Monday, June 20, 2011

Some Thoughts On Influence and +K

In everything I learn and read, I try to find ways to relate to other things I have learned or read. I call this association of things "connecting the dots," and while the term in and of itself may not be totally original, the practice it seems is far less common.

"Woe is me!"

+K is like Respect. You have to earn it.

When new tools come out in the social media space or in technology in general I always try to connect the dots from the online world to the real world. What do we do offline that we're mirroring with this new technology? In the real world, we assign influence to a person based on a widely-varied number of factors. They may have an impressive education, or be smart, or know "important people" (why that is in quotes is another blog post), or be a great singer, or they may have built something unique or written something thought-provoking. Regardless of why a person is assigned the label of "influential," it is something that other people have given them and not something that they necessarily commanded in and of themselves (aside from Kanye). Their position as an influential is something that has developed over time, through focused thought and endless toil. It is also built on their frequency of accuracy. You don't see too many influential scientists who are wrong all the time. Or who disregard the scientific method. In this way, I guess, influence is like what some people say of respect. To get it, you have to earn it.

This brings me to Klout's latest release, +K. Disregarding the chicken/egg question with Google's +1 (which came first?) I have to admit I was initially both put off and intrigued by the idea of people ranking each other using such an arbitrary system. But I realized after a chat with @bryanjones (holla on Twitter if you haven't already) that no only is assigning influence to a person relative to the assigner, but so is the medium with which they choose to make it known. What matters is the weight the person viewing the recommendation assigns to both the recommendation and the medium.

How does this work in real life?

For example, it may not matter much at all if I +K my aunt's (a professor of neuropsychology) profile on Klout. 1) I'm not in the field of neuropsychology so my opinion matters little there and 2) members of the field of neuropsychology may assign little if any value to a +K 3) She would probably have low numbers anyway because she only uses LinkedIn, so what good would my +K on any topic really do here?

 But let's say her field as a whole regularly used social media, and my aunt as a member of this field did too. Then, it is likely that they would put great thought into rewarding +K to another, so then it means something. Or maybe a better, real life example is, if her dissertation were cited in a neurogeek journal as inspiring a new theory or form of research, then that would be the kind of influence that matters, since it means something to her, the person citing her and the reader.

You've got issues.

I guess that's where +K loses me. For starters, no one's agreed that Klout is the standard of influence for anything, social media in particular. Sure, it's great that they're working on an algorithm, and especially great that they now add LinkedIn networks into the equation, but if we assign no value to a Klout score in the first place, who cares about a more fleeting +K?  They're still a for-profit company with active competitors like PeerIndex and Twitalyzer. They still have to find a way to make money from the data we give them with each +K. What will this turn into?

Also, don't we need a standard by which to measure? Especially if +K's are to be "social currency" (different than social capital? Yes. Way cheaper.) what value can we assign if there's no standard to hold them up against? Even the dollar had the gold standard at one point. Will we get to a point where we measure social net worth?

There's also the point of gaming the system. One of the comments on this post refers to "social media optimization" (what we at @bizzibiz also call it btw) and alludes to this opening the door to the potential for "black hat" practices on social media sites. I've already heard of people verbally asking for a +K. In and of itself that may not be a bad thing but if we are eventually using Klout to measure influence (I'm optimistic and hope they'll fix some of their more leering issues), how are we to know which +K's are authentic and which are bartered for something else, like a linkback? If I'm currently influential in soccer and food, what's to stop me from DMing a few of my tweeps to get a enough +K's to livetweet from the Gold Cup?

Despite my misgivens, I'm going to be toying with the +K feature this week, but don't worry, I'm being picky.
Oh and on an unrelated note: Check out this video!

Digital Life: Today & Tomorrow from Neo Labels on Vimeo.

Spiff over and out.

Have you used the +K feature of Klout? What influences you? (either IRL or online)
Share below!


Jamie Thompson said...

Evan, good post. I agree 100% re: what's the connection between real (physical) world and whatever someone is getting a high score for in the digital world. Seems to me that there's a huge disconnect.

BTW I found your blog because my company, Pongr, is looking for talented media, PR, marketing and social product people. I'd be interested in getting your thoughts on Pongr. My email is first name at pongr dot com.


Megan said...

Great thoughts, especially in analyzing how much influence really means. It means little if no one believes in Klout to begin with - and while social media experts may vote for people accordingly and with great thought, I don't think there's a good way to tell whose vote should matter and whose should not. It's an interesting concept in adding real relationships to determine influence, but it has some problems as well.

Evan E. Roberts said...

@Jamie - Thanks for the comment, I'll check out Pongr and let you know my thoughts soon. Hopefully you guys are doing well.

@Megan - I've given a few +Ks since writing this post, and I've talked to quite a few social media peeps who enjoy Perks and use the feature frequently. However even with the new algorithm update (I barely lost any points, unlike some) I think there are some factors that could and should hold more weight. I read a post today that asked how much a facebook user could drive their friends to action. That's a huge measure of influence that I don't think (maybe it is, haven't seen Klout's secret sauce) is being taken into account in their algorithm. Even if it were something like how many likes and/or comments they get from friends divided by their post frequency (maybe something more complex than that?), I think it would give a much better view of personal influence.