(Mis)Uses of Technology

by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
influence, numbers


Is Influence A Number... And Is It Based On Twitter?

from the hard-to-believe dept

There's been a lot of talk lately about figuring out who "influencers" are and a variety of services have sprung up to try to calculate just how influential a person is based on certain actions they do online -- usually specific to their Twitter of Facebook accounts. The three such services that seem to have received some attention of late are Klout, EmpireAvenue and PeerIndex, though there very well may be more. AdWeek recently wrote about how people's "Klout scores" are showing up on their resumes, and that people with high Klout scores are getting free stuff or getting preferential treatment from companies because of their influence.

I have to admit that the whole thing seems amusing to me, and in some sense, screams of a scam by users against companies. As long as you can convince them you're "influential" (whatever that means), you can get special treatment. Considering how frequently many companies have mistreated people, the idea that you can game a system (and most of these systems appear very gamable) and get special treatment has a bit of a poetic justice feel to it. But the whole thing also seems crazy, in the simple idea that just because you put a number on something, that it's then been "defined." There doesn't seem to be any clear way to make sure that any of these numbers actually mean anything, or actually have any real impact on "influence." Yet, because there's a number, it's considered important and accurate.

The other thing that makes me wonder about these sorts of things is that I don't use all of these different communications platforms the same way or for the same reasons. I use Facebook and Twitter was a method of communicating, not of influencing people. Yet if suddenly these random and arbitrary scores become important, do I start thinking differently about how I use these tools? Do I suddenly have incentives to get a lot more followers who will repeat what I say because it might increase my "influence" score? Personally, I don't care enough to do that, and it would probably ruin the benefits I get out of things like Facebook and Twitter, but it does make me wonder how attempts to define something that isn't really definable leads to a change in how those tools are used.

And, of course, the most damning point on all of these attempts to declare certain individuals as "influencers" is the research -- already a few years old -- that suggests the people who are declared as "influentials" may not really have that much influence. That is, people are most often influenced by people who they really know personally, rather than someone who is "famous" in some form or another. Now I do wonder if that's changing over time, and many people point out that Twitter and Facebook and the like often do make it feel like you get to "know" other people who you might not really know in real life, but it seems like in this rush to "grade" who is influential and who is not, we may have missed out on the fact that influence doesn't work like that...

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  • icon
    umccullough (profile), 25 May 2011 @ 4:03pm

    Ah damn..

    Guess I'm unpopular again (just like in high school)...

    I apparently don't have a twitter or facebook account. Guess I should go shoot myself.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Lauriel (profile), 25 May 2011 @ 4:19pm


    Not to mention that when you invest your ego into something like that you a) become an unmitigated ass, and b) are setting yourself up for a huge crash when the trends shift, which they inevitably do. Convincing yourself of something that is based entirely on perspective rather than reality doesn't usually end well.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Jarrett Streebin, 25 May 2011 @ 4:54pm

    More research required...

    I normally love the blog but this piece was pretty weak. What these companies are going at is who's "communicating" is most likely to be heard. This is a very valuable thing to index for almost anyone making money on the web. "The most damning piece" of your article is that people do have different degrees of influence and it's worth measuring.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Jeni (profile), 25 May 2011 @ 5:12pm

      Re: More research required...

      I think it's very interesting and very telling as to what kind of society we've become.

      If being or pretending to be an "expert" on something via FB or twitter gives someone an edge, we've got serious problems.

      Personally I don't like all the social networking.

      I only broke down and made a FB profile so I could keep in touch with my nieces since they all seem to live on that dang site... I do have to admit I find interesting news and such on it but I have no inclination to add my 2 cents everywhere and on everything to try to push myself off as some kind of "expert" or "influential".

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        proximity1, 26 Jun 2011 @ 10:43am

        Re: Re: More research required...

        Yep. Serious problems. Very serious problems.

        You are right and right for the "right" reasons. Yet, I can't help suspecting that your grasp of just how bad and serious are the troubles these indicators point to is far far short of the mark.

        In some very real senses, the troubles posed by the trend of these influence coefficients and their incredibly stupid abuse are exactly the problems which a high-tech society such as that of the U.S. deserves.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), 25 May 2011 @ 5:42pm

    Big Surprise

    But the whole thing also seems crazy, in the simple idea that just because you put a number on something, that it's then been "defined."

    Mike, when is the last time you worked for someone else? Many, if not most, companies are all about assigning arbitrary numbers to tasks, because it plugs into a spreadsheet easily. The worst is when they implement some kind of system that gets in the way of actually doing work (e.g., logging in and out of every task you deal with) in order to monitor how well you do your work.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 May 2011 @ 5:42pm

    Forget Klout, my Wuffie is through the roof!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Joe, 25 May 2011 @ 7:54pm

    I think people have a strong desire to quantify things, even in cases where it doesn't make sense. The problem is once you have a number, it can easily become a black box with no desire to look into it

    Wired did a brilliant article 2 years ago on financial mathematician David Li. He created a risk quantification algorithm that was quickly adopted by Wall Street without adequate testing, which unfortunately, had a big impact in the financial meltdown.


    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 May 2011 @ 12:01am

    Sweet, Link Power has been invented! Now if I can just get a Battle Wizard...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    G Thompson (profile), 26 May 2011 @ 1:38am

    Klout? I used to get klouted upside the back of the head as a kid when I got caught doing something I wasn't supposed to by Dad.

    Though looking at my klout score of 13/100, my new aim in life is to try to get this lower! ;)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Jeni (profile), 26 May 2011 @ 4:49am

    Facebook "Required"?

    From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

    "Editor's Note: You may comment on this story using your Facebook log-in. We are testing this new commenting system on selected articles in an effort to hold people more accountable for their comments. You may still comment on most other stories using your JSOnline user account. E-mail us at jsmetro@journalsentinel.com with your thoughts on this type of commenting."

    Crazy crap. I have seen the most horrendous comments on FB - how, pray tell, is using a FB log in on a localized site and telling the entire world where you've made a comment making anyone "more accountable"? Anyone know? Is FB Some kind of major authority in accountability now? Please.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Bryan O'Doyle, 26 May 2011 @ 7:54am

    Influence Peddling

    How does one estimate a handicap for the Klout score of a handful of ArtificialPersona Entities on Fcukbook?/Twitter?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Kasey Skala, 26 May 2011 @ 8:12am

    The problem is the same system that has given us a false sense of our worth and popularity is the same system we are trying to use to define influence. It's a scam that we need to continue to expose.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Jacqueline, 28 Jun 2011 @ 9:32am


    I get that this is shiny and new for now, and I get the premise behind it. I don't find it totally insipid. I don't consider myself to be too sheep-y when it comes to my consumerism, but I bought a purse once because Taylor Swift had it (granted, I liked the purse anyway, but that was what motivated me to purchase) and I've tried restaurants directly because I saw a tweet from a prominent local personality.

    But I made those purchases because it was my impression that they genuinely liked and recommended the product. The second I get a whiff of advertising, I'll probably freeze that out. Companies will be looking at Klout scores to determine who they can use to spread their message, and I will use Klout to determine how I can best ignore said message :) Twitter is fun, recommendations are useful. Advertisements are neither.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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