Suddenly all anyone seems to be talking about in the social media world is influence. Tools like Klout, a system that uses some sort of complex calculation to say how influential you are on Twitter, are rising to popularity. Now, social media dashboard app HootSuite has jumped on the bandwagon too, posting Twitter users’ Klout score when you click on a profile. The @oldspice guy is even in there, posting personalized videos to “influential” Twitterers (and others too, admittedly, but c’mon…who do you think they were really targeting with those videos?).

You’ve got to be kidding me.

Sure. I looked at my Klout score. It’s 53. I have no idea what that means. I don’t really care, either. But I can assure you, there are people, right now, breezing around their HootSuite dashboard, clicking on everyone’s names, and filtering anyone with a score of 60 or higher into a special list called “influencers”.

Then, once they have their precious list of Twitter Super Powers, they’ll begin to spend their days trying to figure out how to get those peoples’ attention. Because wow – if only I could get @kevinrose to retweet my article about the iPhone 4 antenna….then, I will have arrived!

You’ve got to be kidding me some more.

All the cool kids are doing it. You see, the problem is, people are confusing “influence” with “popularity”. Sure, if Kevin Rose retweets your link, you’ll probably get an awful lot of hits on your post. You wrote a great tech post, he’s a tech guy, and lots of people that follow Kevin trust him when he recommends something. Does that mean he’s influential? Sure it does. But that’s about where it stops. It’s wonderful that you got so many people hitting your blog. It’s great that you earned a few new followers. But once the initial spike happens, it will just settle out. Just because you got 500 reads on your post doesn’t mean you’re going to get 500 reads every day from here on in. Trust me, it simply doesn’t work like that.

People who consistently have high traffic and a dedicated audience have built that over time – by providing consistently stellar content, but more importantly, by taking the time to be an active part of the community which they serve. They have nurtured their readership. They aren’t relying on the popular kids to get the word out. They are working really, really hard to show people the value in their content – all by themselves.

Return on Eyeballs is more important than Return on Influence. Last year, I posted on this blog about a concept that I think is, unfortunately, going by the wayside. It’s called “Return on Eyeballs”. The idea is, it’s not about targeting your stuff to people who are influential. It’s about targeting your stuff to people who are interested. It’s not about how many people see what you’ve done – it’s about WHO sees it.

In that post, I used an example of someone who makes custom baseball bats. Sure, they can get a bit of attention by promoting to so-called “influencers”, if their idea is clever and good, but again, that’s fleeting. They will have far more long-term success by focusing on building a dedicated community of interest than trying to get the attention of the popular set. With some hard work in the right areas, the right opportunity may serendipitously (or intentionally) come along. In my hypothetical example, I suggested that maybe baseball bat guy gets noticed by the equipment manager of a major league baseball team. They sign a contract and bat guy’s business booms. Does the equipment manager, in this case, have influence? Sure he does. He influenced his boss to contract the bat maker.

But the equipment manager’s Klout score is only 16! He doesn’t have any influence!

See how silly this is?

How about we forget about all these ridiculous numbering schemes? How about we stop confusing influence with being one of the popular kids?

How about we focus on building up our own communities, with our own people, and our own set of influencers who are actually influential, instead of just being the ones with the biggest following, or the loudest voice? Yes, it will take time. Yes, it will take work. But ultimately, everyone will be better off, don’t you think?

(Oh, and as for Old Spice guy? I think the campaign is brilliant. But keep in mind, their strategy of targeting popular (or in their words, “influential”) Twitter people only works because they are a well known brand. I have a feeling Allysa Milano wouldn’t have given a rat’s butt if Mr. No Name made a video about her.)

20 Responses

  1. You're right, but like always, the slow steady successful strategy seem to pale in comparison to the glitz and glamour of having an 'influential' person tweet or blog about you…

    At work I've taken the approach of 'let's build REAL relationships with people who might *actually* want to use our product' and so far it's going really well, however it does take time and sometimes we're lacking the exciting rush of a huge spike in traffic (not that that ever really translates into anything meaningful).

