Influence is irrelevant

This entry was posted by on Wednesday, 9 January, 2013 at

jro_kloutThat got your attention, didn’t it? Last month I called 2013 the Year of Influence and shared Brian Solis’ interview of Klout founder/CEO Joe Fernandez where they spoke about the future of Klout as a tool for influence measurement. Contrary to the title of this current post, I still believe 2013 will be the year of influence for content marketers and social businesses on a large scale. But, let me tell you why I think it is also irrelevant to some of us:

In social business, the common belief is that measuring a person’s influence on social networks is the key to showing value; that influence is THE metric to use to show value and success. That is to say: is it accurate that if I have a higher influence score then I am obviously more successful in social business? Many people have been scurrying to quantify this as part of their efforts to define ROI. You’ve even heard me use the word when speaking about other aspects of social business and how being and influencer and working with other influencers are key parts to creating results.

While I’ve been cautiously skeptical about companies purporting to be able to define this soft concept in quantifiable numbers, I did buy in to the idea that influence is one of the keys to show value beyond simple click-through or follower metrics. I’m no longer so sure. From a strictly sales or marketing organization perspective that may indeed still be the case; but I don’t work in sales, I work in the support organization where our mission is different and our value is most often seen after the sale.

From a support delivery perspective, as a client what you want from me isn’t my opinion nor my ability to influence you to my ideologies; what you want (and need) is my tacit knowledge and skills to solve existing technical problems. As a client/customer your interaction with us has nothing to do with our level of influence, instead it is wholly focused on your trust in our expertise and capabilities; two items which activity measuring services like Klout, Kred, Crowdbooster, or PeerIndex can’t touch on… at least not yet.

Tom Webster at BrandSavant.com notes in a prior blog post:

“… These are the three appeals:

  • Ethos, the argument from the author’s credibility;
  • Pathos, an appeal to the emotions of the audience;
  • Logos, or an appeal to the audience’s sense of logic and reason.

Writers who skillfully weave Ethos, Pathos and Logos stand the best chance of swaying their audience to change their state. I believe that what “influence measures” are working towards is this: a quantification of Ethos. They aren’t there yet, but they are iterating rapidly. And I can buy a Klout score as a representation of Ethos, especially if they would finally get around to applying these scores to individual topics. But Ethos alone is insufficient. What all of these scores fail to measure–indeed, cannot measure–is the effect of the message itself… “

Taking Tom’s ideas into account, we can still use the Rhetoric concepts of Ethos, Pathos, and Logos to help our efforts in quantifying value within the support realm but outside of the concept of influence.

  • Ethos= perceived trust and identified skill.
  • Logos= quality of interactions and historic interaction/observation
  • Pathos… There is less of an emotional need in support, as logic and reason are ingrained in our technical content used to answer questions or solve issues. But what this does touch on is the sense our clients get from our interactions which may help them be more inclined to contact us sooner when an issue is encountered, or conversely may cause them to use us only as a last resort. Call this approach-ability, friendliness, or personality.

So, let me try to define a new way of looking at this:

Value for a social business support account = perceived trust + identified skill + historic interaction/observation + quality of interactions + responsiveness + approach-ability.
Or, put more simply: value = ethos + logos + pathos

But it goes beyond that. You can see here, what we need from these measurement tools is not a quantification of influence. Rather, we need thought leadership or digital eminence quantified: a person/account which is perceived by their followers as best in breed; the people who are technically adept and know the right answer, the smart answer… the connectors to the knowledge you need.

The deeper root problem here is that the mock equation above is based on measurements of concepts, thoughts, and feeling; not always directly observable or quantifiable activities. So, how do we quantify perception?  In my research I’ve found that direct feedback is the single most critical component to quantifying subjective perception. But, often that feedback is scarce at best, and non-existent most other cases. Often (and especially in self-help scenarios) once a problem is solved there is no additional contact to close the loop and provide feedback so we are left attempting to quantify the unknown, and make educated assumptions of effectiveness to close the gaps as best we can.

In light of the lack of direct quantifiable feedback we only have indicators like click-throughs, reach, and influence scores to tell us if our efforts in the social business spaces are moving in the right direction and potentially effective in helping our clients solve their issues, and to show us value beyond the pure technical content we create and share. So, while influence is indeed irrelevant, the scoring information is a usable measurement to at least tell us if we’re doing something right.

All our efforts in the social spaces, of course, grow IBM’s influence as a whole as we build that level of trust and identified skill.  But in support, indirectly providing influence is a side-effect of our primary objective: getting the right answers to the right people just in time.

2 Responses to “Influence is irrelevant”

  1. Millard Ellingsworth

    I’d argue there is more of a pathos component than may be readily apparent. I’m not sure the quality of the interaction (how helped I feel, how quickly and willingly the help was given) can necessarily be bundled under logos. “High touch” has been a buzzword for a decade or more and remains one because we haven’t really nailed it yet.

  2. Quite true, Millard! I struggle with how all of these components play together and how to define them. In fact I have been “working” on this post for the past 6 months since I read the BrandSavant post. I agree, we’ve not yet nailed it, but I think we are indeed getting closer, in small iterative steps. Hoping that we can see some larger leaps this year as we improve our structure.


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