I've been keeping an eye -- a skunk eye -- on Mitt Romney. Or, rather, @MittRomney, his Twitter identity and his official Facebook page at facebook.com/mittromney.
If we're to believe Klout, the self-described "standard for influence," the former governor of Massachusetts and failed presidential candidate is still hugely relevant in social media. As of this writing, he's got a lofty Klout score of 88 out of 100 -- the same score that Kim Kardashian has (though both Kim and Mitt are below Kanye West's 92).
How has Mitt maintained such remarkable influence? Let's go to the tape:
• Over the past several months he's cut way back on using social media -- perhaps to, uh, stimulate demand through scarcity? For instance, on Twitter, he's tweeted, as of this writing, precisely three times since losing the presidential race in November: once right after his loss ("From the bottom of our hearts, Ann and I thank you for your support, prayers, efforts, & vote. We are forever grateful to every one of you."); once on Valentine's Day (a retweet of his wife's tweet, "Lucky me, with Craig and Mary's new twins born today, I become grandmother to 20"); and once a couple weeks ago, in a bland, boilerplate yawner ("Our nation is still full of aspirations and hungry for new solutions. We're a nation of invention and of optimism") that linked to the full text (on Facebook) of his recent Conservative Political Action Conference speech.
• Post-election, Mitt also took on an ambitious, high-profile schedule of ... pumping gas and buying breakfast cereal. A couple weeks after the election, a photo of a disheveled Mitt pumping his own gas in La Jolla, Calif., showed up on Reddit (caption: "Mitt Romney at my local gas station ... he looks tired and washed up"). And then on the first of March, a shot of Mitt in a CVS, smiling and holding a couple boxes of cereal -- one Honey Nut Cheerios and one Frosted Mini-Wheats -- hit the internet, also via Reddit. (One Redditor noted that General Mills cereals were on sale -- 2 for $5 -- at CVS that week. But while Cheerios are from General Mills, Mini-Wheats are from Kellogg's, which raises serious questions about Mitt's commitment to fiscal conservatism and attention to details.)
• You may recall seeing reports in the media last November about how Mitt's Facebook fans went scrambling for the exits post-election loss; poor fella's "like" count was dropping at a rate of more than 500 per hour in the days immediately after the election. Some smartass even created a site, DisappearingRomney.com, that showed Mitt's plummeting Facebook popularity in real time.
• Same deal over on Twitter, pretty much. Despite his CPAC speech, TwitterCounter.com shows Mitt unable to stem follower defections -- with a loss of an average of 837 Twitter followers per day in recent weeks.
Yet Mitt's Klout score has dropped only a tiny bit from November, when he was at 92 -- vs. 99 (then and to this day) for President Barack Obama. Around Thanksgiving, Mitt dropped to 91; dropped again, to 90, in December; then held steady at 90 until February, when he briefly fell to 87 before recovering a bit of ground and arriving at his current 88.
The recent uptick is no doubt due to the social buzz surrounding his CPAC speech. The negative social buzz surrounding his crummy CPAC speech, that is. (The National Journal declared it to be "as lackluster as his campaign," and Fox News didn't even bother airing it, while CNN and MSNBC both cut away after about 10 minutes.)
It's worth noting that the GOP's has-been candidate, the guy Politico said got "B-list treatment" at CPAC, has a higher Klout score than the two guys who delivered "electrifying CPAC speeches" (per Politico again): Sens. Rand Paul (Klout score: 87) and Marco Rubio (83).
Meanwhile, the same sort of dubiousness that feeds into Klout scores also appears to inform scores from Klout-competitor Kred, which recently sent me an email declaring, "Congrats! You are in the top 1% of Influencers on Kred." (Oh, please. Keep in mind that my Klout score right now is 64, which is a full 21 points below Kourtney Kardashian, for Khrissakes.) Likewise, last month the marketing geniuses at LinkedIn got millions of doofuses to brag about being in the top 1% or 5% of "most-viewed user profiles of 2012" on their site. (Given that LinkedIn has 200 million members, there could be roughly 9,999,999 people ahead of you if you're in the top 5%).
Why do we pay attention to such obvious nonsense? Because there's still a ton of magical thinking surrounding the power of "algorithms" in social media, given that much of social media is so mushy and notional to begin with (starting with the childish concepts of "likes" and "fans" and "followers"). A dollop of digits and a pinch of math can be reassuring.
Or, to put that another way, people still want to believe in numbers -- even silly numbers meant to signify "influence" -- because what else is there to believe in?
Simon Dumenco is the "Media Guy" media columnist for Advertising Age. You can follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.