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What Clout Means Today

By Warren Epstein
Blakely+Company Account Manager

Clout used to be a vague, intangible, unquantifiable thing.

If you could walk past the line in New York’s Studio 54, maybe you had it. If publishers or studio execs would return your phone calls, you probably had it. Or maybe you were just lucky.

That notion of clout changed in the past decade with the emergence of social media. It became quantifiable. How many friends do you have on Facebook? How many followers on Twitter? In fact, in 2008, a social media aggregation site emerged called Klout (at klout.com). It looked at all of your social media engagement across multiple platforms and gave you a score based on how many people your clever witticisms and cute kitten videos were actually reaching.

When I was arts editor for The Gazette, my Klout score was in the low 60s (on a scale of 1-100). I was in a constant, juvenile battle with then-Gazette columnist Bill Vogrin, who always seemed to score about 2 or 3 points higher than I, and never let me forget it.

TV folks tend to have even more social media fans and followers than print people. Lisa Lyden and Rob Quirk at KOAA/Channel 5, Don Ward and Betty Sexton at KKTV/Channel 11, James Jarman and Heather Skold at KRDO/Channel14 and Joe Cole and Lauren Ferrara at Fox21 have huge social media followings.

But fame is just part of the game. The value of their connections and their information is key. That’s why, in many cases, meteorologists have even more followers than anchors. For instance, KKTV’s Chief Meteorologist Brian Bledsoe has more than 8,100 Facebook fans, making him one of the most influential media people in Colorado Springs.

Meteorologists are particularly hot on Twitter, as Twitter followers love to track storms in real time.

The advantages of big followings for these people should be obvious. They promote their stations, newspapers and reports in social spaces and help increase their audience. More than that, they make themselves accessible, so news becomes less something to consume than something to engage about.

In the advertising agency world, the ability to engage with large audiences, sometimes by leveraging those with big social media followings, has become extremely valuable. It’s an extension of the age-old practice of leveraging sports heroes to sell Wheaties. Now, brands reach out to those with social-engagement clout to help reach consumers where they live – online.

But it doesn’t always work. How many times has stranger asked you to “please share” or “please retweet.” Sorry, none of us wants to leverage our friends for random requests.

As in the real world, engaging influencers in social spaces requires relationship building. If a friend or solid acquaintance asks you to share something, and you like what they’re promoting, you just might pass that along to your fans, friends or followers. Still, it’s a sensitive negotiation.

At a PRSA luncheon last August, many of us local marketers took our understanding of influencers to the next level, thanks to Michael Brito, the charismatic head of social marketing at W20 Group in Silicon Valley and one of the 50 Most Influential Content Marketers, according to NewsCred.

Michael’s presentation at the Mining Exchange proved insightful and on-point, as did our chat afterward.

He told me if you really want to leverage influencers, you have to stop thinking about the Justin Biebers of the world (the Biebs has more Facebook fans than the population of Thailand). The top influencers in the world or even in your community may be irrelevant, he said. Instead, you have to think specific industry, specific moment and get seriously strategic.

The advice had a familiar ring. Our agency had recently experienced just this kind of challenge.

One of our clients, the Rocky Mountain Women’s Film Festival, needed help with its fun Wheel to Reel event, a bike ride along the Pikes Peak Greenway Trail followed by a film at the Fine Arts Center. The promotional budget was fairly modest, and ticket sales the week before the event were behind the previous year. We started thinking about influencers. We knew, based on the makeup of past attendees, that the event tended to draw more film fans than serious bicyclists.

So we reached out to the top influencers in the local film community, including filmmaker Pete Schuermann, Pikes Peak Film Forum director Ralph Giordano and Kimball’s Peak Three Theatre owner Kimball Bayles. They helped us create a social-media blitz that had the event sold out in three days.

Our client was happy. We were happy. And our influencers felt like heroes (because they were!).

None of this had to do with analytics and Klout scores. It was about relationships. This wouldn’t have worked if we didn’t already have solid relationships with these influencers. They knew us, they knew the event and they were more than happy to help.

I agree with Michael Brito that leveraging influencers can be an essential part of a marketing plan as well as an effective last-minute-push tactic. A related tactic is engaging “advocates,” brand devotees. These are the people who are raving about your brands on Yelp and other social media sites. Michael points out that with the right vehicles, you can turn those brand champions into super champions.

You can find out more about influencers and advocates in Michael’s book, Your Brand: The Next Media Company. In the book, he argues that like those big-Klout anchor people and meteorologists I talked about earlier, brands can become mini media outlets, sharing content, engaging about both the trivial and the significant, making people feel like they’re part of the company in deeper ways.

But what about those high Klout score people? Aren’t they still important? Well, it turns out that unless they’re influencers in your industry, they’re probably not nearly as important as they think they are (I’m looking at you, Bill Vogrin!).