Part 3 of 3.
Clarification Number 3: Influence is not a magical mind-control superpower, even on the internet.
The term “influence” as it is used by marketers (especially digital marketers) today sounds a lot like a sort of Jedi mind trick. The wishful thinking definition of “influence” according to these digital marketing “experts” is that the higher someone’s “Klout” score is, the more likely it is that their 140-character statements will somehow affect the opinions, beliefs, biases and ultimately purchasing decisions of their “followers.” The basic assumption being that the more followers you have and the more you are retweeted, the stronger The Force is with you. That is of course ridiculous. Someone with a perfect Klout score of 100 (say, Justin Bieber) has about as much influence on my purchasing, political, religious, athletic, dietary, sociological, entertainment and literary decisions as my barista.
My barista actually might have more influence on me than JB, even on Twitter. And there’s the rub.
Here is how digital marketers are trying to convey the power of Klout scores to unsuspecting clients: Low Klout Score = limited influence and high Klout score = significant influence, as illustrated in the little scene below.
Below, Obi Wan with a normal Klout score: “Obi-who?”
Below, Obi Wan with a relatively decent Klout Score = potentially decent influence. “Let’s send this guy a few bike bottles and a T-shirt and see what happens. Maybe he’ll bring us some business at some point.”
Below, Obi Wan with a Jedi-worthy (high) Klout Score = Jedi superpowers. “Let’s reach out to him pronto and make him feel extra super special so he’ll tell all his followers to buy our stuff! We’ll be rolling in puppies by Friday! Ka-ching!!!”
Unfortunately, what actually happens in the real world is this:
And of course this:
That’s right: Nobody cares what anyone’s Klout Score is. Don’t believe me? Ask your cashier at Costco what discounts you’re entitled to with a Klout Score of 87 and see what happens. As for free stuff and special discounts, don’t hold your breath. Companies aren’t going to trip all over themselves to give you free stuff and treat you like a VIP just because you spent the last 976 hours in a Red Bull-induced haze, retweeting everything in sight.
Not to mention that I can pretty much guarantee that if my score ever jumps from 74 to the low 90’s, my powers of persuation will still be exactly what they are today. How do I know this? Because I am neither a telepath nor a Jedi. Not even on Twitter. My Klout score may fluctuate over time, but my superpowers will be exactly the same a year from now as they are today: Zero. This begs the question: If my powers of influence remain the same but my Klout score fluctuates, what does that say about the validity of my Klout score as it relates to my powers of influence?
Repeat after me: Influence is not a Jedi mind trick.
Klout’s Joe Fernandez has already explained this in a number of ways, but marketers still don’t seem to be paying attention.
The importance to the business community of clearly understanding what influence is and isn’t:
To marketers and advertisers out there, I have this piece of advice: Stop for a second and make sure you understand what influence is and isn’t before you adopt a marketing philosophy that will yield little or no results for your trouble (and investment). In other words, use influence measurement tools wisely. Learn what they can and cannot do. Do look to Klout as solid little insights tool for your targeting needs. Don’t look at it as scientific validation for a marketing philosophy based on wishful thinking.
Also, let’s remember not to confuse celebrity with influence. Justin Bieber is a celebrity, just like Ashton Kutcher (who a year ago was Twitter’s celebrity god and would have had a Klout score of 101 were extra-credit allowed). Yet what is their influence on most people in matters of politics, religion and scientific thought leadership? Not huge. Celebrities have reach, sure. But we have to be careful not to mistake breadth of following with depth of impact.
Influence isn’t just “push.” An influencer can’t just sway millions of opinions with 140 characters. That’s mind control, and as far as I know, no one can do that. (If Ashton’s Klout scores reflected such an ability, we would all be throwing away our Canon, Sony, Kodak, Olympus, Pentax and Minolta cameras to run out and buy Nikons. As far as I can tell, that hasn’t happened.) That’s because influence is as much pull as it is push: It. Isn’t. A. Jedi. Mind. Trick. In every type of influence dynamic, particularly on the twitternets, the influencee gives the influencer permission to become an influencer at a particular moment and about a particular topic.
This means, first and foremost, that influence is by invitation only.
Second, it means that influence is both ephemeral and subject-specific.
We are conditioned to compartmentalize influence in this way. People who are influenced by an individual about a particular topic WANT to be. People tend to allow themselves to be influenced by people whom they feel have opinions that match their own, from Oprah Winfrey, Michael Moore and Bill O’Reilly to Lance Armstrong, the Pope, or their English teacher. Influence is a handshake. It’s a contract. A relationship. It isn’t push. Influence is mostly either a recommendation, an elaboration based on an existing hunch or a validation (or some combination of the three).
When Oprah recommends a book to her audience, sales of that book explode. Why? Because Oprah has an enormous reach, and a particular segment of her audience looks to her for book recommendations. That segment of her audience invites her influence on this topic. Yet if Oprah were to knock on my door tomorrow and tell me “Olivier, I was in the neighborhood and thought I should recommend this book,” I would be pretty psyched that Oprah stopped by, but I probably wouldn’t really care to read the book. Why? Because Oprah isn’t someone I look to when it comes to recommending books. We don’t read the same kind of stuff. Oprah’s influence is thus compartmentalized for me the same way that influence from everyone is compartmentalized by the people they might exert some measure of potential influence on. We are all the gatekeepers of others’ influence on us. We decide what we are influenced by, by whom, and when.
