Bright Matrices

Writings & musings of Mike Zavarello (a.k.a. brightmatrix), a "red mage" web developer.

Category: Twitter (page 2 of 3)

Need to Help Others Understand Twitter? Have an “Elevator Pitch”

You’ve heard it all before: “Why should I join Twitter? Who cares what I had for lunch?” or “What am I supposed to talk about?” or, even better, “We don’t have time for our staff to be playing around on Twitter all day.” It’s not like Twitter is the new kid on the block anymore; with over 500 million users and several years of robust growth under its belt, it’s becoming more and more a staple social communications platform.

So what is it about Twitter that makes it so hard to understand?

Its premise is incredibly simple: send a short snippet about what you’re doing for others to read, and read snippets others have written for the same purpose. Sometimes conversations ensue, most times, they don’t. You can be a chatterbox with everyone who’s decided to follow you or an ivory tower who talks to no one. It’s your choice.

Beyond some basic etiquette rules crowdsourced by its users, there’s really no right or wrong way to use Twitter. It can be a real-time news feed, a community of interests, a message board, a chat room, a virtual classroom, a professional development tool; whatever you need.

Twitter is simple, and that’s where the trouble comes in.

In my experiences, many neophytes and first-timers who join Twitter feel lost, despite Twitter’s helpful attempts to ease the sign-in process with suggested topics and accounts to follow. They don’t seem to know what to say or how they should say it.

It’s also a challenge for businesses, who can struggle to understand how to use Twitter to its fullest in listening to their customers and promoting their wares. If clients read about how celebrities use Twitter or who among them are considered “influential,” they can get the false impression that tweeting is frivolous or a plaything not worthy of serious consideration.

I’ve learned that you need to have an “elevator pitch” for Twitter. If you want your friends, family, colleagues, or management to really feel the energy and potential of Twitter, you have to be able to explain it in one or two sentences. Back it up with good examples of people or businesses that really make Twitter shine, and save the arcane jargon (such as retweets) for later.

What’s your “elevator pitch” for Twitter?

Image credit: Unknown

The Social Media Neophyte Who Flew Too Close to the Sun

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Image credit: Unknown; source: http://englishihonorsmythology.wikispaces.com/Icarus

I love social media. Ever since my first tweet in June 2009, I’ve learned an immense amount about the mechanics, arcana, and vagaries of these networks and their inhabitants. I’ve become an “expert neophyte” of sorts, and my experiences have become beneficial for both my career and my colleagues. Along with my first love, Twitter, I hold digital citizenships in Facebook, Flickr, LinkedIn, Foursquare, Tumblr, WordPress, and Google+. My time spent in social media been equal parts amazing and enriching, but I’ve also found how overwhelming it can be if you’re not careful.

Around July of last year, shortly after I joined the hordes charging into the virgin wilderness of Google+, I had enough. I’d spent too many hours stressing over whether I was as knowledgable, “authentic,” and influential as I should be. I flipped back and forth between networks constantly, checking what I missed since my last visit and who had interacted with me in the interim. I was also in the midst of a years-long, strenuous redesign project where I was a key technical lead, and I simply had fewer and fewer cycles to spare for my alter egos. One day, I simply dropped off the grid. I posted nothing to Twitter for weeks, kept a lazy, glazed eye on Facebook, and put all my other presences, including this blog, in stasis.

I had burned myself out. I had flown too close to the sun.

It took me eight months to understand that my personal limit for fully-engaged social networks is two. I can maintain a presence in a few ancillary networks as well, but if I spend more than a cursory amount of time there, I feel the psychic strain from spreading myself too thin. I realized how easy it can be to get mired in keeping up with the digital Joneses: crafting the next clever blog post or witty comment, absorbing all the latest articles on Pinterest, getting the next Foursquare badge, or sustaining a Klout score. One simply can’t read, write, like, comment on, or share everything. It seems stupefyingly obvious, but I found that you really do start seeing trees instead of a forest if you’re not careful.

So, I’ve narrowed my focus back down to the essentials: Twitter for news, trends, professional connections, and real-time conversations, and Facebook to share life’s little snippets with family and friends. LinkedIn is delegated to my digital Rolodex; Foursquare an idle curiosity best suited for waiting at airport terminals; Tumblr a rare time waster; Google+ purely for research on how it works. Don’t even get me started about my feelings on Pinterest, Instagram, or the other new kids on the social media block.

