The evolution of social media power and influence

I was recently interviewed about Klout and social influence by Vinícius Cherobino of Galileu, a scientific magazine in Brazil. I thought his questions were especially good and wanted to share this content with you:

Galileu: How do you view the rankings and people’s influence score published on the Internet (such as Klout or Peer Index)?  What are the main consequences of this process?

Schaefer: There are two quite interesting implications of this development. First, many people are upset over the fact that they are being publicly rated, evaluated and compared. The debates on this topic can be quite emotional! On the other hand, this is a historically important development for marketers.  It’s certainly not a perfect system, but we are taking the first steps toward quantifying influence, or at least a small slice of it. Companies like Klout are in the silent movie stage. Let’s give them time to see how it works out.

We are currently seeing many companies creating their own influence rankings with their own methodology. How do you think this will evolve? Will it be a market with many players or only a few?

I think it will develop in several ways. Although in most industries there are frequently 2-3 strong competitors, on the Internet, typically just one company dominates a niche. We like to have companies compete for our money, but we don’t like it when they compete for our attention.  Humans have limited time and attention and usually we focus on one platform over time.  So I think a leading company will emerge. However, I think several niches could emerge too. The entry barriers are relatively low. So why wouldn’t we have applications rating teens, people in geographic regions, or single people?

After the evolution of influence scores, do you think it is possible to imagine every Internet user being judged by their position in the influence score (from possible employers to retail chains)?

There are limitless opportunities to use these scores. I heard of an interesting use where a company is looking at how connecting to people with high influence scores can affect the sentiment toward a company.  It’s mashing up two fields. Learning who true influencers are is an incredibly useful tool for many companies in almost any industry.

You mentioned the beginnings of a caste system in the Internet through the scores. How deep can this system can be? Do you think that a regular user will be able to defend him/herself of that?

This is a development that I think will drive some crazy, and unfortunate, behavior. People who have high influence scores will get lots of valuable gifts, even trips and vacations. People with low scores will get nothing. What do you think will happen? The people who get nothing will try any crazy scheme possible to get something or they will become resentful of those who are getting the gifts. I recommend that people stay centered and just be themselves. However, I don’t think many people will follow that advice!

Some critics claimed that this kind of “influence ranking” tends to foster even more inequality on the web (VIPs have everything, regular users have nothing). How do you see this kind of critique?

Life is unequal. So it’s no surprise that the web is unequal. But here is another way to look at it. Today, only the famous celebrities get free vacations, cars and endorsement deals. But now lots of normal people who just happen to be an expert and influential in something can experience a little celebrity too.  It’s a way for hard working people to get noticed and rewarded for their work too! Not everybody can be a movie star, but everybody can be influential in something and work hard to show it.

On the other hand, some defend the idea of democratization of influence. Not only politicians and actors, for instance, but regular users can fight for influence. What is your opinion?

I think this is definitely true. We are in the era of the citizen influencer. Everybody can have a voice. There are many common working people who can now be recognized for their authority. I think even I am an example of that.  I’m not a pro athlete or celebrity. But I do work hard on my blog {grow} and it is making a difference in people’s lives. So, yes, I am a common person but I have influence too.

Apparently, there is a gap between online influence and offline influence. Will the technology be   able to bridge this? Or do you think this will remain in separate arenas?

This is really the core of the online influence debate. As far as I can see into the future,  I think there will always be some disconnect between offline and online behavior.  However, with geo-location applications it is becoming more possible to tie online behaviors with say, going to a store or eating at a restaurant. This is being recorded and connected to conversations. Augmented reality will take us even further in that direction.  So there will be a bigger online-offline connection than people can imagine, I think. The technology is moving us toward that connection, not away from it.

How can the users’ influence be combined with other types of data mining from social network sites? Could this mean more privacy concerns?

For the most part, the scores are being determined through public information like tweets and status updates. So it is aggregating and sorting information you are volunteering any way. In that respect I don’t think there will be additional privacy concerns but I do think the profiling that will occur is going to startle people. But that is occurring everywhere. If I type an email in Google, moments later ads related to the subject of my email appear. That sort of profiling is at the heart of these advertising models and it will just get much more detailed and granular.

This could be another step of celebrity culture developing into the internet?

I think people make celebrities into celebrities, not the Internet! We are already in a celebrity culture. The Internet simply amplifies it.

What do you think?  How is power and influence being re-defined on the Internet?  Are you more influential online or offline?

