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.
I read this purely for the Star Wars reference and not because you have any influence over me.
That’s great, though I was just thinking that you should read this purely for the Star Wars reference and not because I have any influence over you.
The Star Wars thing was bril. Well played, sir.
I’m reminded of another Star Wars character, Watto. You might recall his interaction with Qui-Gon Jinn over Republic credits…
Watto: Republic credits? Republic credits are no good out here. I need something more real.
Qui-Gon Jinn: I don’t have anything else…
Qui-Gon Jinn: But credits will do fine.
Watto: No, they won’t-a.
[Qui-Gon waves his hand more firmly]
Qui-Gon Jinn: Credits will do fine.
Watto: No, they won’t-a. What? You think you’re some kind of Jedi, waving your hand around like that?
Such is Klout’s klout in my world. 🙂
Love it. The point that influence is topical is the key insight here. People often listen to you and me about the same things. But then to you alone about Nutella. And to me alone about Tequila.
Let’s apply to direct marketing the infatuation with “blanket” influence that people want to find via Klout score:
In that world, you and I both get mail order catalogs for Nutella AND Tequila. Presto! You just reduced your marketing effectiveness by 50%.
Increasing reach without a corresponding increase in efficacy is not a net positive. Quite the contrary. Which is what this “spray and sway” approach that people are trying via Klout feels like to me.
Pow! Bullseye, Jay.
I love that you can apply a direct marketing POV to this stuff. Nailed it.
“You just reduced your marketing effectiveness by 50%” is a bit of priceless insight that far too few executives understand.
Long ago I spent 2 entire years doing nothing but direct mail. I grew to hate USPS, but learned a lot. Congrats on your top 100 list. That’s amazing! You better hope they have a party and invite all the winners. 😉 Hanging with Natalie and Mandela wouldn’t suck.
I have an even better idea: Natalie can invite us all, and if no one shows up but me, that’s fine too.
Outstanding, Olivier. The Star Wars visuals just added to the entertainment value.
Great post that serves as a reminder not to get sucked into the dark side of believing reach = influence.
I’ve spent most of my career in the radio industry, where radio stations constantly brag about the number of listeners they have.
That’s great, but if you have a million listeners and none of them are interested in my advertising message (because of demographics/psychographics/geographics/etc)… those million listeners don’t matter much to me. I would be better off advertising my message on a radio station that has 10 listeners who are predisposed to the story I’m telling.
Yep. Breadth vs depth. Awareness vs action.
I’m momentarily fascinated by my own psychology regarding this post. I’m influenced by you (clearly) BUT I do not like or appreciate Klout and largely ignore topics around it now. So I have skimmed these posts but not read them fully, until this one tonight.
This post is not so much about Klout as it is influence in general and it is SO spot on!! A must read for anyone having to deal with the subject of influencers and brand advocates in any fashion. I like your thinking here immensely. Glad I read this fully despite thinking it was more stuff about Klout, evil genius. 🙂
Klout clearly doesn’t measure my Jedi psychic superpowers.
What a wonderful analogy!
I like most the point that the other parties must accept you in to become an influencer in their lives. And not by your follower or retweet count. The cashier doesn’t care your article was just retweeted three times while you were in line. Without a solid understanding of what you’re all about, they only care if you have the money to pay for your bread and eggs.
I totally agree Bradley. To me, the most important line here is:
“We are all the gatekeepers of others’ influence on us. We decide what we are influenced by, by whom & when.”
To your cashier at the grocery reference, I have influenced cashiers many times but as Olivier says it is ephemeral – they look at what I am buying, it’s something they have never noticed in the store but it looks good to them, and so they ask me questions about it. For that moment in time, I am an influencer and depending on what I say, may entice them to purchase. But the whole experience is unplanned and spontaneous and not something that could be predicted, as the item in my basket that piques their interest is of unique appeal to THEM, not to “all people” necessarily.
Comparing this reality to social media marketing expectations, would a brand ever ask me to go through a line with their product 500 times until 1-5 people asked me about it with enough interest that indicated they will purchase it? Haha… that would be fairly miserable. 🙂
That’s a great point Kris, continuing with the checkout reference… there are times when I can tell the cashier is in a repetitive state and I’ll make it my goal to snap ’em out of it. For instance, just today I was buying a few things and when she swiped the second item we had yet to make eye contact. I then asked how her day was going, commented on the number of shoppers and displayed genuine interest in her response. I could see her eyes light up and happily scanned her generic perks card instead of even asking for mine…
I’d guarantee I was a strong influencer on her mindset for those few seconds. And possibly the rest of her shift.
