

Last year will certainly be remembered by many marketers as the year social scoring was “called out.”

Blog posts, articles, and conference presentations about social influence scoring platforms such as Klout, Kred, and PeerIndex were fodder for heated debate, criticisms, and rants.

Aside from the common “influence cannot be measured by a numeric rank” protest, common criticisms included: Inaccurate scores and faulty algorithms, lack of context represented in the scores, undefined relationships between influencers and followers, no real connection to sales results, improper use of scores by HR and customer service departments, and the scores are easily manipulated.

Debate the Score

The one common denominator that seems to fuel the debate is the actual score.  A number from one to 100 assigned to you by a mysterious third party – often without you knowing it – that infers something about you that may or may not be accurate. A score that makes a statement about your persona, experience or status that may or may not be true. A number that may dictate how you’re treated by brands or employers.

That’s a lot of power in a seemingly arbitrary number. The level of vitriol surrounding influence platforms exists because people take exception to the score. They don’t understand it. They want it to be higher; they don’t agree or like what it represents. If these platforms did not publicly brand people in this way, I suspect they would have generated a small fraction of the negative publicity that was hurled at them this past year and possibly gained wider acceptance from the marketing community.

So Why the Scores? 

Senior personnel at Kred and PeerIndex, two of the leading social influence scoring platforms today, confirmed to me in recent interviews influence marketing is still in its infancy with lots of room for growth. Further refinement and improvements are based on the quantity and quality of data that such firms acquire and analyze. Certainly, each of these companies is making great strides towards that end.

Unfortunately, a lot of the conversational data we produce through social channels such Facebook, the world’s largest social network, is not publicly available unless, of course, you allow these firms access to your data.

Why would you allow them such access?

To increase your score of course! To earn the social status and improved customer service available to those with higher scores and to access the perks they, through their clients, make available. You see, publicly available scores are an integral part of the plan to gain more access to data. It’s an effective tool to encourage greater usage through repeat visits and viral sharing – all of which are required to get more data.

Why Display the Rank?

Yet firms such as Appinions, which boasts its software’s ability to accurately identify brand influencers for Fortune 500 clients, don’t publicly display an influencer’s rank. Partly because that number is variable based on the context of the assignment and partly, in their words, because “influence is not a game.”

If public scores were not available, the level of gamification and manipulation by enterprising individuals would decrease drastically and that cloud might be lifted from the industry.

Is Appinions any more or less effective at identifying someone’s influence over other people? Is this just a brand game it’s playing or a sign of things to come for this industry?

Influence marketing – or the measurement of someone’s influence across social channels – is not a passing trend, but a marketing discipline that will only continue to evolve. Whatever the next phase of influence marketing will have in store, it’s clear to me that to gain the trust of brand managers, public scoring of individuals must be given a serious second thought.

What’s your take? Are publicly displayed scores preventing the influence marketing industry from gaining acceptance? Is it realistic to think that these firms will ever abandon the practice? Is it even necessary?

Sam is a partner at Sensei Marketing, a consulting and technology firm focused on aiding global companies grow their business value through improved customer experiences. He’s also the co-author (with Danny Brown) of Influence Marketing: How To Create, Manage and Measure Brand Influencers in Social Media. Connect with Sam: Web | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn

  • belllindsay

    It’s going to be so interesting to watch 2013 as “the year of the score/anti-score” unfolds. You make very strong arguments for anti-scoring, and I love how Appinions keeps their influencer’s scores hidden. Very clever. We’ll see how this baby grows and matures, eh?
    I’m also looking forward to your’s and Danny’s book in the spring, congrats again!

    • @belllindsay Thanks. I’m excited to share it.

  • Thanks for the mention, Sam! We saw a shift last year in the public’s understanding of how personal influence tools work. I think the fact that people (especially marketers) are now more informed and can understand the difference between personal influence vs. context-based influence is helping influence marketing gain acceptance and credibility. 
    Marketing Manager, Appinions

    • @nyerr Agreed. Influence marketing will grow exponentially in the next few years. We’re in the very early days right now.
      I’m very curious about how the public scoring concept will evolve. How the wider market will accept or reject it, and how it will impact the success of those that choose to use it (or not).

