Monday, October 21, 2013

What Does My Klout Score of 59 Signify?

We are in the infancy of measuring online influence.

My Klout score is 59, but I am not sure what this signifies. I understand that Klout measures the social media activity generated by one's posts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc. The more people who retweet, like, comment on, etc. your posts, photos, etc., the higher your Klout score.

All measures of influence based on social media metrics seem to share several ontological (intrinsic) weaknesses. What do we mean when we claim to influence others? Is prompting someone to "like" a photo we post online equivalent to influencing another person's assumptions or thought processes?

Is counting the number of retweets or likes measuring popularity or appeal? If so, is this truly equivalent to influence, or is it something else? And if it is not actually influence, then what precisely is it?

This is the problem with claiming large numbers of likes, retweets, comments, etc. accurately reflect influence: a large audience and high level of participation are certainly elements of influence, but they do not guarantee influence, nor do they establish a morphology of influence.

The current level of web metrics are primitive, as they are unable to differentiate in a meaningful way between the activity generated by photos posted on Instagram, links on LinkedIn, retweets on Twitter, and various media posted on Facebook and other social media.

I have not made a comprehensive study of Klout (one measuring system of social media), but a cursory survey reveals that it's possible to obtain very high scores (70s and 80s) mostly as a result of photos posted on Instagram.

Without delving too deeply into the differences between influence in art, popular culture, opinion and values (see Jean-Paul Sartre's What is Literature? for one such exploration), it is self-evident that a photo's potential influence is different from the potential influence of an essay, and that measures of relative popularity/appeal such as likes and LinkedIn links are yet another form of expression that is quite different from photos or essays.

Not all social media activity is equal in terms of the commitment, time and and energy required to generate the activity. Liking an item requires very little time or commitment, while posting elaborate visual/text content requires major commitments of time and energy.

Is it even possible to equate lengthy comments that reflect a potential influence on values and critical analytic skills with a handful of likes, retweets, etc.?

The relative ease of gaming any system that claims to measure popularity and influence is another intrinsic difficulty with web metrics. Anecdotally, it seems one can buy thousands of followers for a few dollars, and various ways of boosting book rankings and other measures are equally commonplace.

As for user-generated content such as TripAdvisor and Yelp, how can we evaluate the relative value of the content if we know essentially nothing about the expertise and experience of the person generating the content?

Google's Page Rank (PR) system approaches the problem of measuring influence from the perspective that what cannot be easily gamed is heavily weighted: those sites with influence (as measured by incoming links from other sites) that link to one's site carry much more weight than external links from sites with few incoming links from other sites.

(Page Rank is a simple 1 to 10 system: sites with few incoming links and small audiences are 1 or 2 while global sites such as Yahoo are a 9 or 10.)

In other words, those sites with numerous incoming links from sites with incoming links from other influential sites will have a higher Page Ranking than sites with few incoming links or external links from other low-influence sites.

In this approach, not all links are equal: those who have earned links from influential sites carry more weight, and will boost the score of sites they link to more than links from lesser sites.

A new website with a PR of 1 would raise its score by attracting links from sites with higher Page Rankings. Persuading enough high-rank sites to link to your site to make a difference in your Page Rank is not easily gamed.

There is no perfect measure of influence, but clearly, any measure should differentiate between types of influence and the hard-to-game influence of those interacting with sites and social media.

I think it is fair to say that we are in the infancy of measuring online influence. Would my Klout score declining or increasing by 10 or 20 points mean that oftwominds.com had lost or gained whatever influence it exerts? Or could the site's modest influence actually increase in terms of contextualizing key public topics even as its Klout score declines? This seems entirely possible, and that is the intrinsic difficulty with equating popularity with influence.

Posts and email responses will be sporadic in October due to family commitments. Thank you for your understanding. 




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