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.