I’ve invested a lot of time in Twitter and Facebook. To me, they’re now among the “established” social networks. As much as the landscape has changed over the past several years (AOL to LiveJournal to Friendster to MySpace and so on), I can’t shake the sensation that they’re here for the long run. As such, it will take a great deal of convincing for me to pull up stakes and move to another digital country. Because that is the choice I’m making from here on out: rather than collect more and more social profiles, I’ll replace them, swap them out. But it has to be worth it.

No more double-ended candles for me. I love social media too much to burn out again.

Scales and Sheen: How Very New Social Media Accounts Can Amass Influence So Quickly

As social influence metrics like Klout continue to gain, well, clout in the industry, instances will arise where folks will cry foul over perceived inconsistencies in how scores are generated. An example I’ll use in this post is how very new Twitter accounts are able to amass very high influence scores in a very short period of time.

Let me preface this discussion with influence as opposed to popularity. Numerous articles were written last year that clearly illustrated that one does not equal the other. Hollywood celebrities, musicians, and other popular figures have a great deal of popularity, but this does not translate well into influence, which is defined as being able to convince others in your social network to take action. Mark Schaefer, author of the {grow} blog, described just how challenging and difficult it can be to get your followers to do something, even if you have the popularity and reach of Alyssa Milano.

So, how can new accounts become so influential so quickly? Let’s study the Twitter accounts of a well-known and controversial actor and well-known, and currently missing, snake.

First, the actor. Charlie Sheen opened his Twitter account on Tuesday, March 1, 2011 to much fanfare. At the time, Sheen had a much-publicized falling out with Chuck Lorre, the director of his CBS show, “Two and a Half Men.” Folks speculated, and were quickly confirmed, that Sheen would use Twitter as a mouthpiece to share his perspective on the situation. Once word got out that his account was up and verified, the followers piled on fast. According to TwitterCounter, Sheen’s account accumulated 519,343 followers on the very first day. March 2 saw a subsequent increase of well over 530,000 additional followers, leading Sheen to reach the 2 million follower mark in well under a week. With over 3.3 million followers as of March 30, @CharlieSheen currently holds an astronomical Klout score of 94.

TwitterCounter chart for @CharlieSheen

Now, on to the reptile. On March 27, 2011, a venomous Egyptian cobra was found missing from the Bronx Zoo’s reptile house in New York City. The zoo promptly closed the enclosure as the search went on for the wayward serpent. It didn’t take long for a clever mind to make light of the situation, and on Monday, March 28, a Twitter account appeared under the handle @BronxZoosCobra that posted updates of the cobra’s adventures around NYC. On the first day the account was opened, TwitterCounter shows 86,140 followers tuned in to follow the cobra’s exploits. By 11 a.m. ET on Wednesday, March 30, the account has nearly 140,000 followers. While not as dramatic as Sheen’s account activity, the trend clearly shows a strong demand from folks on Twitter, resulting in a Klout score of 73 for the cobra (as of March 30).

TwitterCounter chart for @BronxZoosCobra

So, what can these two accounts teach us about social influence and the algorithms that determine their scores relative to others? It’s simple.

Demand, in particular, a sharp increase in your network, is a strong factor in measuring overall social influence. Both @CharlieSheen and @BronxZoosCobra attracted a massive number of followers in a very short period of time, and, in Sheen’s case, the demand has risen over the four weeks since the account’s creation (although it is starting to level off a bit). While their influence scores may not indicate that their network will take any kind of action on their behalf, it does clearly show that they’re producing content that folks want to consume and share with their own networks.

Now, it can be assumed that an accelerated drop in a network’s size (think rats jumping from a sinking ship) would result in a corresponding plummet in influence. To a lesser extent, steady or very slow changes in network size would result in a similarly consistent influence score. I’ve observed this in my own personal account: my network size is growing, albeit grudgingly and gradually, and my Klout score has remained relatively stable for several weeks.

What’s the take-away from all of this?