Do all 3,000 to 5,000 marketing messages being pushed our way every day get through? No. Only a few manage to get through. Which ones? The ones we let in. We, the consumers, the “receivers” of influence decide the degree of influence of every message and every source as they relate to our own needs. We make these decisions in real time in response to every message we find ourselves subjected to.
Understanding the dual nature of influence dynamics: Push and Pull.
On Twitter especially, everyone pushes the same set of ideas all day long in an effort to influence others. Yet here’s the reality of that retweet windmill: Pushing ideas doesn’t make us influencers.
Reach narrows the equation a bit, as people with the most reach (often because of a relative celebrity status) seem to exert more influence than people with less reach. (Same ideas as everyone else, but more people are exposed to them.) Turns out that this is a shallow perspective on influence. In fact, it presupposes that awareness and influence are the same thing. They are not. Here’s an example:
When Ashton Kutcher talks about the latest Nikon camera he is playing with or the charity he wants people to support, he is creating awareness. His influence – the ability to make me want to buy the camera or support the charity – is a completely separate type of impact.
In the same way, a full page ad for an aftershave in the latest issue of Men’s Health creates awareness for the product. Its ability to influence me to go out and buy it can’t be measured or predicted by just looking at the ad, studying the magazine’s circulation, and polling readers about the influence of full page ads in their favorite magazines. The ad’s influence can only be measured if you also take into account the receiving end of the message. The secret to influence measurement lies with the influencees, not just the alleged “influencers.”
Focusing on the push aspect of influence misses the second half of the puzzle: The matching piece in the influencee’s head that clicks with the “push” element and says “yes, I accept this advice and find myself influenced by it.” Think of it as two puzzle pieces: one male, the other female. Push is male. Pull is female. Influence only works when the two pieces are mated to form a whole. Only measure push (the male piece), and you’re measuring noise, reach and potential influence. Only when you start also measuring pull (the female piece) can you start to measure impact and true influence.
Below is an example of a message pushed by a Klout Jedi (Score of 100) being blocked by a potential influencee who just doesn’t view his interlocutor as an “influencer” in spite of his outstanding Klout score:
Below is an example of the same message pushed by the same Klout Jedi, being allowed by a potential influencee who has chosen to accept him as an influencer:
What is the difference/variable between the two? The attitude of the influencee. The “influencer’s” message, tone, attitude and Klout score were the same in both circumstances. Yet the outcome between both scenarios is radically different. Why? Because influence isn’t solely about push.
What this means: If you expect to measure (and predict) influence, you must measure push and pull. You must measure not only outbound messages and their source (a pro-“influencer” top-down view of influence), but also inbound messages and their recipients (a pro-influencee bottom-up view of influence). You have to measure both.
And that’s just for starters. In all of these discussions, we’ve assumed (for the sake of simplicity) that the relationship between influencers and the rest of the twitternets was an A and B proposition. As it turns out, everyone is both an influencer and an influencee, with varying degrees of 360 potential inbound and outbound influence. When you start thinking about it in that way, you have to start to model influence dynamics in 3D, then in 4D (time being a factor). Pretty complex stuff. For a 2D slice of how multi-level influence works in the real world, check out David Armano’s brilliant “influence ripples” graphic:
Imagine that someone like Justin Bieber would be a 1, while you and I fall somewhere between a 3 and a 4 (or even a 23, not shown in the graphic). Note that influence a) doesn’t just move in one direction b) comes from a breadth of sources with varying degrees of macro-influence, and c) can overlap, creating areas of compounded influence. What this latter point implies: Influence may tend to increase when more than one trusted source repeats the same message. In this way, validation from a community of peers with low overall influence (let’s call them micro-influencers) may be better received than messaging from just a single macro-influencer.
I guess we will have to revisit the concept of macro-influence vs micro-influence some other time, but I hope you will give the subject some thought before then.
Until tools like Klout, PeerIndex and even Twitalizer take into account both sides of the influence mechanism, they won’t be measuring influence. Not really. And neither will you. Don’t be fooled by the promise of simplicity and magical measurement: Understand what influence is and isn’t. Lean what measurement tools can and cannot do. Don’t hesitate to ask difficult questions and go look for answers where no one has thought to before. Don’t fall for hot new marketing religions without first understanding what is myth and what is real. Learn to use tools like Klout like they were meant to be used: Cleverly.
And most important of all, be patient. Social media platforms and the tools that allow you to measure activity and influence there are in their infancy. Digital insights tools will get better over time. Just like it takes years to turn a padawan into a Jedi, the degree of functionality we would like to have at our fingertips won’t happen overnight. In this as with all things, patient you must be.
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And if you haven’t already, don’t forget to pre-order Social Media ROI: Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in Your Organization (Que Biz-Tech / Pearson). Available for pre-order now on Amazon.com and at Barnes & Noble, and on the shelves next month at fine book sellers everywhere.