As you say, it ultimately comes down to the when/where and how you take control of the situation.
This example makes me think of one of my favorite books ‘How to win friends and influence people’ … show a genuine interest in others.
Entertaining and educational in equal measure Olivier. But why do you keep saying Justin Bieber has no influence over you? You rarely stop talking about him.
Darn. You’ve uncovered my secret. Am I that transparent? 😀
“Also, let’s remember not to confuse celebrity with influence.”
Is that not what klout is trying to distinguish?
I get the point that everyone’s trying to make about influence being subjective. It depends on the person, and the topic. Certainly, klout isn’t there yet, but I believe they’re working hard to get to this point where they’re able to determine influence on a subjective basis. Peerindex is already putting a lot of focus on determining influence within specific areas.
I agree that businesses need to educate themselves. They need to understand the intricacies of influence and where the tools, as they exist today, fall short of taking them into account.
That said, they should not take these tools lightly. True, your cashier won’t give two shits about your klout score today. In a year, maybe they will. I never thought a restaurant would give a shit if I was the foursquare mayor of their location, but alas, many do.
The web is a larrrge place. If a business is going to navigate it effectively, they should use all the relevent tools and metrics at their disposal. Klout and other influence scores still need a lot of work, but they do have relevance in business today, and certainly should be taken into account.
We don’t disagree, David. But…
1. A year from now isn’t today. How Klout is being “sold” by agencies to their clients TODAY does not reflect the reality of the tool’s capabilities. It doesn’t matter how cool they MIGHT be in a year or five or ten. We are talking about today. 2011.
2. The true dynamics of influence are absolutely NOT what is being sold either, which is the point of this particular post.
3. I don’t think that Klout is to blame. They’re off to a good start and I like what they’ve put together. Their capabilities will grow, as I have stated throughout this series.
4. I never said that Klout and other tools like it wasn’t relevant or shouldn’t be taken into account. In fact, didn’t I finish this post with:
“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. […] The degree of functionality we would like to have at our fingertips won’t happen overnight.”
Sounds like you’re arguing with the wrong guy.
Is not Klout and Social Influence just another form of fleecing Brands and Businesses? Think of Digital Ads. I block them all with Fire Fox. The click through rate is so small its almost zero. Yet Agencies and Networks have convinced Brands to spend more. The fraud of Facebook as a marketing machine and the term Viral. Never mind the talking heads of Social Media who really just make money for themselves. The fact Mashable has a readership blows my mind. So I see Social Influence as another in a long line of BS that allows some people to make money beyond the true value of what they are purveying.
Howie, yes and no.
Klout is a legitimate tool that does certain things very well. The problem is in how it is used and sold by many (not all) marketers.
It’s kind of like an armorer inventing a better bullet: Faster, cheaper to manufacture and more accurate. The professional, ethical thing to do would be to say “this bullet has a higher muzzle velocity, greater range, higher accuracy, and it costs less too.”
What would invariably happen if you put the bullet in the hands of social media hacks is that the message would quickly morph to “this bullet almost never misses its target, it has unlimited range, and will guarantee victory on any battlefield against any kind of enemy.”
The bullet isn’t at fault. The hacks making it into something it isn’t are.
Mashable is a slightly different animal: It has good potential, good focus, and a clear purpose. Unfortunately, its editorial quality isn’t what it could be (or should be). As a source of news, it’s all right: “Dell releases new tablet” or “Microsoft phones take market by surprise” = okay. Just don’t go expecting solid insights once you get past the subject of the headline.
If it’s just a press release re-hashed as a story, it’s probably okay (as long as you understand that the story will invariably be biased the same way that its source was). If the story comes with some degree of analysis, definitely do your homework before believing it. Mashable, like many other digital publications with a stable of bloggers rather than professional journalists creating their content, is often way off in its analysis.
The difference here being that Klout is a good tool that is being sold by middle-men as something it is not, while Mashable is simply the victim of a weak editorial culture. Different problems, but both worth some thought.
As for the social media “gurus” gaming all of this to make a buck while delivering zero value, unfortunately, you are spot on.
I think a lot of this has to do with ego, and I’m not talking about the influencer’s end of the equation. We like to see our names, products, messages, whatever in lights. For many of us, and many brands, the light that shines the brightest is the one that makes us look the best. To our bosses. To our followers. To the people at the conference after party.
And when someone steps back and asks us, “but what does that light actually do for us?” we stammer and start talking about engagement, buzz and volume. And then when they ask what *those* things do, we start to realize, hopefully, that they do nothing unless they are the right kind of light, shone from the right light, from the right direction.