  • First, the systems themselves aren’t broken or being gamed. Demand is one of many factors these algorithms are using in their calculations, and sharp changes in network size seem to greatly influence (pun intended) the weight this specific metric has on the entire score. It would be informative to study Sheen’s and the cobra’s accounts after several months to see whether their overall influence continues to maintain itself over time. As always, don’t just look at the score itself. Do your homework and dig into the underlying metrics to figure out just what’s driving that high number.
  • Second, don’t look for demand alone to change your fortunes. It’s already been shown how sizeable networks don’t always translate to positive action from their audience. Exercise proactive listening and active engagement to energize your followers and fans. Learn about them and their interests, understand their needs, and give them what they want.
  • Third, be creative and innovative. Whoever created the @BronxZoosCobra account used a captivating news story about the cobra’s release to create something fun and clever for the folks on Twitter. This adaptive and nimble thinking is precisely what Jay Baer and Amber Naslund describe in their book, “The Now Revolution.” Another excellent example is how Aflac turned its fortunes around by creating casting call for their signature mascot after their principle voice actor, Gilbert Gottfried, was fired from the job.

Update (4-1-11): About midday on Thursday, March 31, 2011, it was reported that the Bronx Zoo’s cobra was found, apparently in a “non-public” part of the reptile house. No status update from the @BronxZoosCobra Twitter account as of 8:45 a.m. today, but I suppose the zookeepers took its iPhone away. It will be informative to see whether the owner of the account keeps up the cobra’s commentary, and also whether its followers and influence will fade over time.

The parody account @BPGlobalPR, set up after the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf Coast last year to poke fun at BP’s series of public relations flubs, is still active but seems to be slowly losing followers as the attention around the incident fades. Its Klout score, however, has stayed relatively steady over the past 30 days, hovering around 64.

Editorial note: I also updated the title of this post to read “Very New Social Media Accounts” vs. its original “Very New Social Media Networks.”

Behind the Juggernauts’ Curtain: Highlights from BlogWell’s Social Media Case Studies Event

On November 9, 2010, I attended BlogWell: How Big Brands Use Social Media at SAP Headquarters in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania. Hosted by the Social Media Business Council and GasPedal, BlogWell brought together case studies from eight major firms such as Hershey, Scholastic, Pfizer, and Discovery Communications in a fast-paced, half-day event.

Major themes discussed at BlogWell were the structure of social media initiatives within large, often heavily regulated industries, ways these firms are using innovative social campaigns to engage with their audiences, and the legal and ethical challenges they’re facing. Overall, it was refreshing to get a peek behind the curtains to see these corporate juggernauts taking well thought out, pragmatic, and innovative paths to successful social solutions. I’ve compiled notes from several of the sessions I attended.

Pfizer’s Social Media Playbook

Kate Bird, Digital Communications Professional for Pfizer, presented her company’s social media playbook, which she billed as “practical guidance for colleagues”.

The playbook boils down aspects of Pfizer’s official social media policy into a 20-30 page “umbrella” document that covers each of the major channels and provides guidance on how employees should engage in these channels, both professionally and personally.

It contains a resource repository that links to existing policies and training materials, official Pfizer social media channels, best practice documents, and illustrates how employees can get started. The playbook is evolving into an interactive digital tool encompassing wikis, videos, and collaborative spaces.

Kate also shared how Pfizer offers corporate-wide webinars and training on social media to all interested employees across different parts of the organization. All training is managed and conducted by employees.

Within the broader scope of social media, Pfizer expects to create a rich catalog of social properties, communities, and initiatives, with the goal of connecting the people who need to be connected to each other. They also hope to reduce agency costs by eliminating duplicate and redundant social media outlets with the organization. In addition, they want to offer their employees a deeper understanding of core social media principles. Finally, Pfizer seeks to have a more relevant and connected social footprint.

Keeping Bloggers Honest with Disclosures

Andy Sernovitz led the middle-of-the-afternoon main session on ethics and disclosure. His points were succinct and direct: it’s OK to have a commercially-minded social media program, so long as it’s clear. Disclosure increases the authenticity of your message, making you more credible and powerful.

The Federal Trade Commission requires disclosure and truthfulness in all social media outreach. It’s your responsibility to monitor the conversation around your brand or business and correct misstatements. Andy stated that it’s essential to have social media policies and training programs. He also cautioned that while bloggers are not your employees, you need to make a good faith effort to make certain they disclose. If the blogger or agency you hire is found to be unethical, the FTC will find you responsible.

Andy’s advice for handling bloggers is simple: never pay bloggers and insist on real disclosure. Paying bloggers changes the game from word-of-mouth to advertising, and readers will learn to distrust you. As for disclosure, make sure the bloggers are up front and clear with their statements, not burying them on their “About Me” page.

The “10 magic words” in disclosure are: “I work for X, and this is my personal opinion.” Disclosure statements need to clearly show who the blogger is, whether they were paid, and whether they’re offering an honest opinion based on a real experience. It’s then up to the reader to decide what the disclosure means to them.

