Will media and marketing people ever stop obsessing about the idea of "social influence"? Well, maybe some might -- those that , say, move to internet-free cabins in the woods after dropping out of the business, or those that , well, die. (Though honestly, I'm convinced some of you would attempt to live-tweet your ascension to heaven or descent to hell.)
But for the most part we're probably all stuck chasing after so-called social influencers -- those magical creatures that can supposedly help get your message out online with enviable speed and momentum. Among the companies that have developed automated methodologies for pinpointing influencers is San Francisco-based Klout, which is famous/notorious for its Klout Score, a number from 0 to 100 that 's automatically calculated based on a secret algorithm. As Klout explains on its website, the company uses "over 35 variables on Facebook and Twitter to measure True Reach, Amplification Probability and Network Score." Say what? "True Reach is the size of your engaged audience and is based on those of your followers and friends who actively listen and react to your messages. ..." And so on.
CEO and co-founder Joe Fernandez actually served on a panel I moderated at Advertising Age's Digital Conference last month. He's a smart guy whom a lot of venture capitalists take very seriously (Klout raised $8.5 million in its latest round of funding), as do a growing number of marketers that are Klout customers, including Audi, Hewlett Packard and Universal Pictures.
I've been thinking about Klout again recently because it just changed the way its website works. You used to be able to type in just about anyone's Twitter handle and find out their Klout Score. Today you have to register first (which, yikes, allows Klout to "post tweets on your behalf") before you can see your own or anybody else's score. Less transparency is good for Klout -- some of its algorithmic calculations were, frankly, embarrassing -- but tragic for the rest of us who'd rather not "authorize Klout.com to use your account," as its log-in screen puts it. Fortunately, I've saved some of my favorite previously public Klout Score pages -- which also, as of this writing, still show up in cached Google searches.
Twitter user @satan (a satirical account), for instance, recently had a Klout Score of 57 -- which Klout said meant "Satan is a Thought Leader ." Even better, Klout's algorithm determined that @satan is "influenced by " @darthvader. Darth, who tweets things like "NOOooooooooooooo!," had a public Klout Score of 78, which made him a "Taste Maker" ("You know what you like and your audience likes it too").
And, get this, @darthvader, according to Klout, is influenced by not only the beloved British thespian @stephenfry (Stephen Fry), but @ev—Evan Williams, Twitter's co-founder! (You saw that one coming, right?) By way of comparison, Jesus Christ -- the one who tweets using the Twitter handle @jesus_m_christ -- had a public Klout Score of 83. Per Klout, "Jesus Christ is a Celebrity." (Which explains why he gets name-checked so often at Hollywood awards ceremonies.) And, helpfully, "You can't get any more influential than this. People hang on your every word."
Which would be heartening, except for the fact that among those that Klout says Jesus is influenced by are none other than @selenagomez -- OMG, Justin Bieber's girlfriend! -- and @sn00ki, aka Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi from MTV 's "Jersey Shore."
Those gals had, respectively, public Klout Scores of 87 and 92. (Jesus Christ!)
There are a couple of lessons to be taken from all this: The first is that , given the state of Western civilization as reflected by social media, maybe the world really is ending in 2012. The second is that , while you shouldn't necessarily discount the efforts of various companies, including Klout, to identify social influencers, keep in mind that short cuts are ... short cuts. Even the "smartest" algorithms sometimes spit out really, really stupid results.
Just ask @sn00ki.
Simon Dumenco is the "Media Guy" media columnist for Advertising Age. Follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.