Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Do You Care About Influence Scores?

I WILL influence you! Wouldn’t social media be turned on its head if simply stating this made it so?

Well, to read some of the debates about social media and influence (and in particular about tools that claim to measure influence) you might think that the whole concept of influence is new and somehow unique to the social web.

But in reality influence (and here I use the term in the sense as defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as "the power or capacity of causing an effect in indirect or intangible way") has always existed. It’s just that in the open, transparent social web there are now many ways to attempt to measure that influence.

Tools such as
Klout, PeerIndex, Hubspot’s Grader tools, Tweetlevel and EmpireAvenue can all lay claim to measuring some of our digital footprints across the social web and how those footprints may (or may not) influence others to follow our lead or otherwise act.

The mere availability of these tools is not what is getting folks riled up. No, it’s that some people are publicly admitting to using these tools to make potentially life-changing decisions such as hiring or business relationships.

And this leaves me, Dear Reader, with a dilemma when it comes to advising college students: Should they or should they not pay attention to these scores?

Adding to the debate/confusion/concern are a number of recent writings:

For example, Stephanie Rosenbloom in her New York Times June 25 piece
Got Twitter? You’ve Been Scored Begins with: "Imagine a world in which we are assigned a number that indicates how influential we are…. This is not science fiction. It’s happening to millions of social network users. "

It goes on to quote Azeem Azhar, chief executive of PeerIndex: "We’re at the start of this journey and we expect the journey to take us into much more nuance and granularity."

It then quotes Mark Schaefer of Schaefer Marketing expressing concern "that we are moving closer to creating social media caste systems, where people with high scores get preferential treatment by retailers, prospective employers, even prospective dates."

Then Schaefer, a social media commentator and adjunct professor of marketing at Rutgers University stirred things up with his July 20 blog post
The making of a social media slut where he worries that "An algorithmic measure of influence can never tell the whole story, but it seems that it is starting to become a quick and easy indicator of … something."

The blog is worth a read for its rumination on what the scoring of social presence might mean. But what’s particularly worthy of a read are the comments which, range from "Wow. I feel like I'm back in high school and trying to fit in with the "cool kids" to "If any of those kids had sent me a Klout score, they would have gotten the job."

The debate got so hot-and-heavy that Schaefer felt he needed to comment on his own blog a few days later. His comments are insightful:

"One of the common responses in the comments is that Klout is flawed and even stupid. I can imagine a similar reaction from people who went to see the first silent movies. "This is stupid. The people don't even talk." Similarly, social scoring is in the silent movie era. Klout has millions in VC money and a dozen PhD researchers figuring this out. It is going to get more accurate, more meaningful every day. I'm not defending any company in the field. I'm simply offering a suggestion to be aware of the TREND, not the data point."

Then on July 26 social media author and internationally known speaker Chris Brogan weighed in with his blog post
Influencers where he first advises: "Please stop worrying about your Klout score, or your stock price on Empire Avenue and on all kinds of other measures that don’t have much to do with anything related to your real world."

Before refining his point in answer to a comment: "It's like that line in the Social Network: a million dollars isn't cool; a BILLION dollars is cool. Or however they said it. To me, having a high Klout score isn't cool; having the ear of important people that shift things is cool. : )"

Again a comment war raged on this blog – and is worth a read.

So where does this leave me in terms of advising students?

I think I have to come down on the side of: "Be aware of these tools and what they say about you, but don’t spend your days trying to game the system and raise your scores."

So what do you think? Has social media evolved to the point where measuring each other’s activities with a numeric score makes business or hiring sense?

Possibly related post:
2011: The Year of Klout


  1. It's a very interesting concept. I have always expected social media competency to be tallied for an seo company, since that is their jobs. But for each individual to have a score? I don't know. It would make everyone regret putting up those beer bong pictures from college. . . .

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