A Heretic’s Quest for Influence Beyond Klout

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Image by Matthew Venn

Influence: The act or power of producing an effect without apparent exertion of force or direct exercise of command.

I’m reading a series of books right now trying to understand what makes someone influential. There are more tangential theories and approaches into the psychology of motivation than one can imagine, well beyond the universe of Klout.

It’s easy to conclude that no one understands what causes one person to influence another.

Today’s influence theories offer just a slice of individual online behavior based on attention and reach metrics. These strength and influence algorithms support theories about content production and authority. Yet they cannot identify what causes actual people and their larger social networks to adapt and move towards new ideas and behaviors. I will prove this shortly with my very good Klout score and my very humble AdAge Power 150 ranking.

Duncan Watts said it best in Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age:

The science of networks doesn’t have the answers yet… At the end of the day we must be honest and distinguish speculations from the state of the science itself. So if you’re looking for answers, try the new age section.

My mom, nationally syndicated astrologer Jacqueline Bigar, would be thrilled to sell you a copy of her book, Women and their Moon Signs.

Me and My Klout Score

Let’s admit that no silver bullet, universal influence theory exists that can explain why people act based on their peers’ behavior.

Many social marketers believe in Klout, though. Consider how many online marketing software companies integrate the Klout API. It’s becoming ubiquitous.

In the context of online and societal holes exist.

Consider my Klout score.

Geoff's Klout Score

This means that I produce content, post and comments that inspire a fair amount of attention (good AND bad) about certain topics like marketing and blogging. In that sense, the Klout score may be accurate.

BUT, if you check my AdAge score I’m a pretty mediocre blogger.

AdAge Power 150 Rank on 6-19-2012

So the Klout score tells us that I shoot my mouth off a lot on social networks. As a result marketers that use Klout would consider me to be a “powerful influencer.”

Yet, they couldn’t tell you the last three blog posts I wrote.

Online Influence and Reality

Let’s move into reality. You know, the real world? That place where you actually walk?

When I go to Whole Paycheck every week for my groceries, no one knows who I am. I’m some slob with a two-day beard, shorts and a tee buying food.

The only people who know me are the clerks because I’ve been going to the same store for years. We talk. Sometimes. But if you ask them what I do, they’d be clueless. It means nothing to them.

When I walk around Old Town Alexandria, I see a lot of my friends. Almost every time I run into someone I know and we chat on the street. None of them really knows what I do, nor would they classify me as influential.

Other times we see James Carville walk around (he lives in Old Town). Now that poor fellow runs from the crowd. In DC parlance, he is truly influential.

If you asked real people on the street what a Klout score was, they’d probably think it’s the newest baseball statistic.

Mark Cuban Klout Score

If you told them I was as influential as Mark Cuban because we share similar Klout scores they’d laugh their asses off!

Sociologically speaking, reality and zeitgeists defy influence theories (much less metrics). Even mass media level fame — what almost everyone in the United States interprets to be influential today — fails to produce action many times.

Let’s put it this way: I’m not getting many phone calls from the CMO Council.

Finding the silver bullet definition for influence defies me. But I’m not giving up.

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  • http://twitter.com/swoodruff Steve Woodruff

    Geoff, I think the whole quest for a silver bullet in this realm is silly. People, and influence, are far too multi-dimensional and nuanced to be “scored” by any metric. As soon as we choose 10 measures and say that they = influence, we predetermine the outcome – whoever does the most jumping jacks in those 10 things “wins.” Ironically, the people who end up with the most influence are those who declare that jumping jacks in these areas are what counts…

    • geofflivingston

      These people usually become influential for a reason, a win or some idea that was well received like a book. But what we see is that their marketing success was the one hit wonder, and we are left to hear the broken record over and over and over again.  Winning multiple times is really hard, that’s the lesson to me.

      Great comment, Steve.

  • http://twitter.com/lizscherer Liz Scherer

    Tell you what. Think about the people in your life that you REALLY care about and love. How do they feel about you? Do you influence them? That’s your metric. You don’t really need any other bullshit ‘science’ to define if you are influential. As a society, we place a lot of value and meaning on tangential, inconsequential factors, often to the detriment of ourselves. Is Tom Cruise ‘influential’ because he is one of the wealthiest celebrities? No, Tom Cruise has been assigned a false value because we want to believe that box office sensations and red carpet poseurs really matter and that provides us with a benchmark for determining how successful or not we are. It’s all spin, isn’t it? And as we know, at least according to your partner in crime, Spin Sucks. 

    • geofflivingston

       I actually find this topic to be fascinating. I won’t lie, this post is exploratory for a new book concept I’m working on.

      I am looking at the many influence books for a reason, which is to show how we are 1) fascinated with perceived influence and 2) how we really influence each other.  I think it’s a larger sociological fascination, from the influence of presidents to moms and dads.

  • http://www.parmet.net/pr David Parmet

    Lately I’ve noticed whenever I tweet about social media or marketing, my Klout score goes down. Anything else and it goes up.  Interesting….

    • geofflivingston

       Hmm, stop tickling that fancy. If Klout is what matters to you ;)  I think you’re influential, at least to me, David.

