Online Influence: Smoke and Mirrors?

There are certain words that make my skin crawl.  Here’s the short list:





Brands are spending millions of dollars reaching out to online influencers to spread their message, hawk their wares, drive traffic to their sites, send consumers to their stores.

And many of them are paying for the Emperor’s New Clothes.

The fact is that influence is for sale…cheap.  I’ve watched as one friend on Twitter has quadrupled their number of followers by paying less a month than it would cost me to buy a coke at McDonald’s every day.  You want links back to your site to boost your Alexa?  You got $40?  Because there are plenty of companies out there that will pay pennies to the most random of sites to embed hidden text links to your blog, falsely boosting the amount of influence your site has on a number of statistics.

But how much influence does a blogger have over a bought audience?  And who is that audience?

Remember the blogger with the sudden Twitter fame?  That same blogger has complained how horrible the tweet stream is now that it is filled with random people who have nothing to do with the content of their blog.  It’s all marketers, life coaches, teenagers on their phones…spam.  So when that blogger puts their five digit Twitter follower up for a brand to see, what they’re really offering is access to a disengaged motley crew of spammers.  Nice!

And back to Klout.  Last year Jennifer James of Mom Bloggers Club wrote about Mom Bloggers with a high Klout score, a measure of online influence.  I was number one on the list…but didn’t tell my clients or add it to my Media Kit. Why?  Because these “measures of influence” come and go faster than my high school boyfriends and in my opinion, are easily manipulated. In fact, one blogger who almost never tweets and when she does, only tweets out links to her posts, showed me how she was able to greatly affect her own Klout score with just a few clicks.  When companies began to request my Klout score before working with me or even providing giveaways to my bloggers, I had to share my score, but it should really have an asterisk next to it like so many of these tools that are often the result of smoke and mirrors.

Before the trolls start in the comments, these are not the ramblings of a small number blogger.  Mine are real.  And they’re fabulous. And yes, I can put them in a pretty powerpoint, throw on the cute suit, and tell you that I am your dream come true.  But I’d much rather show you the results of my efforts for you than drag out the horse and pony show.

To those hoping to engage with the vast mom audience – and quite frankly, their buying power – it’s time to step away from the metrics. Ask yourself why a blogger came out of nowhere to have a huge and sudden audience.  Find out why someone whose blog is filled with typos and cut/pasted press releases is telling you they have pageviews that are out of this world.  Ask yourself what influence really means.

And try to see beyond the smoke and mirrors.

Leave a Reply


  • Your points are well made-at least from this side of the blog-o-sphere. As someone who does not have a huge following and does not pay to get followers it is really frustrating when people gage the merit of my blog based solely on the number of followers I have or don’t have. Yes, I know that #s are important but so is content and being legitimate. I wish that people would consider the source and the strength of the reviewer instead of seeing the numbers first. That’s just my 2 cents anyway.

    • Amy

      Absolutely. And if the brands are interested in locating new consumers, they’re going to do best engaging with bloggers whose audience knows, likes, and trust them, not the bloggers who have shiny paper and a pretty bow with readers who just skim for the juicy bits and then carry on. The truth is that we’re all consumers AND bloggers, so we must know what really works. For example, if there’s a blogger that I read for her thoughtful parenting posts and then she tells me how much she loves a new toy that she tried, I’m much more likely to buy that toy based on her recommendation than I am if someone I don’t read harvests my email and ads me to their review newsletter. I’m sure that the numbers of the spammy review newsletter look better to the toy company, but the results won’t be any better than if they had sent the toy and bought an advertising spot with the engaging blogger.

  • you know I’m a sucker for a good powerpoint deck. And Klout is becoming more and more serious in the industry from where I see it.

    • Amy

      “From where I see it.” – And where is that from?

      • you know you really should have a Red pen as an avatar picture 😛

        • Amy

          I added a photo – no red pen needed. 😉

  • You know what’s funny: We always know the bloggers who pay for influence because we watch their Twitter followers rise like gangbusters, knowing full well that it’s nearly impossible to organically grow a following like that essentially in a week’s time or less. The hard truth is that brands and PR firms just want the numbers! But, at the end of the day if those bloggers can’t move the dial, they’re always found out. They can get in the door, but they can’t sustain what they claim to be able to deliver. It all works itself out.

    • Amy

      Jennifer, it’s true. They come and go quickly, and when they leave it seems there is always someone there to quickly fill their shoes while the rest of just keep our nose to the grindstone and sustain.

  • Sing it, sister. Real wins, every time.

  • Well put, sister! The proof is in the pudding.

  • Best post of the year! It`s important that people not forget that a large majority of the activities that bring ‘influence’ happen behind the scenes in facebook groups, closed forums and twitter dms.