The Social Media Business Council has a Disclosure Best Practices Toolkit that’s available for anyone download and use as a basis for their own social media efforts.

Coordinated Social Communications at Johnson & Johnson

Marc Monseau, of Corporate Communications at Johnson & Johnson, talked about how his corporation is taking advantage of the opportunities in social media, creating relationships, and learning more about their audience and how to best support them.

Starting first with a blog describing the history the company, Johnson & Johnson’s social media footprint has expanded over the past four years to include a corporate blog, YouTube channel, Facebook page, and four Twitter accounts. Each channel allows them to connect with key online stakeholders talking about health care and offer their own thoughts on health care topics.

Both their corporate blog and YouTube channel have healthy discussions. Marc described how they’ve become pathways into Johnson & Johnson for users to provide feedback on the topics presented and as a way to generate community discussions.

Marc explained how each of their channels operates in concert with each other. His staff has regular editorial meetings to discuss how to best engage their audiences. They then select the appropriate channel based on the nature of the message and where their audience is located, and decide which bloggers and influencers to interact with. By being open, responsive, and timely, Johnson & Johnson has been able to turn the tide in online conversations.

Johnson & Johnson has separate social media policies for their employees, based on whether the activities are external or integral to the organization. These policies give departments pathways to create their own initiatives.

Marc advised that, before you begin any foray into social media, you need to understand where conversations about you are taking place, who is saying them, and why. You must understand the dynamics of these discussions and your role in them. He recommended a consistent approach and behavior across all touch points, both in official publications and third-party websites; this is especially critical for heavily regulated industries.

Experimenting with Social Solutions for Internal Collaboration

The last session at BlogWell was led by Jonathon Haley, Director at BlackRock, an asset management firm. Jonathon elaborated on the social solutions for internal collaboration currently under way at BlackRock. His group is experimenting with ways social media can offer solutions with true business value. While the process isn’t expected to be finalized until early 2011, Jonathon shared what they’ve done to date and what they’ve learned along the way.

The key problem being addressed, he explained, is inefficient communication to and collaboration among the sales teams. Everyone is trying to feed valuable information to the sales team. How do you manage the mass of incoming information?

They first started with adding content authoring, on both personal and professional levels, to the teams’ annual objectives, then turned to internal blogs. Jonathon’s group gathered data to learn how social the teams were and conducted more intensive tests on specific channels with volunteers. This process allowed the group to find the social advocates within their organization and use them to lead the way.

Jonathon and his group then created “villains” to rally the teams around. First, they flagged PDFs in internal communications as the villain to encourage to teams to share information in more accessible, shareable, and searchable platforms. Then, they identified fringe players attempting to disrupt asset management models, as well as competitors with thought leaders on their sides, as the external villains.

Ultimately, the social solution at BlackRock must provide real business value: revenue creation and cost savings to the firm. The group has defined several metrics, such as number of phone calls per day to content experts, as benchmarks for the solution.

Jonathon advised gathering dedicated resources to work on social efforts like his, and to keep those teams tight. He emphasized that his group is comfortable with “small wins” in social as they consider how they’ll expand their solution across the company.

The Mystery of the Silent Partner, Part II: Three Additional Theories

In a post this past August, I discussed a relationship I had observed on Twitter that I called the “silent partner”: accounts that follow you but never interact with you, or those who follow you back, but seemingly refuse interaction. I had put forth some proposals on why these connections occur, but I’ve since developed three additional theories on why you may find yourself linked up with a silent partner.

First, you may have become trapped in what I call the “follow-back haystack”. If your silent partner follows back everyone who follows them (a custom I find unnecessary), their timeline will become choked with thousands upon thousands of tweeters. Your questions, observations, mentions, and references get lost in the shuffle: the needles in their haystack. Or, to use another analogy, it’s like trying to raise your voice in a crowded restaurant or bar. You’re not silent, and neither is your partner, but they’re dealing with far too much noise to hear you. Some follow-back users are better at getting back to mentions than most, but even then, it may simply be a matter of your post getting viewed a just the right moment.

Your silent partner could also be a “list-exclusive conversationalist”: one who only pays attention to those they’ve added to a Twitter list or TweetDeck group. This is especially true if they’re the follow-back type: what better way to cut through all the noise of their timeline then to converse only with a select group of friends, colleagues, and peers? These users may tune back into their timeline now and again, but if you’re not on one of their lists, you may as well be tweeting into the ether.

