Tuesday, March 18, 2014

How Influential Are You? Measure It!

Source: Bernard Marr
It's simple, influence matters. It matters in your job and your private life. In fact, influence is part of every human interaction. Just think of parents influencing their children, political or religious leaders influencing their followers, CEOs influencing employees, sales people influencing customers, friends influencing each other and the list goes on...
Influential people have an edge over others who are not influential because with influence comes the ability to make others listen to what you have to say. Influence gives people the power to change beliefs and drive actions and behaviours in others and this is important in all aspects of life, whether you are a CEO of a global company, a sales rep, a football coach or someone that is simply trying to get friends to do or believe something.
So what makes us influential then? Whether anyone is seen as influential or not depends on a number of factors including:
  • Do we trust and like the person?
  • Is the person authoritative and respected?
  • Will being influenced by the person help us be more successful?
  • Etc.
The 10,000 Dollar question now is: How do we know whether we have this influential power or not? It's tricky because it is not always the charismatic and extroverted leaders that are the biggest influencers. Wouldn't it be great if we could measure how influential we actually are and maybe compare scores to see who is more or less influential in your company, among your friends or in your industry? The good news is that you can.
One way to measure and quantify your influence is by tracking your influence in social media. We all know that the way we interact with friends, customers or employees is rapidly changing. We use tools such as Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn to share opinions and ideas, we 'like' people's posts, re-tweet status up-dates and recommend or endorse others on LinkedIn. The beauty with social media is that we can use all of this to calculate how influential someone is.
You might think that's not for me. Why should I care about my online influence? The reason why it matters is that companies are now using social media influence scores to recruit, promote or performance manage employees. Other companies use social media influence scores to put customers into certain categories that might mean you get preferential treatment or perks if you are particularly influential.
It is my job to help companies find the right data and measures that help them make better informed decisions about key business questions. And increasingly I put social media influence scores into the equation to help answer questions like:
  • Who are our most valuable customers?
  • How do I select the best sales person for my company?
  • Which PR person should best represent our business?
  • Where should I focus my lobbying activities?
  • How do I prioritise customers in my call centre queue?
  • Etc.
There are a number of different social media influence metrics out there but the Klout score seems to have an edge over others. Klout is the self-proclaimed standard for measuring social media influence. It uses social media analytics from TwitterFacebookGoogle+,LinkedInFoursquareWikipedia, and Instagram to generate a score between 1 and 100. Klout defines influence as "the ability to drive action". On their website they state that "When you share something on social media or in real life and people respond, that’s influence. The more influential you are, the higher your Klout Score." For example, US president Barack Obama has currently got a Klout score of 99 and Justin Bieber's Klout score is 92.
The problem with any such metric is that it is not perfect and will never be a complete representation of someone's actual influence. For example, prior to some recent algorithm changes, Justin Bieber and other celebrities had more 'Klout' than President Obama. Or as another example: I am one of LinkedIn's original influencers and regularly write posts that get hundreds of thousand reads and thousands of comments, however, the Klout algorithm does not yet take that into account. Of course, like all measures Klout is only as good as the information is it based on. At the same time Klout is working hard to constantly evolve theunderpinning algorithm to make the score more representative of the actual level of influence. I am fascinated by watching the evolution of these new types of metrics.
Let me share with you some real life examples of how some of my customers are now using the Klout score:
  • One of my clients is a fashion retail business that particularly targets teenagers with trendy clothes. This particular retailer has always tried to recruit the most popular teenagers to work in their shop because they know that they will bring in a lot of customers.In the past they had to guess how 'influential' or popular particular candidates are based on what they wrote in their application form or what they said in the interviews. Today, the retailer is using Klout to narrow down the applicants.
  • One of my telecom customers is now using the Klout score (among other measures) to build up a better image of who their customers are. For example, a recent analysis identified that 'influential' customers are more likely to churn and that if they do decide to leave for a competitor many in their network will do the same. This information is very valuable because it allows the company to focus on the customers that are more likely to leave and take actions to prevent this.
  • One of my car manufacturer clients is now using the Klout score to automatically customise the user experience of their corporate Facebook page.
So here are the issues. Klout is a great way to quantify and score your level of influence. At the same time it is not (and never will be) perfect. In the absence of anything better it is a good way of shining some light on someone's influence and many of my customers do so. However, I also see some alarm bells going off in my head when I think of how this sort of measure could be used in the future. If companies are now using the Klout score as a way to recruit new people or assess the effectiveness of sales staff, and if companies use the Klout score to differentiate customer service then I am also getting worried. Will people with a higher influence score get preferential treatments? Will this encourage people to play a game and find ways to artificially 'boost' their score? Are influence scores good or bad for society? Do you see it as just another way to get more transparency and data-driven insights or do you see it as dangerous and misleading? Please let me know what you think!