Like a lot of people, I’m registered on both Klout and Peerindex, which both attempt to track my online influence in slightly different ways to give one overall score which can be compared to others in my areas of interest. And both offer rewards to people deemed influential enough to qualify – from Klout I took advantage of a cheap deal to finally order some Moo business cards, whilst Peerindex has qualified me for pre-release copies of Gods Without Men by Hanzi Kunru (Which I really enjoyed), and Tancredi by James Palumbo (An interesting book with also came accompanied by some Ministry of Sound headphones, as Palumbo is a co-founder)
Measuring influence or just tracking loyalty?
Both Klout and Peerindex require you to hook up various sources in order to calculate your influence – Klout includes Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Foursquare, Youtube, Instragram, Tumblr, Blogger, WordPress.com, Last.fm and Flickr.
Peerindex includes Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Quora, and in an important different, a small number of external RSS feeds for your website or blog, which then contributes to your score via rankings pulled from SEOMoz’s database.
Both are still fairly new and developing approaches to calculating influence, and I have no doubt both will become increasingly sophisticated, although there will always be differences between the abilities of algorithms, and the abilities of humans to judge someone’s influence in more subtle ways – the way they act, the clothes they wear, the way they look and speak, etc. As the comparison between television and radio appearances have shown, for instance with presidential debates, it’s not to say humans are necessarily more accurate – but different.
And I don’t know all the inner workings of either algorithm, but much like search engine optimisation, there are a small set of key things which are proven to work:
- Having a huge following.
- Sharing amazing content which gets lots of interaction.
- Sharing a lot of content all the time.
Assuming you’re not a massive celebrity already, the first one is possible but potentially unlikely if you want to get a really high score on either service. You could try paid services to fake it, and certainly your audience will grow organically over time, but unless you’re very lucky it’s not going to suddenly spike. So building your audience is a long haul approach.
The same is generally true with content – if you create something truly amazing and share it, things can suddenly get very big, but in general content is a medium to long-term strategy built on quality and consistency.
Which brings us to quantity – various people have look at how quantity changes your scores, and there’s plenty of evidence alongside the existence of it as an explicit activity metric in Peerindex.
And here’s where the loyalty card element comes in:
Supermarkets and social networks:
The basics of the supermarket loyalty card are pretty simple. You share your data on frequency of visits and what you have purchased with the retailer, and in return they give you some rewards in savings or additional offers. And they benefit by getting more accurate information regarding high value customers and stock levels, for example.
The hook with Klout and Peerindex is that you tend to receive awards if you reach a certain level of influence, which requires you to use specific networks. And as the quickest route to gaining influence, you’re encouraged to visit those places to constantly update your own content, and share that of others. The networks themselves can already access the data on who you are and what you do, but suddenly there’s an additional incentive for those who might not have been otherwise interested in utilising that particular network over another.
And at the same time agencies and companies who don’t want to spend time and effort figuring out influencers and building relationships can quickly and easily bung out a promotion which they know will in theory hit the people in an area who receive the most attention.
So what you end up with is an approved list of venues if you want to be noticed and rewarded. The danger is that it discourages you from committing to alternative sites, because there’s no promotional rewards. In Klout’s case, I can’t hook up my various blogs, so I’d probably benefit by writing this whole post on Facebook and Google +, whereas with Peerindex there are a number of networks not covered, but I do get recognition for 3 of my sites.
Only a couple of sites are covered by both, with Twitter being the biggest source factor due to the fact you can quickly and easily tweet a huge amount, or @reply automatically to appear extremely busy and potentially influential.
Empire Avenue: A third way?
There’s one other interesting horse in the race, which is the stock market gamified alternative of Empire Avenue, which allows humans to invest in each other as a method for showing influence. Again, there’s an approved list of networks to plug-in, and there’s also the option to hook in a number of RSS feeds. But what makes this different is that the game nature of it theoretically allows better judgements to be displayed via the human input, and also that it’s somewhat blurred by the desire of some people to simply become the highest game ranks rather than truly investing in those people they genuinely find interesting.
Again, it’s still early days, and it’s intriguingly different, but perhaps goes a little too far in the opposite direction.
The nature of influence has always had gatekeepers. Personally my influences are consciously and subconsciously selected, but the media has traditional lifted some to be seen as influential.
Automating this process and essentially codifying what it means can enable people to attempt to ‘game’ the system, but could also have far-reaching implications in terms of offline interactions when you combine it with smart phones, and facial recognition. Particularly if a bug or glitch could diminish your score and suddenly leave you as someone of the digital unwashed with barely any influence.
In my own work reaching out to people for PR and marketing, I use all 3 services augmented by a fair amount of legwork, but the temptation for a quick and simple answer for some businesses and agencies means that you may end up with fewer people willing to go the extra mile for accurate information, which is obviously a concern for me. And for bloggers etc who aren’t in the top ranks of what to some extent becomes a self-reinforcing list, particularly when absolutely no tracking system is ever completely accurate – whether that’s your website analytics or any social tracking service. There’s always a percentage of error, which humans aren’t seemingly built to remember and cope with in the preference of accepting numbers as certainties.
And one of the arguments for not worrying unduly about the dominance of Facebook or Twitter is that the cyclical nature of things suggests someone will come along at some point and replace them, just as has happened to businesses and industries throughout time. But the eligibility for ranking systems reinforces those selected as the only options.
So are you on Klout, Peerindex and Empire Avenue? Is it an accurate reflection of influence? Or is it just a very basic quantity measure for most of us? And have you been tempted to pump out content more often on the ‘approved’ networks, or try to game them?