Does Klout Have Any Clout Left?

For the longest time, I was an evangelist for Klout. If there’s an opposite of seeing the light, however, it happened to me when they changed their formula. I’m usually one of the most patient people in the world when it comes to user interfaces. Most of the time they’re cosmetic and there’s a rhyme or reason to them. But Klout’s change struck a deeper chord in me. And it wasn’t sour grapes because my score decreased. It was a genuine disgust because their new formula for determining a score was so flawed that I wasn’t even sure what they were measuring anymore.

Whatever it is they’re measuring now, however, I’ve determined that it’s not internet influence.

To me, Klout went from a neutral arbiter of one’s ability to amplify a message on Web 2.0 platforms to a popularity contest. And it did this in a few ways:

1) Choosing to make Facebook content count as much as Twitter content. While Facebook has the biggest internet presence, and therefore a strong place in any measurement of the ability to amplify a message, the message that is being amplified makes it questionable as to how valuable Facebook really is. Twitter best practices among power users has them posting news story (and blog) links. Facebook’s power users post photos of their friends and family. The natures of the second group of postings make them more likely to be liked since they have a built-in audience.  Furthermore, photos in themselves have more of an emotional response rate. Basically, to be successful on Facebook, a user asks their friends to “like” photos of them  having fun or, barring that, supporting them in times of need.

By spreading these messages, what is being added to the internet conversation as a whole.

I understand Klout’s logic in making Facebook count as much as Twitter.  After all, the average message on Facebook is more “sticky” than one on Twitter and seen by more people. But this logic reveals another flaw in the new system. Any form of message amplification on Facebook is easier to get than any on Twitter due to this time frame gap.  Only the rarely used “share” button on Facebook is as valuable, due to its scarcity of use, as any of the similar behaviors – retweets, favorites, and replies – on Twitter.

2) Choosing to compress the scores around 50. Klout is on the record as saying that their scale (before the redesign at least) was reflective on a classic 1st to 100th percentage scale. Therefore, someone without any understanding of the system could look at a score and recognize what its relation to the norm was due to past experience.

In the change, my score dropped from a 62 to a 46. Klout went out of their way to assure people in similar situations with similar scores that a 46 was actually one of the “higher” scores on the system. But anyone who sees my score would assume (as I did) that I’m a below average internet user. This ability to easily discern what a score means to anyone viewing it takes away from its value.

3) Choosing a system that does not seem responsive to any stimuli on any platform. In the month or so since Klout instituted their new system, my score has seemed to do nothing but fall. I have not noticed any other user’s scores rise by any significant amount in the same time frame.

While I understand the logic behind this as well (that they wanted to make the score more reliable by making it less gameable) the problem is that during this time frame, I had two posts on Twitter that were both retweeted almost a dozen times. On both of these days, my Klout score actually fell. Both of these posts were completely legitimate and were retweeted because I used the tried-and-true social media method of writing about what my readers wanted to learn about.

Klout’s old system had scores that fluctuated rapidly. This reflected an objective reality. On some days, events happen that make people who are subject experts in that area more influential. As soon as these events pass, these scores would dip to their normal levels. Other people are influential regardless and their scores would be relatively flat. No social media theory that has been postulated has everyone being less influential over time.

The combination of these three factors has me at a loss on Klout. I cannot recommend that anyone use it as a metric for making any sort of important decision on social media. Perhaps they’ll be a useful again in the future once they sort out these three issues. But I wonder if they’ll have any clout left by the time this happens though.

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Occupying The Disconnect With The Mainstream

While this isn't my photo, I admit that I agree with it completely.

The old saying goes, in advertising circle, “perception is reality.”

And, if this is the case than the Occupy Wall Street movement is in a bit of trouble. Its numbers are growing as more people from the left are mobilized for certain. But any social media marketer will tell you with certainty that numbers of followers are meaningless. It’s the connection that you have with those followers and the ability to spread a message through them. And, of course, no matter how many followers you have, it’s the perception of those outside that you’re trying to influence to become followers that matters most of all.

Today I read a statistic on Politico’s Twitter account that made how the Occupy movement is failing in winning over the hearts and minds of the populace of the United States. Only 37% of the population supports Occupy Wall Street.

On the surface, this might seem like a pretty high number. After all, only 19% of voters in the United States consider themselves liberal.

But here’s the problem. Based on the numbers on individual issues that they support, Occupy Wall Street *should* be doing much better.

Where’s the disconnect? It’s in the fact that those opposed to the movement have managed to create some negative perceptions around it. Listening to the likes of Fox News, the people camped in the park are all a) unemployed hippies, b) Marxists, and c) just want handouts from the government.

All of which would make the average image-conscious person in the United States not want to be a part of the movement. When, in reality, what they agree with the movement about should make it in their best interest to be part of it.  I have to admit that when a friend did a great presentation on social media for Occupy D.C., I was reluctant to go.

When I did, I was shocked at how clean and organized it was. In fact, it might be a bit too regimented for me.

Also surprising was the diversity of the campers. Although new research should have made that less surprising. 70% of people who are participating in the movement are employed.

So where’s the problem? Why don’t people realize this? Of course the media plays a part in this. But the Occupy Movement is not helping itself by not having any leaders as such to speak to the media and present a mainstream face. I have noticed contact numbers on the many Twitter accounts representing the movement but as far as who is getting interviewed on the news, it could be anybody. People with “odd” piercings, “wild” hair, or covered in tattoos. Perfectly normal in many circles, but not among a lot of swing voters. The Tea Party doesn’t just throw out Joe Sixpack in a trucker cap to answer questions about what it stands for.

Occupy intentionally tries to be a leaderless movement. But, due to this, they have no public face. The Tea Party started out this way as well, but people quickly formed organizations around it who have spokespeople who can spread talking points.

