A law industry business development consultant I know says it takes on average 17 "touches" with a prospect before turning him or her into a client. Whether that's the number or not, the point is clear: It takes sustained engagement to bring in business.

So, whether you're a consultant, a lawyer, an accountant, or any other kind of professional, why would people engage with you? The answer is simple: They trust you.

And if you have some influence within your industry, your field of expertise, or your geographic region, they will be all the more likely to trust you. It's that simple.

Accordingly, if "influence" is a reason that potential clients are attracted to your services, it should also serve as a pillar of your online marketing strategy. In other words: Clout matters.

What Is Klout?

Klout "is the dominant system of grading and rating how much influence people have," write authors Gina Carr and Terry Brock in their book Klout Matters. Klout is "a social scoring system...used to measure your online and offline influence in various ways."

Klout uses social media accounts, such as Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn, to grade online participants. For example, if you have a Twitter account, then you are already being graded, much as you are earning a credit rating behind the scenes via your personal commercial transactions. (Also, Klout recently rolled out a new version of its service that provides tools to curate and share content related to your interests. And it's reportedly in the process of being acquired by Lithium Technologies.)

Klout is not the only influence-measuring program out there. For example, PeerIndex and Kred, and TweetLevel and BlogLevel by Edelman, are similar tools that attempt to determine people's online influence.

Klout claims to include hundreds of metrics in its calculations, but it has been criticized for not being transparent about what those metrics are. It's also unclear what weighting Klout gives to various social channels. And people have wondered whether it can be gamed. I myself have been tempted to switch my little-used professional Facebook page with my personal Facebook page, just to see if my score rises.

But the score itself is not what interests me. It's the activity we produce that raises one's score.


So, what factors positively affect your Klout score? Well, it's not necessarily the number of followers or "Likes" you have on platforms such as Twitter or Facebook. In other words, "buying" followers on platforms like Twitter won't necessarily help you, at least in the long term. What actually builds your credibility is your engagement with others within your markets and your niche.

By "engagement" I mean that Klout tries to measure the effectiveness—the ROI—of the time and effort you spend online. And that is important, because any good business leader will want to know the ROI of a marketing campaign before proceeding. Such engagement is measured in social media "events," such as retweets, shares, likes, and +1s of your content. Such ROI—the measurement of your influence—should serve as the foundation for firms' and professionals' digital and social marketing strategies.

A few years ago, there was a focus on simply putting content out there onto static Web pages and blogs. But social media energizes static content so that you can amplify your message and engage with potential clients.

Five Building Blocks to Increase Your Klout/Influence Score

A successful online engagement strategy involves five basic steps. The philosophy that underpins those steps is nicely summed up by social media author Ekaterina Walter: "Influence isn't about impressions, it's about impacting someone's behavior. And the only way to impact the behavior of others is through passion, relevance, and trust."

With that in mind, I've outlined five steps that firms and professionals should use to improve their influence, and therefore the ROI of their social media efforts. Although B2C marketers have been increasing the sophistication of their social marketing for years now, many in the professions have ignored those methods. They are key components to any professional's digital marketing strategy.

1. Keep your online profiles accurate

It might sound odd to say so, but loads of professionals have incomplete and inaccurate social profiles—notably on LinkedIn. Good marketing starts with accuracy.

If a professional cringes at the thought of handing out his or her business card with wrong information (e.g., an old title, a former company, an incorrect email address, etc.) or submitting a resume with only one of three hard-earned university diplomas, then wrong social media profiles should create the same horrified reaction.

Don't dismiss how you look. And that includes getting rid of the LinkedIn profile photo from your last fishing trip.

2. Build your content

For years now, people have been saying that publishing has been dying. Actually, it's come to life—online. Every subject matter expert should be writing online—by publishing blogs and by offering content to online publishers.

Every professional should take advantage of online publishing channels to prove that they are, indeed, experts in a particular market niche. If writing does not come easily to you, find ways to employ or work with colleagues or professional writers who can get your content to 97% completion, then polish the final 3% before publishing. Or make videos. Or publish in a Q&A format. You have myriad content options.

3. Engage: Follow others

Although the first and second points, above, are crucial to building influence, they won't attract genuinely interested audiences or warm up future clients unless the professional gets out there and "shakes hands" via social channels. So, no... this is not a careless exercise. Rather, it takes concentrated effort to seek out those within your niche—other consultants, potential clients, journalists, media sites, and industry analysts, for example.

It's easy to introduce yourself to others by following people on Twitter, adding influential experts to your "circles" on Google+, reaching out to people you know and those you have recently met via LinkedIn, and so forth.

You have to be the change in your professional life, and that starts with determining who "out there" is already occupying the target market and niche that concerns you most. With social media, it's easy to crash the party with a velvet touch. And that includes writing a personal note when you send a LinkedIn request.

4. Engage: Pay attention to others

Now that you've got an increasing number of people in your social networks within your target markets, it's time to make sure you log in to those networks every morning. Take snippets of time out during the day to scroll through your network.

See what people in your network are writing about and the issues that concern them. Make constructive comments on their blogs and via social networks. A simple Like or Share via LinkedIn will remind them that you are there. People will notice and appreciate your attention and interest, and they will, in turn, be more open to reading and sharing your content. Or having a business lunch with you. Just be sure you "listen" at least as much as you "talk."

5. Engage: Share your stuff

Anyone who has been successful at publishing a book will tell you that the success wasn't due solely to the content between the covers. It was because they worked tirelessly at publicizing their work to predetermined niche markets via radio, TV, online, etc. The same holds true for your content. And that means "amplifying" your message to your targeted social channels and tapping your online friends on their shoulders.

How? For example, if you have built a relationship with persons A, B, and C about issues X, Y, and Z, then you can "tag" them in your social media posts to make them aware of your published content. It's easy to do in social networks, but very few professionals do it. They just throw out their content (or let their marketers do it) via a tweet or a share, hoping that their content will spread. But the emerging social media universe isn't mass communications. It's personal. And that is the beauty of it: real engagement with people who are interested in your message. You learn this by doing.

The better you target your market, the better results you will have amplifying your message. Your contacts will retweet and share your content with their own networks because you are truly engaged with them. It is that sort of online engagement that makes the biggest difference in boosting your Klout score: It proves that you have influence, and that people trust and enjoy your work and your opinions.

And that gets you much closer to "touch No. 17"—and turning a contact into a client.

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How Klout Can Guide Your Online Marketing Strategy

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image of Nicholas A. Kosar

Nicholas Kosar manages marketing campaigns for an AmLaw 100 law firm in Washington, DC. Prior to his work in the professional services sector, he was in book, magazine, and digital publishing.

LinkedIn: Nick Kosar

Twitter: @nakosar