Social media influence is a bit like oxygen – we "know" its there and we know in some sense that it is essential for “life” if we’re in marketing, advertising or public relations, but can we capture it in a jar and observe it? No. Well, at least not entirely.
Any number of tools – freely available on the Web – purport to tell us our overall social media influence or at least a slice of it (a la Twitter).
While none is perfect or complete yet, using a combination of them can prove useful.
Here then is a roundup of tools that measure influence in the social web:
Broad social web tools
Klout: Klout currently track a user’s Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and Foursquare activity. It is reportedly looking at Google+ integration. From the Klout blog: "We think you are influential. Klout isn’t about figuring out who is on the 'A-list.' We believe that every person who creates content has influence. Our mission is to help every individual understand and leverage their influence."
PeerIndex: How PeerIndex describes what it measures: "PeerIndex: a measure of your online social capital. Topic fingerprint: a snapshot of what you talk about. Topic resonance: how much other people find what you share valuable. Comparisons: compare yourself to your friends and peers. "
Twentyfeet: What Twentyfeet says it offers: "Aggregated stats in one place. Your overview of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, bit.ly, Google Analytics, Myspace and more. See how your key performance indicators develop over time. We nudge you when your metrics change significantly."
Empire Avenue: From the home page: "Invest your social capital in people and brands for free using virtual currency" and "Engage and expand your social networks, and learn how to use social media more effectively." Whether a virtual stock exchange and virtual currency truly relates to social standing is still hotly debated on the web.
WhoSay: This invite-only service says this about itself: "WhoSay is a service that helps artists, athletes and iconic personalities connect with their fans. When you see someone posting via WhoSay, you'll know that it's real, authentic messages, photos and videos coming from your favorite people…. As a fan, you may arrive at your favorite artist's, athlete's or personality's WhoSay page by visiting their existing social media sites." In other words, just being here means you likely have influence.
PostRank : This service says it "tracks where and how users engage, and what they pay attention to — in real-time." PostRank says it measures user activity, "the most accurate indicator of the relevance and influence of a site, story, or author." By using Postrank, in a sense, you’re advertising your social popularity so brands can connect with you.
Influencer Exchange: Appinions: From the website: "For any user defined topic, brand or issue, the Influencer Exchange helps you discover, identify, engage and monitor the leading influencers. Leveraging the power of opinions, the Influencer Exchange embraces the Web, social media, forums and news articles to provide a comprehensive view of the influencer landscape."
Tweetlevel: From the How To Use page: "TweetLevel is a purpose built tool for PR and marketing to help ensure brands use Twitter effectively." From the About page: "This tool will be in permanent beta as we seek to continually improve its functionality based upon your feedback. Even though we believe that it goes a great way to understand and quantify the varying importance of different people's usage of Twitter, by no means whatsoever do we believe we have fully solved the 'influence' problem.”
Twitalyzer: Twitalyzer looks at who is in your social network and, mostly for a variety of fees will give you data across at more than 25 metrics. From the site’s Benchmarks page: "Twitalyzer's Benchmark report allows you to generate ranked lists of Twitter users based on their stated location and the tags that have been applied to their profile."
TweetGrader (formerly TwitterGrader): A site that allows users to see how they compare to hundreds of thousands of other Twitter users, see how they rank in their geographic area, track Follower history and a Quick Follower Check to see if another Twitter user is following you.
Twitaholic: "How's this work? Our Twit-tastic robots scan Twitter a few times a day to determine who’s the biggest twit." Enter your Twitter account name to get your ranking on Twitter (by followers) and by location. This site also encourages you to click through to Twitter Counter.
Twitter Counter: From the site: "Twitter Counter provides statistics of Twitter usage and tracks over 14 million users and counting." Once you’ve entered your Twitter name you can compare your states with two other users.
I WILL influence you! Wouldn’t social media be turned on its head if simply stating this made it so?
Well, to read some of the debates about social media and influence (and in particular about tools that claim to measure influence) you might think that the whole concept of influence is new and somehow unique to the social web.
But in reality influence (and here I use the term in the sense as defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as "the power or capacity of causing an effect in indirect or intangible way") has always existed. It’s just that in the open, transparent social web there are now many ways to attempt to measure that influence.
The mere availability of these tools is not what is getting folks riled up. No, it’s that some people are publicly admitting to using these tools to make potentially life-changing decisions such as hiring or business relationships.
And this leaves me, Dear Reader, with a dilemma when it comes to advising college students: Should they or should they not pay attention to these scores?
