Social influence website Klout assigns everyone a number based on their influence on social media sites, and that makes a lot of people mad. The number travels with people forever. It is very personal, said Garth Holsinger, founder of Working Man, an agency focused on influence marketing, and an early Klout employee.
Holsinger acknowledged that people often say they hate Klout — that it is like the credit-rating companies, creating a score that can affect whether or not they get a job. However, “we would watch them [people who ranted against the idea of being ranked] and they would never delete their account. Nevertheless, we hit a very deep nerve with human beings who are competitive and emotional. You have to be very careful in that area,” he said.
Detecting the role of influence on social media and brands is the future of marketing, Holsinger said in his talk. By drilling down to who the influencers are, what subjects they are influential on, whom they influence and how quickly their influence is felt, companies will reach not only the people most loyal to their brands but those who trust those people.
Holsinger — who was Klout’s VP of sales and business development until April 2012 — visited Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU) in December 2012 to discuss these concepts before a room packed with FDU alumni, businesspeople and friends of the university. Pulling the group together was James Barrood, executive director of the FDU Rothman Institute of Entrepreneurship (Madison), part of the Silberman College of Business.
For some in the room, the discussion about social marketing influence was new and opened their eyes to its potential. Holsinger’s presentation was an “aha” moment, enlightening them about how business can actually use the results of social media to sell products.
Holsinger delved into the history of Klout, noting that four early employees working at a café decided to measure the idea that “if I recommend a movie to someone and people go to that movie or they buy that movie on DVD, then I’m influential about movies.”
Klout began with the idea that everyone on Earth is influential about something or a number of things, “and we wanted to measure that. There’s a lot of public information out there on Facebook or Twitter, much more than you think,” Holsinger told the group. Data scientists can unearth those things and find out not only that someone talks about movies but that other people respond when that person talks about them.
Holsinger recalled that when he built the business side of Klout, the team had to figure out how to monetize the site. “We decided very early on that we would reach out to people who were influential in travel because Virgin America was opening a new route to Toronto from San Francisco, and “we decided we would give people who were influential about travel an experience.” Klout, in conjunction with Virgin America, put “high-score travel people” on the first plane to SFO for free. Virgin received an explosion of press coverage because there was Internet access on the plane.
The people on the plane weren’t who you’d think they’d be, Holsinger said. “We discovered a new person, the multiple-networked, superconnected early adopter. Twitter is his or her main mode of communication. And they are influential about travel. It was very exciting. We created what we called ‘influencer marketing.’ ” The campaigns for the Chevy Volt and Spotify solidified the validity of this kind of marketing, he noted.
That was “Influence 1.0,” Holsinger said. Influence 2.0 is focused on data mining. For one thing, it will use the hashtag as a way to categorize people. “The hashtag is an unexplored asset that has a long way to go,” he said.
In this next stage of influence marketing, said Holsinger,“we will look at your ability to drive actions and amplify your actions. For example, do high-score people interact with you? A retweet by a high-score person has much more impact than a retweet of your message by a low-score person. We will also look at timing: Did they retweet you instantly, one hour later or a week later? Are they in the same time zone as you? We are looking at about 50 variables all at one time. We will drill down to topics. In Influence 2.0, we will connect brands to influential people.”
Holsinger acknowledged that some influence marketing is already being done by connecting brands to influential bloggers, but that says brands are using the same bloggers and their audiences over and over again. Being able to drill down to topics, connections, connection speeds and brand loyalties will better connect brands to a hidden group of influencers.
Responding to an audience member’s question, Holsinger noted that Klout acknowledges its power. “At one point we changed our scoring methodology without telling anyone, and before we knew it there were 2 million people on Twitter with the ‘Occupy Klout’ movement hashtag.” That incident made Klout realize it needed to communicate better with its audience.