Paradox of Online Influence

I spend my time analyzing the world of social media influence and helping clients use it effectively to achieve their marketing and communications goals. I’ve noticed that a hotly-debated topic in the digital world is online influence. A huge myth is forming which says that online popularity equals online influence. Based on this myth, tools which purport to measure online influence are popping up like mushrooms on a rainy day. The paradox is that these inferential tools can be just as damaging as they can be helpful when marketers and brands buy into this nonsense idea of online influence, and waste time and money using these tools to build marketing strategies for their brands.

As incredible as it seems none of the so-called experts or services like Klout, Kred, PeerIndex, and Traackr bother to answer the fundamental question, “What is Online Influence?” Klout says influence is the ability to drive action even though they don’t even measure actions which are measurements and indicators of behavior. What they try to measure is personal power, which is another paradox because they are trying to get marketers to make decisions based on their measurement of something which is in fact not possible to measure. Nobody questions their definition of influence because Klout tells us we matter (or don’t matter) and that we have personal power (or don’t have personal power), a manifestation of the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, that for self-actualization.

Even worse, Klout actually measures what we are willing to do for them! Not only do they purposely assign you a lower Klout score (no power) at the beginning and guilt you into doing what they want you to do to increase your score, they make you believe that you don’t matter if you don’t have a high Klout score. Their ad asks, “Would you date someone with a lower Klout score?” Why does a Klout score matter when it comes to dating, and where is this leading us when it comes to measuring social influence?

Many brands and experts believe Klout’s tag line, “We are the standard for influence,” and build entire marketing plans on this very weak foundation. To me, the definition of a standard is something that is tested and verifiable; it is based on a number of parameters, and arrived at by a group, not just an individual entity seeking to fulfill a hidden agenda. The definition of influence is simple….influence is changing behavior. The dictionary defines influence as “the power to sway.” The “influencer” has the “power” to win people over to his point of view or reinforce group mores, i.e. to change their behavior. Influence is not just getting people to take a passive action such as a “like” or a retweet, but making them think about what is being presented and doing something they might not otherwise do.

Do Klout, Kred, or PeerIndex measure the ability to change behavior? Quite simply, they do not. Instead of calling it what it is, brand awareness, they use the word “influence” in metrics and results that have nothing to do with the real meaning of influence. Some variables they use in their scoring system include Unique Retweets, Total Retweets, Mutual Follows, Number of Followers, Number of Friends, Unique Likers, Unique Commenters, and Likes Per Post, but none of these indicate how we are changing behavior in others.

According to award winning innovation expert Debra Kaye, “The forms of influence are charismatic, authoritative, and bureaucratic. Klout’s definition of influence falls mostly into the charismatic category. You picture yourself as a person on the go, and it is manifested in the recommendations and the authority you are trying to build with your followers. But where is the feedback? How do you know that you have changed their behavior?”

Until now, the only way we knew we were important was in an academic sense – the number of citations, or general fame. Klout attempts to put a number on your fame or power, but how credible is their formula? They recently announced yet another change in their algorithm, which only makes me wonder why “the standard for influence” need to change its algorithm and scoring system so many times. They measure activity on three networks – Facebook, Twitter and Google+ – but where are the rest of 200+ social media networks if they really want to be a standard?

The main issue when it comes to measuring online influence is that all of their “eggs” are in on one basket – the size of your network and your ability to spread a message through shares, retweets, likes and comments. Klout, Kred or PeerIndex do not give any vital indications like a positive or negative message, any signal or indication if a message has increased purchasing (a good indication of behavior change), or any other changes in behavior. This only shows us that they measure brand awareness minus sentiment, which is essential when it comes to brand recognition.

The so-called standard for online influence has been misused and wrongly interpreted. For example, last year fashion designer Kenneth Cole unleashed a flurry of anger over his insensitive and poorly timed Tweet that read, “Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online.” Even though this caused a huge public relations crisis, Klout still rewarded the brand with a rise of 30 points in its Klout score overnight. How can they speak about influence, when the message itself was deemed to be offensive and resulted in a major backlash? This Tweet did not change behavior in a positive way, and the brand did not become more influential.

