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Have We Gone Too Far With Influence Measurement?

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Online influence measurement leader Klout first made the rounds on social media blogs and even some news outlets because the silly little badge ranking of how important you were on Twitter was being used by a major airline as a test program to see if rewarding online influencers could be incorporated into the company’s loyalty and rewards programs.

To many people, doing that seemed ridiculous since, at the time, Klout was essentially just a measure of your Twitter reach.

Fast-forward a couple of years---now Klout has taken on a significant investment from Microsoft and, according to Klout CEO Joe Fernandez, the influence metric will soon be used in Bing search results to add context to your searches. Critics bemoan the fact that Klout still only looks at certain online data for its influence scoring, not offline influence found in job status, publishing in traditional media or even actual influence---the ability to move people to take action. Still, others think Klout and measurement systems like it are changing the way companies do business by changing which customers they care about most.

As Mark Schaefer documented in his book Return on Influence, Sam Fiorella was turned down for a job once because his Klout score was too low. Some folks are even cautioning that banks may start using Klout as a factor in our credit scores. (Seriously?)

Where in the world is the rational thought in all this? How can companies run by (we assume) smart, logic-thinking individuals consider using a measure of the number of online followers and impact your content has to determine actual important decisions like who to hire and how much to loan?

Do those companies not see that Twitter followers can be gamed, thus so can your Klout, Kred, People Index, and other metrics? More importantly, do they not see that many people don’t pay attention to online activity or influence in the least and so they don’t have high scores---even though they may be very influential among their peers?

In No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing, Erik Deckers and I discussed the influence of his wife, Toni, who at the time had a Klout score of 21. When she bought a Toyota Scion, however, she influenced the purchase of four more among her family and friends. That’s four more AUTOMOBILES, not sandwiches. Yet, she had little “influence” according to these silly little stats.

I fear we’re beginning to tread some seriously dangerous waters with online influence metrics. We need to have some deeper discussions about what they mean (and don’t mean) and how we can use them responsibly. That’s why I have invited Andrew Grill, the CEO of Kred, to be my Fireside Chat interview at Explore Orange County on Oct. 18-19. We’re going to tackle these questions, dive deep into the world of influence measurement, and see what answers we can come up with.

I hope you can join us at Gothic Moon Studios in Orange, Calif.! MarketingProfs will see to it you get a nice discount.

In preparation for that, I’d love to know what you would ask Andrew about influence measurement. What topics and uses concern you? How would you responsibility implement Kred, Klout, or other systems in your business? Help me better understand your concerns in the comments, and I’ll make sure to ask him in a couple weeks. The comments are yours.

Explore Orange County is Thursday and Friday, Oct. 18 and 19 at the Gothic Moon Studios in Orange, Calif. See the full agenda and register. And use the MarketingProfs discount code MPROFS to get $200 off registration! (MarketingProfs is a media partner and sponsor of Explore Orange County.)


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  • by Alexandra Gibson Mon Oct 8, 2012 via blog

    I feel like I have a love/hate relationship with Klout. When it drops, I think- this is a meter for idiots...when it grows, I think they must have something right. I imagine many feel that same way.

    The bottom line of these algorithms that monitor online influence is that they show how thirsty people and businesses are for a way to assign value to online activities and to explain what it all "means". In order to continue to be logical and smart, things like Klout should be used simply as another number to be considered in a greater picture, but not the end-all-be-all in a decision-making or evaluation process.

  • by Hunter Boyle Mon Oct 8, 2012 via blog

    Hey Jason,

    Glad to hear someone questioning where these online influence rankings are ultimately leading. Banks using these to influence credit scores? Haven't banks run out of dubious ideas for lending yet? I know, dumb question.

    Reminds me a lot of the future envisioned by the book Future Wealth, published in the dot-com heyday, where we'd be trading our personal share prices on new NASDAQs for individuals. Maybe we're heading there after all?

    Lots to think about in this area. I hope scruples prevail as we go further down this road. Thanks for a thought-provoking post. See you in Portland!

    Cheers -- Hunter

  • by Jason Falls Tue Oct 9, 2012 via blog

    Thanks Alexandra and Hunter. It's all certainly fascinating to talk about. I just hope we can discuss it in a way that puts the measures in context and keeps the ridiculous uses of them to a minimum. Loyalty programs ... okay. I can get that. Reward people who might spread your content to more folks online. But personal finance? Ugh. Someone smack 'em. Heh.

  • by Andrew Grill Tue Oct 9, 2012 via blog

    Jason, can't wait for the fireside chat with you on the 19th October.

    Hope the audience leaves with lots to think about.

    See you in Orange County!

    Andrew Grill
    CEO, Kred
    @andrewgrill

  • by Jen Zingsheim Tue Oct 9, 2012 via blog

    Argh. Banks, too? Please tell me it isn't so. Why, why, why would someone's time spent on Twitter be a solid indicator of one's ability to repay loans on time? I get angry enough at the idea of using these scores to screen people for jobs.

    People need to remember that individuals are not the target audience for these companies--brands are. I'm grudgingly okay with the loyalty program aspect, but that's it. The spread of the use of influence metrics into other areas where they do not belong--such as the vast majority of jobs, triaging customer service, and for goodness sake banks--is discouraging. Very, very discouraging.

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