Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
June 28, 2011 9:03 AM

The New Media Pecking Order

There's a new measurement in town, and it's all about how relevant and influential you are - as an individual.

This past Sunday, the New York Times' Sunday Review ran an opinion piece called, Got Twitter, You've Been Scored, by Stephanie Rosenbloom that looked at the emerging trend of brands using social media analytics platforms like Klout, PeerIndex and Twitter Grader to see how "influential" individuals are. The output of this social media meets popularity contest has many people's panties in a knot. "It seems so unfair that certain individuals are being offered free upgrades in hotels or free promotional flights just because they have a lot of Twitter followers"... That's the growing concern you'll hear from those who don't have a significant following on Twitter (the ones that do, don't seem to be complaining too much about all of this new-found attention while they're being fawned over). It may sound snarky, but it's true.   

It's always about the numbers. It always has been. 

Here's some framework for you: I spent close to 15 years in the music industry. Along with that, I spend more time than I care to admit on airplanes. Those worlds never collided... until recently. Like most people, I buy a cheaper flight and if things need to be changed, I approach the customer service staff at the gate with a smile and hope that I won't be charged the price of a small condo in Florida to make a flight change. I've had mixed results. Sometimes, the staff will take pity on me, but more often than not, I'm told that my flight fare doesn't offer me the luxury of changing. Recently, I was traveling with a well known singer from a rock band (we're still friends). We got to the airport and realized that there was an earlier flight. I approached the gate and asked for a flight change: no luck. The singer approach the gate and the two attendants lit up and changed both of our flights with a smile (and upgrade).

Newsflash: the world is one big pecking order. 

My friend - the rock star - travels infrequently by plane. I'm a loyal customer of the airline. It doesn't seem fair and it doesn't make sense. C'est la vie. Klout, PeerIndex, Twitter Grader and others simply bring to light something we've all known for a very long time: it's always been about the numbers and who we all - individually - influence... now we're just starting to see where we all sit. Pushing this further, if everyone has their own media channel (because of our own, individual Twitter feeds, Facebook friends, personal Blogs, etc...) that are published for the world to see, why shouldn't they be subject to the same public rating systems and reviews that traditional media channels have to endure?

It's actually quite humbling.

Advertising Age has a digital platform called, Power 150, that ranks all of the marketing blogs in the world. On any given day, I'll rank somewhere between #20 to #30. Is it perfectly accurate? Who knows. It's humbling to know that I rank so highly, but even more humbling to know how far I have to go to crack the top 10. I can think that my blog is as good as they come for marketers, but the public nature of my ranking is both a slap in the face and a pat on the back depending on my level of humility and how I'm feeling on any given day. And yes, the same can be said for your Twitter account and how many people (or which people) like your brand on Facebook.

Whether we like these new tools of measuring influence or even if we grapple with the true definition of what an influencer is, this is going to be an increasingly powerful way for brands and individuals to better understand who they're connected to and what those groups of people do.

The above posting is my just-launched/twice-monthly column for The Huffington Post called, Media Hacker. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original version online here:

By Mitch Joel


Comments Comments Feed
  • Posted by Bas Helderman
    Mitch Joel

    Hi Mitch,

    It's sad to have to acknowledge that people just look at numbers.

    However, I honestly don't see a bright future for "social" influence like the number of followers on Twitter. People that use their Twitter-account as a follow farm or have a great Tribler-network will wash out. The investment of making them promote anything won't deliver.

    Secondly, we're reaching the end of the hype. People and companies alike will start using these new tools like they're supposed to. As real life (and real time) communication tools. Friends will be friends and not uncommon strangers.

    In the end, real influencers stay influencers. Popstars always have impact when they promote something. The channel they use is of no importance.

    Reply
    • I'm hoping we do shift away from the amount of followers and towards a model that focuses on who is following a brand and what that means. It's harder work, which makes me skeptical about our ability to transition there in short order.

      Reply
  • Posted by Johann Thorsson
    Mitch Joel

    Hi Mitch,

    Great post. As someone who runs two Twitter accounts (personal and company) I totally agree with you about it being all about the numbers.

