By Danny Flamberg, Managing Director, Digital Strategy and CRM
This week, countless members of our industry have been gearing up to participate in Social Media Day Meetups everywhere. These events will undoubtedly provide movers and shakers with the opportunity to network in real life the way they might normally do online, trading their avatars and witty bios for their real-world faces and personalities. Obviously, it’s easier to get an accurate first impression when you meet in person, but more and more, heavy social media users crave a way to make this easy online. It got me thinking about an increasingly pertinent—and murky—topic facing marketers in the digital space today: so-called “influence scores.”
As an article in Sunday’s New York Times discussed, the increasing prominence of scoring sites like PeerIndex, Twitter Grader, and Klout, is changing the way we perceive others online. By looking at nuanced data that goes beyond follower counts or number of retweets, for example, these services aim to present a more accurate measurement of users’ social influence. And, with so many brands throwing their hats into the proverbial social media ring, it’s something they should at least be paying attention to, if nothing else.
Several analytical issues complicate the search for influence. First, there is no common definition or formula for calculating influence. There are social media users who are active, frequently reaching large numbers of friends, while generating little impact. Conversely, there are highly persuasive and influential people with just a few friends, whose influence comes from virility among friends and friends of friends. Tracking these networks and assigning values to influence—which itself is some combination of reach, acceptance, and persuasion—is a challenge.
Like so many things in the ever-evolving digital realm, at this point, it’s really too soon to place a value on these services, no matter how much buzz they’re getting. Why? Well, for starters, everything hinges on the unpublished assumptions that power mathematically “iffy” scoring algorithms. They’re the “secret sauce” and competitive differentiators for each of these so-called “tools.” If we don’t know how they work, what information they’re culling, and how they’re factoring and weighting it into a snappy numerical score, it’s difficult to say which one, if any, can actually be a valuable component of your brand’s strategy.
At the Kaplan Thaler Group, we are actively experimenting with these tools, but at this point we’re not confident on the baked-in methodologies of any of them. That’s why we’d caution anyone who places too much stake in their value judgments thus far. The truth is: everyone is eager for a scorecard that lets us automatically gauge our online influence—and that can be dangerous. It might be tempting to accept these and other similar services without looking too closely under the hood, but it’s imperative for marketers to exercise restraint and think critically first.