That scenario might be imaginary, but the Klout Score, and all it entails, is quite real.
Palms' chief marketing officer, Jason Gastwirth, is currently building out "The Klout Klub," which "will allow high-ranking influencers to experience Palms' impressive set of amenities in hopes that these influencers will want to communicate their positive experience to their followers." The Palms is already pulling in data from Klout and referring to it as part of their reservations process.
This is probably the tip of the iceberg, and represents a coming brave new world in customer relations. We already know marketers are spending outsized efforts at servicing cranky Twitter complainers, bloggers and prolific review-writers. But what's coming is a bigger picture of an individual's media footprint: just how influential (powerful) is this person and how should we treat them?
As other businesses follow Palms' lead, will we see more special treatment for some at the cost of others? Undoubtedly. But we'd be naive to assume this doesn't take place in one form or another already; now there's just a branded number attached.
Founded by Joe Fernandez and Binh Tran, in 2008, Klout initially served as one of the many ego-boosting sites designed to tell Twitter users how popular they are, but the service promptly evolved. In it's current form, Klout is a sophisticated ranking system that analyzes one's activity on social networks and assigns a score to that individual based on his/her ability to influence others.
Whereas many social metrics tend to look at sheer quantity -- how many fans or followers do you reach, Klout's algorithm is much deeper and more complex. Yahoo researcher, Duncan Watts, has long preached that the number of followers is a very poor predictor of ... anything, a problem Klout circumvents by not only looking at how many people subscribe to a twitter feed, but also how often they click on posted links, respond to, list, or retweet that user, and how influential those followers are, all of which can be qualified by specific topics, keywords, and geographic regions, made possible through access to Bit.ly's link tracking metrics and Twitter's firehose of data. Among the marketers already working with Klout are Starbucks, CoverGirl, Dannon Yogurt, Virgin America, and most recently, Fox.
When Virgin America opened up its Toronto route last spring, it asked Klout to find a small group of influencers to receive a free flight, in hopes that they'd effectively spread the word. "We allotted 120 free flights for this campaign -- all of which were booked within a matter of weeks -- so we were very pleased with how much enthusiasm was generated to take advantage of our offer," said Porter Gale, VP-marketing at Virgin. "We saw a ton of social media buzz and press around the campaign which definitely helped to build awareness for our brand and product in the Toronto market."
After accruing the initial 120 participants and an additional 144 engaged influencers, the word of mouth power kicked in, as those individuals, proud to have "earned" such special treatment, generated more than 4,600 tweets about the new route. This, in turn, led to more than 7.4 million impressions and coverage in top blogs and news outlets like the L.A. Times and CNN Money. And all it took was making those original 120 participants feel special.
Before Twitter, Foursquare or Facebook, "social media strategy" usually meant finding the right bloggers to suck up to. But just about everyone quickly figured out the downside. "Throwing free samples to whole bunch of poorly targeted bloggers has serious limits," said Klout global sales head Garth Holsinger. "The individuals we engage are identified because they've worked hard to establish a credible voice on subjects that matter to them."
This week, Klout began pulling in Facebook Data to get a fuller picture of an individual's social media footprint. And according to co-founder, Joe Fernandez, they have their sights set on LinkedIn, MySpace, Digg, and even Youtube, for future integration, as the company seeks to develop their service as a legitimate standard measure of influence.
It's not too difficult to imagine the consumer uses of this kind of service once deeper integration and functionalities are added. Debating purchasing that hot new tech gadget? Use Klout to identify your friend with the most expertise in this area and tap them for a review.
However, Klout -- and the idea of influencer targeting -- isn't without its share of critics. The danger, obviously, is that businesses start to over-rely on one metric. "My issue with Klout is not that they created a system to measure influence, it's that there aren't many strong competitors for online reputation evaluation systems and so I see their rankings circulating on different websites and Twitter clients as if they were authoritative," said Liz Pullen, sociologist and analyst at What the Trend.
"Klout is like having just one credit monitoring company. You might do spectacularly good or have a terrible ranking but the validity of the ranking system itself has yet to be proven until you have another service to compare it to."
Addressing such concerns is of obvious importance to Klout's future, which is why, according to Holsinger, they are working in conjunction with Universal McCann' new social media shop, Rally, to develop a reporting structure and analytics system. I reached out to Rally for further details on the partnership, but they declined to comment.
Klout's system may not yet be perfect, but to brands like Virgin America, its value is already apparent. For years, social media has promised marketers a high return on little, if not concentrated, investment, and this may be the first step toward realizing that elusive ROI. More importantly, the platform has the potential to bring true celebrity status -- and all the associated perks -- to anyone willing to work for it.
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