Adding to the debate/confusion/concern are a number of recent writings:
For example, Stephanie Rosenbloom in her New York Times June 25 piece Got Twitter? You’ve Been Scored Begins with: "Imagine a world in which we are assigned a number that indicates how influential we are…. This is not science fiction. It’s happening to millions of social network users. "
It goes on to quote Azeem Azhar, chief executive of PeerIndex: "We’re at the start of this journey and we expect the journey to take us into much more nuance and granularity."
It then quotes Mark Schaefer of Schaefer Marketing expressing concern "that we are moving closer to creating social media caste systems, where people with high scores get preferential treatment by retailers, prospective employers, even prospective dates."
Then Schaefer, a social media commentator and adjunct professor of marketing at Rutgers University stirred things up with his July 20 blog post The making of a social media slut where he worries that "An algorithmic measure of influence can never tell the whole story, but it seems that it is starting to become a quick and easy indicator of … something."
The blog is worth a read for its rumination on what the scoring of social presence might mean. But what’s particularly worthy of a read are the comments which, range from "Wow. I feel like I'm back in high school and trying to fit in with the "cool kids" to "If any of those kids had sent me a Klout score, they would have gotten the job."
The debate got so hot-and-heavy that Schaefer felt he needed to comment on his own blog a few days later. His comments are insightful:
"One of the common responses in the comments is that Klout is flawed and even stupid. I can imagine a similar reaction from people who went to see the first silent movies. "This is stupid. The people don't even talk." Similarly, social scoring is in the silent movie era. Klout has millions in VC money and a dozen PhD researchers figuring this out. It is going to get more accurate, more meaningful every day. I'm not defending any company in the field. I'm simply offering a suggestion to be aware of the TREND, not the data point."
Then on July 26 social media author and internationally known speaker Chris Brogan weighed in with his blog post Influencers where he first advises: "Please stop worrying about your Klout score, or your stock price on Empire Avenue and on all kinds of other measures that don’t have much to do with anything related to your real world."
Before refining his point in answer to a comment: "It's like that line in the Social Network: a million dollars isn't cool; a BILLION dollars is cool. Or however they said it. To me, having a high Klout score isn't cool; having the ear of important people that shift things is cool. : )"
Again a comment war raged on this blog – and is worth a read.
So where does this leave me in terms of advising students?
I think I have to come down on the side of: "Be aware of these tools and what they say about you, but don’t spend your days trying to game the system and raise your scores."
So what do you think? Has social media evolved to the point where measuring each other’s activities with a numeric score makes business or hiring sense?
Got Klout? In social media 2011 is turning out to be the Year of Klout.
The service that began in September, 2009 has rocketed to the front of the pack of tools that attempt to measure overall influence across social platforms.
So what is Klout? It takes social network data and measures the likelihood that each user’s connections will act upon anything that user shares on their networks and then calculates the influence of those connections and their ability to cause actions. In other words it tracks online influence and gives each user a ranking on a scale of 1 to 100.
Initially Klout measured its users’ Twitter and Facebook influence, but 2011 has seen some big changes:
Early 2011: Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome offer add-ons: This allows users of these two browsers to instantly see the Klout score of all the people in their Twitter stream.
May, 2011: Launched a new section on the Klout website highlighting Klout Perks. According to the company’s blog: "Klout Perks are exclusive offers or experiences, given as a result of your Klout. Perks allow brands to connect with influencers in their area of expertise."
Jun 1: Introduced +K: This is a way, as Klout explains on its blog, to augment the data captured by Klout. The tool lets Klout users vouch for their peers’ influence in topics Klout has associated with each user.
June 14: Added Linkedin data to the influence score because with 100 million users of the professional network Klout said it believed adding Linkedin would make for a more accurate overall score.
July 12: Announced its data is in high demand: Klout says that it served more than two billion API calls in the month of June – or four times the demand of three months prior. This means large numbers of services are now seeing value in pulling Klout data.
July 14: Announces that Foursquare is now integrated into Klout scoring. According to a Mashable interview with Klout CEO Joe Fernandez adding Foursquare "is the start of an aggressive process from Klout to add more data sources and granularity to the Klout scores."
And possibly in the near future?
Google+ integration: According to a July 20 post on Klout’s official blog the company has "already started work on ways to assess your influence on Google+"
More on Klout: • For an example of how Klout stirs passionate debate over the whole topic of measuring social media influence check out Mark Schaefer’s The making of a social media slut blog post (especially the comments area).