WHAT'S THE SCORE? The Ultimate Guide to Social Scoring

What's the Score? The Ultimate Guide to Social Scoring

Introduction

If you're online, the chances are you use social media. A survey by Pew Internet research in February 2013 found that 67% of all US Internet users regularly visited social media sites; for those aged 18-29, this was closer to 90%.

Social media has become a ubiquitous communication method for millennials; it is also a major source of the explosion in human data that has occurred. More information has been produced in the last two years than the rest of human history combined, and 43% of the data gathered on people comes from social media. As you access sites like Facebook, Twitter and Google+ you leave what's been called a 'digital exhaust' of unstructured personal data. Your connections, your updates and your media creation can be measured, whether or not you consent.

While Facebook is often touted as a 'walled garden' due to the login, a vast amount of the interactions are public. Because I've changed my privacy settings, you can only see a limited amount of information about me through accessing the Facebook Graph API, but many people choose to share more information, or are ignorant of their privacy settings. Unless you choose to have a private account on Twitter, then everything you share is public information. Think about all of your Facebook statuses and tweets ever - if you're a daily user, that's a lot of information.

The growth in this kind of public data led to people wanting to measure it, and this in turn led to the creation of social scoring companies. Out there in the big data swirl, for better or worse, you are being assigned a number - your digital exhaust is being collected and analysed, and you are given a score to determine how influential you are. This score can then be passed onto other companies who may want to interact with you.

In some respects, social scoring presents a revolutionary business opportunity; marketers have long sought the amplification of influencers to help spread their most important messages. When a publicly available score indicates this, the time spent finding influential people decreases. With a list of influencers willing to promote products, marketers no longer have to rely as much on advertising or traditional PR to get the word out. It's a new era of the 'citizen influencer.'

But social scoring is a topic that divides crowds. There has been something of a public backlash against measurements that people may not have consented to, and the apparent arbitrariness of a 'score' for influence. In his book on the subject Return on Influence: The Revolutionary Power of Klout, Social Scoring, and Influence Marketing, Mark Schaefer writes, "I'm fascinated by this intersection of unprecedented business opportunity and extreme personal loathing." At Fliptop, a user of publicly available social information, we're fascinated too, so created this guide to better explain the realities behind social scoring.

The Rise of Social Scoring

The Rise of Social Scoring

Image Credit: Joe Fernandez by Ignacio Torres - NBC Latino

In 2007 Joe Fernandez had jaw surgery and his jaw was wired shut - even his mom couldn't understand anything he said. The only way he could communicate was through social media. As he did so, he began to realise that this new medium was measurable. As people conversed, their interactions would be recorded. Word of mouth was now scalable and the data was there to measure it.

When he could talk again in 2008, he moved to New York City and attempted to get his friends interested in a business idea that matched his realisation. But social media usage was not ubiquitous at this time - and Twitter was only really getting started - thus Joe couldn't persuade his friends as to why it would be so important. Unperturbed, he couldn't stop thinking of the idea of measuring online influence, so he hired a team in Singapore to develop it. He publicly launched Klout in December 2008, and the next month he went to the New York tech meetup, nervous about presenting what he had determined as 'the standard for influence'. But he received a very warm reception, and his company was born.

Klout aimed to take publicly available data from social networks and combine this to create a point's score, which aims to measure influence. A year later in London, social analytics company PeerIndex was born, while in 2011 Kred was introduced by San Francisco based PeopleBrowsr. While there are numerous other services that assign scores to social media activity, Klout, Kred and PeerIndex are generally seen as the leading companies for measuring influence, with Klout being the largest. Indeed, Klout receives more hits to its API from third party applications that all competitors combined.

How is a Social Score Worked Out?

How is a Social Score Worked Out?

Social scoring systems gather data from a range of different public data sources and use an algorithm to determine the score. While no one has resorted to completely giving away the secret source, they are all quite transparent about how the score is worked out.

PeerIndex explains on its help page:

"The PeerIndex algorithm recognizes the speed and quantity by which users spot, share (and thus endorse) content on any specific topic. Our content recommendation decisions can thus be used as a proxy to measure our knowledge and authority in a specific subject area. Your authority on a subject is affirmed when the content you share is approved - i.e. Retweeted, Facebook Shared, +1'ed or commented on, by someone else with authority on the subject."

