There’s Influence, and then There’s Influence

The graph

You can hardly go one day without someone mentioning the topic of online influence, especially in social networks, and especially about scores. I know why everyone is now (still) talking about Klout, do you?

I can tell you that Klout knows squat about me and my behavior. Zero, nothing, niente, nada. Got it? The fine folks behind the algorithm have no idea of who gets my emails and calls, which are the tools I use most to conduct my real business.

They know nothing about what I read and why I read it, because they are not reading these articles or talking with me. They are just tabulating the keywords and volume of my Twitter activity. Twitter. Shrink me into 140 characters. Or maybe they are 134 more than those in Pirandello's play (more context was the lesson there, it is here, too).

Are the people in my life even on Twitter? You don't know that.

Am I the person you read here every day? (And I thank you humbly and sincerely for reading and thinking about this content.) You are not just the person who is reading. You are much more than one thing you do, so why would I be just the person who is sharing here?

Yet, we continue to fall for the fallacy of thinking that the here and now is all we've got.

There's influence

So many alongside me have been talking about strong and weak ties, and writing about designing for social interactions.

I just started reading Duncan Watts' Everything is Obvious, Once you Know the Answer, so look for a review here in a week or two. Watts has done a great deal of thinking and research around weak ties.

I've always said that common sense is not that common. It turns out it's the cousin of hindsight.

What is this influence that everyone is looking to nail, bottle up, and sell you? I'm looking at you PR agencies, especially.

Is it just the notion that if only someone with a voluminous audience sees our message and spreads it, we get buzz, it gives our site a traffic boost, and our product a lift at the cash register?

One big problem with that notion is that, in the rush to be noticed, often the message is hype vs. real value. Real value is a lot easier to deliver when your product helps the user kick ass.

And guess what? If your product is really that good, chances are those people others look to for clues in the getting-the-word-out-about-new-stuff department will write or talk about it. They know how to recognize a good thing.

I look at those people as more like what Paul Adams has on your left side of the graphic in this post — they are constantly out there looking for interesting and useful information to spread, because they like to share with their friends. It's a psychological thing, too.

We want to be helpful.

… and then there's influence

They are the right people who need to learn about the product, because they will do something about it.

Where it gets confusing today, I think, is that it is people on both sides of the chart. In the past, it used to be ginormous media companies, slim pickings on TV channels, newspapers, etc. that trafficked those messages for brands. Today, it's us for us, among us. Very confusing.

How can you tell them apart? What are the kind of clues you look for?


Next week, we'll continue the conversation by including your comments and points of view, so annotate in the comments box, we're going to do much more thinking together moving forward. It won't be like Google+, the ease of the tool. You've got me facilitating over here, though.

There's influence, and then there's influence.


[graph by Paul Adams]

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0 responses to “There’s Influence, and then There’s Influence”

  1. Thank you for a balanced and well articulated post about influence. Influence is so much more than the online apps lead us to believe.
    I like what you said that “…common sense is not so common. It’s the cousin of hindsight.”
    I think we need more wisdom about influence, what it is and isn’t and how to use it wisely. Thanks for encouraging that discussion.

  2. Great post as usual Valeria. As you know, this “black art” of influence identification is something my company has a vested interest in, and we’ve spent the last 12+ months studying, measuring and developing solutions around it.
    So I’ll weigh in to answer your question “How can you tell them apart? What are the kind of clues you look for?” by highlighting a few things we feel are critical:
    a) Look at the content an influencer produces. At its most simple level, what are you talking about? Do you write on the automotive industry a lot? Your favorite baseball team? What? Influencers have a voice — usually across multiple topic fronts for work and play. And one of the first thing we have to look for are people saying things that matter to the community of interest (aka: market) we are trying to find influencers for.
    c) Look at the impact of that content as it’s published. We then need to look at “what happens” when you write. When you tweet, blog, post an article, what happens? Are you quoted a lot? Retweeted? Is there a ripple effect of your work across the web and between networks on the web. This can be measured, and it plays into how your voice has authority when you publish your content.
    d) Look at the size of someone’s network (aka: how loud is your voice). If your blog is one of the most widely followed blogs in the world, or you write for the Wall Street Journal, or you have 2M followers on Twitter, then your content has a lot more eyeballs than if you write for a blog only your Mom reads. Common sense, and unfortunately far too many people measure influence by weighting this one factor too high. Popularity alone does not equal influence.
    So to find influential voices, we look for people tweeting, blogging, writing, commenting, streaming, etc using the keywords and topics our community of interest is listening for; we look at the impact your voice has on the web; and we project the potential size of your voice as it speaks. There are a million other things underneath this, but these are the three core and critical areas we’ve found to be most indicative.
    AND, one last and very important point we all need to realize…no one ever has just one single “influence score”. It’s fun for gaming purposes, but generic influence scores are about as valuable in determing influence as shoe sizes and zodiac signs. If I look at a person against the communities / market I am measuring influence for (automotive industry; women’s fashion; mobile gaming applications, cardiac surgery products; Atlanta Braves baseball, etc, etc), I will quickly see as I look at an individual that they either have a voice and presence in these communities or they do not. Where they have presence and where they have a voice, we can measure their influence against others talking within that community. Where they do not, they have NO influence score.
    Would welcome debate on all of this. I don’t agree with Watt’s on all fronts. I do believe we can and should measure influence – if for no other reason than to find the people who are fascinating to read, follow and interact with on the topics we have a passion for.
    Gary Lee

