The Democratization of Social Influence- Forbes
The Democratization of Social Influence
“Influence” is certainly not new. We have been influenced since birth – parents, siblings, teachers, religious leaders, friends, that really cute person in college that had you wrapped around their fingers, etc. What is new is “social influence.” This is the shift in influence from those traditionally in our immediate circle or geography to influence from a new wave of people we have seldom (if ever) met. And it is their ability to influence wider audiences – around the globe – than was ever possible before.
One of the biggest problems with “social influence” is that it is dismissed as folly or just completely misunderstood. However, influence is at the very heart of where social society is heading. To help us in this journey, best-selling author (Return on Influence) and social media luminary Mark Schaefer andSAP‘s Brian Rice, co-founder of the AdAge Top 50 Blog,Business2Community.com, provide their insights into this misunderstood topic by defining influence, how it is measured today, where it is going tomorrow, and some areas of influence quicksand.
“It certainly is misunderstood,” starts Schaefer. “It is one of the most misunderstood topics in the web today. This is why there is so much emotion around it. Why? Because influence on the web is not a proxy for influence in other areas of our lives – work, home, etc. But that doesn’t mean it is not important – it is critically important. Take someone like Brian Solis, for instance. Brian did not exist – as he does today – 10 years ago. But today, his source of power is his ability to consistently get content shared and reacted to by a wide group of followers. These new influencers exist because of the internet, and a host of free publishing tools – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn – that allow them to quickly and easily share their insights, and (equally important) for their audiences to react and share those viewpoints to their friends and network.”
Without missing a beat, he continues, “what is truly exciting about where we are today is that never before in our collective history has it been so accessible for absolutely everyone to provide their voice to the conversation. I talk in my book about the ‘democratization of social influence,’ where anyone with ‘humble beginnings’ can make a name for themselves through these tools. Your ability to influence comes more from what you have to offer, than from your background or your pedigree or financial status. As you tap into other advocates, those collective voices can be a force to bring change and influence in a very meaningful and believable way.”
Rice adds to this idea, “Consumers and individuals have more power than ever before, and we clearly don’t understand all of it yet. There is still an aspect of influence that is reminiscent of high school – your influence is measured by who you ‘hang out with’ and you can change your influence by who you talk to. Defining some reliable measurements around influence will help take some of the ambiguity out of it.”
Measuring influence, the good and the immature:
There are a score of technologies out there to help us measure influence. Two recognizable solutions (Klout and Kred) provide relative rankings, scores, and insight on individual influencers. “One of the inherent difficulties for people in understanding influence is the dizzying focus on scoring – ‘what is my score?’ ‘What is it compared to another?’ ‘What is the technology and methodology that went into scoring me?’” intones Schaefer. “The problem is focusing on scoring. Just like it would be inappropriate to base all of your decisions on someone based on their credit score, a measure of social influence is just one aspect, but it is certainly not a measure of everything. That all being said, social influence measuring is become increasing more reliable.”
One new force on the block, Appinions, provides contextual analysis, focusing more on topic-based comparisons, and less on creating an individual score. Their approach is based on 10 years of data from Cornell University and scans over 5m sources of information on a daily basis. They focus more on who is influential and why on certain topics and trend this over time.
“There is now an entire industry around observing, measuring, and reacting to these influencers,” says Rice. “Years before, you did not have my current role at SAP, let alone an entire team evaluating and orchestrating technology to monitor these behaviors. We are now seeing millions of dollars invested each year in developing, deploying, and staffing these solutions.”
No matter how you look at it, we are in the nascent stages of measuring influence. The measurements are a predictor of an influencer’s ability to change a behavior in a person. Influence is contextual: you might read this blog for insight on social media, but probably will not come here for a great restaurant recommendation in Portland. Furthermore, we don’t announce ourselves at a party by our SAT scores, our IQ scores, or our bowling score, so focusing on your or other’s worth by a “Klout” score misses the point.
Where measurement gets really interesting is when we talk about where social influence is heading.
Where influence is heading:
Think influence is just for unemployed millennials with too much time on their hands, or for a select few with nothing better to do than tweet all day? The major social platforms will disagree and are betting on influence. Schaefer continues, “The industry is now gaining in their ability to connect online influence with offline behavior. Facebook, as one of many examples, wants to align people’s opinions and behaviors to drive a behavior in others. You can then assess a dollar value to an influencer based on their ability to drive offline behaviors (e.g. a blog about wine motivates you to buy wine, or more specifically, a specific brand of wine).” You are starting to see these platforms incorporating everything you do in a day – where you are, what you wear, what you eat, who you talk to - to help motivate a wider group of behaviors in a wider audience.
“Companies are looking for creative ways to capitalize on this as well,” says Rice. “They incent and develop perks for top influencers in their markets. Free trips, 1st access to new products, complimentary accommodations, to paid engagements for consulting, influencers are sought after for their insight and guidance, as well as their network.” “80% of the companies who experiment with programs to connect with influencers come back for more,” chimes in Schaefer. “These are big named brands – Amex, Disney. They ‘get it’ and want to find ways to continue their connections through this new marketing channel.”
Any time there is a new system with big monetary rewards, there is always a risk of someone “gaming the system” for unjust personal gain. “There is some risk here. This trend of incenting influencers is becoming mainstream. Some of the rewards are eye catching. So there is a risk. Right now it is small and in a few outlier instances, but everyone will have to be aware of places where this culpable behavior can exist and take steps to monitor it.”
“We keep coming back to the scores themselves. Again, this has to be in context. For influence measuring to gain greater adoption, we have to better understand what it means, what we are measuring, and the value of influence. The industry is moving toward capitalizing on the ability to drive a behavior in all of us. It is critical we pay attention to this direction and play a role in how it evolves,” finishes Rice.
By the way, I am a long-tail influencer with a Klout score of 46; I bowl in the mid-100s, and an 11E shoe size. Beat that!