    And if it is any consolation, I've come across a number of marketing blogs/sites and this is one of the few I check regularly.

    Reply
  • Posted by Kami Huyse
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch;

    I totally agree with you. Before this latest run, the influence measure was Technorati and PageRank, before that it was bring the administrator of huge a huge list serve. Before computers it was politicians, musicians and movie stars (It still is those people by a mile, BTW). Microfame is an interesting animal.

    However, let me frame why I see the current trend as a problem for brands. From a brand perspective, and I work with a lot of them, the problem with these scores is that they have to be gut checked. Here is what I mean. If the airline you usually fly just looks at you as a coach class flier, and not at your influence in getting the word out about them (negative or positive) they have not understood you real influence.

    In the same way, scores like Klout, PeerIndex and even the AdAge 150 are not accurate barometers of true influence. They may give an idea, but there still is more work to be done to get the true picture. For instance, if you check his Klout right now, marketing and nonprofit blogger Danny Brown is influential in "Sheep." It turns out he wrote a pretty influential article about how some popular bloggers will be criticized by the "sheep" (their readers).

    If I am the agriculture association of america looking for people influential in various agricultural topics using Klout, Danny might make my list. If I send him some kind of perk (udder cream?) or pitch, I now look like an idiot.

    The problem with brands (and their agencies) using these mechanisms without also researching the community is that they risk becoming ineffective at driving actions, or at least the kind of actions they want (brand loyalty) vs. those they don't (brand mutiny).

    Reply
    • Numbers are never indicative of sentiment and true value of an individual. I think the big difference here and now is that some of these measuring tools do offer more optics into what makes an individual tick. Like I said, it's not perfect and it still requires work from the brand. Ultimately, if the brand is using this info to then mass spam, they're missing the point. In your case, you'll have to dig a little deeper before offering Danny some sheep goodness ;)

      Reply
    • Posted by Reiner Bruns
      Mitch Joel

      Thank you both, Mitch for the great post and Kami for her great comment! I'm reading up on the whole social scoring (controversy) and your contributions have helped me to get a better view on things.

      I hope that in these metrics will be taken with a grain of salt by those who need them to make decisions. Comparing these metrics to PageRank, it must be clear that algorithms can and will be played.

      Mark Schaefer writes about social influence in his post "On Twitter nobody hears you scream" and I think he is right. Real influence comes from trust generated through real, deep relationships. I trust mark and therefore he can influence me. I hope that brands come to understand that true influence isn't about numbers only.

      Reply
      • For me, it's not about the exact numbers in as much as it is about where individuals rank on the overall platform. I don't need to know how many points ahead Gary Vaynerchuk is from me, just that he has more influence, connections, etc... (however we chose to define those words).

        Reply
  • Posted by Jason Cecabin
    Mitch Joel

    Hey Mitch,

    Thanks for the interesting write up. I have recently started a twitter account for my company. At first, my goal was to get as many followers as possible. After i got over the 100 follower mark, i realized that this did not help my business at all. The people that I got to follow me were not really placing orders or even providing any type of insight. I now interact with and follow (and hopefully they follow back) companies that are in my field of expertise or fields i am trying to get into.
    Hopefully this strategy will lead to increased business...

    Reply
  • Posted by Al Pittampalli
    Mitch Joel

    It's the old expression, you can't manage what you don't measure. That doesn't mean, numbers are the end all be all, not at all. But it's useful that have a quantitative way to think about influence and social capital.

    Reply
  • Hi Mitch

    You know me the number crunching skeptic. The influence thing drives me nuts obviously. But the Tweet Volume per day still says we have 30-35mil active Tweeters using the network world wide per day. That is not a lot for Brands to think people have Influence like Klout wants them to feel. Today I blogged showing how tweets from 2 accounts: Mashable with 2.3mil followers had retweets of only 17 and 40 on two posts. And woman with 100k followers and a 77 Klout offered a Free Guy Kawasaki Webinar was retweeted 3 times. I know content is important.

