November 03, 2011
What is REAL Influence? Will Klout & Other Tools Define & Control You or Will You Define Them?
There's been so much buzz -- on and offline -- about Klout's decision to unveil a new formula which supposedly recalculates scores more accurately, the result of which brought most people's "popularity" scores down a few notches, including my own.
While I think what the guys over at Klout are trying to do is admirable and truth be told, we need really smart analytics and measurement tools to break through the noise, what we have today simply isn't accurate enough or "whole" enough to give us the real truth on who's influential and more importantly, in what circles and why.
Wouldn't it be more interesting to know who had a Klout score of 80 in food and wine, 80 in social media, 80 in fashion, 80 in politics and so on?
Wouldn't it also be more interesting if tools like this took into consideration a person's offline influence as well as other things they may have done, such as a bestselling book or created a program that made an African village sustain itself?
Part of the issue is that we're early and all of the vendors trying to innovate in this area are trying to figure it out. I spent time talking to Klout's CEO and founder Joe Fernandez in Dublin recently at a web conference and I think he's a great guy who's trying to do the right thing.
I jokingly complained that I've seen 21 year olds who are new to social media, new to Twitter and new to business whose Klout scores have been higher than mine on some days. There are many things they take into account when dishing out a Klout score, including the level of engagement. Crikey, if you're my niece's age and have thousands of Facebook friends who have a ton of time on their hands and can chat away all day with their friends, regardless of how big the circle is, then no doubt, that online "activity" gets engagement brownie points which goes into the Klout analysis.
While engagement could be high in this 'circle', it is its own ecosystem and the real question is: will this voice influence a certain number of people to buy a certain product or take a certain that builds brand awareness?
I have 3 Facebook pages attached to my name, all of which are mine, but I don't get credit in the Kloutsphere for any of them because they can only give you points for one Facebook account - your personal one. When I asked Joe about this, he had a logical explanation. There are far too many people managing a celebrity or brand's Facebook fan page and they shouldn't get credit for that level of influence when the page is about someone else. Fair enough. But what about those whose Facebook pages are legitimately connected to themselves? Small business owners would also fall into that category.
Yet, despite the fact that the numbers aren't accurate or "whole," tons of vendors and brands are jumping into the lions den and testing things out. Frankly, there's nothing wrong with that. With every evolution and revolution, you need to learn by trial and error just like we did with email after fax, blogging after websites and Twitter after AOL IM.
One of my issues is how much credence we (as an industry) give these early tools and how much of a time waste they are for so many I know including me at times before I kick myself back into perspective, nevermind the cultural impact which has quite honestly turned into a popularity contest. I feel as if everyone is competing to be Ken or Barbie and we're back to high school behavior in a way that's not healthy.
Scores are one way for brand marketers and PR folks to create a list of targeted bloggers and tweeters they can go after, aka a list of the most influential voices who must hear about their product or service. I get it as I've been on the pitching line - both in front of it and in recent years, on the receiving end with We Blog the World.
As Geoff points out, the most influential people in any given sector aren’t necessarily on social media. They hire other people to serve as community managers. As one example, Klout only gives President Barack Obama an Influence Score of 48.
While we do need analytics and tools for measuring, they need to take offline influence into consideration as well as more complex elements and texture that can extracted from people's social graphs.
It's time to bring in the socialogists and anthropologists. One of the best talks I've heard in awhile on a Web-something stage was in October at Web 2.0 Summit by Intel's Genevieve Bell, an Australian born anthropologist and researcher. She is the director of Intel Corporation's Interaction and Experience Research and her talk was begging the question: what if we built data for humans rather than devices?
Looking at data from an anthropoligical and "human" perspective (bring on more women please), means that we can take the science out of the analytics just long enough to get the pieces that make up the multiple facets of what makes someone who they are into the "measurement" pool.
Christopher Poole (aka @moot69 on Twitter) also raised the point at the same conference that who we are online may not necessarily be who we are offline. In other words, my social graph online may be very different from who I am in my personal life or frankly want to be...the games we have to play with social media to be part of the conversation -- authentic voice or not -- in order to keep up with metrics and measurement are currently robotic and linear at best.
