Posts Tagged ‘influencers’

Thoughts from Conversation with Klout CEO Joe Fernandez

Posted on: December 23rd, 2010 by Geoff Livingston 19 Comments

Ace Blogger Seth Godin doesn’t participate on Twitter, but has a Klout score of 70 in large part due to retweets and mentions. This phenomena typifies what Klout calls the Warren Buffet problem.

Yesterday, Read Write Web published the larger findings from the open interview with Klout CEO Joe Fernandez responding to criticisms published here. Publishing the larger post separately seemed important, a way to provide a larger portion of the industry information about the most pressing Klout questions. In addition to the discussion about evolving the algorithm and the ethics of Klout Perks in the Read Write Web piece, Mr. Fernandez covered several other points raised by critics.

One of the more interesting aspects was a discussion about gaming theory, which has been considered in the design of Klout. The interface, badges, classifications and the way it looks is important to encourage people with lower scores to develop more influence. In that vein, Klout sees its system as a way to encourage people to develop their online networking skills and become more influential.

Social games as a community activity have become a huge web activity online, and is drawing more attention in the marketing space. This is a topic worth further consideration.

Generally, the whole Peter Shankman party issue arose as a result of this rather troublesome press release. While Klout has an informal relationship with Shankman, Mr. Fernandez did say the release was not vetted by Klout, and could have been toned differently with less elitism.

The party itself was an experiment to see what the algorithm could put together, and by accounts of attendees, it wasn’t the usual group of folks in the rooms. Attendee David Spinks said it was an enjoyable affair, and Mr. Fernandez said the experiment may or may not be repeated.

Also, by simply participating in the open call, Mr. Fernandez resolved the point about Klout not responding to criticism. Further, he took some tough questions, and should be commended for openly facing criticism with a kind attitude.

General Perceptions of Klout Moving Forward

Klout certainly has its hands full. That became crystal clear. Perhaps Mr. Fernandez said it best when he said the very word influence is a lightening rod, and Klout’s algorithmic approach to determining it will always attract debate.

As to the algorithm itself, it will clearly evolve. Klout is actively weighing the strengths and weaknesses of its system. It’s well marketed at this point, and as a result, has an opportunity to become the top influencer measurement.

Why? Because no matter what, businesses and nonprofits will seek an easy way to determine influence, and as Klout evolves it may have the best answer. Klout still has flaws that admittedly need to be overcome, but that’s the truth.

Klout’s definition of measuring actions differs greatly from industry definitions of actions (donations, sales, etc.). Because data about these types of actions are not readily available to the industry by companies and nonprofits, participation data is what’s left.

It’s hard to sign off on quantitative metrics that focus on participation. The current output of this participation data still produces questionable results. But the commitment to diversify and scale to meet 20 disparate sources of social data (see Read Write Web piece) is more compelling than a simple solution like Twitter Grader or a blog solution like PostRank.

And so, if Klout successfully evolves per Mr. Fernandez’s remarks, it would be foolhardy for a professional not to give Klout the respect it deserves. For better or for worse, it looks like the leader at this point. And the business and nonprofit marketplaces want a solution to at least begin cultivating “influencers.” Whether that’s the right approach is another matter altogether.

Journalism Skills for Everyone

Posted on: November 26th, 2010 by Geoff Livingston 17 Comments

The New York Times Building

When information sources become fractured and degraded, people break into smaller polarized groups, each supporting their own group think. In many cases, people can become easily swayed by those they trust in their social networks (on and off line).

Information from “influencers” may be accurate and create great actionable results. Other times, it may be spoiled by an increasingly deplorable lack of ethics (everybody get their Klout Perks yet?), faulty opinions and hypocrisy.

The transition to the new socialized era of information consumption creates great questions about what is factual and accurate. And while some assume that digital natives will be increasingly skeptical of the information they are consuming, research demonstrates that in fact, generation Yers have superficial information-seeking and analysis skills.

A Democratic society is as strong as the education systems that serve it, and if education systems cannot help the young delineate quality information, then that skill set must come from elsewhere or reform must occur. Or society can devolve. Perhaps the correct answer is to replace the media with more distributed journalism skills, providing them to everyone as part of their upbringing or their 21st century education. Questioning information would become the norm, not the exception.

The Destruction of Quality Information

Andrew Keen was decried for blasting the blogosphere and the social web in the book Cult of the Amateur. He stated the loss of journalistic quality caused by new media coupled with the rise of opinion based information from amateurs would rend the fabric of contemporary society.

Four years and one recession later, even folks like Ted Koppel are decrying the end of news as we know it. Glenn Beck, Keith Olberman, the destruction of MSNBC as a journalist organization, the widespread shrinking of newspapers and news staffs, and the folding of other papers have greatly hurt information quality.

