It Takes More Than Klout to Influence

Lately, a lot of people have been talking about social influence.

In particular, marketers have tried to identify ways to find the right people to target so that they can get these so called “influencers” to spread their brand’s message to others via the Internet and hopefully convince more people to purchase their products and services.

As influencer marketing has gained acceptance, tools have been created to help brands indentify these “influential” people.

However, this is easier said than done.

Some Problems With Measuring Influence

Earlier this month, Dr. Michael Wu wrote an article for TechCrunch that pointed out some of the problems with the current tools used to measure social influence. In particular, he pointed out that there is no way to validate whether or not the models or algorithms that sites like Klout use to measure social influence are really accomplishing what they set out to accomplish.

Dr. Wu goes on to point out that not only do we not know whether or not the models or algorithms are an accurate measure of influence to begin with, given the nature of what they are measuring, people are going to find ways to game the system to increase their score, further undermining the validity of the measurement.

Furthermore, as Rohn Jay Miller points out in his blog post on, Klout and other measures of influence don’t accurately take into account what topic a person is influential on.

For example, Miller points out that Nate Silver has a Klout score of 89. And, nobody who knows who Nate Silver is would question the fact that he is influential when it comes to predicting elections. However, would many people be influenced to purchase CrestComplete toothpaste if Nate Silver said he uses the product? Probably not.

In their defense, Klout does list the topics that they think a person has some influence on. However, they don’t give an individual score for each topic. And, these topics can also be gamed.

Additional Problems With Influencer Marketing

There are additional problems that arise when marketers add influencer marketing to their marketing mix. However, these problems are more about the nature of influence, itself.

For example, before you begin, you need to know whether or not the brand is selling a quality product. Furthermore, you need to know whether or not it fills a need that consumers have better than other products.

If the answer to both of these questions is yes, then having a popular person help create awareness about the product might be all that is needed.

On the other hand, if the brand is selling an inferior product, even the most influential person in the world might not be able to get consumers to purchase it.

Furthermore, the product needs to fill a need that the people who are being influenced have. For example, if a person who has some influence in getting people in Florida to purchase products endorses a brand of snowmobiles, it is very likely that not many snowmobiles are going to get sold based on the endorsement, because most of these consumers have no need for the product.

In other words, there are many factors that need to be taken into account, beyond social influence.

As Sam Fiorella points out in a blog post on, “influence marketing (marketing campaigns oriented around individuals perceived to have influence over a larger community), are ineffectual on the consumers’ purchase decisions when they are not interwoven into a more complex influence campaign that takes into account other decision-making factors such as culture, purchase lifecycle, context of the relationships between “influencers” and their audience, etc.”

Influence Is a Team Sport

Most marketers will agree that it takes more than one interaction with a brand in order to convert a potential customer into a customer.

I’d argue that the same logic holds true for influencer marketing. That is, a brand might not be able to get consumers to buy their product by getting one “influencer” to mention or endorse their product. However, if multiple influential people are talking about the product or service, I’d speculate that the likelihood of conversion would increase.

The key is finding the right combination of influencers. However, we are right back to where we started.

The Importance of Influencer Marketing

In his post, Rohn Jay Miller states, “Truly understanding how digital influence works is a challenge we’ve barely begun to understand.”

I completely agree.

Miller also explains that using content strategy, search engine optimization and social engagement are becoming more important for building relationships with customers and that the solution for each individual company will be unique and will require that they find ways to build trust with their customers.

Again, I completely agree.

However, his blog post ends with a statement that implies that influencer marketing is completely ineffective.

As you probably can tell from this post, I disagree.

The foundation for my disagreement is based on the fact that I think that it is too early to arrive at this conclusion.

Final Thoughts

There are definite problems with the current measures of social influence. In fact, I often wonder why companies put so much emphasis on Klout scores. Then again, until we have a better measure of social influence, people will most likely continue to use them.

We also need to keep in mind that there are other issues with influencer marketing beyond the measurement difficulties.

Companies that do include influencer marketing in their marketing mix need to make sure that they take all the factors into account when developing their marketing strategy. Among other things, this includes looking at the product itself, the needs of their customers and potential customers, and finding the right influencer to match each individual demographic group that they are trying to reach.

I also think that the more influencers who mention or endorse the product or service the better, as the combined effect will probably have a greater impact on consumers’ purchase decisions. (Keep in mind, though, that an endorsement from the wrong person could have an adverse effect on sales.)

Companies also need to keep in mind that sometimes the most influential person for a given consumer might not be a famous superstar or expert; the most influential person might be their friend, family member, or their neighbor from across the street. Therefore, every interaction with every consumer is extremely important. It is also part of the reason why I say that every interaction with a consumer is marketing.

It is for these reasons that I feel that influencer marketing has a lot of potential. However, it needs to be based on factors beyond a person’s Klout score. And, it definitely needs to be part of a more comprehensive marketing strategy.

Photo credit: BrentOzar on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Chad Thiele

I am a marketing analyst and strategist. I earned my master's degree from West Virginia University in Integrated Marketing Communications in 2023. I also hold a bachelor's degree from UW-Madison in Sociology with a Concentration in Analysis and Research, and I completed the Mobile Marketing Professional Certificate Program from Auburn University in 2015.