Relationships are what really matter and building them take time. I've been working on (yes, while I LOVE it, it's work and takes time), building relationships for over twenty years and yet, my Klout score is lower than someone who's barely been in business or is even old enough to have a relationship with someone longer than a few years of their adult life.
Geoff also refers to this in his post: "without a relationship, it would be extremely hard to get that high scoring influencer to invest energy into your effort. Instead you would have to focus on the magic middle and build your own influence from the ground up."
Gavin Heaten refers to Granovetter’s “strength of weak ties”. While the original post is now a few years old, his point is still relevant. "Social influence and its impact on action is determined by a large number of “weak ties”. So those blogs which are built around an identity which is well-known to its audience (strong ties) is less likely to carry social influence."
Yet, buzz agents, PR people, marketers and large brands are deciding who's influential or beyond that, who can move their brand or sell products inside that brand....all based on these scores.
I went to the Travel Blog Exchange (known among those in the biz as TBEX) in Vancouver for the first time this past year and it was loaded with travel vendors, resorts, hotel chains, restaurants, retailers and more vying for travel blogger's time and ultimately "ink."
While I spend a few hours a day nuturing a travel and culture blog, I also run a business. Many of these bloggers are doing this full time so are spending a lot of time gathering content from the world's most popular destinations and there is an inherent value in that. Yet, many of these 21-25 year old bloggers are enjoying free trips around the world on some brand's dime based on Klout scores and other things like it.
Fair enough, trust me, I wish blogging were around when I backpacked through SE Asia, Australia, Africa and Europe when I was 22. But I think some other form of value will be necessary in the future as online publishing is being rewritten.
I often wonder if I were blogging and tweeting at 22, whether I would have spent less time chatting with a villager next to a fire on some remote mountain had I been loaded down with technology? When I went on those adventures, I wore nothing but a mid-sized rucksack on my back and an old Fujica AX3. My main consideration was making sure my film didn't get roasted in the Southeast Asian sun or when I went through security lines at airports.
Today when I travel, Foursquare and Twitter (via Hootsuite) are close companions. I often tweet in real time as I'm walking down an escalator and see something interesting and at times, can get so wrapped up in following streams, that sometimes I forget to have a conversation with the guy from Chicago or Tokyo standing next to me.
It's far too easy to get caught up in check-ins, status updates and Klout scores and there's no one who can disagree, that its addictive. It's precisely what makes gamification a godsend to marketers today. And yet with all these distractions, what are we losing and are we forgetting what "real influence" and "real relationships" are in the process?
Refer to my Google+ blog post which talks about data overload and over consumption.
Two decades ago, I would have had a Klout score of zero in the travelsphere and yet by the age of 25, I had been to more places than many travel writers at magazines and newspapers I met along the way.
I didn't spend any time building relationships with influential 'travel sources,' but with the locals I met en route and here is where I captured magical stories, most of which were written down in an old fashioned diary every night by a fire or from a rickety bed.
I would argue that in a world where the lines between marketers and content creators and publishers are muddy, that large brands should ask for more than a little link love, or a certain number of tweets. How about strategic feedback based on years of valuable insights, experience and perhaps connections to people where both sides benefit in a mutually positive way? Airlines take note. It's not rocket science, it's called listening to your customers, and not just those with high Klout scores. Pay attention to what customers are saying -- on and offline -- and implement changes so they're singing your praises alongside your marketing department.
Another example of a missed opportunity for "influencer collaboration". This past summer, I was flown out to a conference with about six other bloggers and while I was given hashtag and Twitter data as well as the program in advance, I had no knowledge of who was attending the conference so I could connect with people who shared similar interests and passions in advance.
Imagine the power of my writing a story about the work of a few of the attendees as well as their speakers? Ammunition for selling tickets the following year, especially if a new initiative formed as a result.
At events where everyone is interesting and has a story to share, the magic of what can be discovered doesn't always happen on the stage. 90% of my best stories are gathered off the stage and compelling input is often found from those who are not asked to speak or haven't written a book.