    But I have decided influence has nothing to do with tweets and sharing. It is clicking. I bet the Mashable posts had thousands of click throughs. But if influence is based on sharing they have no influence in my opinion.

    But my point is with 99.9% of our communications technically private (text, email, phone, Facebook, skype, in person etc) often what is visible isn't frank and truthful. I might say I don't like Mitch Joel on Twitter. But what would I say to a friend over beers? Of the henry Blodgett way of publically being positive and privately being negative. I see lots of risk and downside here. But it's early. Lets see how it unfolds.

    Cheers

    Reply
  • Posted by Emmanuel
    Mitch Joel

    So well written and appropriate for our present situation. Thanks for making the point so clearly.

    Best!

    Reply
  • Mitch, I'm really pleased to see this very rational approach. So much of this debate is getting caught in the emotion of being rated in a very public way. AdAge is different. It's a blog, not an individual score. When it gets personal, it gets emotional. But you're right -- we have to veiw this as the way the world is going and relate to is dispassionately and professionally. Excellent post!

    Reply
  • Posted by Ernest B
    Mitch Joel

    Interesting topic... even though most social savvy marketers will say that WHO is more important then HOW MANY, it still comes down to human nature of pitting one number against another.

    These measures of influence are themselves influenced by pop culture and pure demographics of certain channels.

    It's also amazing to consider how someone like Snooki (for example) has an unbelievable "influence" advantage over a Nobel winning novelist Toni Morrison, as illustrated in a recent faux pas by the Rutgers University.

    Like it or not, popularity breeds influence... whatever that may bring us.

    Reply
    • Influence is not only a game of numbers and it's also not a moral high-ground. Knowing who you consumer is instead of how many is another metric on top of influence, etc...

      Reply
      • Posted by Ernest B
        Mitch Joel

        Thanks for the reply!

        I would argue that influence is relative... and depends on the context of what exactly we're looking at. Someone who is a straight razor expert (recent mania of mine), would hold little water to someone like yourself universally... however, within the straight razor community, they would have a much higher impact on decisions being made.

        It'll be interesting to see when the next generation of measurement tools come out... if they will focus more on "context of influence".

        Cheers!

        Ernest.

        Reply
  • Posted by Beth Harte
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch,

    This post really saddens me.

    And, unfortunately, I think you have made your beginning statements of your TEDxConcordia Talk (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xh0obyhZPM8) come true.

    With this type of narcissism and number counting, the social web won't be so 'social' in the future because everyone will be out seeking influence and to be at the top of the pecking order.

    With all of that climbing over people who has time to be social?!

    History has already shown us what happens when things become top heavy.

    As for businesses who use social or any other kind of media, the only "pecking order" that matters is the one their customers give them. And the reality of that is it's not an online gauge. ;-)

    Cheers,
    Beth Harte
    @bethharte

    Reply
    • I often wonder is being social is a part of this "game" as it unfolds. We go to a party and we hope that our friends will accept us for who we are... it's common. Now, these social centers are happening online and the output of them is that it is being analyzed and ranked (either by the platform or by a third-party).

      Perhaps the answer comes in a re-definition of the words "publishing" and "broadcasting." I beginning to wonder if a Facebook status update really is published and broadcasted content instead of what it truly is.

      Reply
      • Posted by Beth Harte
        Mitch Joel

        And that would be... A cry for attention? ;-)

        Agree, these scoring sites are looking at interactions from a traditional publishing, broadcasting and PR (i.e. who's the gatekeeper with the influence) perspective. I don't believe there are any models available that are truly capturing what is going on socially.

        You might enjoy this article from Wharton on WOM and true influence.

        http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article.cfm?articleid=2170

        As the research shows, it's the quiet ones we all need to look out for, not the flashy rock stars. ;-)

        Reply
        • Mitch Joel

          "As the research shows, it's the quiet ones we all need to look out for, not the flashy rock stars." Beth, that reminds me of a slide I once saw at an early WOMMA conference. I've never forgotten it and have often used it to demonstrate our misperceptions about what makes someone "influential."