      • http://www.parmet.net/pr David Parmet

        Aw gee… shucks!

        But I still don’t understand why someone like Ron Garan –  a freaking astronaut who tweeted, Flickred, Facebooked and Google+ed from space – ranks a 67. That’s lower than a whole lot of so-called social media consultants / experts / naval gazers (not you of course…)

  • http://twitter.com/JonMikelBailey Jon-Mikel Bailey

    Unfortunately some are influenced but nothing more than numbers and notoriety. But, those that stand to gain from being influenced and can learn and grow are the ones that can look past all that shallow information. Cynicism or whatever you want to call it, in moderation, is necessary in my opinion to see past unicorns and rainbows.

    • geofflivingston

       Influence is very relative to the person, but there are still tipping points and mass actions. How else can we explain the constant phenomena of economic bubbles?  It’s  a really weird thing.

  • http://www.writerightwords.com/ Erin Feldman

    I’m not sure what defines influence, either. I know it isn’t a Klout score (Mine is a source of amusement as are the topics about which I’m supposedly “influential.”). I know I must be doing something right when people start to ask me questions about being an entrepreneur or to ask for feedback about their blogs. None of those people care about my Klout score or supposed influence. They just know I’ve been where they are and that I’m willing to share the small amount of knowledge I do have.

    Another book? Good luck with the new project.

    • geofflivingston

       I am hell bent on making the NY Times list or dying knowing that I did everything I could to make it.

      Influence is odd.  We are social creatures, and clearly what our friends and family and peers do matters.  But we don’t understand ourselves well enough to get there!

      • http://www.writerightwords.com/ Erin Feldman

        I know writers are supposed to be introspective people – and we are – but our knowledge of ourselves is still limited. :)

        The NY Times List? That’s a great goal.

  • http://www.margieclayman.com Marjorie Clayman

    Awesome post, Geoff. But don’t feel bad about your AdAge score. I tried to apply to get on the list a few months ago. On a 0-7 ranking for a few different factors, I scored 0 on each one. I am literally not even powerful enough to TRY to be powerful :D

    Also, you’ll always be more influential to me than James Carville. He came to my college once and asked me if I was sure I was old enough to be in college. No more clout or Klout for him! :) 

    • geofflivingston

      I wish it was that easy.  I told someone earlier today that this score is a direct result of my actions.

      I sold my blog three years ago, and undercut my fan support base.  I lost 5000 RSS subs. Then I pissed off the A-List in my stupid punk war and undercut my top-down base.  Then I got blackballed for a blog war and broke up my company, and alienated what was left.  Then I only blogged once a week for five months.  

      That AdAge score is a direct result of actions I took over the past three years. It’s a very sore spot for me.  I used to be a top ten PR/marketing blogger in the world.  I literally pissed it away, and I hate that. 

      • http://www.margieclayman.com Marjorie Clayman

        We never know what we got till it’s gone. It’ll come back. I have strong feelings about this!

  • http://jameshavingfun.com/ James Young

    You make some very good points, Geoff. I have always been partial to the notion that influence means you inspire action by others, and nothing more. If that is the case, then reach doesn’t matter. A person with a total community of 100 who can inspire 99 of those people to act a certain way is highly influential.

    Of course, because we’re humans and therefore competitive, the question of scope will always come up. Can that same 99% influential person replicate his influence when his community grows to 1000? Maybe the questions ought to be: does he want to influence the 1000? Is he more influential because he can only get 500 of the 1000 to act a certain way?

    I don’t know the answers when we start to demand that influential people be compared, despite their chosen scope of influence. I don’t know that we can know the answers.

    • geofflivingston

       I do think we overfocus on the individual.  We really act when we see multiple peers adapting an idea, product or service, then it becomes safe or interesting.  Action is very complicated.

  • http://www.3hatscommunications.com/blog/ davinabrewer

    I take breaks from this idea – but there’s no escape in some circles and I’ve got post after post drafted that touch on ye old influence debate.

    True influence – think that MMV b/c in the end, we’ll all end up defining it a little differently. Getting me to click or RT something isn’t showing influence  - unless it’s something w/ which I totally oppose and would ‘ruin’ by reputation or influence w/ my community, something I wouldn’t do. I think of influence as changing minds, moving ideas and mostly, driving action. Getting the buy in, getting me to commit my time, thought, resources and hard on money.

    Flipping through channels the other day, Suzanne Somers was on a talk show, pushing her latest book or diet or whatever. Her celebrity helped her get started, but then it was the books and diets and products that built a loyal following. I thought, she’s got more health/medical influence than many an M.D. – which is kinda scary. She can drive markets, make this fruit or that vitamin really sell; that is real influence no matter her social scores, or lack thereof. FWIW.

    • geofflivingston

       I agree, and a great example. I think social standing gets you a chance, a listen, but if the product, service, knowledge isn’t truly valuable or fulfills some sort of desire/need, it’s DOA.  Well said.

  • http://golfmarketingseminars.com/ Pia Kreisman

    The number of followers you have does not necessarily mean your influence. It does show the number of contacts or connections you have. To clarify, there is no best indicator of popularity and influence than an act of doing good for the greater benefit of all, e.g. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Albert Einstein and even Madonna.

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