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Sorry, you are not as influential as the Internet told you

Don't believe the hype t-shirtA wise man once taught me there are just two rules in business: (1) only work with people you like and (2) never believe your own hype. And that’s not as easy as it sounds. Working with 100% nice people and remaining grounded can be tricky amidst the hyperbole that often permeates the marketing profession.

But there’s a new kid in town who’s making it harder than ever to stay grounded. Growing numbers of ordinary people I meet are being duped into believing they have more influence and power than they really hold. Thanks to services like Klout, PeerIndex and Empire Avenue, a rising tide of social media users  are discovering that their online behaviour and influence are  being surreptitiously tracked and measured.

Out of this monitoring comes a headline ‘Influence Score’, a comforting number that neatly encapsulates everything about your online persona into a couple of digits. That, in itself, is innocuous enough; the problem really begins when you allow “The Number” to seduce you, eventually driving you to perform unnatural acts in order to keep “The Number” happy.

Battery low power imageScott Cowley at BrightOak labels it “Shiny Algorithm Syndrome”, while others call them “egometrics”. There’s one thing we can all agree on: measuring influence is art, not science, and numbers alone can never explain anything as complex as a human being’s influence in the real world. And your online influence score will almost never match up with your real world influence score, if there ever were such a thing.

I’ve recently been inundated with emails from Empire Avenue, a virtual stock exchange for narcissists—my description, not theirs—that I tested when it first launched and have dabbled with since.  It turns out that dozens of the site’s users have started “investing” in me, exchanging virtual currency (sometimes, worryingly, bought with real currency) to buy a conceptual stake in Allister Frost Online Persona Plc. And as my stock price rises accordingly, more people pour in to grab their slice of the action.

RhubarbI have absolutely no idea what value this Empire Avenue activity serves out here in the real world. Spending time massaging your ego by boosting your “share price” and that of others seems like the social media equivalent of buying virtual fertiliser to feed imaginary rhubarb on a farm that exists in cyberspace. It’s absurd*.

And yet these same web tools, in sensible hands, might ultimately serve some useful purpose for those of us in the marketing industry. While absolute influence levels can never be measured by computer, Klout is experimenting well with its nascent Rewards programme while PeerIndex is doing interesting things helping brand managers identify and connect with “key influencers”. Savvy marketers may be able to extract value from these services if they can successfully correlate their existing customer data with that of their egometric of choice.

Just don’t fall into the trap of taking the data at face value.

So, stop worrying about growing your Klout/PeerIndex/Any-Other-Egometric score and start thinking about how you can connect with those consumers who would value having an online conversation with your brand today. Anything else could prove to be a spectacular waste of your time.

* Or maybe it’s not. If you know differently please let me know Winking smile

Image credit: Don’t believe the hype t-shirt available from http://www.spreadshirt.co.uk/.

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