A couple of weeks ago, I was the keynote speaker before a jammed conference room of 300 people and here is how I was introduced:

“I’d like you to welcome our special guest Mark Schaefer, who has over 40,000 followers on Twitter and a Klout score of 71!”

He made no mention that I have written two books, teach at a university, have 30 years of international marketing experience or that I have two masters degrees.  He probably doesn’t even know or care that I have raised two great children, am a devoted husband and contribute time to charities and mentoring.

Is Klout more important than life?

It drives home a critical point though. “Social proof” like Twitter followers, Facebook Likes and Klout scores are exceedingly important on the Internet.  In fact, as I explain in Return On Influence, as people look for short-cuts to truth in our information-dense digital world, these numbers may be even more important than what we actually accomplish in our lives. That’s hard to say, let alone accept, but it’s true.

Little wonder that a subculture has arisen on the web determined to achieve this social proof by any means necessary.

This group is dedicated to gaming their influence scores because they see this as a true reflection of their personal worth. There is even an online commodity market that buys and sells +K’s on Klout in some quixotic quest for self-worth.

A hit to the ego

After another recent Klout algorithmic change, many people’s numbers slipped again over the past two weeks.  Instead of looking at this as simply a tweak in a business model, many people took this as a personal affront, a blast to their very being. Here is a post from a friend after his Klout slipped day by day for 26 days:

26 CYBER ATTACKS ON MY SELF ESTEEM AND WELL BEING WITH ONLY ONE BACKSLAP IN THE MIDDLE TO ALLEVIATE THE PAIN AND SHAME. ITS A SCHOOL OF HARD KNOCKS…

Another guy chimed in complaining that his Klout score slipped when he had to actually pay attention to client work for a couple of weeks.

A young man who works night and day to game his numbers asked me how he can turn his growing social capital into a career.  I told him that he can’t … and encouraged him to learn a skill that will actually help people.

Let’s keep focused on business benefits

Social scoring is an important new business trend and it’s important to understand what companies like Klout and Appinions are up to. We have always known that there are certain powerful word-of-mouth influencers out there but finding them has been out of reach for all but the biggest and richest companies. We are on the brink of a truly revolutionary ability to accurately identify, connect with, and reward authentic brand advocates throughout the world we never knew existed.  We’ll even be able to place a dollar value (yes — a return on investment!) on powerful individual word of mouth influencers, and in fact that is already happening. If you’re in marketing, you undoubtedly need to understand this trend!

But I am disturbed by this parallel consequence of people obsessing with a number as a legitimacy of their human worth.  I know there is nothing I can do about that, but I’m not going to contribute to it either. I’ve been asked by my publisher to write a short book on how to increase your Klout score.  It would be an easy financial windfall that would build on my previous work. But it simply flies in the face of my principles and encourages behaviors that will hurt people in the end in my opinion.

Checking out Klout, Kred, Peer Index and Empire Avenue values can be entertaining but anybody truly enslaved to these numbers for their self-esteem needs a reality check.  And here is the irony.  All these folks eventually will be sniffed out as fakes, which will really crush their self-esteem. In the end, true authority, expertise, and kindness will win out.

Want to REALLY increase your social influence? Here’s how.

Surround yourself with people who care about you.

Do good work.

Be kind and helpful.

Just do those three things and the influence — the influence that matters — will take care of itself. OK?

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