Over the weekend I stumbled across this excellent post by Dirk Singer who ran an experiment to see how he could raise his Klout score from 22 to 60 – with just $40. It’s a fascinating read about how he easily bought Twitter, Instagram and Facebook followers, likes and retweets. Two weeks and $40 later – BOOM!- his Klout was an impressive 60.

But what does that mean? And who cares? Klout (or Kred, or Peerindex or any of those algorithms) are really only one piece of the puzzle when evaluating someone’s social profile – particularly if a brand is considering a special offer or different handling due to that person’s online influence. You wouldn’t hire someone based on their psychometric testing alone would you? You evaluate their skills & experience, the interview, their references, their online footprint. Same applies to influence tracking systems when deciding if someone is actually a big deal on the internet or not.

If an account has a high Klout score (which some 3rd party tools like Hootsuite will pull through automatically – even Chrome has a Klout plugin for Twitter), a quick look at the social activity along with the content of the tweets or posts will give you a good indication of whether the account could be fake or manipulating the system.  Are they actually posting tweets and responding to real people? Do they tweet regularly? If they have lots of followers – does it seem legit? For example, at the time of writing, TV3’s John Campbell (who is marvellously beamed into NZ homes every weeknight at 7pm) has 48K followers. If someone has a similar number of followers as him, but is nowhere near as famous, then….. well, you can draw your own conclusions.

In Dirk’s experiment, he bought this tweet over 8,000 RTs. If you put your sensible hat on for a moment then you’d realise that this just doesn’t seem like  a tweet that would get retweeted 5 times, let alone over 8,000.

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I’d hope brands (and individuals) don’t use influence scores like Klout in isolation when deciding how to engage with people on social media because that just encourages the wrong behaviour. Knowing your community and being active in it yourself also goes a long way in helping you evaluate a person based on their online behaviour.

Cheating the system only cheats yourself in the end ….  and then you are not a big deal to anyone.