And, did those speakers who authored books know the bloggers and journalists who were attending? They should have known in advance so they could have taken the opportunity to send us a copy of their book to read before their presentation. Insights would have been much deeper and after-the-talk conversations much more powerful.
Sure, we all could have done our own homework and sure, if we were interested in a particular speaker over another, we could have proactively ordered their book on our own. That's not my point. In a world of over data and over pitching, we need aggregators and curators, and human ones are often the most powerful ones.
Proactively faciliating those connections in a way that is more powerful and intimate increases the likelihood of more stories, especially ones may include more depth and texture.
I think that marketing and PR people have to not only become content creators on multiple channels but also strategic faciliators, aggregators and curators as well. I also think that asking bloggers, tweeters and other online influencers for input into their processes, products, services and ways of communicating will be critical to making this new ecosystem purr.
Events like TBEX for the travel industry, BlogWorldExpo for bloggers and social media addicts, TED for those who thrive on ideas and innovation, DAVOS for those who are participating in the global economy in some way, the national auto show for those who live and breathe cars and thousands of others were created for a reason. Sure, someone thought of an event that would draw people together including sponsors and they could profit from the outcome.
But the real draw for those who attend, even those who fork out the money to host, is the networking and the value of that "in-person" networking over the years. It was one of the reasons people were so upset when COMDEX died, the largest computer show of its kind in the U.S., an event that drew together anyone and everyone who mattered in the industry once a year in the ugly sprawling city of sin Las Vegas.
There, we built a community, and old timers still talk about memories they shared -- in the flesh, not online -- where stories, drinks, food, dancing, ideas, demos and deals were all shared. TED is a great example of a community which has been created both on and offline, and now extended through TEDx events throughout the world.
Relationships are built by investing time in people. In Dublin recently, a group of us were brought to the Irish President's residence and a day earlier, we all listened to the Trinity Orchestra at a college older than the U.S. - there's nothing in an online world, social influence or not, that can take away from those shared memories and moments, some of which may have showed a precious vulnerable side to someone you dare not share online for online is not where that "exchange" belongs.
A deeper dive into what really makes up influence, which includes trust, will improve the current ecosystem we now embrace. It may also change the cast of characters we currently hold in high esteem when honesty, real openness and "human influence" replaces old schoolXYZ networks that keeps things in status quo, maintaining the same dozen voices we hear from again and again, particularly in the online publishing world.
Here, Geoff is spot on when he says "when we focus on influence rankings — tools that quantify a media form’s participants like it was run by journalists — we walk away from the basic truth about these particular types of media. They are relational. They are SOCIAL media.
So, by focusing on lists and not dialoguing and adding value through relevant content and investment, a practitioner is not present. Their effort is bound to have fundamental weaknesses. Building relationships in real life at events, meetings, and through social media are the ways to cultivate better influence.
And oh man, I love his ending: "what is the real reason to quantify big social media influencers? If relationships are your desired outcome, why waste time?"
We've paid so much attention to data for data sake and the last century has paid an unfair advantage to scientific knowledge and stats, that we need to rewrite the rules of what holds value in and out of the boardroom. Francis Cholle in his book The Intuitive Compass takes 223 pages to tell you why our intuition (the quadrant which is defined by relationships and creativity) is critical to succeeding in the next century. (book review coming on We Blog the World before the end of the year in the Books category).
A fundamental question to think about is this: will Klout & other measurement tools like it define and control you or will you define and control them? If we are to innovate, shouldn't we step up and tell the data what really matters? In a Genevieve Bell world, we'd start with humanity and relationships and build up and out from there.
Photo credits in order of appearance: Garagehangover, Obama shot unknown, John Ryan & Associates, a Facebook stream, Selfleadership.com.
November 3, 2011 in America The Free, Europe, Magic Sauce Media, On Blogging, On Branding, On Geo-Location, On Innovation, On Journalism, On People & Life, On Social CRM, On Technology, On the Future, PR & Marketing, Reflections, Social Media, WBTW, Web 2.0 | Permalink
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