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Rethinking my stance on social influence scores

January 4, 2012


I’ve recently started to rethink my stance on social influence indicators like Klout, Peerindex, Twittergrader, and the like (there are many).

Not a day goes past where I don’t read a lot of negative sentiment about these sites in my twitter stream, normally directed at Klout, which is of course the most visible, and the one most prominently seeking commercial gain from its ability to rank individual social profiles on their ‘influence’ in particular subject areas. They have of course just secured $30m in additional funding to kick off 2012.

My constant and consistent objection to these types of sites has been mostly on their inaccuracy. Social influence is not something that can be calculated purely based on how much noise you make, or how many followers you have. What’s more, this can be quite easily gamed – you can buy followers across almost every social network, and just like SEO in its early days, there are ways and means to increase your ‘social influence’ on paper without ever actually becoming a true barometer of what is happening within your chosen area of subject matter expertise.

Using such tools, I once found that I was considered more ‘influential’ than several industry thought leaders whom I respected and turned for advice, news and strategic thoughts on where social commerce, social media and traditional media were headed in Australia and abroad. I knew full-well that anything I said would be taken with a grain of salt, while most of those individuals were regularly speaking at industry events, publishing books and academic papers, and conducting media interviews. Not that those activities particularly indicate influence either, but the point is – they were clearly more influential than I.

Social influence tools as a standalone measure of your own online influence is therefore in my view just flawed, inaccurate, inconsistent and I don’t agree with it. I’m aware that there are a number of privacy concerns being talked about as well, including concerns about the volume of data that sites like Klout have on people that have never even subscribed to or even heard about them. That is of course a big issue but not the point of this monologue.

You’re probably by now wondering why on earth I would rethink my stance on these tools; Well the short of it is – in a world of limited resource, as social technologies become mainstream, and social media communication becomes part of the staple skillset of Customer Service , sales, PR and many other departments of a business, there won’t be specialized Community Managers around to evaluate each and every enquiry or social media conversation that occurs about a brand, product or service.

What this means is that junior to mid level staff in enterprise level organisations will need to have rigorous processes and tools to look at possibly hundreds or thousands of social media conversations every day, and figure out how to prioritise those conversations in order to respond, interject, ignore, or whatever the appropriate action may be.

In this light, using a Klout or PeerIndex score as one of many general indicators of a person’s capacity to project, or amplify their praise / complaint / sharing of your organisation – when you are assessing this high volume of enquiries and conversations – starts to makes sense. It still needs to be just one part of the picture – for example, if Stephen Fry was complaining about my product but only spent $1 per year with my business, while a Million dollar customer who didn’t use social media also had some issues to deal with, I’d at least now have the information at hand to decide which of the two to deal with first. In my case, it’s a no brainer – the influential entertainer who likes to gripe about things would have to wait until I could address my offline customer.

The example above is overly simplified of course in order to illustrate a point, but at the end of the day, if I was running an enterprise level externally facing team, I would be happy to make room on my customer dashboard for a social influence score so I can use it as one weighted measure to understand how to prioritise the limited resources I have, and help manage the risk of not responding to someone who is highly influential.

The original issues still stand – accuracy, reliability, privacy; But these are issues that are common to almost every type of new social technology that I have confidence will in time, be resolved by the fittest of the bunch. As Darwin said – it is those most adaptable to change that survive.


One Comment
  1. Way cool, some valid points! I appreciate you making this article available, the rest of the site is also high quality. Have a fun.

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