  3. there is so much reductionism and focus on tools around this topic, that I do wonder when we stopped actually looking at the information directly.
    Are we willing to be a little wrong to be better at getting it more right?

  4. of course, “C” is a misnomer. Impact is a lot deeper than retweeting. Plus, if it’s a slow day on Twitter, and there isn’t a lot of content there, my post may get retweeted more readily — yet context and situational information are not part of it on a case by case basis, only as an overall pattern. To make it fun, let’s say I have a very poor sense of timing and have not read any of the cool posts by Dan Zarrella about the optimal time/days to tweet. or I’m busy during those times. Darn, I guess I won’t be graduating on top of the influencer class 😉
    We both know that the size of the network has relative relevance to the message penetration. As long as there are ways to game it by popularity and not by actually coming through, you’re not going to have a good sample there.
    Good food for thought, Gary. Thank you.

  5. Klout is just the new (one of many) reputation score (analogous to a financial FICO score). It’s very early, but I believe they’ll be doing a lot more in determine your influence and online reputation.
    I do like the frequent offers from Klout to attend events or try new products. That appears to be their future strategy. A type of Groupon for influential people.

  6. I am glad that people are still taking on this topic, it’s one of the most relevant subjects being discussed with all the flawed tools measuring influence out there.
    Speaking of influence, I am reading this post because Lisa Gerber shared the link via Twitter. Your tools would have indicated that I arrived here via Twitter. Klout, etc, wouldn’t know that I clicked her link they only know how many times I’ve mentioned or RT her. How could someone measure that? They also wouldn’t ever know that several people told me very favorable things about Lisa and that’s why I am following her.
    Cheers and great post, you are already influential with me because you are talking intelligently about an important subject. Measure that. 🙂

  7. the whole team at Spin Sucks is worth getting to know. There is useful information in drawing a parallel between what you share about Lisa and how she comes through with quality content, and the team being consistent that way. They reinforce their standing in the market by delivering experiences people share with each other. You got me thinking in a good direction here, thank you.
    And thank you for the kinds words.

  8. To echo what Joe said: “Klout wouldn’t know that I clicked her link, they only know how many times I’ve mentioned or RT her. How could someone measure that?”
    Until Twitter or other social feeds get the ability to append a tag to a shortened URL to show which social account sent the relevant clicks, we’re only measuring half of the sharing process. It’s fairly easy to track how many shares, but less easy to know if one account produced a higher CTR than another, without some kind of analytics element in the URL.
    I suppose everyone could start opening destination links, appending ?utm_source=briancrouch and then re-shortening, but that would be pretty ridiculous. I can believe that one day each social profile will live as a social object (think Open Graph) and thus influence in ability to drive traffic might be measured, but for the most part that need is served by… individual Websites/blogs!
    Great post: it is worrisome to see an oversimplified metric being used in ways that defy rational explanation. I’ve also noticed their scattergram labeling people “Creators” who do little but tweet links of blogs they’ve read.

  9. +K! 😉
    You are exactly right about influence, Valeria. I don’t know that I could really add anything to the above, suffice to say I think the way these startups base their business models on connecting anti-social entities to presumed influencers for the sole purpose of hawking mediocrity should perhaps be considered the *antithesis* of influence.
    It’s all a popularity contest – a game – and it’s all designed to get product in front of eyeballs with the least amount of concern for the individuals who make up the market. CONSUME. OBEY. +K.

  10. so far, the only “perks” sent my way (I have a low score, because I don’t spend my days on Twitter) were south of undesirable. Made me think of unclaimed goods… it’s not surprising though, because a generic measurement will yield a generic item.

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