Commenting further Debra Kaye concluded, “In my opinion, Klout is so hyped because of its personal delivery of Maslow’s highest state of self-actualization – building YOURSELF. This raises the question of, ‘Am I just finding and gathering people who already think like me?’ Is Klout helping you gather others to yourself as part of a larger tribe who already think like you do, or are you really changing behaviors and bringing in new and different people? That would really be breaking the barriers of what social media has done so far.”

One essential element that is missing when using these tools is anthropological data and knowledge. We need a clear understanding of the market based on its underlying culture, consumer reactions, and history. When we have that, we will have the ability to measure online influence and not just some superficial metric. Marketers should collect data on how people seek to change behavior among their social group, how they attempt to direct them to new trends, places, political, religious philosophies, and how social media is used in this process. This would truly be tracking influence and behavior change by looking at ideas of creativity, insight and attractiveness.

So, therein lies the paradox – in social media, popularity means influence and is being used to make marketing decisions, yet those with the most influence might not necessarily be the most popular. The time has come to stop relying on the tired definitions of influence, and develop new ways to find those in the social media atmosphere who really have influence and the power to change behavior.

This post was original written for and published on Huffington Post.

Social Media Is Much More Than Just Social and Media

Based on my observations of how most businesses are currently approaching the process of incorporating social media into their marketing plans, I can see that they do not truly understand all of the components of social media. They get that social means building relationships and that media is the form of communication that they are using to build these relationships. But this is not a deep enough understanding on which to base the marketing success of any product or service. There is so much more to be considered, because social media is dynamic, nuanced, and richly layered.

To fully understand and be able to utilize social media effectively, marketers need to obtain a thorough understanding of all its components. Without this knowledge they will only be sending out messages which will not have the ability to achieve their desired impact. These are the companies that have a Facebook page and run impressive campaigns to get people to “like” them. They think they are now using social media because they have so many followers and post something on their Facebook page every so often. But are their messages hitting the mark and motivating their intended audience to take a specified action? Without incorporating the additional components of social media, these efforts are all unfortunately doomed to failure.

To be most effective in social media, it is helpful to think of its components as forming a cube, with social and media as two of the sides. The additional sides of this cube are object and timing. In modern society, we choose to have our objects define us. In other words, objects such as cars, houses, iPads, etc. define who we are as much as our actions do. “We buy watches not just to tell time, but to have a good time. We buy sunglasses not just to see better, but to be seen.” explains Debra Kaye an award winning innovation expert. Culturally humans have always been this way and this will probably not change. This is why we don’t see people with only one technology object, such as just one smart phone. We like having more than one depending on where we are, what we are doing, what we are representing, or who we may be trying to impress at the moment.

Marketers that don’t consider the delivery system, the object, of social media don’t fully understand the cultural impact of their message, or how it is used and absorbed. For example, text messages are viewed in a very different way than emails. Consumers have accorded an emotional meaning and reciprocity to text messaging that email simply doesn’t have. A company that uses text messaging without a deep understanding of this medium could actually alienate the very audience it is trying to most engage.

The fourth side of the social media components cube is timing. This is very important because humans act differently and respond differently depending on timing. They are open to receiving messages in different ways at different times of the day. They may want to have shorter, action-based messages during the work day, but could be more open to educational elements at night or over the weekend. Social media also has a spatial dimension as part of timing, that the extension of one’s personality into larger and larger networks, which is what gives dimension to the cube structure rather than a flat graph, where activities have no relationship to one another.

Of course, the foundation of the cube is the type of message being transmitted. Is it a sales message, an informational piece, a call to action, or an introduction? Capping everything off is the human component, which is always part of any equation. This doesn’t just rely on the typical trends of marketing demographics but goes back to our deeper needs to matter and be part of a tribe.

Together these components – the social relationship, the media used for communication, the technology object, timing, the type of message and the human component – form a viable, strong structure. If one is omitted, the whole thing falls apart. A lack of understanding of this multi-dimensional perspective is why standard marketing and segmentation programs just don’t work any longer.