Not that the news was perfect, a far cry from it, actually. But now there are even less quality journalists, and worse, news outlets have become even more sensational in an effort to retain audiences. Follow Jay Rosen’s Press Think blog, and see how the media continues to deteriorate and what can be done.

Online, there are great bloggers and sources of information that have risen to fill the gap. Newspapers and national broadcast outlets don’t employ many environmental reporters anymore. Consider Dr. Joseph Rohm’s award winning Climate Progress blog a one of the blogs that have filled the gap. Also with more distributed news sources, investigative reporting has evolved. The demonstrative citizen and blogger coverage of the oil spill last spring showed a Fifth Estate in action, holding the traditional media, BP and even the Obama Administration accountable.

At the same time, there are poorer sources of “truth.” Influence measures like Klout and self-appointed blogger influencers have successfully taken a significant portion of mindshare. Social networks and entire idea markets follow their lead blindly as sources of quality information. In some cases, this has given rise to questionable leadership enforced with punitive measures and in the worst cases, flash mobs.

The new information landscape creates the need for people to better discern the information they see. Otherwise, society will deteriorate into some quality networks and in the worst cases, ignorant mobs. Polarization and increased mindlessness will be the continuing trend unless a shift in focus towards asking more skepticism occurs, in turn creating a demand for higher quality information. On to the addition of widespread journalism skills.

The Five Ws of Journalism

What journalism teaches prospective storytellers to do is gather information and provide a complete investigative report. Many reporters are taught to be inherently skeptical, and to not accept what they are told at face value. Since the degradation of quality information in the news media, increasingly reporters don’t do the complete job, but the principles are still the same.

The five Ws (and H) of journalism represent the critical core of story research. In essence, these questions ask:

  • Who was involved?
  • What happened (what’s the story)?
  • Where did it take place?
  • When did it take place?
  • Why did it happen?
  • How did it happen?

These questions represent the basics. While asking them wouldn’t stop people from believing false information or following those they believe because of loyalty to relationships, they represent a start.

Just teaching our internet citizens to instinctually ask questions when they consume online information would make great strides towards better comprehension of data… and freely offered opinions and the source of information. In addition, regardless of source, questioning whether or not the opinion was backed by facts and substantiated reports needs to increase.

What else can be done to help the current and next generation better delineate quality information?

The History of Influencer Theory on the Social Web

Posted on: July 6th, 2010 by Geoff Livingston 6 Comments

A Packed Room

This weekend’s F@st Company The Influence Project gaff sparked a great discussion about influence. It’s a fascinating conversation because influence means so much to all of us online. Successful online word of mouth or grassroots marketing usually requires community influencers embracing and spreading the message.

The discussion about what influence really is has been ongoing since the social web first began. Eight years ago, Malcolm Gladwell’s the Tipping Point (2002), served as a great starting place to discuss influencers. We talked about Connectors, Mavens and Salesmen.

Yahoo’s Duncan Watts had a well-discussed counterpoint to Gladwell in F@st Company (woops) a couple of years ago dismissing “The Law of the Few

…in the large majority of cases, the cascade began with an average Joe (although in cases where an Influential touched off the trend, it spread much further). To stack the deck in favor of Influentials, Watts changed the simulation, making them 10 times more connected… But the rank-and-file citizen was still far more likely to start a contagion.

We’ve seen other critical books come out discussing the influencer, and in particular their online role:

There are those who swear influencers can be limited to a much smaller group, Dunbar’s number, roughly 150 people (the concept was first proposed by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar). Dunbar’s theory acknowledges a cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. These are relationships in which an individual knows who each person is, and how each person relates to every other person.

So who’s right? Where’s influence, the uber-connected one percenter, trust agent, free agent? Or the person who lights the spark within his/her community of 150? Well, both are. Many A-List influencers (and even traditional journalists) won’t notice an idea until lesser, yet influential peers write about it. This “Magic Middle” tier of influencers — as David Sifry dubbed them in 2006 — often break stories, which trickle up until a “Connector” discovers the story.

At the same time, what starts as an ember turns into a raging inferno once the major influencers starts magnifying a larger story. The Groundswell as Charlene Li called it (2008) begins in earnest.

My personal experience is that many times you have to tickle an idea or story up the grapevine into the major A-listers, who are often late to embrace a story. However, once they do write something up there is great potential for word of mouth to occur via their trusting communities, either through traditional media or further social media conversations.

You really don’t know what’s going to go “viral,” but you do know that you need to talk to the few and the passionate — your influencers, often leaders in the community. A social media groundswell takes time as opposed to a flash flood of media hits. For organizational social media, this means building credible relationships with contacts that have the right people in their network, not necessarily the most people. And then if their community believes it, well, things can happen.