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  • Hello Vinicius.
    This interview is a good extension of the debate that has been ongoing on this blog for a while. It seems to review and sum up it’s most interesting bits, both emotionally and logically. I fall strongly into the group that believe that those who go online looking for a business, service or product will be lead by the scores and ranking they see as a primary indicator of someone to check into.
    I also see it as a way for larger business’s to ask for a high scoring personality to affiliate or align with them, for pay etc, so that they can reach into their marketing profiles that they want to speak to.
    Regardless we are in the social ranking business the minute we ask someone to choose us over all others. The people we ask only want to know one thing why? How they choose us is going to be based upon these social rankings that are emerging.

  • AVE

    This is a very interesting topic. I have read that in the near future your online influence score could enhance your ability to gain employment. For instance, say I apply for a design position and the firm has whittled it down to another designer and myself. We both interviewed great, they love both of our portfolios and our level of education is very similar. What’s left but to compare but our level of online influence?

    I’d like to hear the leaders in a few different industries take on this.

  • I think we’re aligned in our views Billy!  Thanks as always for commenting!

  • I wrote about this recently here: The making of a social media slut

    You might enjoy this article. Thanks for commenting.

  • Thanks for posting this Mark. Klout is one of those things at the very back of my mind right now as I juggle various other things. But I’m aware this is an interesting spin-off from online presence. 

    I don’t really see how we as marketers can use it yet but I’m looking forward to finding out more – no doubt from the Grow community, I guess !

  • Thanks Mark, good to be able to stop by and see the flow here. I’ve a plate full of things to do, and they are all frogs. So trying to eat the biggest one’s first. See you again soon.

  • When I entered the social media world from a business or organizational standpoint I was not thinking of growing on-line influence, but rather finding a way for others–potential patients and other health-care providers to get to know me better as a person and by doing so be able to trust me. Trust that care provided in my institution would be safe and effective, because they would know what I believed in, they would read the stories on my blog, and come to know me as a person who had the highest standards and could be trusted with the lives of their children. I then entered the Twitter world to try to engage more fully and in a less formal way with anyone who might be interested, in addition to catching health-related news items that could be shared with others. I had no knowledge of or interest in Klout 4 months ago. Now I look at the score pretty much daily, as one way to see how what I am doing in social media might be perceived by others.

    There are many in medicine, business, and in all all areas of life who have influence because they have been rated or ranked in some way, formally or informally (US News rankings, etc) and it is not always apparent how the algorithm works. Nonetheless, although a ranking might be helpful to gain people’s attention, it is in the end the ongoing behavior of the individual or institution that maintains the influence. 

    I see social media ranking schemes as helpful, because they are constantly being updated. This means that someone who is influential cannot just sit back and rely on his or her reputation. What I have seen in the medical field is TOO MUCH reliance on reputation and not enough attention (sometimes) to the current reality, At some of the hospitals with phenomenal reputations, that draw patients from all over the world, the tendency is to believe in their own greatness, which has sometimes actually worked to the detriment of patients. 

    So, ongoing evaluation of a person’s engagement and helpfulness within the social media realm could be incredibly helpful. As you indicated in this article, the scores are still young, they have not really been put to the test. If we could keep them from being something easily manipulated that would be even better.

    As usual, thanks for offering us something to think about, and the opportunity to engage in meaningful conversation with interesting people.

  • When brands like American Express, Disney and Audi are using it, it has my attention!

  • Thanks for the wonderful comment Alice.  I think your presence and the trust you are building will certainly trasnlate to influence too!  You’ve become influential to me!

  • Hi Mark,

    I really would love to see Klout put real context behind what goes into the algorithm. it makes me sad in a way to see I am “influential” about Mazda when my post “The Man in the Mazda” was about a stalker.

    I really think that already we have this “have and have not” system on the web. I think the chasm will only divide further as we really dig into what online influence means to various niche groups.

    I hover between 52-55 Klout score these days. When I look at things though, I think that to really put it into perspective, I have 525 Twitter follower and why can’t a user like me4 have nearly as much influence as someone who has mostly bots following? I would think that my smaller but more engaged following would be worth more to Klout, but it appears to be only about the numbers.

    Am I wrong about that Mark? What is your experience with that?

  • Hi Mark,

    I really would love to see Klout put real context behind what goes into the algorithm. it makes me sad in a way to see I am “influential” about Mazda when my post “The Man in the Mazda” was about a stalker.