Klout uses more than 400 signals from eight different networks to update the score. It states:

"The majority of the signals used to calculate the Klout Score are derived from combinations of attributes, such as the ratio of reactions you generate compared to the amount of content you share. For example, generating 100 retweets from 10 tweets will contribute more to your Score than generating 100 retweets from 1,000 tweets. We also consider factors such as how selective the people who interact with your content are. The more a person likes and retweets in a given day, the less each of those individual interactions contributes to another person's Score. Additionally, we value the engagement you drive from unique individuals. One-hundred retweets from 100 different people contribute more to your Score than do 100 retweets from a single person."

In simple terms, Klout explains it to be:

You  ×  Your Topics  ×  How You Talk About Them  ×  How People React
=  Your Influence

Of course, since it's an algorithm, the scores can potentially be gamed, and if there are benefits to gaining a better score, then some people will always try to cheat it. There have been numerous blog posts about how it's possible to game Klout, with examples of spambots being able to raise scores simply for being active. However, many of the posts pointing out flaws in the system were published in 2011. Since then, the social scoring companies have become much better at measuring inauthentic behaviour, and carefully working spambots out of the algorithm.

Why Do We Need Social Scoring?

Why Do We Need Social Scoring?

As social media became a serious marketing channel in 2008-2009, the number of metrics that could be used exploded. Traffic referrals, YouTube views, Twitter followers, blog comments and Facebook Likes had all been added to the metric soup.

As the number of possible metrics grew, marketers became increasingly confused as to how to tie this back to company Return on Investment. This was not a direct response channel like search or email, and the difficulty in tracking actual transactions was clear.

In a somewhat exasperated response, marketing strategist Dave Berkowitz created a blog post entitled '100 ways to measure social media'. There was clearly no shortage metrics, but Berkowitz's post paradoxically highlighted an embarrassment of riches: there were now too many metrics and marketers were progressively dumbfounded. How does having more blog comments or retweets translate into transactions? It's a tricky question, and one that can't be answered in general terms.

Using Connection Counts

Many marketers began to rely on social connection counts as the key indicator of social media performance - particularly influence. Indeed, in the Technorati 2013 Digital Influence Report, Twitter Followers and Facebook Friends still came out on top as the metric to measuring influencer attributes. But there's a hitch - it's easy to buy fake Twitter followers and other fake connections.

A recent article by Kevin Ashton, called 'How to become Internet famous for $68' illustrated the fallacy of credibility and influence being determined by having a large number of social followers or connections. He simply set up a Twitter profile for a Mexican motivational speaker called 'Santiago Swallow', bought 90,000 followers from Fiverr.com for $50, set up a Wikipedia page and a personal website while playing a number of other tricks to increase this character's 'fame'. Only that Santiago Swallow was entirely made up.

Serious Business

Faking social followings and YouTube viewing counts is a serious business, which is not confined to the realms of the entirely virtual. In the 2012 Presidential race, there was plenty of speculation that Mitt Romney's campaign team buying fake followers after sudden boosts in follower counts - although this could have been done by third parties. President Obama was far from squeaky clean either, with USA Today reporting that up to 70% of his 18.8 million followers (as of April 2012) were fake.

It's quite clear the celebrities and brands are in on the act, while in December 2012 Google felt it necessary to crack down on the vast number of fake views on YouTube on record label channels. 2 billion views were wiped in total, with Sony and artists like Rita Ora and Labrinth lost 850 million views.

Just type 'buy fake followers' or 'youtube view clickfarm' into Google, and you'll be presented with a glut of websites offering services. It's easy to buy fake followers, thus social following and view counts are regularly disingenuous. For this reason, for many marketers they've come to be seen as a fairly meaningless vanity metric when viewed in isolation. If you have 100,000 followers but nothing else - much like Santiago Swallow - there is very little value given by the followers. Using social connection counts as a Key Performance Indicator is therefore somewhat of a fallacy.

Finding True Influence

Simply using the most available metric - the number of social connections - is clearly troublesome for determining influence. It is not so much the number of connections that someone has, as the number of connections their connections have, and the propensity of those connections to engage with other people and amplify their message. Measuring this amplification is a key factor in social scoring.