    There isn’t any metric that can measure who is connected to who FOR REAL. By looking at my numbers and ‘scores’ you’d never know that I have solid relationships with other bloggers who would retweet me till the cows come home.

    You can get a glimpse of that by reading my blog and looking at comments but what rep is going to put in that kind of work? Unfortunately, not many.

  • I so agree. If you have a contest on fb for example and encourage people totally unrelated to your content to like you, the page will just get unliked later, or it will just go on being completely useless. You only want followers who you may influence, interact and etc with. Target your audience first, find out who may want what you are giving them without the gimmicks… and if you wind up using a gimmick, target it carefully for people who may find your product/site/info useful

  • I’m very happy to read this. I participate sometimes in an blogging forum and recently was asked how I got such a “high” klout score? I was surprised anyone knew what my score was or cared. I think they were hoping for for some sort of trick or technique to gain more “influence”. I suggested they have fun, ignore the metrics, be themselves and most of all ADD VALUE… UNIQUE VALUE to their readers.

    I’m the perfect example of what you supposedly shouldn’t do to gain influence on Twitter… I do everything “wrong”. I follow people back. I “talk” to people with 12 followers more often as someone with thousands. I share information I find interesting, without caring if it’s a trending topic. And guess what, just like your readers trust you, Amy, mine trust me. I like them. They make me laugh and sometimes cry. They are real people. They are my friends.

    Sorry for going on here, but it really bugs me that people are so much more focused upon this than upon providing quality content & value.

    Great blog! ~Michael

    • Amy

      Michael, no need to apologize for going on and on! That’s what I love best about blogging – the conversation. Thank you for providing your insight!

      • Thanks, Amy. I’ve been blogging (mostly from under a rock) for about 7 years, and have always loved the conversations that go on in blog comments. I almost always respond back to comments on my blog. I think it’s cool you do, too.

  • Great post! One of the reasons why I love blogging is the networking and wonderful people that I have met. It would be lonely to have nothing but spam on my twitter stream.

  • My strategy is to BUY influence from people who have a bigger audience than me…which, come to think of it, is like ALL my online friends. So I’ll buy you a drink! And you’ll tweet about it and thus I’m an influencer by association 🙂

    Note to anyone seriously considering this as a strategy – it’s a joke.

  • Amen, Sister! Usually one glance at someone’s followers will tell you if they’re paying for them. If most of their tweets are in arabic, or they have a magic cure for ED, you know you’re not looking at an organic audience.

  • Touché Amy!! There are so many things I’d like to say but I’m simply not brave enough. Thank you!!

  • I had absolutely no idea you could PAY SOMEONE to change your rankings. I have no idea what any of my rankings are! I kind of like it that way.

  • Love this! And I want to echo the person that said ‘real always wins’. SO true!

  • Firstly, let me golf clap and say BRAVA.

    Second, I would like to add a hearty WORD UP.

    Brands extrapolate their efforts in the world of online influence as a two year bleeding edge indicator- they think of “online influencers” as early adopters and indicators of future likely consumer behavior.

    At least, I think the ones who are taking a measured approach do so. The ones who take a hasty throw some dollars in the fishbowl approach will find that their message doesn’t extend beyond the fishbowl- and that the emperor’s outfit is being passed between the same set of megaphones that may deliver great metrics but very few results.

    I think the answer lies in a mix of media- offline, online, video, Facebook, twitter- eggs in different baskets.

    Great post, Ames.

  • As always Amy, you bring to light important and timely issues we are facing as bloggers. As a girl who swore off “numbers” last year, I would rather read and work with bloggers/blogs that have a real connection and participation with their audience. Well done.

  • So true. I’m often asked for these figures too… and I fill them out on various online forms.
    My favorite is in conversation. It goes like this… How many followers do you have? I reply. They often look impressed… I always add… that isn’t what I’m proud of… what I’m proud of is my engagement.

  • Amy,
    I honestly have never looked at your numbers. Klout sounds like an STD to me. Alexa? A doll. PageRank = cold and impersonal (again to me). Influencer? I’d say you rank rather high there.

    The only #’s I care about are my blood pressure readings. Oh, and maybe the amount of kisses & hugs from kiddos & hubby.

    Way to keep it real, Amy. Are you engaged? No. That’s right. You’re married. But you are engaging 🙂

  • This is the exact reason, I stopped forcing myself to worry about the numbers. I had my followers across platforms jump high in a few days during one huge giveaway I ran but those numbers dropped shortly after the giveaway ended. I miss out on opportunities because of my lower numbers but I figure it’s not worth flooding my blog just to increase my numbers.

