Measuring Your Social Worth

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Adam Kmiec has amassed more than 2,600 followers on Twitter where he speaks his mind on everything from the newest tech start-ups to digital advertising and his criticisms of daily deal site Groupon.

The Chicago-based head of social media at Walgreens ( WAG) was surprised when he received an offer last month via e-mail to test drive the new Chevy Volt for three days based on his status as a high level influencer in social media circles.

The offer was sponsored by Chevrolet as part of their "Driving The Midwest" campaign in collaboration with a tech company called Klout, which aims to measure the influence of users' opinions, links and recommendations across the Web.

"The facilitation of the experience was brilliant," said Kmiec. "I just had to sign two pieces of paper, it was pretty turnkey. And we're not talking about a candy bar here, this is a $45,000 vehicle."

Kmiec then did exactly what Chevy likely hoped for: He wrote about the experience on his blog.

Looking to target increasingly tech-savvy consumers in new ways, big brands are teaming up sites like Klout, Tweet Grader and PeerIndex to help them reach people who will evangelize their products.

Klout and others use data from sites like Twitter, LinkedIn ( LNKD) and Google ( GOOG) + to determine a so-called "influence score" -- which ranges from 0 to 100 -- for users based on how much sway they have over fellow consumers. Ideally, these people are trusted experts within their social circles in a specific niche area, such as wine or gardening, which makes targeting them easier.

Kmiec has a Klout score of 63, high considering the average score of a user is in the mid-20s. President Obama has a score of 88, while Lady Gaga has a 90.

" Facebook helps you understand your friends," said John Frankel, a partner at ff Venture Capital and a Klout board member. "Klout helps you understand strangers."

Marketers are getting on board with the idea.

In June, Audi said it would begin customizing users' Facebook pages and offering promotions based on Klout scores. Earlier this year it also gave highly rated influencers the change to test drive the new A8.

Universal Studios used the service to offer advanced screenings of movies like The Adjustment Bureau. And Hewlett Packard ( HPQ) recently gave away a laptop pre-loaded with films from the Cinequest film festival.

Most perks, however, are slightly more mundane.

Jeff Lesser, a marketing manager from Boulder, Colo., has earned a snowboarding DVD and some AXE hair gel by tweeting about his life, calling these benefits "a nice little bonus."

Still, dangling freebies of any kind in front of consumers will likely encourage them to try and become influencers. But how?

Users don't necessarily earn high Klout scores by Tweeting more often or updating their Facebook status incessantly, said Klout chief revenue officer Tim Mahlman.

"It's more about how engaged other people are with what you're writing," he said. "It's about quality, not quantity."

To Klout this means having people respond and share your messages throughout social media channels like Twitter, LinkedIn, Foursquare and YouTube.

Yet Klout scores are far from perfect because they don't fully take into account one's presence on the Web.

Until recently the company didn't include personal blogs into its scoring algorithm. That was problematic for influential bloggers whose posts may generate thousands of comments but aren't on Twitter, according to social media consultant Paul Gillin. Klout has since integrated blogging platforms like Blogger, Tumblr and WordPress into its service.

It also doesn't monitor news outlets like The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times, meaning influential people who may not be active in social media but who are the subject of articles in these types of publications are penalized.

"To use one simple data number as a way of determining influence might be a mistake," said Kmiec. "You can't just look at cholesterol and not weight, for example, as a way of judging someone's health."

And more generally, some industry professionals are concerned that brands may alienate customers by giving preferential treatment to certain users.

"You want to make sure that highly influential people are happy but you don't want to over serve them at the expense of other people," said Kimberly Maul, an analyst with eMarketer. "It's a tricky line."

-- Written by Olivia Oran in New York.

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