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  • kfreberg

    RT @ginidietrich: The influence social scoring debate by @samfiorella

  • Man, I’m disappointed you didn’t that new word I taught you, twas a perfect opportunity haha!  Joking aside, I could read your take on influence marketing for hours.  I don’t know if it’s the publicly displayed scores contributing to anti-scoring as much as being able to “give” influence to people with plussies and what not.  Influence is earned, not given.  As for the hidden scores, it’s interesting and all, but as they say you don’t know what you don’t know.  Sounds good for big biz and brands but the people won’t know or care what’s going on behind the scene.  Enjoyed this, Sam.

    • @TonyBennett Fair enough. If you believe in them, social influence scores are important to brands. Brands don’t need to see them publicly – they need to see them in the analysis/campaign reports instead. If they’re removed from public displays, will the value still be the same to brands?

  • Me thinks you are stoking the fire here. The debate will run and run. In my opinion the scores are here to stay. People will continue to rant about them and continue to use them incorrectly, but smart marketers will not rely on them in isolation as they will glean greater contextual insight from other data sources. Bring on the book!

    • @HughAnderson My job is to open debate so I’m good with ‘stoking the fire.’  It’s how we get passed social platitudes.

  • matthixson

    The challenge with any general scoring mechanism is that social is not as simple as ranking us into a list of people.  “Influence” is a very personal and unique thing.  Based on the topic that I’m interested in, I have built different relationships that I get my information from.  Ranking and lists don’t tell me if person 1 and person 5 interact or not.  If my objective is to get my message heard the most effective way to do that is to have someone that my audiences trusts tell them.  It is more about finding the right people with the right relationships to get to the right audience in a way that audience will actually consume your message and care.

    • belllindsay

      @matthixson “If my objective is to get my message heard the most effective way to do that is to have someone that my audiences trusts tell them.” – Exactly!! I’m not going to listen to someone because they’re hugely popular. I’m going to listen to the people I TRUST! Whether they have a hundred thousand followers or a thousand. And I agree with @HowieG about activity – who cares how many followers you have if you only tweet to 100 of them and only twice a day? Matt, maybe you ARE more than just a pretty face! (private joke people, private joke!) 😀

    • mainwilk

      @matthixson I like what you say. We are in an age of context. What you call personal and unique, I call relevant (tomayto tomahto). As a marketer, I want to know who is leading a conversation I care about or want to be a part or want to learn from. 
      Thanks @samfiorella for brewing up needed debate!

    • @matthixson I agree with you on this. When you say “influence” I think “impressions” e.g. the tiny bits of data that humans store away from every interaction. The list of potential impressions is huge, and until Klout and others properly account for this the effectiveness of their rankings beyond the popularity category are going to be limited.
      In a (darkly?) comical way it sort of reminds me of the mumbo jumbo that people use when talking about dating. “He’s a 9” or “she’s a 7” are pretty arbitrary. How about “7 out of 10 sycophants think he’s awesome”….. that might be good information I could use 😉

    • @matthixson  Agreed. I’m fixated on the idea of influence marketing evolving to a sales strategy vs. a pure promotion/branding play. To do so, influence must be measured as someone’s ability to measurable impact the behavior of another, to contribute to a purchase decision. Public scoring doesn’t reflect or predict that ability.
      Yet, as others have said, public scores are not going away. There seems to be a disconnect between what marketing strategists say – and what they’re doing.

      • matthixson

        @samfiorella I agree – it won’t go away because people are vain and like to be compared to others.  It is human nature.  Because it is not solving real business problems I see them being used less and less by businesses to achieve business objectives.  Other real analytics will quickly replace that.  Because they can still tempt people to be scored and the notion of increasing your score by connecting more profiles together they could be a great play on selling unified identity data.  That would give people something different to hate on about them. 🙂

  • @samfiorella I have this sense that influence scoring is sticking around and will be part of our lives whether we like or not. Not unlike our credit scores. I find myself dismayed to see how influence scores are being used today and fascinated to think about the potential growth of this industry. The amount of data that exists about us that can connected to reveal patterns is astounding, and the tools to analyze this data are becoming more and more sophisticated (I’m looking at YOU, @matthixson ). We’re in for a roller coaster ride on this one and its anybody’s guess where this will all lead us.

