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Social influence tool Klout draws flak, but it has clout online

What are the best tools for determining online influence? Expert Zach Hofer-Shall weighs in on how to track your online clout and why it matters.

We’ve been hearing some criticism lately about Klout as a tool to define a person’s social influence. What’s your opinion, and are there any other social media tools you’d recommend to help us determine our online influence?

Online social influence is an incredibly popular topic right now as the result of two competing forces: First, social media has taken over the Internet. And second, businesses want to build more personalized and engaging customer experiences. Although these concepts seem as if they’d go hand in hand, companies have quickly learned that with millions of more consumers flocking to social channels, their chances at building engaging experiences with all of them diminish. The only conceivable way businesses can scale their customer relationship strategies is to understand, measure and target customer influence.

Fortunately, even though social media is the crux of the demand for influence, it’s also the solution. Social media creates massive amounts of data -- such as the number of friends and followers or number of brand mentions or retweets -- that businesses can use to analyze consumers. All this data provides the ability to understand an individual’s relative influence. But analyzing data and identifying influencers can be a cumbersome and difficult task. Hence, the rise of services such as Klout.

Klout is the current winner in the “influence as a service” race because it can simply illustrate an online individual’s relative influence. Although many debate the accuracy of Klout scores, in the end, Klout’s simplicity has won over some of the world’s biggest brands. While analyzing social data can be difficult, Klout responds with a simple number, which is what matters today.

The best influence calculation in the world that could perfectly target the most influential outlets online for a brand would be worthless without a viable business strategy behind it. Conversely, a bad influence calculation -- one oversimplified and potentially poorly targeted -- can still work with a great strategy behind it. The value of Klout is that it gets brands to stop wasting time finding the perfect target and instead makes them focus efforts on building a strategy around influence.

As companies mature their influence strategies, they’ll require more accurate data tied more closely to their customer databases than the masses on Twitter. But for the time being, while most businesses are just starting to experiment with influencer strategies, a single number works just fine.

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