Interview with Klout’s Joe Fernandez on Influence and Why it Matters
When I think of “influence,” I am reminded of the preparations for my sister’s wedding. For some strange reason, her caterer required equal numbers of the fish and steak at the reception. The week prior to the wedding, they had too many orders for the steak. My sister was worried, but her fiancé, an attorney, was not. He said, “It’s no problem. I’ll get my family to choose the fish. I’ll just ask them the question in a way that ensures they will order fish.” As I’ve been thinking about the issue of influence, this story keeps coming back to me.
Following my post on Measuring the Influence of Influence, I had the opportunity to ask Klout’s Joe Fernandez (@JoeFernandez) about his perspective on influence. I began by asking him how he defines influence. His answer: “Influence is the ability to drive actions.” Following is the rest of our conversation. We cover an eclectic array of issues, including why Justin Bieber has more Klout than Obama, Joe’s perspective on our “attention economy,” how the number of followers affects your Klout score, how The Adjustment Bureau is using influencers as early screeners, how to increase your own score, and much more. I hope you’ll enjoy Joe’s comments as much as I did.
BAM: Why does online influence matter?
JF: I believe we are living in an attention economy. There is so much information coming at us online. We depend on our friends to help broker our time and attention. Your ability to drive others to action is critical in this new economy. We are seeing this in the real world too. People in sales and marketing positions need to have the ability to broadcast their network with authority and trust and leverage social media to get their message out at scale. Now we hear that HR departments are looking at Klout scores as an attribute in the hiring process.
BAM: When you founded Klout, how did you go about determining which factors create influence? Are they the same today?
JF: Thankfully we have added people to the Klout team since we started and I created that original algorithm who are way smarter than I. The biggest change is that there are more signals now. Originally we were only on Twitter and now we have added Facebook and
LinkedIn. There are few things that haven’t changed. I never thought follower count was a very important signal. The concept of it pretty much doesn’t exist in our calculation.
BAM: Online, of course, influence measures are different than offline, but do you marry them with a Klout score?
JF: Online versus offline influence is one of the things we argue about late at night at Klout. Right now our score is purely based on a person’s online influence. We have some exciting ideas about how to address offline influence though. It’s one of the big challenges we are looking at.
BAM: Do you see variations in how different demographics consider influence? For example, someone who’s trying to reach a younger audience might focus their efforts on Facebook more than Twitter. How does that kind of a choice affect Klout scoring?
JF: We look at each network completely independently. The kinds of behaviors that help make you influential on twitter make you annoying on Facebook. We do a lot of work to properly weight the value of each network for every person. This definitely helps our targeting when it comes to hitting specific demographics.
BAM: What are the most common misconceptions about online influence?
JF: The difference between online and offline influence is definitely a challenge. We get a lot of flak for giving Justin Bieber a higher Klout score than Barack Obama. If you look at the rate of engagement that Bieber drives, the data is pretty clear. Sure, most of the people who interact with him are 14-year-old girls, but the order of magnitude more engagement he drives is staggering. That doesn’t mean he has the power to invade foreign nations or fix health care (my 14-year-old cousin would probably argue that point though).
BAM: Can you tell me a little bit about the changes Klout implemented a few weeks back?
Your blog post noted that some scores would change. What kinds of tweaks did you make?
JF: We make changes to the Klout score all the time. Occasionally they are relatively large and it causes shifts across a big enough segment of our population that it’s worth blogging about it. The big change we made recently was to add more emphasis on the level of influence of the people who interact with you. The goal was to dampen the effect of people using Twitter basically as a chat room and building big scores from that.
BAM: In PR, we always say that controversy breeds interest. I’ve seen a few pieces criticizing the Klout score. I’m sure you’ve seen Jeremiah Owyang’s piece that cited the Kenneth Cole fiasco. What’s your perspective on these kinds of bumps in Klout scores?
JF: It’s awesome to be relevant. We have created an industry standard around a metric that previously was a soft emotion no different from love or jealousy. There is definitely going to be controversy and we certainly have a huge amount of work to do. Our team is obsessed with creating a meaningful measurement of influence. I view all the conversations that go on around us as helpful to us in understanding other viewpoints on influence. We listen, iterate and stay on our mission.
BAM: How does Klout determine a person’s most influential topics?
JF: We run semantic analysis on the content you create and then measure how your network reacts when you talk about that topic.
BAM: I know that you’re looking at adding LinkedIn into the Klout score. Are you also considering content sites such as YouTube and Flickr?
JF: Absolutely. Our goal is to cover the whole social web.
BAM: Do you see a role for sites like Focus and Quora down the road?
JF: I believe that there is infinite data for us to add to the Klout score. We have a whole team focused on just finding new sources.
BAM: We’d love to hear an example or two of how marketers are leveraging Klout to influence or shape their campaigns.
JF: We have done some really fun stuff. Hewlett Packard recently ran a campaign with us where we gave almost 100 laptops away to people influential about film and technology. We also have had the opportunity to work with movies like Tangled and The Adjustment Bureau where influencers got to attend screenings of the movie before it was released. These have been really popular and generated a great deal of word of mouth buzz for the films.
BAM: Finally, I’m sure that people ask you this all of the time, but we have to! What are the most important things someone can do to increase his or her score?
JF: Ha, it’s impossible for me to attend an event without getting this question. The big thing I always tell everyone is to be consistent and be themselves. This is a much bigger challenge than it sounds though.