  • Thank you SOOO much for this! My numbers go up and down and all over the place and can change simply based on the # of posts I’ve run in a week. To me, what seems to be the best indicator is the number of comments I get and what people say in them. I can tell pretty quickly if what we published really made a difference. So thank you, thank you for validating that # of followers does not necessarily mean the # of people actually paying attention to what you have to say 🙂

  • Janet

    Great writeup, Amy, as always. 🙂

  • I just realized not long ago what a joke Klout is. It’s so easily changed. I figured out how to get it higher not long ago by watching a more well known blogger who has clearly bought most of her followers. I did what she did and voila my number went up. Thing is, Klout tells me I am influenced and influencing people that I haven’t spoken with on twitter for more than a year..what does that tell you.

    As far as Twitter. I’ve been on there 2 years now and have yet to reach 10k. I will never pay to have someone else manage it, auto-follow, or join sites that claim to get you followers. I’ve tried various things here and there while looking for quality people to follow but I have had the most success by simply getting an email for each person who follows me and checking them out before I follow back. Yep, I look at every single person before I follow. crazy and way too time consuming but I’ve built the exact type of list I want and need.

    I know about all the other places as well that you can buy links back to your site etc but I assumed that google penalizes you for such behavior?

    If you look at my Alexa rating I’ve had the same 43 links forever but it doesn’t bother me. I love Alexa for one thing. It can tell you so much.. I love looking at those big bloggers sites on it and seeing what type of of “high impact search queries” they have. When you see things like “giveaway” and just the name of their site spelled 10 diff ways you know they don’t have much to offer as far as content.

    I am very happy that I took these past 2.5 years to go at it slow. I am just now starting to build a real following of highly engaged people. They’re not all on my blog either. Most are on Facebook and have no idea what giveaways are. I love that because I can interact with them in real time and they get to know me a little better, for all the right reasons.

    My only question.. what about those groups of Mom bloggers who band together and click links for each other and raise scores? Isn’t that sort of the same as buying links and followers? They post a thread and exchange clicks. I recently stumbled upon something like that and was amazed and sort of disappointed. It’s just like the Sweepers who vote for one another in the big contests. Most of the time the little normal every day guys have no idea it’s going on.

  • I have to tell you how very much I love this! I’ve been in this blogging game for 8 years. I’ve seen the way bloggers are measured come and go. I totally do not understand buying followers. I’m only on Twitter etc for the interaction. If it’s minimal, I have little to say. If people follow or don’t at least I know a conversation is going to happen.

  • This is a tough one. I totally agree with this article, but it is kinda frustrating for bloggers who’ve been on the scene longer that get dismissed because there’s a new blogger on the block who gamed the system. It’s easy to start worrying about the numbers when being interesting just doesn’t pay the bills. As we know, many of us support our families as bloggers.

    There have been companies that have told other bloggers that they can’t pay them a certain price for work, but they will pay another blog with a larger following (who has gamed the system). Brand fail, yes. Kinda makes you feel sucky as a blogger who works hard and tries not to participate in schemes and tactics.

    I feel like there will always be shallow PR people and it’s gonna take a lot of preaching about influence vs. numbers for changes to take place. You do what you have to do to get noticed, I suppose. And whatever method you use to increase numbers, be prepared to make sure that what you offer is truly worth those numbers. And use them to not only benefit yourself, but help other people as well.

  • I want to thank you for this article. I’ve been a blogger for 4 years now. Back in August of 2010 I decided to just make a new blog after an 8 month hiatus due to a family illness. While I’m not a mommy blogger but more of a food blogger..most of my friends are in the mommy blogging world. It’s hard to see the kind of numbers they pull but I know that the ones I’m friends with have worked very very hard to get them that way. Other bloggers I have seen pay for followers. I couldn’t believe it. Is that not as bad a CEO telling everyone that the company is doing well when actually they are struggling? I have made it a policy to never make it a requirement or even an option for extra entries if they follow me or facebook me. I figure if you like me for real that’s nice but if not…oh well right? Some days its hard to look at someone with 34,000 twitter followers vs my 500 lol. This made me feel vindicated for doing it my way…what feels right to me.

  • Oh, thank you for writing this! I’m fairly new and already weeding out spam everyday. And companies asking about ratings…Thank you!

  • I’ve been accused of buying influence, which is hysterical since I’m a) poor and b) not that interested. But I am on the “twitter recommends list” which makes my twitter followers grow fast even though I’m not trying to make that happen (and I suspect why people think I buy followers). But I DO know that even though I have a high number of followers getting them to DO anything is impossible, unless it involves something super controversial.

  • I’ve been accused of buying influence, which is hysterical since I’m a) poor and b) not that interested. But I am on the “twitter recommends list” which makes my twitter followers grow fast even though I’m not trying to make that happen (and I suspect why people think I buy followers). But I DO know that even though I have a high number of followers getting them to DO anything is impossible, unless it involves something super controversial.

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