Or, lastly, your silent partner may be an “inattentive idler”: someone who is either sporadically active on Twitter or who dropped off the map altogether. They may have followed you after comments you made in a Twitter chat, or a mention in one of their friend’s timelines. In the meantime, though, they either lost interest or were never really that much into Twitter in the first place. If the idlers only post once every few weeks or months, they’re not likely to spend time scanning back through their timeline’s history to catch up on your posts. Plus, mentions may fall on deaf ears if they’re away for extended periods.

I’m sure there are other ways to diagnose the syndrome of “silent partners”. What symptoms have you observed in your travels through the Twitterverse?

Key Elements for Measuring Your Social Media Campaigns

Now that social media channels like Twitter and Facebook have matured into solid communications platforms, many individuals, organizations, corporations, and agencies have taken to these channels to reach their audiences. What hasn’t quite solidified, however, is how these campaigns are tracked and measured. There’s still a decent amount of confusion and differing opinions of what you should measure and how.

In this post, I’ll share several factors, methods, and steps that I’ve learned this year about how you can effectively and realistically measure your social media campaigns. This isn’t intended to be a complete or exhaustive list of what you could use, but it’s my hope that each topic will assist you in your endeavors.

Define Your Goals and What Constitutes Success

Before you pursue any coordinated effort in your social media channels, think very carefully about your goals and what constitutes success for you. Remember, you cannot measure success (or anything at all, for that matter) if you don’t have defined goals up front or have an unclear vision of what defines a successful venture.

  • Expectations: Set the expectations of the campaign early and often. Make sure the goals and definitions of success can be precisely tracked, measured, and reported on. Build a communications strategy and make sure everyone who will be involved in the campaign has read and understood it completely. If you’re simply testing the waters of a specific social media channel or experimenting with a new approach, that’s perfectly fine, but make certain everyone understands that, especially those in charge.
  • Timeframe: Think about the timeframe of your efforts. What is the life expectancy of the campaign? Is it a short-term promotion, a webinar, conference, or event with specific dates, a brand awareness effort, or a marketing campaign to raise awareness of a cause or resource? Will you announce the effort ahead of time so users are prepared to take action, such as a “save the date” for events? How will you build interest and sustain momentum over the course of the campaign? What are your plans for retiring the campaign once it’s complete? Have you considered follow-up activities like a user satisfaction survey?
  • Transactions: Work out which transactions will define a successful campaign and stick with those decisions throughout the effort. How is the campaign intended to affect your transactions? Are you seeking to drive more traffic to a specific website, blog, or web-based application? Do you want a certain number of users to sign up for a promotion, event, or product trial? Do you want them to buy something? Think about “goal conversions”: the action(s) you want your users to make, and the end result(s) you want from them.
  • Return on Investment (ROI): ROI is a classic business metric, but it’s one that’s generated a lot of heated discussions when it relates to social media. Whenever you think of ROI, it should always boil down to money: hard dollars and cents (or euros, sterling, yen, etc.). Did your campaign generate enough revenue to justify its cost (marketing materials, agency fees, manufacturing costs, etc.)? Did you increase sales of a product or service? Did your transactions balance out the (estimated) hourly rate of the staff spent managing, tracking, and measuring the campaign? You don’t have to always sell something to determine ROI; in essence, you’re figuring out whether the campaign was worth the effort, but that worth has to be a financial measurement.

Look for Active Responses

Among the most valuable success metrics are direct responses from your audience. These can include mentions and direct messages on Twitter and wall posts and comments on Facebook. Be sure to check these regularly, especially if you intend to respond to comments or engage with your audience to keep up the momentum of your campaign.

If one of your transactions is new fans or followers, you may want to activate e-mail notifications to have “hard copies” of these actions. New follower notifications from Twitter, for example, not only show you basic information about the new follower, but also which platform or browser they used, the date and time of their activity, and the size of their audience.

Check How and How Often Users Are Sharing

To track how far your message has reached, look for evidence of sharing within your audience.

On Twitter, keep track of retweets, both the old- and new-style versions. “Old-style” retweets have the prefix “RT” before the original tweet along with the handle of the originating account. Users may choose to add their own comments in the retweet, and may edit or winnow down the original text to fit their comments. “New-style” retweets are simply a reposting of the original tweet in the user’s timeline; they can’t make any changes to the original text. Depending on which tool you’re using to measure retweets, you may need to look in different views. For example, Hootsuite will not show new-style retweets in a “Mentions” view; you need to track them in the “Your Tweets, Retweeted” view.