But how do you find these influential people? Clicking around Twitter in an effort to find the influential people around a particular topic can be time consuming. Social scoring can often aid this process; through passing on an 'influencer score', marketers are able to find influencers to connect with quickly. Finding and engaging influencers has become a particularly important facet of both social media and organic search marketing (SEO). Should you be able to gain kudos from influential people, that kudos may be seen by a wide pool of other influencers and potential customers - which presents value.

The Benefits of Social Scoring

The Benefits of Social Scoring

Social scoring assigns an 'influence' score to people who are active on social media. You might be thinking, 'So what? It's just another number.' But as the social scoring companies matured, they came up with a number of methods for monetization, particularly in their ability to match people they deem to be influential with companies.

The primary method of monetization is through a 'perks' program, which both Klout and PeerIndex run. Indeed PeerIndex has positioned itself as a company that 'brings you exclusive rewards, offers and discounts because brands want influential people like you to try their products.' The homepage of the site offers money off for a seemingly random collection of products, but linking up a Facebook or Twitter account brings much more relevant offers.

Klout's Perks program has existed since 2010, and has enjoyed quite a high profile history. The perks have often raised eyebrows in the marketing world and made it into the tech press, while the company has been able to partner with illustrious names such as Chevrolet, Audi and Disney. It's been tremendously successful for Klout, with CEO Joe Fernandez claiming that 80% of companies who sign up for a perks program come back for more.

One of the most interesting prospects for marketers is that for every person invited to a campaign, around 30 pieces of content are created. Influencers are targeted, approached, and if they like the campaign, they will become advocates through expressing their satisfaction on social media.

Going Beyond the Perks: Where Social Scoring Will Gain Influence

Perks appear to be just the beginning for social scoring. The data captured by companies involved could be used for a wider range of measurement, and is likely to play an increasing role in a data driven society.

Employment

According to an April 2012 survey by Careerbuilder.com, 37% of employers will view a candidate's social media presence before an interview. Social scoring obviously gives a quick indication for an employer around an interviewee's online influence - something that is likely to become more important in marketing jobs, as social media expertise becomes an essential skill. Mark Schaefer's book Return on Influence begins with the example of marketing professional Sam Fiorella, who was rejected for a job for having an apparently lowly score of 45.

Personal Finance

A recent article in The Economist described how lenders and small banks are experimenting using consumers' social media activity and score to analyse their ability to repay loans. This is becoming particularly important in African countries, where credit bureaus are underdeveloped. Apparently having professional contacts on LinkedIn are "especially revealing of an applicant's character and capacity to repay".

One start-up US lender, Movenbank has launched CRED, a financial credibility score that uses a combination of financial wellness, social media metrics, and transactional insight, to assess a lender's financial health. CRED uses the figure to calculate your monthly fees and interest rates, amongst others. The bank even offers members' rewards and incentives, including lower interest rates, for promoting the company on social network and getting friends to sign up.

It's also very likely that your social media activity will affect your insurance premiums. Not only can insurers look at public social media feeds for confirmation of your whereabouts or activities during claim periods, but your social score may be an indicator of personal credibility.

Social Currency

Evidently, social currency is already in operation with the perks programs offered by social scoring companies. Perks effectively pay recipients through their benefits, whether they be in experiences or trials of material goods.

There are also a number of ways that you can pay for goods through Twitter. With paywithatweet.com, products can be sold for the price of a tweet, and this has been a popular exchange for selling documents on the web - indeed, over 4.5 million people have done so. Last year, a Twitter activated vending machine created PR for BOS Ice Tea, while Twitter itself has also experimented with the concept.

Search Engine Optimisation

For a long time, Google's algorithm has relied on a system called PageRank, which ranks the value of a web document according to its citations (links) from the quality and quantity of other documents. With the social web, citation has become increasingly fragmented; people now share documents via social media at a far greater rate than websites link to each other.

Additionally, who created the document, and who linked to it, has not been factored in. With the launch of Google+, and the verification of authorship, this seems very likely to change. Indeed, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt has hinted at Google's desire to use verified profiles in order to rank search results.