          At the top of the slide, there was a question, "WHO IS THE MOST INFLUENTIAL PERSON?" Beneath the question was a photo featuring the typical people who inhabit the modern-day office:

          * The Type A sales guy
          * The cool and steady senior executive
          * The quiet admin
          * The serious lawyer
          * The young hotshot marketing wiz
          * The IT geek
          * Et al.

          Most people assumed the most influential person was either the cool and steady senior executive or the Type A sales guy. Both looked the part -- $1000 suit, sleek tie, slick hair, etc.

          The answer? The quiet admin.

          This shocked a lot of people. But in hindsight, it makes sense.

          * Who makes all the referrals to restaurants, hotels, and other area attractions to out-of-town visitors?
          * Who has worked at the company for 25 years and knows where the bones are buried?
          * Who makes sure you get 15 minutes of the CEO's time when his schedule is booked solid for six weeks in a row?
          * Who knows whose budget can be tapped for emergency funding?
          * Who knows where to get a decent pen?

          The point was similar to the one you made. It's the quiet ones who are most influential, not the most flashy or loudest.

          At your service,
          Michael

          Reply
    • Posted by Marc Meyer
      Mitch Joel

      I agree Beth, and sadly let's not forget that the whole things can be gamed...

      Reply
  • Posted by Jen Zingsheim
    Mitch Joel

    I'm in line with Kami's, Beth Harte's and Mark Schaefer's comments. Beyond the question of what is true influence--which is a very important and valid point--I wonder about the real efficacy of these perks.

    For instance, if Twitter is used by 8% of Americans, and of those on Twitter, around 200,000 generate more than half of the content (http://www.socialtrakr.com/2011/03/29/twitter-dominated-by-minority-of-0-05-users-producing-50-tweets/ ) how many people are there really to assign a number to? And of those with "good" influence scores, how many of them are going to be truly relevant to a specific brand? Of *those* how many followers are going to see and act on the information?

    This feels like a thin pie slice of a thin pie slice to me, and I'm not entirely convinced it's going to be worth the effort and expense in the long run. I suppose any new medium is going to have to go through the pain points of guess-work-y type metrics. I get concerned when metrics that have obvious and identifiable flaws become the standard--that's exactly how we ended up with crap like AVEs, which are still in place and asked for not because they have any relevance at all, but simply because they were allowed to become a nonsensical standard.

    Reply
  • Posted by Rebecca Denison
    Mitch Joel

    As much as we'd all like to avoid being assigned a number, I must admit that you're right (kind of). To some extent, we will all be scored and ranked throughout our (social) lives for countless reasons. Influence can be ranked. I still do not like Klout and the like giving a number based mostly on my Twitter activities, but that's beside the point.

    What I think you have to consider, though, is true influence is contextual. If you and said rock star walked up to my counter, I likely would treat you the same as the next guy (I'm not hip, I wouldn't know he's cool). You just so happened to find someone for whom he was influential. If you walked up with someone I do know or think is a celebrity (Hello! Brad Pitt!!), then I'd react the same way the two ladies in your story did.

    And no matter how well an algorithm works, it can never truly measure contextual or situational influence. Same can be said for the ratings systems used for traditional media outlets. Just because FOX may have the most viewers of anyone isn't going to influence me to watch if I personally hate their programs.

    Numbers will never account for context. Period.

    Reply
  • Posted by Spill
    Mitch Joel

    Numbers do speak for itself..no matter how you spend your time on and off the lights..its always the result they're after..

    Reply
  • Posted by Chris Parente
    Mitch Joel

    This is one of those "kinda" situations. Is the public persona of a person important? Sure it is. Does that mean it's enough of a metric to define success? No.

    Very good article in Fast Company about how consumer brands are chasing influencers, using those kinds of metrics, yet have no metrics in place to determine if the campaign actually sold something. And they don't care!

    Just wrote a post on this, if a link is cool: http://cparente.wordpress.com/2011/06/30/no-need-for-roi-where-do-i-sign/

    Reply
  • Posted by Maria
    Maria

    No matter how much we like to think about "social" as a perfect organic mechanism, it is going to change into a more SEO-like science where measurements and empiri are going to be huge factors.

    Reply
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