Ralph Dopping: What is Influence in the World of Social Media?

Making a Social Media Splash: How do analytics really echo Online Influence? http://cdn.briansolis.com

I have been reading a lot about influence recently. Influence seems to hold a lot weight in social media so as a newcomer to the medium I decide to do a little research on what the popular opinion on influence is. There is a long list of websites that purport analytics are the key to understanding your influence. I have found that the popular opinion supports that thought process but you know what, I don’t necessarily agree.

Here’s why.

I thought it would be beneficial to start with a definition.

“Influence is the capacity or power of persons or things to be a compelling force on or produce effects on the actions, behaviour, opinions, etc., of others.” (Dictionary.com)

Is measuring the right way to prove influence?

As we know analytics sites such as Klout and Proscore crunch tons and tons of data and that data is useful for traditional market analysis and gauging product or brand integration into the market. These sites use the data to evaluate the influence a brand has made on the market based on a series of algorithms which seem to appear as magically as the average persons understanding of the source code to produce the analytics in the first place. There is perceived value from defining influence based on counting reaction to campaigns,promotions, launches, etc, etc all akin to traditional advertising; however, is there real influence in these analytics?

Scoail [sic] media Influence, seen as a series of concentric circles of varying magnitude. http://www.finextra.com

What I have noticed is that measuring is prevalent.

So, statistics and analytics are being frequently cited as defining influence in social media. For example, during a recent general election in Ireland politicians purported that with the use of Facebook & Twitter to socialize their campaigns they found through pure analytics that they gained more votes on Election Day than their competitors. Like any statistics you can slice and dice them to make anything look good but the facts are the facts. They won their seats and they cited the numbers to demonstrate their influence on voters via social media. Is that influence? The question is how long will people pay attention to these politicians after the election? If the constituency continues to follow their elected officials and the elected officials offer value then there is a real chance for influence to occur. Otherwise, it seems like just another tool to gain short term exposure as a means to an end.

Ok, so measuring is a big deal, now what?

There is a general lack of recognition of the difference between physical measurement and intellectual measurement and there is a decidedly dangerous intent in social media channels of trying to measure all intelligence with numbers alone. Emotional intelligence, for instance, can’t be measured by quantity. We have senses and we can discern when things don’t fit. Gut feel tells us things don’t measure up (no pun intended). Have we lost the ability to see measurement only as a way to count how many followers we have instead of why we have them and if we actually want them? Do masses bring us value and do we reciprocate? Does the fixation with numerical quantification leave us feeling empty? It’s like the guy with all the money. Is he really happy and fulfilled if he’s not living his dream every day? This type of measuring is not unlike lacking the knowledge to understand who we are and as a result quantifying our lives with things we can understand; Twitter followers, toys, Facebook friends, cars, televisions, etc. And by counting them we feel we are of value.

But wait, is there a better way to measure?

What about those new sites like ProSkore? ProSkore is different because it not only counts your connections it takes into account where you are (as if that matters) and what your CV says (like that’s all true). It argues that it is a business network. Isn’t ProSkore just an example of a different way to count your widgets? Sure it is, Klout is geared toward individual ranking on your social influence and ProSkore is about the individual’s professional reputation. But based on what? Your CV or what other people say about you? Or is it about how many connections you have? It’s still all manipulation to create empty value (think credit default swap transparency) and leads us back to our incessant need to be counted, categorized and to fit in. I am all for community but when it depends on a ranking system it does not seem to be community anymore but similar to corporate ranking. We might as well start a corporation and sell our influence to the highest bidder.

Klout’s network Influence Amnalytics. Source: http://uber.la/2011/06/klout/

Or are we the problem here?

Are we the problem when it comes to propagating the value of measuring in social media? Is doing something or offering something that has meaning and have people recognize, relate and interact with you because of your offering called influence? Yes, that is almost a direct definition of the word. Counting those reactions may be of value but when you are of that mindset do you really care? Yeah, you do if all you want to do is monetize it but if your primary focus is sharing and creating value then is influence something else altogether? Are we simply just a bunch of whiners that don’t know how to effectively monetize their value proposition or are we looking at the value proposition through a different lens? Do we consider influence sharing personal growth and knowledge with our communities and growing reciprocal relationships? I really hope so or the spaces populated by our communities may continue to become bombarded with shallow promises vying for your ever so valuable click, like or follow just to prove they have hit a self mandated milestone that really has no meaning to anyone else other than themselves.

Whew, are we all influencers then?

Phil Sheldrake, a social media entrepreneur and author of the book The Business of Influence recently offered “Everyone is an influencer in some way about something at some time.” Appropriate and true. We are all influencers in our own communities. The other thing that Phil offered that influenced (ha, ha) me was “every attempt at response to anything said by another is now considered influence which cannot be further from the truth.” Consider the retweet. Does that give the originator Klout or does is does it give the sender Klout? Both but does it show any form of real influence? Hell no. Anyone can retweet all day long and the people in their community would eventually ignore them. Why? My guess is that there is little value in just repeating data for the sake of measurement. Does the respondent care or understand the message at that point? Probably no, but Klout tells us that we are more influential. Real influence comes into play when there is conversation resulting in action – cause and effect.

Is an influential person’s score important then?

Don’t you think people in their field of expertise that have proven themselves to their communities through their experiences have influence? Sure, they do and those people are all around us and surprisingly willing to share their knowledge with us. They will through their actions naturally attract colleagues, friends, competitors and so on because of what they know and have experienced. Does it matter that they have a high analytics score? Manipulation to get a better score, rewards for stalking people with big scores to increase your score and linkbaiting a network without offering value to up your score won’t matter if the message is void of substance. You will eventually be found out.

So, how do we all become more influential?

Earn it. I stole this from Chris Brogan. He calls it earned social capital and it is gained by nurturing relationships, earning trust and working with peers to help them and have them help you grow. Sounds like a solid management plan for growing a good team.

How then?

  • Work hard to get people to contribute.
  • Work hard on growing your knowledge.
  • Work hard on extending your privileges to others that might benefit from them.
  • Work hard to pay it forward.
  • Work hard at being fun, funny and interesting.
  • Work hard at sharing the spotlight and helping others rise to the occasion.
  • Work hard on building your awareness of your community.

Work hard.

If you don’t agree then go buytwitterfollowers

Originally published 30 October 2011 on Urban Times