    • @allenmireles  I wish it weren’t so, but I agree. There’s a big business/revenue model in maintaining and promoting people’s social influence scores. Yet, there are many like Appinions that don’t use this tactic and I’ve seen first-hand how powerful and accurate their program is. @matthixson

  • I hate to say it, but I learned something reading your post because I was unaware of Appinions, and I’m intrigued.  I KNOW you’re right – the scores will stick around, but I am VERY wary of them because, thus far, they’ve all been bunk. Geoff Livingston had a great discussion on G+ with the CEO of Kred, and others….   it was great that Andrew Gill jumped in, but in the end I still think their opt out system is too Klout-like.  
    I GET why Influence matters, I just don’t like any of the yard sticks yet.

    • @AmyMccTobin  Best to build your own yard stick using today’s available tools.

    • @AmyMccTobin Hi Amy – I’d love to introduce you to Appinions if you’re interested in learning more. I can be reached at

  • CMSExpo

    @samfiorella #bizforum oh no! you mentioned Klowt, Kried & PierIndecks in your blogpost! We were ignoring them sooo well!

  • HowieG

    My motto @samfiorella don’t trust anyone with a Klout score over 50.
    I think Brands have to privately score. I mean would I rather have someone who has uber sway over 10 people or someone who has light sway over 1000?
    I have experienced things that only students of networks would see. I personally have built a few brand communities. Over 60% of Facebook users keep their account 100% private. So what would get someone to give their data to an influence business? A bribe? Would that devalue a brand’s pricing position? If I always get a bribe won’t i view the pricing differently?
    The other thing I found is that there are lots of small networks on Twitter. Where people have a few friends and stay in touch and heavily tweet. I would run promos for a clients and wondered why someone always won. Well if you follow only 40 accounts and my client is one you see all the tweets. I would then check them out and see a small network but say 10,000 20k 30k tweets. Obviously there is heavy influence within such a network If I had a network of 30 real life friends and we tweet a lot that would trump a Chris Brogan with his followers who most likely will never buy a product based on his influence.

    • @HowieG It does seem logical that score-based influencer determination would be more valuable if the ranks were not publicly displayed – and thus open to human nature, vanity and gamification.
      Yet, without it many people might not plug those private networks into the program. But then you’re back at the beginning with the perception of gamed data.
      Seems to me that creating and nurturing  your own communities is a good alternative?

  • Don’t hate me because my Klout score is over 40. I just can’t help being social. 
    I’m an old-fashioned boy and believe that a Google search is a great indicator of influence.

    • @barrettrossie The reason I hate you has nothing to do with your Klout score.

  • GetAboutMe

    @samfiorella the whole thing is doomed, since by it’s very algorithmic nature it only validates the top percentiles.

  • InNetworkInc

    @davidcrow hey David- thanks for the retweet- whats ur take on influencer scores?

    • davidcrow

      @InNetworkInc don’t live them but people want/need ways to quantitatively differentiate beyond follower count

  • Fortunately, for the social media blogging community, social influence will be hot-button blog fodder for the next several years. For most of the rest of the world, whose incomes and/or status aren’t determined by their online influence scores, life will go on as planned. Thankfully.

    • @danperezfilms You’re right. Until people start to realize that their customer service calls are being re-prioritized because of scores they didn’t know they had. The scope of this “issue” is limited today. The “spray factor” will change that over the next few years as consumers become aware of how their profiles impact them.

  • My biggest problem with these scores is that the people who are using them and referencing them are not educated about how they are acquired and the immaturity of the algorithm itself.

    • @C_Pappas True enough. Most of the misuse is on the part of businesses and individuals who impose more value and meaning than they deserve (today anyway).  Industry has to evolve…yet I can’t help but wonder how the continuing misuse of the public scores will impact that evolution.

