Over the past few months, I have had a lot of fun helping guide a brand new healthcare company with its marketing strategy. It’s been a wonderful and rare opportunity to work with an inspiring company and build something meaningful from scratch.
Their marketing team is experienced and passionate but like many professionals who have been in the business for awhile, they grew up in a world focused on print and television advertising. My task was more than teaching them about social media. Somehow, I had to help them build a content marketing culture built to last in the digital age.
Assessing a culture
Week by week we worked on an integrated content strategy and we made rapid progress. But I knew that to be successful, I had to help them build a sustainable culture that creates and shares content that drives measurable business benefits. I had to make sure that this thing would continue to roll after my consulting engagement was over.
Our team needed to establish metrics that would drive the right behaviors in the organization over the long-term. But how do you measure cultural change? How do you measure whether a team is moving from a comfort level with advertising and broadcasting to one of listening, creating, responding, and nurturing an audience of relevant healthcare influencers?
We looked at a variety of metrics but the more we thought about it, “Klout” seemed to fit the bill.
I know I risk a torrent of critical responses by even mentioning the name of this company. But if you already on the brink of a rant, I would like to ask a favor. I am taking my time to create free, thought-provoking content for you. Before you rant about Klout in the comment section, please put pre-conceived notions aside for just one moment and don’t skim the article. Then, you can rant : )
Klout is the most consistently misunderstood measurement in the field. The company has exacerbated the problem by making a number of PR miscues and by adopting a slogan of “The Standard for Influence” … which it is not. Which it never will be, in my estimation.
But let’s put that aside and dispassionately examine what Klout actually does and how I believe it will help drive the right cultural change with my client.
What Klout really does
A Klout score is an imperfect and blunt instrument. However, an upward trajectory of a Klout score is an indicator that three things are happening:
1) The account is creating content and engaging on the social web consistently.
2) The account has developed a relevant audience who cares enough about the content to share it.
3) The content is being shared by others deemed as “influencers” in a relevant category by Klout.
That’s it. Those three thing must happen to raise your Klout score consistently over time. And those are EXACTLY the things this client has to do to change their culture and create a core competency in content marketing.
As has been amply shown (and documented in my book Return On Influence), Klout can be gamed. Probably less so than a few years ago, but there are certain shortcuts you can take to raise your score, at least in the short term.
But what if a company didn’t game the system? What if you worked every single day in a legitimate way to consistently create better content, enagage with your audience, and actively build relationships with relevant influencers who can create business benefits for your organization?
Let’s make an assumption that marketing professionals at a prominent healthcare company aren’t going to cheat. To drive this metric up, they will have to do the work, and, in my view, it is the right kind of work to begin developing a core competency in content marketing.
Time to re-assess
The other thing I saw occur when we talked about Klout is that people became excited by the metric. Like most successful business people, they’re competitive and when they saw that their work could drive a number up they got their game faces on! Having a group of people express enthusiasm for a metric was unexpected, and I think important when driving change.
One of the things we will have to watch is that Klout occasionally makes changes to its scoring system that drives wild fluctuations in scores. I think the system has stabilized enough so that it is worth a try, but we’ll see.
Using Klout as a metric would not necessarily work for everybody or every company, but in this particular time and place — and for this objective — I think it makes sense. I’ve never tried it before, but I think if the metric is stable, it has potential to drive the change that is needed.
This company understands what it is, what it is not, and what it represents … a relative indicator of their ability to create and move content. We don’t even use the word “influence” in our discussions because I don’t want them to lose focus on the goal of creating, sharing, and engaging.
While Klout has been the subject of long and loud debate within a small social media circle, it is also receiving broad acceptance from many other parts of the business world. Klout has received investment capital from Microsoft and leading VC’s, including new cash from Japanese investors. It has created promotional partnerships with McDonalds, ESPN, Orange and other international brands. Individual Klout scores are being integrated into Bing search results. Understanding the meaning of Klout is being included in curriculums at several universities including Florida State and NYU. And I think it is time to consider it, in the proper context, as a legitimate business indicator.
Klout is not the only measure we are using at this company, of course. We are combining it with other metrics and other analytic tools, including Appinions. I can see that in 9-12 months we might move off the Klout metric and on to something that is more tightly tied to direct business benefits. But for now, I believe this is a useful indicator of cultural change at a company and that is what MUST happen.