    It's so easy to say quality over quantity, but I still think it's difficult for many to compute.

  2. This is why I read and enjoy your thoughts so much, Sue.

    Yes, influence is/can be important; but it's how the influence is used, and the long-tail of it.

    You know yourself, from the 12for12k project, that interest can be hard to sustain. We can ask all the “influencers” we want to help us, but without a solid long-term plan in place, we achieve nothing.

    BUT… build that relationship/friendship, involve and evolve, and then the real results come in. That's when you put programs in place for people and companies to use, as opposed to offering tidbits that you say is helping, when all it's helping is to score personal gain.

    Give me folks like you, Kneale, John Haydon, Cheryl and more like them over the “influencers” anytime.

    Because you guys have real influence – you know, the kin that sticks.


    1. I think one key is, we have to stop calling certain people and celebrities “influencers” just because they are popular! 🙂

      I'm glad you're one of my influencers, that's for darn sure!

  3. Good thoughts on influence and the numbers game, Sue. To @krusk point about quality vs. quantity, WORD. Building relationships with those who would actually use the products, services.. that's the real influence.

    It is about WHO. If only three people read one of my blog posts, but one of them is a small business owner looking for my services and we can engage and build a relationship, that's the win. That's the return on eyeballs.

    1. You got it, Davina! Back when I worked in community/public access TV, our viewership wasn't the highest. I truly believed that if only one person was touched by the content I was producing, I'd done my job. Blogging, Twittering, and the like – it's the same thing.

      Danny Brown and I connected two years ago and on the spark of an idea we (and the 12for12k network) raised over $100,000 for charity. Now, someone tell me that connecting with just one person can't have a huge impact!

      Thanks for dropping by.

  4. Once again, I wasn't paying attention to what's new, so of course, I had to go check my Klout. That's really quite funny. Oddly enough, the topic summary lists Slade .. who sadly passed away 9+ months ago. I'm sure I've talked about Daniel far more often!

    Ok, lunch break is over, back to work. Thanks for the great post.

  5. Hello Susan great piece.

    Ive had the “influence” discussion numerous times with Twitter tweeters. Most side on the opinion that “popular” people have the most influence. And by “popular” they usually mean “with the most followers.” Yep, that's their take on it. It's not mine. As you say, it's certainly true that people with large followings get the most RTs, but oftentimes those retweeters Do Not actually click the link they are RTing. Whereas a lesser known person tweets out and the clickers wind up staying on my site for 5-30 minutes (no exaggeration) and they bookmark or RSS me. I say “my site” because that's the only proof I have in regards to this sort of thing. I have tracked popular/plentiful RTs and the overall value. And boy was that time consuming, but worth it. The big wig tweeters are surely not so “influential” except it may help to get one's “name” out into the stream and memory. Although, again, as you mentioned,we all know how fleeting that can be.

    I think Apps like Klout garner so much attention because folks find them fun. It's yet another distraction to the day. But clearly it doesn't and can't monitor real influence and neither can Twitter Grader. The mathematics of real influence is far too complex for a machine to calculate. It would need to involve everyone allowing access to sales records and/or access to their Analytics. Eeks, no way!

    The Old Spice campaign is brilliant indeed. I did notice a few lesser known tweeters were included into the video mix. It must of been hard for the copywriters to come up with a steady stream of hilarity. They nailed it though. And I have seen Alyssa Milano tweet out other people's odes to her. On occasion. She even tweeted out my links, twice. But anytime I attempted to engage that fell on deaf ears. No biggie, I wasn't following her anyway. Haha. But as far as Twitter celebs go, she's pretty good about not being a chump.

    Thanks for the read. Unsure how many will pick up the cause and run with it because it's the “visual” of an App or hefty followers list + Rts that garners faith in who is truly influential, not the words telling the truth about influence.