    I really think that already we have this “have and have not” system on the web. I think the chasm will only divide further as we really dig into what online influence means to various niche groups.

    I hover between 52-55 Klout score these days. When I look at things though, I think that to really put it into perspective, I have 525 Twitter follower and why can’t a user like me4 have nearly as much influence as someone who has mostly bots following? I would think that my smaller but more engaged following would be worth more to Klout, but it appears to be only about the numbers.

    Am I wrong about that Mark? What is your experience with that?

  • Globally, meeting and reaching more people online than offline is both challenging, exciting and 
    invigorating.  The evolution of social media is providing anyone and everyone the “power and influence”  yet to be imagined.  

    Personally, this has given me pause to consider and reflect on how to present my business and my self so that authenticity, integrity and trust are the components that make a difference in the lives of all who engage and participate in this way with each other. 

    Thank you Mark for being our beacon of light…

  • I was told by Joe F of Klout that number of followers does not matter and I believe that to be true. If you are over 50, that is big time. The average Klout score is 19. : )

  • You are too kind. I am so fortunate to have so many wonderful people (like you) follow the blog and comment who are the REAL DEAL.   I have a sinking feeling that a lot of “influence” on the web is based on numbers that have been tricked and gamed.  You … I can take to the bank!

  • This calls for cake then! Or bacon…

  • Thank you Mark.  You … are a great “influence” and teacher!

  • or both.  Have you notced that are adding bacon to everything these days?

  • I have mixed feelings about Klout.  My score is 45, which is not awesome, but ok, especially since everything I write and talk about is done for free.  It is something I choose to do because I love it.

    I hope the Internet can be a sort of equalizer and my presence will help me with future opportunities, but I will keep blogging whether anyone is reading it or not.  I have become part of a nice community on Twitter and know my peeps care about what I have to say, as I do them.

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  • Yes. I like that trend though. I saw Maple Bacon Cupcakes somewhere. I wanted one! I also saw chocolate covered bacon which sounds wrong yet I want to try it!

  • Good for you.  I admire your optimism.  I used to think the Internet was an equalizer but don’t really believe that to be the case. It just amplifies who we are I think. : )

  • Just had a conversation this morning that your post reminds me of. I was talking about how Guy Kawasaki re-tweeted a post I wrote last week for the 12Most site. I nearly fell off my chair when I heard that. The conversation then circled around to how my little brother does the audio books for Chris Brogan, David Meerman Scott, Ann Handley and others and how he was shocked that not only did I know these names, but that I was dying for an introduction. Are they influential to me? Yes. Why? Because I have ‘grown up’ with them. I was reading their books and participating on the MarketingProfs forum when I was a wee little marketer. Now its cool that the people I held – and still do – so highly, are now consuming my content and being influenced by it. Even though years ago I was not reading their blogs or tweeting with them, I was still being influenced by them. I think something you mentioned here is right on point; the internet has amplified our ability to influence and be influenced.

  • Great comment. Love that story Christina!

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  • I saw that chocolate-covered bacon in New York.  No way.  I’m a purist. No candy with my meat.

  • In this ongoing discussion about online influence, I think I have been most fascinated by where online does and does not intersect with offline influence. I think if you look at influence as power, a word with admittedly more negative connotations, then a lot of power is derived from the control of resources. In the online world, that resource is mostly attention in one form or another. In the offline world it can be items like land or political office. Does the control of online attention function the same as the control of a congressional district? I don’t know, but would love to find out.

    I hope there will be some good academic work done eventually about how these influence models differ online and off. I love the discussions and opinions thought-provoking posts like this elicit, but I think the influence discussion is ripe for some good formal research at this point.

  • Anonymous

    Well, as Snake Plisskin said “The more things change, the more they stay the same”. While the internet IS unequal (as is life), it does provide a much more level playing ground. Many people have the same chances as everyone else to become influential. Yes, some will have an easier time of getting there but the door is open. Really interesting point about services like Klout being in the “silent movie” stage of development, I’m curious to see where it goes and if at some point there will be a “measurement” backlash. 

    People of my parents generation are very concerned about privacy and all our actions being publicly available (This was  recent topic of conversation with my folks). Yet my generation and those after it almost take this transparency for granted. I’ld like to think it’s a good thing, but maybe I’ll change my mind later in life and want some privacy. 

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