On Facebook, look for both “likes” and “shares”. Whenever a user likes a post, it increments a “thumbs up” value associated with the post; all fans of the page see this value. If the user chooses to share your post, the original post will appear in the user’s timeline. They can also choose to add a comment to prefix the shared post.

Likes and new-style retweets are what I consider “lazy successes”. It takes a user only one click to perform these actions, so it may not indicate that they read the complete post or whether that post was informative, helpful, or useful to them. Facebook comments and shares, along with old-style Twitter retweets with additional text, are more valuable for quantitative feedback.

Use Query Variables or URL Shorteners

Whether you’re sending out links in your tweets and Facebook posts, including website URLs in direct mailings, or displaying QR codes in your promotional materials, go the extra mile to insure that you can properly measure user activity.

Several URL shortening services, such as bit.ly or Hootsuite’s ow.ly, have back-end reporting tools you can use to track and analyze click-throughs. Hootsuite can also overlay tweet click-throughs with your Google Analytics reports to show possible relationships between your posts and website traffic.

Query variables, which are additional pieces of information you can include in a website URL, can provide you with richer metrics. Web analytics applications and services such as WebTrends, Google Analytics, and Radian6 can collect information from query variables whenever a user visits the URL. What’s nice about these variables is that you define them: add whatever information you’d like to collect, such as the campaign’s name, a specific marketing code, or which channel you’re sending the URL out to. You can then work within your chosen analytics platform to track, monitor, and report on the variables.

Never Rely on a Single Metric

When it comes time to gather, analyze, and report on the results of your campaign, never base your success or failure on a single metric, such as followers or fans. Always use multiple measurements and track trends in their activity over time. This allows you to form the complete picture of your campaign, and makes you better informed about what contributed to the results.

Crossing the Finish Line

Building realistic expectations, setting your timeframe, defining your transactions, and understanding how ROI will relate to your campaign will all help immensely when it comes time to measure your efforts. Be diligent in checking (and responding to) active responses from your audience and how they’re spreading the word about your campaign. Give your measurements a boost by considering URL shorteners and query variables to supply additional information about your users. And, finally, don’t hang the success (or failure) of your efforts on a single value or metric.

As I mentioned at the start of this post, I don’t consider the thoughts I’ve gathered here as the “be-all-and-end-all” compendium of social media measurements. If there are specific methods or insights that have worked well for you, please feel free to share them in the comments.

I want to thank the good folks at Marketwire and the #smmeasure chats for helping to inspire this post. Their weekly social media measurement Twitter chats have been quite valuable in my own social media efforts, especially since metrics in this space are still not clearly defined or universal. The #smmeasure chats take place each Thursday at 12 noon Eastern Standard Time. Follow the @smmeasure Twitter account or the #smmeasure hashtag to participate.

New Metrics Are No Excuse to Continue a Pattern of Lazy Analytics: An Example Using Klout

As a student of analytics, I’ve learned that measuring success is never as simple as comparing two numbers. In fact, that’s exactly the kind of lazy analysis that can show false positives (or even worse, false negatives). To really do analytics justice, it’s vital to devote time to researching and understanding what you’re attempting to measure so that you can provide informative, relevant, and accurate findings.

A few months ago, a new metric for Twitter was created by Klout, a San Francisco-based company. Their “Klout score” measures your overall influence on Twitter: how much people listen to and respect your messages, and how likely they are to act upon and share those messages. Many third-party clients, such as Hootsuite and CoTweet, are now displaying the Klout score in their dashboards.

I personally think it’s great that Klout is gaining widespread acceptance. I feel it brings a true standard to the “quality” factor of social media analytics in contrast to the “quantity” factor of followers. However, I believe this score, like any other single metric, needs to be used carefully.

In this post, I’ll explain the mechanics of the Klout score, show an example of how similar Klout scores can be misleading when taken out of context, and explain why you can’t lean on new metrics to continue a pattern of “lazy analytics.”

The Klout Score

The Klout score is calculated from a broad range of data: your follower totals, how many accounts follow you back, how often you’re retweeted or mentioned, how frequently you tweet, etc. These data points are then boiled down into three values: your true reach, your amplification, and your network.