  • mainwilk

    @samfiorella You ask a great question: are publicaly displayed score preventing the influence marketing industry from gaining acceptance. From my vantage point at Traackr, the answer is no. Marketers who get the dynamics of social influence are charging ahead. We are still in the “first-movers” advantage phase, but disgust with biased, faulty social scores is not preventing really powerful influencer outreach and engagement strategies. These marketers don’t pay attention to popularity as a sole metric because they care about results, which means they are engaging with people who can actually impact their business. The bold are out there doing it!

    • @mainwilk Thanks for sharing your perspective.  I’m curious  – when you say “marketers … are charging ahead” do you mean marketers using tools such as Traackr to identify/engage influencers or marketers building their individual profiles/scores?

      • mainwilk

        @samfiorella The first: identifying and engaging with influencers as part of their social strategies. For the record, I don’t know what my klout score is. 🙂

        • @mainwilk Ah, yes. Well I know that marketers are using influence marketing campaigns more and more. I’ve seen some very successful campaigns run with Traackr. 
          That doesn’t change the question though. What, if any, impact will individuals’ publicly promoted scores have towards the sentiment of these programs? Would the metrics be any better or worse if they didn’t employ this tactic?

        • @mainwilk  @samfiorella I think this is the core difference too, Evy. With Klout, Kred and PeerIndex, personal scores are there for the public to see and “aspire to”, if that’s their intent.
          With platforms like yours and others that don’t take social scoring as one of the lead metrics – especially publicly – you’re able to present a more realistic overview, because no-one knows what score someone is until logged in. Even then, it’s in flux and not publicly shareable.
          When we offer the ability to view our scores, and compare to others, those that buy into the “I’m not as good as that person because Social Score X says so” will try and game the system to become “more” influential.
          As long as that’s happening, the metrics will continue to be devalued.
          The again, I’m Scottish, so what the heck do I know? 🙂

  • jay_zo

    @secretsushi @ginidietrich amen!

  • Sam boycotts Klout and he would still have a higher score than me if he opt’d back in (I am unworthy)! That is because he is a true influencer of discussions around marketing and influence. Me, I just follow him around and comment that Livefyre and Disqus should be sources in any influence scoring algorithm because I think they are two of the best indicators of true influencers that impact discussions and opinions around topics they are passionate about.
    That is true influence. Same could be said for Yelp, BestBuy, Amazon and TripAdvisor reviews. Those user reviews impact a lot of buying/reservation decisions.
    I did like the idea of the influence scoring that does not publicize the score. That reduces the obvious gaming attempts, but people will always game these types of scores – once they get a feel for the datasources – because they want the perks that come with the high score.
    Looking forward to reading a pending book on Influence Marketing that doesn’t focus so much on scoring algorithms.

    • @dbvickery Please don’t inflate his already ballooned ego. 🙂

      • @Danny Brown You are right, Danny – use that editorial process, from being a recent book author, to strike the first 2-3 sentences from my comment.
        What was I thinking…I really follow Sam just hoping to steal his cognac.

    • @dbvickery Back away from my Cognac. You may lose a hand.
      Regarding your comment you’re right  – not about me, about the fact that the interaction consumers on sites outside of Twitter such as Amazon, BestBuy, Yelp and those in blogs are potentially a better data source for the impact of influence by one person over another. Yet, even that is limited in isolation.
      At some point, we’ll have the ability to combine the activity of individuals on multiple sites and platforms with the relationships they have with others in those sites and platforms, and measure the transactional impact that their social engagement produced.
      I have a dream.
      Thanks for taking the time to comment.
      p.s. @Danny Brown  Bite me.

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  • ArbinDobbs

    @JeffSheehan @samfiorella @SpinSucks we never walked around with numbers over our head showing how popular we are. #influence #socialmedia

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  • Acuity_Design

    @PaulBromford @samfiorella @bowden2bowden still trying to find measure mixing inner & outer meanings of identity. Influence is awful idea

    • PaulBromford

      @Acuity_Design @samfiorella @bowden2bowden idea of incorporating amazon reviews, tripadvisor etc is interesting

      • Acuity_Design

        @PaulBromford @samfiorella @bowden2bowden 360 degree meaning? Most human comms is body language & we’re in 8 bit digital social sampling

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