The crucial point here is that social media has to be looked at beyond just those two words, social and media…it is the unsaid, the symbolism of the object that plays part of a defining role for the user. It may seem hard to believe because it feels so pervasive, but social media right now is still in its infancy as a communications tool. Businesses have not had sufficient time or experience to pull apart its components and fully assimilate them. We are at a point where many people that are passing themselves off as social media experts have not yet gone this in-depth to develop their understanding of social media, perhaps because they lack a culture perspective. They are trying to fit old marketing theories into a new communications mechanism without understanding the symbolic and anthropological meanings behind the changes which are so rapidly taking place.

Social media is definitely a powerful force in the online world but most organizations today have not yet studied the object, time and space sufficiently. Most businesses don’t succeed in social marketing now because they don’t understand all of these components; this cube model which I am developing. As social media continues to grow, evolve and become an ever-more important part of our daily lives, only those businesses that truly understand the importance of object, timing, type of message and the human culture component will be successful in their marketing efforts.

This post was written and published on HuffingtonPost.

Big Business Spends On Mass Media, While The Media Gets Personal

Have you noticed a big difference in a way brands market to you on a smartphone? Neither have we. And that’s the problem. Big business is still investing in the communication of messages using the mass mediums of television and direct marketing, but they haven’t noticed the real action is on a different screen–and it’s personal.

It has been almost 50 years since Marshall McLuhan first coined what would eventually become a cultural catchphrase, “the medium is the message” in his 1964 book,Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. He explained that technology or the medium itself affects social organization and understanding. Television, radio and film–one-way broadcast media–ushered in the mass-communication age, leaving behind what had been society’s mainstay personal, face-to-face communications for what might have been forever. But history has a way of repeating itself, and we are once again entering a new age of personal communication.

Personal communication technologies such as smartphones mean the end of mass communications as we know it, but businesses and marketers are just not heeding this huge cultural shift. In August, Google, working with market analysts Sterling Brands and Ipsos, published the results of a study“The New Multi-Screen World: Understanding Cross-Platform Consumer Behavior.” This report puts some hard numbers to the truth that it is time to say goodbye to the mass communication age:

  • A mobile phone is in the possession of its user for an average of 5,840 hours per year, while the average time spent watching television is only 1,865 hours per year.
  • Our online time is spread over four media devices: smartphones, tablets, PCs/laptops, and television.
  • TV no longer commands the viewer’s full attention. Most of the time another device is also being used simultaneously.

Marketing Charts further reinforces the importance of personal communications to marketers. It highlights results from Monetate’s Ecommerce Quarterly (EQ) report for the third quarter of 2012. Based on its analysis of over 100 million online shopping experiences, Monetate reports that devices such as smart phones and tablets continue to drive more traffic to e-commerce sites.

The mass mediums themselves have noticed this enormous culture shifts and have adapted their reporting. News outlets increasingly see the personal as more interesting fodder for their stories, reporting sentiment from Twitter chatter or Facebook “likes” as news to their audiences. In a fascinating display of the emergence of the power of the social medium, CNNspeculated that a Twitter war of words might become the new norm in the news world. The Israel Defense Force struck first, sending live Tweets containing information about a strike that killed a Hamas leader with its own spin on the attack. Hamas itself responded in a separate feed. The news media then began reporting on the conflict, but the most interesting part is that CNN saw fit to report on the battling sides and their use of Twitter in presenting their message. The article concluded by observing that Twitter and Facebook are changing communications in some very fundamental ways.

Commenting on the movement from mass communication to personal communication, anthropologist Tom Maschio of Maschio Consulting said, “I see this as a real cultural shift. Social media is the real lens through which news is increasingly received, commented on, and understood. Twitter often leads the news cycle, cueing the mainstream media into what people are interested in and illuminating what their take on a particular story is. ‘News’ is being defined differently because of the game of and participation in social media. Personal news, entertainment news, popular culture news, and hard news are increasingly received, shared and commented upon via social media. Social media drives popular culture news and increasingly ‘hard news.’” Social media is even building favor in the investment world, with potential investors using the number of Facebook likes as a factor they take into consideration when making investment decisions.