In September 2012, Bing announced a partnership to 'strengthen social search and influence online', and more recently, it has been announced that Klout Expert Answers will go to the top of Bing's search results. Much like Google, Microsoft was watching as social media and web search became increasingly merged. As citations and shares from social profiles continues to grow, the ability to rank these these citations to a searcher will become paramount. Social scoring offers a valuable method of doing this.

B2B Marketing

At the moment, it appears that perks are only useful for B2C marketers, but social scoring clearly has uses in B2B marketing too. In lead scoring systems, information about a prospect and their actions are collated and merged to create a score. This score allows sales and marketing professionals to prioritise their leads accordingly. Social scoring is becoming a factor in determining this score. Indeed, Fliptop uses social influence scores as one component of its SpendScore algorithm - which aggregates dozens of public data points and scores leads according to their likelihood to spend.

How to Improve Your Social Score

Since having a higher social score can lead to perks, you may be wondering how you can improve it and join the party. It's important to stay active 5-7 days a week, keep your visibility high across all social platforms, post engaging content, and stay true to your personal brand. Remember: it's not about the number of friends and followers you have; rather, it's about your ability to move content through an interested network.

  • Plan and Build Your Network

    Find a topic of interest (this could be related to your job, or a hobby) and search for people around that topic. Don't be afraid to connect with people with low social connections or social scores - it won't affect your personal influence, and can be beneficial for you in the long run.

  • Create Meaningful Content

    Creating compelling content that connects with an audience is crucial. Provide links, new articles, rich media (video, photos) coupled with tweets, to create content that people can benefit from and is exciting. Stay on topic with content you want to be associated with to increase your topical influence score.

  • Start Conversations

    Ask questions about meaningful and engaging topics at high posting periods. For instance, if you're interested in particular TV shows, tweet about them when they're on air to drive engagement. Aim to get retweets and drive conversations.

  • Engage with Influencers

    Follow leaders in a chosen topic and jump into conversations. Retweet, respond to questions, but make sure you can answer back.

  • Link all Your Social Network Accounts

    On Klout, you can link up to 8 social networks. You might be most active on Facebook and Twitter, but if you're on others, connecting them can contribute to your score too.

Further Resources:

The Social Scoring Backlash

The Social Scoring Backlash

In the introduction we highlighted that social scoring was a topic that polarised opinion. So along with explaining the benefits of the systems, it's important that we also detail some of the concerns.

You can't put a score on Influence

Perhaps the main objection around social scoring is that 'you can't put a measure on influence', and that the numbers are simply meaningless. After all, measuring a person's online interaction and conversations is not the same as measuring their ability to influence decisions. Offline influence is not practically measurable in the same way, since a much smaller proportion of offline conversations are unrecorded. Consequently, there have been some odd results; it wasn't until an update to Klout's algorithm in April 2012 that Barack Obama surpassed Justin Bieber on Klout.

Influence on {random topic}

People have also been critical of the seemingly random assortment of topics that people might be seen as influential on, which are mistakes in interpretation by the algorithm. For instance, Klout mentions one of my topics to be 'angel investing' - a subject I have seldom discussed or mentioned in a social media conversation. While Klout does a pretty good job with my topics - SEO, social media and books -I've seen enough tweets expressing confusion at topic selection. 'It thinks I'm knowledgeable about pizza,' I've seen a social friend say - but it's really that they've been talking about ordering a pizza in the last couple of days.

Algorithms can be gamed

Fundamentally, Klout is an algorithm, and while Klout does occasionally make human based tweaks to profiles and scores, a lot of people have expressed doubts about having their personal merit reduced to an online figure - particularly when they haven't opted in. We're potentially left with unsettling feeling: social scoring is a combination of technology and personal brand that directly correlates the success, failures or even the lack of our online persona with reality. Suddenly, personality is reduced down to a series of calculations and algorithms, rather than true human influence - which is by its nature extremely difficult to put a figure on.

It's also just as possible to game algorithms as much as it's possible to buy fake followers. Just like SEO and Google, there are plenty of people looking at ways to take shortcuts with social scores to gain perks. Even buying fake followers can potentially increase your social score. Furthermore, since scores are often heightened by interaction with people who are more influential, it creates a hierarchical system - a digital elite that get to 'go behind the velvet rope' and enjoy perks. By its nature, this seems rather against the flat democratic structure of the web, so lauded in books like The Cluetrain Manifesto. In some respects, social scoring could be seen as an antagonist to some of the web's key benefits.