  • True reach is “the size of your engaged audience,” or basically those accounts with whom you engage with regularly, have common followers, and share similar interests.
  • Amplification “indicates how likely it is that your content will be acted upon,” in essence, the probability that you’ll get retweeted and how fast word with spread within your network.
  • The third value, network, is “a measurement of the influence level of the people who interact with you.” It’s important to note the emphasis on interaction here: this value is composed of the ratio of your followers vs. how many accounts you follow, how many of those you follow also follow you back, as well as unique senders and retweeters.

So, does this mean we can just look at the scores of any number of accounts and make assumptions about relative influence by directly comparing their Klout scores? No!

Let’s use an example to illustrate why.

An Example of Relative Influence… or is it?

As of August 30, 2010, I have a Klout score of 48. According to Klout’s calculations, this ranks me about halfway on the overall scale of 0 to 100, but based on the total number of accounts measured, I’m more accurately placed in the 80th percentile. Another Twitter account with a very similar Klout score is the CME Group, a Chicago-based financial firm billed as “the world’s most diverse financial marketplace.” Their current Klout score is 46; they’re also in the 80th percentile, overall. The CME Group’s Twitter account currently has over 750,000 followers, whereas I currently have 375. Their true reach is calculated to be 280,000, while mine is 9 (not nine thousand or nine hundred, nine… one less than 10).

At face value, based on Klout score alone, it looks like I’m just as influential as the CME Group, but when you start taking into account factors like followers and true reach, this assumption falls apart.

What happened? First, it’s because we’re making assumptions. Second, we’re missing context.

Let’s start digging into the data. You’ll notice that our network scores are roughly similar (59 for the CME Group, 57 for me), though my amplification is a slightly higher (21 for the CME Group, 26 for me). That still doesn’t explain why we have similar Klout scores, so let’s examine the supporting data points.

  • True reach: The CME Group has a massive amount of followers, but only follows back 0.003% of them; I follow back 20.3% of mine. They currently show 0% for both follower mentions and follower retweets, whereas I show 19% and 39%, respectively. This indicates that virtually no one seems to be talking to the CME Group or passing along their content. Note: While the 0% follower retweet looks like it’s a fluke, it may actually be a very small number (less than 0.1%) because of their high number of followers.
  • Amplification: The CME Group shows 77 total retweets, a mention count of 10, and 69 unique retweeted messages. I have 37 total retweets, a mention count of 254, and 31 unique retweeted messages. Their inbound/outbound message ratio is 0.26; mine is 0.74. This indicates that my followers tend to talk about me more frequently and are more likely to respond to me when I tweet.
  • Network: The CME Group’s follower to follow ratio is much higher than mine (172.71 vs. 3.16), their percentage of reciprocal followers is a bit lower (54% vs. 64%), and they have fewer unique folks who are mentioning them (10 vs. 71). They do have a higher number of unique retweeters, however (59 vs. 27). This indicates that my network is tighter and more engaged.

The key theme that emerges here is engagement. While my network and reach are much, much smaller in size and scope, I have a stronger connection with my audience. You also have to consider the function and audience of these accounts. The CME Group gathers and spreads time-sensitive financial information for consumption by their followers; they do some engagement, but are primarily focused on informing and sharing. I also share and retweet content (primarily on topics like social media and user experience), but I spend a larger percentage of my time connecting and talking directly with my followers. Not to mention, no one is trading stocks or making monetary decisions on my tweets (at least, not that I’m aware of). Finally, you need to consider the perspective: the CME Group offers a corporate experience vs. my individual one.

So, even though our Klout scores are very similar, you can’t say that I’m just as influential as the CME Group as a stand-alone statement. Our network, level of engagement, function, audience, and perspectives are significantly different enough to make this a false assumption. You could perhaps say we’re equally influential within our own unique networks, but not as a direct comparison. You have to consider the context.

Don’t Be Lazy With Analytics

As with website analytics, you should never use a single metric in a vacuum to make assumptions on the success or failure of what you’re measuring. Think for a moment about hits. Have you ever been asked to compare the number of hits on your website with those of another website? It’s a thoroughly unfair comparison. Even if the sites in question are similar in audience and purpose, you have many things to consider, such as: originality, readability, and freshness of content; strength and effectiveness of marketing and promotions; ease of use and overall usability; ranking for relevant terms in search engines. Each and every one of these factors, as well as a number of others I haven’t mentioned, all contribute to the success or failure of a website. Taking only one metric and directly comparing it to the same metric for a completely different website is not an apples-to-apples comparison, no matter what you may think. It’s essential to take everything in context and do thorough research of the data to determine relative success or failure when making comparisons.

