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US actor Ashton Kutcher takes a photograph during a photo call on the occasion of a charity event in a shopping center in Pasching, near Linz, Austria, on Friday, Oct. 29, 2010. (Ronald Zak)
US actor Ashton Kutcher takes a photograph during a photo call on the occasion of a charity event in a shopping center in Pasching, near Linz, Austria, on Friday, Oct. 29, 2010. (Ronald Zak)

Start: Mark Evans

Klout measures influence level on Twitter Add to ...

In the fast-changing social media world, influence is becoming increasingly important as companies start to focus more on who is leading conversations as opposed to how many conversations are happening.

In many respects, there is more emphasis on quantity rather than quality.

A start-up attracting an awful lot of attention in the influence "ecosystem" is Klout.com, which uses sophisticated algorithms and semantic analysis to measure the influence of people and topics on the web.

Klout has established a strong foothold within the influence-sphere with a free service that measures people's influence on Twitter by giving them a score out of 100. The company recently expanded the service to Facebook, and it plans to add LinkedIn and Foursquare by year-end.

I recently had a chance to interview Klout founder Joe Fernandez about the company's growth and the rising interest in influence.

Tell me about how and why you founded Klout?

Back in 2007, I had been on Twitter for a while. I enjoyed it but I had jaw surgery and my jaw was completely wired shut. For three months, it was my only form of communication. It changed how I was looking at a new medium, and how crazy it was that the people I trusted the most, I could instantly hear their opinions about a restaurant or whatever experience they were having.

Even more amazing was all this data was available. While my jaw was wired shut, I was obsessed with the idea of building the alpha version of Klout, which was very rudimentary - dumping data into Excel. I had co-founded big data companies and had that experience. I didn't know what Klout would be but I thought the data was interesting, and whether it was marketers or individuals themselves wanting to know their own impact, it was interesting.

Are you surprised by the focus, if not obsession, with influence? How do you account for this trend?

We are certainly not complaining. I love that the conversation has shifted. People would do a lot of counting before - followers, mentions ... But I think the market has got efficient quickly to the point where people realize that quality does matter. We think of what we are doing as understanding the network value of customers, and the value of having 100 people talk about your brand who aren't really relevant versus having two or three people who have tons of authority and influence around your brand.

How has Klout evolved?

There was always the Klout score. It was something digestible to consumers or brands, and I got really focused on making that score the standard. Even before the site was in public beta, we had an API companies were using. Getting distribution around that score, refining the quality of the score, and becoming that standard became the focus. To this day, one of the core missions of the company has been to become the standard score for online influence.

What is Klout's business model?

We are still in an experimental phase. We are playing with a bunch of different models. We're mostly still focused on the tech challenges of the data we are processing ... There are almost 850 companies using our (interface), and less than 10 are paying for it. The biggest companies are pounding on our system, but we eventually see a wide variety of premium services.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Mark Evans is a principal with ME Consulting, a digital marketing and social media strategic agency that helps companies create and tell their stories to customers, bloggers/media, business partners, employees and investors. Mr. Evans has worked with three start-ups - Blanketware, b5Media and PlanetEye - so he understands how they operate and what they need to do to be successful. He was a technology reporter for more than a decade with The Globe and Mail, Bloomberg News and the Financial Post. He is also one of the co-organizers of the mesh and meshmarketing conferences.

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