Almost since Twitter was noticed by marketers there has been a fascination with comparing who has the most followers, and so on. The general logic in this is that the more followers one has, the more people they can influence. From there all sorts of mayhem involving social media "guruship" based on a high follower count ensued.

Of course, just because you’re talking at a lot of people doesn’t make you influential. You’re influential when other people take action based on what you say or do. And inducing someone to click the "Follow" button on your Twitter profile isn’t much influence, really. When people refer to you, spread your messages and click on the links you share via Twitter, that’s much more meaningful influence.

Almost since Twitter was noticed by marketers there has been a fascination with comparing who has the most followers, and so on. The general logic in this is that the more followers one has, the more people they can influence. From there all sorts of mayhem involving social media "guruship" based on a high follower count ensued.

Of course, just because you’re talking at a lot of people doesn’t make you influential. You’re influential when other people take action based on what you say or do. And inducing someone to click the "Follow" button on your Twitter profile isn’t much influence, really. When people refer to you, spread your messages and click on the links you share via Twitter, that’s much more meaningful influence.

The problem in measuring influence seems to come down to figuring out the difference between quantity (the raw number of people you’re talking at) and quality (the degree to which you’re engaging people and helping them accomplish things). Klout is a Web-based tool for Twitter that is aimed at generating a useful measure of influence. For those of you using CoTweet, Klout scores are integrated into the profile views.

One of the things that I like about Klout is that it understands that people tend to be influential in certain topics. Aside from a few celebrities, most people are more influential in some specific online conversation: their local area, their industry, a specific sport or cultural activity.

Since Klout recognizes the fact that people are influential in their specific areas of competence, the system identifies influential individuals by topic. Of course, it includes ways of searching for specific users and lists, but that’s really just ego-gratification. The influence by topic is the real value in Klout. Click here to view Klout’s list of the most influential "tweeters" on the topic of "Chicago," as an example.

Influence by topic is valuable because we can do something with it. If we know who is influential in general, what do we know? That person is smart or popular or witty or good looking, maybe? What action do we take on that? Do we feel sorry for ourselves?

On the other hand, if we know someone is influential on a particular topic, we might do any of the following:

  • Listen to what that person says, in order to stay current on the topic.
  • Identify other people who engage with the influencer to broaden our understanding of the topic.
  • Engage the influencers in conversation about the topic.
  • Basically, by observing who is influential on a particular topic we can focus the time we spend listening and engaging via Twitter. We can use this information to save time. …CONTINUED

So how does Klout calculate its influencer score? This is a good question because many of the popular tools, like Twitter Grader, really focus heavily on raw follower count, which isn’t very useful.

Klout uses something it calls "True Reach" to whittle down your follower count to something a little more meaningful. True Reach removes all the spam accounts that follow you: You aren’t influencing spam. It also removes dormant Twitter followers: if they aren’t there, they aren’t getting your messages anyway.

Klout then finesses your remaining follower count based on whether the person following you is following thousands of others (i.e., your message is being diluted by thousands of other messages), whether you share a lot of friends or topics and so on. This is where it gets a bit more qualitative. And that’s good.

Klout also examines your content. Is it being spread by a variety of people or just the same few people (I hope that a few of my readers are setting up spam accounts to retweet themselves in an attempt to appear influential). Calculating the variety of your messages and the followers who spread your messages adds meaningful data about your ability to influence and spread a message.

From there, Klout goes on to do some measurement of the people who do spread your message. If the people spreading your message are influential themselves, this will have an impact on your Klout score.

This type of analysis, which takes into account raw numbers (quantitative data) and refines it based on relationships and actions (qualitative data), is an important aspect of measuring any social media initiative, not just Twitter. Take note of how Klout is measuring influence and apply the same ideas to your Facebook campaigns, blogging work and so on.

Ending caveat: If you’re a "Tipping Point" and Malcolm Gladwell junkie, it’s worth reviewing Duncan Watts’ research on influencers. Click here for a relevant article to get your started.

Gahlord Dewald is the president and janitor of Thoughtfaucet, a strategic creative services company in Burlington, Vt. He’s a frequent speaker on applying analytics and data to creative marketing endeavors.

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