The Dark Alley Dealings On Influence & What We Hope The Scores Really Measure

lilac alley by John Curley (Flickr.com)I’ve been talking a lot about influence on this blog. Lord knows that I have and yet this post is going to talk about influence once more. Why? Because I feel that it’s important for me to focus on one standing issue surrounding one’s influence: it’s NOT simply just a score that you can measure to determine someone’s prominence in the community or whether they’re worth listening to or even have a sizable audience that can carry your message. It’s what they have done that is the true determinant of one’s influence.

From my days working at Stage Two in San Francisco, one of the things that I was constantly asked when searching for “influencers” for client projects was to find out why were they influential. You see, determining why someone is influential involves a bit more than just a score. I think that for maybe some marketers who are interested in getting their company’s name out into the public, they’re targeting those that have a certain score. It’s NOT the score that should affect your decision about whether that individual is worth pursuing, but rather that it’s what they wrote or their actions that helped generate their influence.

Vanity in influence needs to be ignored

Charlie Sheen Klout scoreWe all remember a few months ago when celebrity Charlie Sheen began his infamous spiral by being “fired” from CBS’s hit show Two and a Half Men and then through the efforts of Ad.ly, the actor joined up on Twitter. Within days (if not hours), Mr. Sheen had become one of the top followers on Twitter, but just how did he wind up having an extraordinary high Klout score? I just looked at his score and it’s currently an 87.  Only until a little later did Sheen begin to start replying to people, but almost instantly his account has become highly “influential”. But why? Because people were talking about Mr. Sheen, not with him. Because you’re just a big deal on Twitter, does that necessarily make you an influencer? What about engagement or having a conversation. It seems that Klout’s efforts to analyze influence is measured through the social graph – the social graph: not only should your influence be measured by Twitter, but also your interactions and accounts across other social networks. In fact, this process of analyzing the social graph is mimicked by PeerIndex and after looking at Mr. Sheen’s account there, I noticed that his “influence” was ranked at a 66. Surprising? Probably, even though his interactions and engagements isn’t as what you might expect someone with influence to have.

And it’s not just Charlie Sheen that is suffering from this vanity effect. It’s also other celebrities like Lady Gaga. She’s also one of the top Twitter accounts with the most followers and she has a Klout score of 93 (PeerIndex score of 85), but when you look at the information that she’s putting out there, it’s mostly just “push” information. She’s sending one-way communication, but there aren’t any replies or conversations. Granted that on occasion she might find some interesting video about her work and then republish it, but there’s no engagement. After looking at Lady Gaga and Charlie Sheen’s example, one could even potentially surmise that  the only way they have high influence is because of their celebrity.

So how is that just influence? It’s not. If people are just following others because they are being referred to either by a retweet, Twitter mention or a posting on a social network, that does not necessitate them earning high marks for influence. In fact, the referrer should be receiving those qualities because if hundreds of people followed that person’s action and suggestion, then they would have demonstrated some form of influence. So if I said for you to follow Charlie Sheen on Twitter or even asked you to like a Facebook fan page, and you do, then my influence karma should be compensated for those suggestions. For everyone of us who is looking to find the right person to reach out to, there are others who are trying to scrape by using the easy method and find a way to just show the true power is through a number.

Each number deserves an asterisk

influenceI choose Klout to be my default metric for influence. Whenever someone asks me to search for an influencer, I’ll look up their scores using Klout because they leverage multiple social networks and through their algorithm, finds a way to display a score that will determine their influence. Now, that last sentence needs to have an asterisk and I’ll explain that in a little bit. But, what else I like about Klout’s system is that it profiles at least five topics that match what I’ve done. It’s general topics, mind you, but something that offers a bit more context into what I’m all about and why my score of 63 shows me as an influencer. Currently, the service shows me as an influencer of the following topics: social media, technology, SXSW, marketing, and Blogworld

On the other hand, if you look at PeerIndex, my profile there offers a bit different view on my topics, including Facebook, Apple, mobile phones, the tech industry, and Microsoft. So the common thread here would be that I would be influential about social media, technology and events.

But remember that asterisk that I said I’d talk about later? That comes into play now. If someone wanted to determine whether I was influential, then looking at a Klout score of 63 might be a bit more confusing because it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison. Rather, these numbers come with an asterisk that requires a bit more specification about what people are influential about. You could contact me because you see I have a high score, but does that mean that I’m qualified to learn, review or write about something relating to computer hardware just because I’m influential in technology? Or what about gadgets? Not necessarily, but how would one really know that because all that you see are general topics that are associated with that individual. Instead, what would be really great to determine is that IF you determine a Klout or PeerIndex score to be high, then look at their topics of influence. From there, it would be great for these influence services work to help determine in what capacity does this make one influential? So can Klout score show you specific tweets, Facebook updates, blog posts, photos, videos, tags, etc that I made or created that “justifies” why I’m influential based on their algorithm?

Imagine having a service like Klout that gives you a true influential reading on an individual based on their social graph. It would be a marketer and public relations person’s dream come true. Looking at their score and their influence trend, why they are influential (specific content cited) and who they are influenced by (which is currently shown on Klout). The “dark alley” dealings that we have with influence is akin to meeting a stranger and getting whatever we want under the cloak of darkness. But what if there was a way to shed some light and not “take our chances” as it relates to finding influencers? That could be readily apparent and if you look at the newer version of Klout and even Peer Index, there’s some hope and possibility. Heck, even if you subscribe to Empire Avenue being a measure of influence, there’s a chance for it to succeed, I suppose. However, the key here is to understand that there’s no silver bullet to determining what will decide influence. If you want to reach out to influencers, then you’ll need to look at more information than simply a number.

And that, my friends, is something you CAN count on.

Photo credit: John Curley / Flickr