Matt Thomson of Klout: Measuring Influence in the Social Sphere

Tune in as Matt Thomson, Vice President of Business Development and Platforms for Klout, joins Brent Leary to discuss the ins and outs of social influence.  Among the topics discussed are measurement, influential media, leveraging, branding and more.

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social influenceSmall Business Trends: Can you tell us a little bit about your background?

Matt Thomson: Sure, I mostly spent my time consumerizing the enterprise normally on the product side. Klout is actually is my first business development role. Before that I worked at Lithium and Microsoft; Microsoft in the Dynamics CRM area. I came over to Klout as the first business guy, if you will. But again, my background is mostly on the product side and little bit of marketing.

Small Business Trends: Is it more difficult to measure online influence today as compared to when Klout first start rolling a couple of years back?

Matt Thomson: It is a little more difficult both industry wide and Klout-specific. Let’s talk industry wide first. Estimates are about 2.3 billion people in the world are on some form of social. Mobile makes it easier; you’ve got video now and it is much easier to work with. Bandwidth is getting better and images are coming on really strong.

Instagram’s growth cannot be trifled with. I don’t know how anybody who doesn’t think about this as a standalone business can actually track this in a meaningful way.

Now from the Klout standpoint, we started with a robust vision and a very simple way to try to parlay that vision to the world with the Klout Score. We started two and a half years ago breaking it down into more contextualized chunks. For example, Matt is influential in Pabst Blue Ribbon. We have gotten to the point where we can actually crunch data enough to dictate that fact for about 150 million people.

Small Business Trends: You mentioned Instagram is becoming a real force. When did you see that happening and how quickly can you determine whether a new network is going to be something very important in this sphere of influence?

Matt Thomson: I would break that question down into volume vs. the niche. I think there are some niche networks out there that are very important and this is something that Klout probably is a bit long term vision on. You can think of something like Stock Twits.

Those are super interesting to us, mostly because of the very robust verticalization.

Now to answer your question more directly about volume-oriented networks, what you see with Instagram, we just registered a user base attaching their Instagram accounts at a level that’s almost above Twitter and Facebook at this point. So you can see some mature volume numbers and rate of growth, because if you think about Klout, at the end of the day a lot of users aggregate all of their networks in one place. Instagram grows quickly.

There is a cycle where you go up through the hype and then go under the trough of disillusionment. With Instagram, you just don’t see that. You  see it continuing to grow up and out to the right.

Let me give you a good example of a network I personally love that the jury is still out on – and that’s Vine. It is number one in the App Store. You see more and more Vines being created. I would say that we are still in that phase to see if it is going to be big.

Small Business Trends: Are you seeing smaller businesses being able to leverage what you guys are doing in terms of using Klout from a corporate branding perspective?

Matt Thomson: I think if you are talking about brick and mortar, like Little Star Pizza in San Francisco that has two or three locations now, no not yet. They might have the same page on Facebook and maybe on a Twitter account and that is about it.

Now with what I would consider an SMB (small business) like a Cirque Du Soleil. They are a pretty outsized brand, but they are still in my world an SMB, because they are not an enterprise. Usually, what it comes down to is if it’s a consumer facing company that uses brand and awareness to drive purchases down the funnel. Is it a heavy word of mouth driven industry? Fashion is pretty good for this, obviously travel and entertainment, all of those kinds of SMB’s in those areas, absolutely. It is still creeping down, but I would say it is still in the upper echelons like the P&G’s of the world, McDonalds, etc.

A lot of SMB’s consider themselves to have conversion based products. Obviously influence, advocacy, word of mouth lends itself very well to basically the whole brand funnel of awareness, consideration and purchase intent.

Small Business Trends:  What are some of the best ways that they could begin to use Klout?

Matt Thomson: I think generally our Perks program has proven really successful in mobilizing influencers to discuss a brand. So that is clearly our bread and butter business. Then, our API and our data is just heavily utilized. Going forward, we are basically going to be moving a little bit more into allowance. We announced Klout for Business almost a month ago, and we will be looking a lot more at letting friends come in and do self-service.

What we are going to do is give more tools around audience analysis and group management of influencers. Then allow brands to not only give rewards based on that, but also conduct surveys of their top influencers so they are giving their opinion of the most influential people in the market for their brand. Then we are going to be experimenting with other engagement channels to come off of Klout. So if you think about LinkedIn, they have an InMail feature, they have a customer side, they have an enterprise side, they have a recruiters side in their case and then they have an InMail feature which allows those two sides of the platform to connect. We think about our business very much like that.

Small Business Trends: Are you doing anything to address some of the concerns people may still have in terms of getting the full measure of somebody’s influence?

Matt Thomson:  Yes, you thought I was going to say no, right? I think when I get into that world I start to think a lot about the old word of mouth practices, about worrying about everybody’s offline influence in every way, shape and form. It is where you draw the line saying this is the amount of information we can actually utilize, and then this is the amount of information that gets us 80% of the way there.

I think anything that has scale in history had to make some concessions to perfection. In other words, some concessions with perfection taking a back seat. Do I think we are perfect? No, absolutely not. Do I think we are going to do a lot more at scale than any other company can do out there that is trying to perfect it? Yeah, absolutely.

Usually those complaints come from the business side of the world. While we care about the business side, our one guiding principle is to make Klout a viable utility for consumers, not to make money from brands. I think we do pretty well. I can guarantee that we have more science behind what we do, than any so called experts out there in this field of word of mouth.

Small Business Trends: Where can people learn more?

Matt Thomson: I would say is obviously a great resource. There are some really good books like Mark Shafter on Influence and stuff like that are out there that are very interesting, that are good reads about the market overall.


This interview on social influence is part of the One on One interview series with some of the most thought-provoking entrepreneurs, authors and experts in business today. This interview has been edited for publication. To hear audio of the full interview, click on the player above.

This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.

Brent Leary Brent Leary is the host of the Small Business Trends One-on-One interview series and co-founder of CRM Essentials LLC, an Atlanta-based CRM advisory firm covering tools and strategies for improving business relationships. Brent is a CRM industry analyst, advisor, author, speaker and award-winning blogger.