Justin Bieber for President! (or: Why Klout doesn’t make a damn bit of sense)

The President of the United States of America and I have something in common: We both have a Klout score of 49.  49.  According to Klout we’re also significantly less influential than Justin Bieber.  Justin’s Klout score is an impressive 100.  That’s right.  A perfect score.  According to Klout Justin Bieber is more influential than the leader of the free world.  Somehow.  Amusing as this may be, we all know it’s illogical.  But as more and more services attempt to measure a person’s digital influence the inexplicable influence gap between The President and The Pop Star illustrates one of the basic challenges in the digisphere: Defining ‘influence.’

“Influence Marketing” is an old concept.  It was introduced in 1944 by Paul Lazarsfield, who conceptualized the influence as moving from mass media to a focused set of opinion and influence leaders and then to a wider audience.  In the deconstructed social media world, however, attempting to nail down a firm definition of “influence” has proven more problematic than instructive.  While services such as Klout or Peer Index attempt to fabricate digital credibility they ultimately fall short (amusing as they may be). Services such as these apply algorithms to determine an individual’s social influence among peers–the rate and extent to which a social community responds and pushes a social signal.  But these services highlight digital communities that are more inclined to respond to celebrity hoopla than more significant, real-life, influence.  The human influence.

The pitfalls of the influence chasm are obvious.  There are firms that evaluate a potential new hire based on her Klout score (no joke).  There are businesses that are blindly chasing “Like” after “Like” in a futile exercise of digital ego building.  Groping pleas for “Like Us on Facebook” choke the channels.  Yet when all is said and done one has to ask: What does any of this actually mean?  There’s something dubious about patting one’s self on the back when a Klout score ticks up a point or that next “Follower” connects with you for a day before unfollowing you the next.  And, as many have proven, digital influence is easily gamed, hacked, and manipulated in order to inflate one’s influence ranking.

It’s time to step back and remind ourselves that social media is, first and foremost, social.  It has embedded itself in most small business marketing strategies because it opens new channels for client engagement.  A wonderful, useful, simple way to connect with new and existing customers.  A fantastic way to share information, tell stories, resolve problems.  Done well, a brilliant way to build a brand.  The strengths of the social signals far outweigh the weaknesses!  However, attempting to pin down the nature of digital influence smacks of false fire and seems to have little to do with the sender’s multi-faceted, non-digital, non-algorithmic sway.  Which is another way of saying that your identity is far richer than an Instagram account and your influence is more far reaching than a Klout score.

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