Book review: Return on influence by Mark Schaefer

This review first ran in the May 7 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Return on Influence: The Revolutionary Power of Klout, Social Scoring and Influence Marketing

By Mark Schaefer


I’m influential when it comes to magic.

So says Klout, a company that measures our online influence by pulling data from social networks like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn.

I’m not sure where the data is coming from.

I’ve never tweeted about magic. Never followed a magician, fired off a link to a magic video or joined a discussion group for aspiring magicians.

Truth is, I enjoy magicians about as much as mimes.

When watching talent shows, I cheer when the magician bores the judges, blows the trick and makes an early exit. And I feel bad for the wife or girlfriend who, out of desperation or denial, stands by her man in a bedazzled bikini.

While I’ve yet to tweet about magic, I’ve offered up more than 50 rules on how to pitch stories to reporters.

I’ve also shared some reasons to love Hamilton beyond bike lanes, food trucks and James St. North.

I’m not sure any of these tweets make me influential. But I know beyond a doubt that Klout is finding ways to sell this information to a growing roster of 3,000 corporate clients that include Nike, Disney and Virgin America.

Author and business consultant Mark Schaefer says status-ranking companies like Klout are at the forefront of a new marketing gold rush. “For the first time, the world’s biggest brands have a way to cost-effectively and rapidly identify, connect with, and nurture customers who are their megaconnectors in niche markets.”

Citizen influencers with high Klout scores get showered with swag and treated like VIPs. With more than 2,000 followers on Twitter, Valentina Monte is one of those citizen influencers that companies covet. Monte got a $10 gift card from Subway. She tweeted and took pictures when she got her card and ordered her sandwich. She checked in with Foursquare while she was Subway. Friends retweeted and tweeted Monte. Subway got a lot of mileage out of a $10 gift card.

But Klout cuts both ways. There’s the cautionary tale of a marketing exec who got called out on his low Klout score during an job interview. The job went to a candidate with a higher score.

“To many, this whole trend is starting to feel a lot like high school,” says Schaefer. “The people with high Klout scores are the cool kids. But in addition to the very emotional and visceral reactions of being rated in a public way, there are many legitimate concerns about the social scoring trend, privacy, the underlying methodology and its implications.”

Of course, there’s an underground economy of cheating and gaming the algorithm used by Klout to set scores.  On eBay, you can buy false Twitter accounts preloaded with thousands of followers. There’s autoposting, tweet blitzes, spam bots and fake Foursquare mayorships.

If you want to improve your Klout score without cheating, Schaefer recommends three steps. Build a relevant network by choosing wisely who to follow.  Have a strategy to provide compelling, value-added content. And engage influencers with high scores who will distribute your content to their networks.

“We are entering the age of the Citizen Influencer, in which every person has a chance to get behind the velvet rope and be treated like a rock star. You too can discover the power of your own return on influence. And in fact, many companies already have.”

@jayrobb works and lives in Hamilton and has a Klout score just shy of  40.

Published by

Jay Robb

I've reviewed more than 500 business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and worked in public relations since 1993.

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