Privacy concerns

While you only have to go to Google and type 'Klout is...' to see some people's opinion, perhaps Klout's most difficult period came in Autumn 2011 and a tag page from Social Media Today is testament to this. First of all an algorithm update hit a number of Klout scores significantly, and people took to Twitter using #OccupyKlout to protest their vexation. Just a month later, the New York Times added to this controversy by highlighting that Klout was creating profiles for minors. Klout CEO Joe Fernandez responded in a blog post stating the 'We Value Your Privacy' and quickly rolled changes back, stating on the subject of privacy on the social web: 'like Facebook, Google, and nearly every other company in this space, we are working hard to figure this out, but will not always get everything right.

Of course Klout is aware of the cases against social scoring - and CEO Joe Fernandez has been extremely active on social media himself to counter them. Social scoring companies cannot access private social media data unless you give them direct access by signing up to their services. If you are concerned about your online privacy, then it is your social profile privacy settings, rather than social scoring companies, that you should be concerned with. Additionally, even if your profile is public and you want to keep it so, it is possible to opt out of Klout on their privacy page.

Social Scoring and the Future: The Age of Big Data

Social Scoring and the Future: The Age of Big Data

"The 1:1 future holds immense implications for individual privacy, social cohesiveness, and the alienation and fractionalization that could come from the breakdown of mass media. It will change forever how we seek our information, education, and entertainment, and how we pursue our happiness."

This passage was taken from Don Pepper's and Martha Roger's seminal work The One to One Future: Building Relationships One Customer at a Time, published in 1993. Twenty years on, it seems as relevant today as it did then; we are on the verge of another data revolution - and the future looks bigger this time.

Social scoring was born out of the availability of public social media data. We're now entering the age of 'Big Data' - but while that phrase is something of a buzzword, there's a clear opportunity for social scoring to be an important player in a new era.

For consumers, there are four main ingenuities that will drive the amount of recorded data:

  • The Ubiquity of Smartphones: In the Western World, smartphone saturation is likely to come in the next two years. In 2014, mobile Internet traffic will surpass desktop Internet traffic. The applications used in smartphone ubiquity will record much more of our existence.
  • Augmented Reality: While it's existed through smart mobile devices for some time, augmented reality has yet to 'tip' - largely because smartphones are not great devices for creating it. However, Google Glass will be released to the general public in 2014 - this is likely to be the augmented reality game changer. The amount of recorded real world data will increase as such devices are distributed.
  • The Quantified Self: There will be more and more applications that allow us to measure ourselves, whether that be in our work life productivity, or in our physical prowess. To some degree, the quantified self already exists with applications like Nike+ and Fuel Band, but the number of possible data points will likely explode.
  • The Internet of Things: More and more objects will be connected to the Internet and their actions measured and recorded. Imagine a kettle that told you it needed to be replaced because it was below the efficiency recommended by an energy company's database. Household objects will slowly become integrated into the World Wide Web.

Data production is estimated to be 44 times higher in 2020 than it was in 2009. What we're facing is a data mountain - such a tidal force of measurement that it will take some serious algorithms to make sense of it all.

Social scoring will likely adapt as more data points become available. For instance, with the Internet of Things, Augmented Reality and Quantified Self, it will occur that far more activities which we now consider 'offline' will be recorded. Thus what is interpreted to be 'real world' influence can also be better explored.

We are just at the beginning. Companies who have already been exploring social influence are well positioned to make sense of the data mountain. Having crunched a wide range of factors to come up with numbers for influence, they will look for new ways to interpret the new influx of data points - whether it to be to contribute to the social scoring eco-systems or new ventures.

References and Citations

Social Media

How Klout Was Started

How Social Scoring Works

Problems with Social Media Measurement

Klout Perks

Improving Your Social Score

Social Scoring and Personal Finance

Social Scoring and SEO

Social Scoring and Privacy

Cited Books:

Influential People on Twitter About Social Scoring:


What's the Score: The Ultimate Guide to Social Scoring - ©Fliptop 2013.