It’s exactly the same with the Klout score.

You can see from my example how much happens behind the scenes in order to generate a Klout score. It’s a deeply interesting and unique metric in its own right, but, just like with website hits, it needs to be examined and valued in context with its supporting data points to form a complete picture of relative influence.

Don’t be lazy by looking at just one metric to measure your influence on Twitter. If you’re really interested in determining how well you’re doing or what you need to improve in order to make your presence in this channel more effective, do your homework: sift through the data, observe trends, and pay attention to the purpose and audience of your account. Klout allows you to refresh your score every six days, so take advantage of that feature and keep refreshing your score to see how your data shifts over time.

Auto-Following and Mutual Follows: A Circle of Obligation

There have been a good amount of discussions recently that focus on influence vs. followers on Twitter, as well as how you decide whether or not to follow a specific account. I’ve also be reading posts and comments about perceived notions of “Twitter etiquette” with regards to following, specifically auto-following and mutual follows. I have some thoughts on these two specific interactions that I’d like to share, based on my personal observations and perspectives.

Auto-Following

“Auto-following” is, as you would expect, a process where a Twitter account starts following you automatically. This usually happens when you mention a specific word or phrase, or start following that feed (see the “mutual following” section below). There are two basic reasons I can see for why someone would choose to auto-follow: a bid to get more followers themselves or to monitor what’s being said about them, their business, or a specific topic in Twitter.

Personally, I think auto-following is highly inefficient. I once likened it to “shooting at a moving target, in high winds, blindfolded.” Nearly all of the auto-follows I’ve observed that come from keywords are totally off the mark. I once tweeted to ask for music recommendations, asking for “anything except country.” I immediately got followed by an account for a country musician. I never again tweeted anything about country, nor had I done so until that moment. Um, you’re doing it wrong!

Think about how many false positives and missed marks you could end up with if you decided to auto-follow in this manner for the purpose of monitoring. It’s much more effective to use some basic mention tools like Topsy, socialmention, Hootsuite, Google Alerts, Twitter’s search engine, or enterprise tools like WebTrends or Radian6. That way, you can check for instances where your brand is mentioned, in context, and reach out to specific accounts appropriately and intelligently.

Let’s go back a moment to the misguided exchange with the country musician. This could have been turned around had the musician engaged with me. They could have said something like, “Hey, I read that you don’t like country, but why not check out Song X from my new album?” Sure, it would have been a sales pitch, but that personal touch might have swayed me to at least give it a shot.

Mutual Following

The act of “mutual following” is simple: I follow you, you follow me. Most often, this is triggered automatically. What I don’t like about mutual following, particularly when dealing with individuals, agencies, or small organizations, is the expectations that come with it.

I don’t feel any obligation whatsoever to start following someone just because they started to follow me, and neither should you. I use Twitter as an information aggregator and professional networking tool. I purposely pick and choose which feeds to follow. I don’t have the time or the patience to wade through irrelevant or unrelated tweets simply to honor a “return the favor” agreement. That said, I also never expect anyone I follow to start following me in return. I’m quite certain that I’m not interesting to everyone, and that doesn’t bother me one bit.

You may notice some interesting behavior when accounts try to solicit mutual follows from you. They’ll start following you, then, when they don’t get the “expected” follow back, they drop you. Tools like Qwitter can send you updates on who unfollows you; most often, it’s the accounts that started following you randomly.

Now, I do see one solid use for mutual following from a customer service or issues management perspective: exchange of private, direct messages. For example, say you post a question or complaint to the Twitter account for your bank. They may ask you to follow them; when you do, they’ll follow you back. Once you’ve mutually followed each other, the bank can send you a direct message to discuss personal information about your account or give you contact information to get ahold of a representative. When the exchange is over, both parties can unfollow each other, if they choose.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I think both auto-following and mutual follows, with the exception of the customer service interaction I described above, are rather pointless and don’t contribute to the value that can be derived from using Twitter. You’ll get much more out of this channel by directly choosing the accounts you want to follow, using proven and effective tools to monitor comments and sentiment, and pursuing focused, helpful engagement.

Don’t contribute to the circle of obligation that surrounds these interactions, and never feel that you’re doing your followers or colleagues a disservice by avoiding them. Good relationships, whether in Twitter or in real life, should not be based on guilt or expectations.

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