    Not tooting my own horn… (or perhaps am, whatever…)
    I feel I proved our influence point triplefold during the Twitter discussions especially when in regards to my own account. The fact that I was on over 800 lists yet only following 1200ish people, 2k ish followers – as opposed to a person w/45k followers being on only 1200 lists. One person had 100k followers and was on about 2k lists. Lists may SEEM irrelevant except for the fact that people went out of their way to make them then find people to add… time spent because they find what you say of importance. And that's proven by how so many come 12 hours or more later to reply to one of your tweets. They saved it. Or they combed over your feed. That's voice power.
    So that list stuff combined with proof via analytics, proof via RTs, proof via people still discussing even Weeks later something I (we) added to the tweet stream, etc… etc. -Makes a great case.

    Criteria for influence is murky, but all your examples are dead on. And I do feel mine made a dent in the twitter discussion. Cheers SuzeMuse.

    1. What you say about true influence being impossible for a machine to calculate is bang on. It's like saying that a machine can calculate sentiment, or emotion.

      What it comes down to is, there are human qualities that all the ones and zeroes in the world cannot predict or analyze. Yet people still try to push the concept that it's the numbers that tell all. It's not.

      It's the experiences that tell the real story. Thanks for stopping by Christina, and taking the time to share your insights.

      1. Susan, I just noticed how long winded I was above. Good grief, what a load of hooey, sorry babe!

        “Yet people still try to push the concept that it's the numbers that tell all. It's not.”
        Maybe it gives them comfort to believe this tale. For the ones who wind up listed as highly influential I imagine they feel a sense of pride, regardless of how erroneous the percentages may be 🙂

        Let's forget all about it and grab a cheeseburger!

  6. I really enjoy the Old Spice campaign, purely for entertainment and it's great fodder for debate but I think you're tapping in to some more fundamental concerns about influence and on a human level, I don't like the way these influence measuring tools make me/us feel. It's high school all over again. Social tapped in to all those positive aspects of social interaction, this seems like something a little darker. On an intellectual level, I'm itching to see under the hood and see how the algorithms calculate it, but boy, do they ever have the ability to make you feel crappy.
    I love the comments made here that focus on long term relationships and interactions. Each of us need to determine our own measures of influence and they will be domain or interest specific. I look at the post content, and how they interact with people, for example. And quite frankly, so many of these rockstar influencers on twitter, seem to have become broadcasters rather than conversation holders or rarely even tweet now.

    I agree with you that businesses will need to be careful when using out of the box influence tools as a way to determine who to interact with – sometimes the little guy who didn't seem important actually is or has a WoM network that can't be measured through metrics of just one channel (just like the tale of the scruffily dressed millionaire at the car dealers). Same thing in regular life – I avoid people who treat others differently depending on their station in life and aside from missing a deal there could be other brand damage done. But businesses will always want a way to get to the decision makers in as efficient a way as possible, and in social media they've got to work it out as they have for other avenues.
    Susan – we really should discuss more over that glass of Pimms!

  7. Susan – you are right on target with this one! If I sell health products for women, Oprah might show up on my list of “influencers”. But would she be interested in my product? Maybe. Maybe not. Is it realistic to spend my energy and time trying to sway her? No way. She's out of my league.

    My point is that in addition to “interest”, marketers should also know their “league”.

  8. You're so very right true.

    The influence word has been surfacing so very often in the last few weeks – in and out of context, one wonders if the semantics around influence have changed.

    They have not – and will never. Influence, to me, is a pretty sacred word. I choose my influences carefully – and some of them don't even know what social media is all about.

    Why the sudden hype then? I'd call it crazy. You summed it up the best in a single sentence – why get hung up on influence?

    I happened to do a follow up post on the topic on influence on Social Media Notebook last night – would love to hear your thoughts.

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