Michelle Sullivan Communications

Social Media measurement: Charlie Sheen and Klout – on the wrong track?

Charlie Sheen has been a tabloid favourite for years … unfortunately for all the wrong reasons. This week has seen the American actor on a media tour, appearing on daytime and late night television talk shows from 20/20, to Good Morning America, to Piers Morgan Tonight.

Yesterday saw the appearance of a verified Charlie Sheen Twitter account (@charliesheen). The buzz spread from traditional media outlets and influential online publications like Mashable to the Twittersphere itself like wildfire.

According to Mashable:

Haven’t had your fill of Charlie Sheen’s rants? Now you can get them via 140-character messages, because the actor’s Twitter handle has officially been confirmed.

In a matter of minutes, Sheen has acquired more than 60,000 followers and a Klout score of 57 — without even tweeting.

That last sentence is particularly worrisome to social media specialists who turn to Klout for an analysis of online influence. The reason? While the fact that Twitter had verified the account ensured credibility, Sheen’s profile included no avatar, no biography and .. most importantly .. not a single tweet.

Within the hour, Sheen’s account had risen to 133,644 followers. Twelve minutes later, those figures had ballooned to 147,149, an increase of 14 000+. Still not a single tweet.

What does this mean for the credibility of tools like Klout that measure online influence? It means that they measure influence based exclusively on quantity, and not quality. It means that they don’t take much else into account (if anything).

Adriaan Pelzer of RAAK of Nexalogy Environics here in Montreal recently ran a test of Klout, based on this hypothesis and the results are quite compelling. A series of four automated bots, tweeting relative nonsense, quickly attracted followers (mostly other bots) and reached a Klout score of 51, 37, 26 and 25 respectively. That last first figure is higher than mine and either higher or slightly lower than that of other Montreal influencers and early-Twitter adopters like tech bloggers Laurent Maisonnave and Sylvain GrandMaison, art of entertaining and design blogger Kim Vallée and fashion blogger Cindy Laverdière (CindyLou of  Mode Trotter).

What does this mean for you?

Well … it’s important, as in everything, to be critical in our use of tools that measure social media influence. Klout is only one example of many. No tool is perfect. These tools should be used as part of a larger mix. They should provide guidance, but not represent a bible of online influence measurement.

After all, if you’re into green glowing snow-ball abacuses, and there’s only a widow in Wales and a teenager in Chile interested in green glowing snow-ball abacuses too, and you’re only interested in following their Tweets, Klout isn’t likely to judge you favourably. But think about the quality of the tweets the only three people in the world into green glowing snow-ball abacuses can exchange with one another. Of the influence they can have within their tiny niche.

If you’re selling green glowing snow-ball abacuses, do you want to reach out to these three Twitter users? Or do you want to reach out to Charlie Sheen?

I think the answer is clear.

Will I continue to use Klout? Absolutely … as I always have. With a grain of salt. As a jumping off point. As one measurement tool among the many which — along with my knowledge of online networks and my own judgement — allow me to create a portrait of the online influencer I may present to my client in an influencer audit or as a possible participant in a blogger outreach campaign.

Online tools are great, but in the end nothing beats experience and human judgement.

Now … don’t get me started on sentiment analysis!

* Note: To his  credit, Klout founder and CEO Joe Fernandez responded to Adriaan Pelzer’s assertion that Klout is broken in the blog post’s comments section as follows:

Hey Adriaan,

I am one of the cofounders and the ceo here at Klout. This is a great post, even though we get slammed :)

A couple things:

- Clearly there is more we can do to recognize and punish bots. This is something we are working on and I think you’ll be impressed with what we have coming. That said, this is an incredibly hard problem that even Twitter still has trouble with (judging from the clear spam bots I see following me and not disappearing).

- The score right now is actually doing what it’s supposed to in the sense that it’s measuring engagement. Take a look at search for @burroughsbot (http://search.twitter.com/search?q=%40BurroughsBot). This account is actually getting way more engagement then it should. We do measure for noisiness but obviously we need to look at how we handle extreme cases like this.

We have a science team working on stuff like this on a daily basis. Post like this get us really fired up so I am excited about your challenge to step our game up.

Would love to chat sometime about how we can throw some data your way for some more independent testing.

Thanks.

Hat tip to Diane Bourque who followed the growth of Twitter followers after I’d shared the Mashable article with my Facebook network and provided the statistics contained within this blog post.

For posterity: Charlie Sheen’s first tweet. At time of publication of this post, he was at 817,083 followers and had been included on 5569 Twitter lists.

Commentaires

  1. Diane Bourque

    2011.03.06 @ 12:06

    Thanks for writing this article Michelle and pointing me to the Sheen Frenzy earlier this week. I was intrigued by the phenomenon which brought him 1,906,286 followers in less than 5 days. This has to be a new Twitter Record for the Most Followers in the Fewest Days. He has tweeted 52 times since March 1st and today has a klout of 91. http://klout.com/charliesheen For me, my best Social Media evaluation tool is when someone tells me « I like what you’re doing on Twitter, or Facebook or on your Blog. » While I am addicted to statistics, the value of what you do on the Web has to translate in human interaction. Thanks again.

  2. Michelle Sullivan

    2011.03.06 @ 12:44

    @Diane – Appreciate the comment.

    It comes down to how you define influence. Chances are, either Charlie Sheen will get bored with Twitter and his account will slowly die, or people will keep him in their Twitter stream, but pay less and less attention to him. Given these two scenarios, if his numbers stay up as high (or almost as high) as they are simply because followers don’t bother unfollowing, how much influence does he truly have? Is anyone ACTING on what he says? Is anyone’s opinion of any issue swayed by his words? Or is he just entertainment?

    For proof of concept purposes, I’d love to see Sheen get bored, stop tweeting completely. I’d be curious to see if his Klout score is affected after, say, 2 months of radio silence. Can a dead account still wield influence, according to Klout? Or is there something built into the algorithm that penalizes accounts once they become inactive?

    If anyone out there has the answer, please let me know.

  3. corporations offshore

    2011.03.30 @ 23:35

    I think this is significant..I started writing about predicting that this trend would become mainstream and that we need to be aware of and embrace these systems as marketing professionals whether we love them or hate them. Here is Beths fine article . That means you re a loser. .So when her Klout score hit an impressive 59 out of 100 recently making it almost as high as Jay Leno s score of 65 she was ecstatic. Anyone can check her score or a rival s by going to one of the sites and putting in her Twitter handle….The companies use secret algorithms that go beyond simple numbers of followers which can be bought in bulk or friends or fans and count retweets the number of links clicked and even how influential one s followers are among other indicators…. A credit score for your reputation is how Dave Wieneke director of digital marketing at Sokolove Law in Boston describes the Klout score….Although many don t know enough to worry about their Klout scores for those keeping track it can be one more ego boost or slap.

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