Like it or not, they’re now a brand. As such they need marketing. They need a message. They need to build an image.

They also need to focus on two to three things instead of trying to get everything that’s been on their wishlist for the entirety of the Bush and now Obama presidencies. Occupy D.C. makes more sense to me personally because it’s definitively about getting money out of politics. If Occupy Wall Street would focus on the same thing – full time – they would have more people in the United States on their side.

Anyone with a brand to manage will tell you that you need one thing that people think of when they think of you. For the Tea Party this is, “they want to cut spending.” Occupy Wall Street needs to be something like, “they want to take money out of politics.”

Even Rush Limbaugh ranted about how the political process was corrupted about money. Now I would never hope to lure him into Occupy Wall Street no matter what kind of face it presents to the public (and, honestly, would anyone want him nowadays). But there are plenty of people in the United States to the left of him who could easily be supporting the movement if it would reach out to them correctly.

I know there are some smart people in the movement. And creative people as well. It shouldn’t be that hard.


What Not To Do When Your Brand Goes To Pot

According to Netflix, I have been a member since June 2003.  And, by and large, it’s been a good ride.  I’m pretty much their typical customer.  I let the little red envelopes sit at home for months at a time and, for some reason, still dutifully pay my membership fees.  I’ve never had a problem with providing this company my money until recently. It’s not their splitting into two companies that’s bothering me. It’s that they’ve shown they have a Web 1.0 mentality of telling instead of collaborating when it comes to their social media presence.

Since I’m here to extol the virtues of a Web 2.0 mentality, I don’t know if I can support Netflix (or Qwikster) anymore.

There will be plenty of post-mortems of the @Qwikster episode by far more academic sources than me. But we’re far enough into the episode, I think, to come to some conclusions about Netflix social media strategy and where they’ve gone wrong in damage controlling a stick social media situation.

BACKGROUND:On September 18, 2011, Netflix announcing they were splitting their mailing service from their streaming service. The traditional red envelopes would be re-branded Qwikster. TechCrunch quickly broke the story on the morning of September 19, 2011, that the capitalized @Qwikster Twitter account was claimed by a “Weed-Smoking Elmo.”  Jason Castillo, the human behind the account, quickly realized he was sitting on a valuable cyber-property and began negotiating to sell the name to unnamed sources. Netflix claimed they never negotiated with Castillo and have since either set up or not set up an official accout for Qwikster at @QwiksterTweet.

Of course the obvious takeaway is that a company, even if they don’t plan on using them immediately, should check to make sure any new product has an available, easy to remember, Twitter handle available. But there are three further lessons here, I think, on brand management in general:

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1. Never miss a viral marketing opportunity. All of the targeted marketing a business in the world can’t generate the kind of buzz that a simple message that people spread barely knowing they’re spreading a message generates. In this case, there was a great deal of buzz around the @Qwikster account in the tech community. Unfortunately, instead of this buzz being harnessed by Netflix and the @Qwikster account spreading their message to an established community (and the hundreds of users who began to follow the account after the article), most of the word-of-mouth about the situation was negative. It didn’t have to be if the company had struck a deal with Castillo ahead of time.

For those who doubt that there was power in harnessing @Qwikster for Netflix, observe the following two tweets:

The first is purely anecdotal, but proves there is a perception out there that Neflix has lost its message control. The second is actually factual. As of the writing of this blog, the official @QwiksterTweet account has 83 followers and @Qwikster has 11,743 followers. If Netflix had a message on @Qwikster, it would be getting a lot more eyeballs (and, therefore, message amplication due to its humor value) than anything they put on the official account.

It must be said that Netflix is unintentionally getting amplification from people talking about @Qwikster, but not the message they’re looking to get out for any other purpose but name recognition.

A great example of a cause using an already existing account (with its existing follower count) to their advantage is @Greenpeace’s Barbie, It’s Over campaign. The organization set up a @ken_talks account for Ken. But, instead of creating its own artificial Barbie account, they enlisted an already popular @Barbie account with its built in followers at the time (rather than having to build an audience from scratch). From the case study overview that I heard at a recent seminar, they got the cooperation of the @Barbie identity to sign up for free because he or she supported the cause. But, regardless of what is used to sweeten the pot, the interaction between a “real” Twitter account and a corporate one looked better and spread throughout the news media. Earned media is always a nice, cheap way to get a message out.

Netflix, seemingly not understanding the power of Web 2.0 missed this boat completely.

2. Don’t be afraid to be the butt of the joke. Another lesson of Web 2.0 image control that Netflix seems to have missed is that the best way to diffuse a public relations disaster in new media is to laugh about it. Instead, all they have done on their @QwiksterTweet account is tweet the following:

Besides the “:-)” at the end, this post comes off as tone deaf. The verbiage is rude and off-putting. Instead of showing themselves as in on the joke, they have invited negative feedback. That is, if anyone ever bothers to look at their account. If they do, they are rewarded with a “stay classy America” tagline.  As if that’s not offensive.

3. Negative internet buzz does not always hurt you brand, but it can’t help it. Luckily for the Qwikster brand, the @Qwikster story hasn’t spread that far outside of the internet community. Then again, it still might. I have very astute social media friends who are just covering the original story now. The mainstream backlash against Qwikster”s Twitter strategy might be days away. There is still time to turn around their marketing on this one, but they’ve already lost a lot of the early adopter, tech leaders who frequent Twitter that they could have had by cooperation with the @Qwikster account. Instead these amplifiers are making fun of Qwikster online instead of spreading their message.

With all of the offline blunders that Netflix has made in this situation, their online strategy is not helping their image or their brand.