It’s clear that social influence scoring is not going away anytime soon – or ever – and so the debate over the validity of such scores and the businesses that provide them rage on. I know I’ve contributed my fair share of thoughts, dialogue, and rants on this subject and I have to say I’m rather tired of the same old debate.
I’ve yet to read an article that satisfactorily explains how any software-generated score in isolation accurately dictates the real influence of an individual to measurably impact the decision-making of an audience based solely on their activity across a few social networks.
Yet the providers of these scores remain in the spotlight; in fact they’re multiplying across business silos and industry verticals. So what have we learned or accomplished?
People are still gaming online engagement to increase their scores, marketers and HR professionals are still basing decisions on these scores and brands are still distributing product samples to those with high scores. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks?
It’s Time We Change the Focus
Can we change the public discourse from what a social influence score is or isn’t and, understanding that this virus is incurable, focus on how to successfully use it to our advantage? What would that look like?
We know, for example, that “social celebrities” who work the digital channels to get a lot of attention for their heavy social chatter and activity are popular – maybe even famous – due to their many thin connections that rank them highly by social influence scoring platforms.
So if you define “influence” as the ability to amplify a message across social channels, then I guess you can call them influential and we can close the book on this discussion. However, from experience these amplifiers don’t impact short-term consumer decision-making, which is the type of influence businesses value.
“Can’t ‘social celebrities’ also have real influence?” Of course they can. But there’s a dramatic difference between these two.
I consider bloggers who elicit many reactions as witnessed through thoughtful commentary, phone conversations and subscriptions among their audience, real influencers. Someone with 50,000 Twitter followers, lots of retweets and blog mentions but with little to no engagement on that blog, is less influential than someone with only 5,000 Twitter followers, fewer retweets and blog mentions but consistent and meaningful debate among a targeted community within his or her blog.
Most social scoring platforms – as they work today – would elevate the former with a higher score and deem them more “influential.” It’s a crap shoot. A risk I’d rather not take, unless I refocus that data to push the odds in my favor.
Mapping Influence Marketing
What’s missing from the ongoing debate around the value of social influence scoring is the potential value in mapping the many degrees of social connections and relationships people have with each other. Some are thin and vanity-driven; others are deep and meaningful, as is also the case in the traditional media and offline realms. Isn’t it time we evolve this practice by refocusing social influence scoring from the notion of popularity to the identification of those who measurably drive sales?
Understanding the degree of relationship between individuals and groups is key to understanding the nature of the influence they might exert over a purchase decision.
For example, I often tune into the Fox News broadcast when travelling though the US or watch it online when out of the US. I tune in enough to be one of the people that they claim to be a “regular viewer” and a data point in the rating statistics they use to sell advertising space.
However, while I consider myself a “conservative,” the reason I tune into Fox News is the same reason I sometimes tune into America’s Next Top Model or slow down to gawk at a car wreck – I’m fascinated by the spectacle, the ugliness of humanity. I don’t tune in to educate myself or seek information in my decision-making but to gawk, a sick guilty pleasure. Fox News data crunchers and advertisers consider me someone they influence but do they? Maybe, but certainly not in the manner they intend.
Analyzing the Data
Until factors such as degree of relationship, context of engagement and sentiment of commentary are successfully interpreted and analyzed by software, the onus is on YOU to do the work.
Does this make social scoring platforms worthless? No. Can they measure the nuances required? No.
As I discovered in an interview with Andrew Grill from Kred, progress is being made. In the meantime, get off your ass and do the work.
Look for companies like Kred or PeerIndex to provide the raw data around audience engagement and use that data as one metric in your calculations for who will impact consumers’ purchase decisions. Overlaying data from social CRM software or even direct engagement with those identified will provide a meaningful filter to identify the real influencers in the group. I’m talking about the power to influence the purchase decision of a prospect, not the power to amplify a generic message to a loosely identified group of people.
Mama always told me, “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.” She is one smart lady.
Join the discussion. Shouldn’t social influence marketing be about influencing purchase decisions? How would you change the focus on influence scoring?