Keep asking uncomfortable questions, and I’ll try to do the same.
Oh, you’re right. Ego plays a big part in all of it. The number of friends we have, what our business card says we do, the number of sponsor logos on our jacket, the clients we want to be able to tout, our salaries, our cars, our houses, our clothes, even down to the iPad we carry and the conference badge around our necks. Just being able to say “I got free stuff from Starbucks” plays on ego. As a species, we are driven by it.
Don’t hesitate to talk about the “influencer’s” end of the equation. Much of the ego is there after all.
Thanks to the ripples, micro-influencers influence the influencers, who unwittingly spread the micro’s message.
Led Zeppelin was influenced by many relatively unknown blues-bands. Bieber, Klout 100, is no doubt influenced by his mommy, and Rasputin( Klout score 62) changed the course of world history by being able to influence Tsar Nick.
Makes you wonder who the real power rests with… MY PRECIOUS!
Rasputin is the fly in my soup. Well played, Angus.
I’ve never seen Star Wars but I sure know a lot about Twitter.
On both counts.
New to your blog, but will be a regular reader henceforth. Kudos on outstanding quality of your posts (and awesome blog roll(s).
Your preceding post on Klout (II) was first rate, but this post was the much needed icing on the cake.
Metrics, like Klout, are very helpful. But almost every metric has its limits. And Klout has some assumptions that make it far from a perfect measure of influence. Your series on Klout put the right perspective on this measure.
The beauty of the transparency of the net is that artificial efforts to boost scores, game the system, etc. are sure to eventually fail. Ultimately, influence is a measure of how one lives their live. One of my early mentors, Zig Ziglar, had it very right “You can get whatever you want in life if you will just help enough others get what they want.” I believe the essence of true lasting influence, whether at individual or corporate level, is helping others get what THEY want.
In a “what is in it for me world,” prolific givers will be respected, trusted and eventually widely known (through social media). They will be our lasting influencers.
Again, kudos for the Klout series and for the overall quality of your blog.
Thanks, Dave! Welcome to my little world. 🙂
This is truly one of the BEST posts I have EVER read on influence. I’m humbled by your brilliance and by your aptitude with photoshop? ha.
Interesting distinction between being a celebrity and an influencer.
Influence is relevant to you, your topic and the audience. Put me in a room of people I’ve made millions for? I’m influential.
But me in a room at the DMA discussing direct mail? I’m influential.
Even on twitter, according to Klout I’m respectively “influential” (65-70 any given day). But the truth is, online, I’m building right now and I’m nowhere as influential ONLINE a my score would indicate.
I treat it as a way to optimize and track my efforts, focusing on the engagement and communication style. That’s about it.
“Popularity is sanity, sales are vanity, it’s up to you to decide how crazy you can afford to be.” Yours Truly
Thanks again for this enlightening post.
You make me want to be a better blogger. 🙂
Thank you! 🙂
Loved the post. The star wars references were an entertaining touch. I’ve got to admit though, I’m slightly confused. I read an article called, The Metrics of Social Media about measuring the ROI of social media and they made the following statement,
“When someone tells you that you can’t measure the ROI of social media, look them squarely in the eye and then laugh as you show them out the door. This is one of the biggest crocks that a lot of social media “consultants” will try and tell you. It’s usually to cover for their own lack of business acumen – don’t be suckered by it.”
I understand what you mean when you say these tools will one day be more efficient, but how would you recommend I show employers the value of social media now?
Don’t think of ROI in terms of influence or followers or clicks. Think of it in terms of how the investment in an activity translates into either a cost reduction or an increase in revenue. ROI is a business metric, not a media metric, so:
1. It always relates to money invested compared to money gained (through a cost savings or an increase in revenue).
2. It isn’t limited to what happens online.
The principal tools you need to measure ROI are simply a calculator and a spreadsheet: How much did doing X cost? How much did I get out of it?
The answer won’t be measured in followers, mentions or clicks. It will be measured in $. 😉
Great work dude, u gave nice post to us. Thanks for spending the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about it and love learning more on this topic.
But, by your rationale – CPMs are meaningless. Oh no. The whole system is screwed. How will agencies justify media buys now?
Meaningless, no… But overplayed yes. And often applied to the wrong model. Not everything works from the perspective of a media buy either. Agencies need to adapt to a broader range of revenue models, especially when it comes to social channels. 😉
I have always said, those of you who have Influence, it wasn’t meant for you, it’s meant for you to use for those who don’t have influence. Once again, it’s not about you.
Not sure what that means.
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