What does all of this mean for big business when it comes to shaping a marketing strategy for today’s bold new world? It means they need to rethink their strategy for communicating with consumers and begin looking at it on a personal basis. To continue blasting advertisements through the mass media without taking this cultural shift into consideration is simply a huge waste of marketing dollars. For example, communication strategies need to take into account what needs to be happening on a brand’s website at the same time as it’s advertising may be appearing on television. Why? More than two-thirds of consumers are on another device at the same time they are watching TV and often for an Internet search.

Even what might be considered lesser communications need to consider the personal. It isn’t just about sending a “thank you” for signing up to mailing list but a timely response with what is happening at a particular moment in time within the brand’s own communications. Standard form, one-size-fits-all replies are history. With the emergence of social media as the dominant method of transmitting information, business needs to get personal again.

This post was originally written for and published on Fast Company. This post was co-authored with Jure KLEPIC.

The Digital Doctor Is In

By Kristi Hacker

MeMD is what we call the trend of personal digital diagnosticians. The proliferation of apps, sites and devices designed to help consumers track and manage their healthcare is just beginning.

It started with a market mostly related to fitness; consumer’s track and share data with friends and family, but a growing number of apps and devices are available to monitor broader health care issues like diabetes, depression, eyesight and more.

We believe that consumer demand and new technologies will drive the MeMD market to exponential growth in the near future.  Rising health care costs are pushing patients and doctors alike to make use of the internet and integrated devices.

Beyond that we see another factor motivating consumers; the emotional security these applications can offer – People can quickly and easily educate themselves, and they can do this with increasing accuracy and personalization.

The digital doctor is in and it will inform and create even more interest in health care than ever before. The Mayo Clinic believes’ that a stronger relationship between patient and doctor can be built through the power of social media. Proteus Digital Health has developed new digital medicines, with recent approval by the FDA. They are designed to provide accurate information that can be monitored by the patients Smartphone and shared with their family, and doctor. The involvement from other institutions (not just digital players) such as those mentioned above should keep MeMD in the pink, as a major movement in health and wellness.

Red Bull sponsors record skydive attempt

Tomorrow, Austrian dare devil Felix Baumgartner will attempt to break a world skydiving record.

The 43-year-old will jump out of a capsule attached to a helium balloon 23 miles above Roswell, N.M. If all goes according to plan, Baumgartner will free fall for five minutes and exceed the speed of sound. If that sounds insanely dangerous, it is.

Taking Multi-Dimensional Marketing to Next Level

In my recent post, “Social Media is Much More Than Just Social and Media,” I introduced the concept of The Social Media Cube© as a visual representation of what is needed to utilize social media effectively in a marketing strategy. Instead of just “being” on social media pages, I urged marketers to think more about the cultural and anthropological underpinnings so that their strategies better take into account the nexus of the social relationship, type of message, technological object that delivers the message, and timing.

The concept of the cube garnered such a positive response that I would now like to take this a step further, and show that these elements apply not just to social media marketing strategies, but to marketing as a whole. The lack of an in-depth, multi-dimensional approach is why so many marketing and segmentation programs are not working today.

If you search the internet you will undoubtedly find experts on Twitter marketing, Facebook marketing, video marketing, social media marketing, Pinterest marketing, influence marketing, and so much more. But none of these individual tactics will be effective because marketers and brands don’t understand and take into account the two major Cube Components of object and timing.

Looking at a message and trying to achieve the same communication in each object or screen is increasingly myopic. Context is critical because more and more our attention is split between distinct activities in more than one device. It’s about in which object the message is viewed and its timing, because we have different mindsets in different moments. Object goes back to understanding culture, because throughout history the objects we choose have always defined us, while timing relates to utilizing our constantly evolving understanding of the workings of the human brain. In traditional marketing, the belief was that the human brain is only capable of processing so much data and can be overwhelmed when too much information is thrown at it. The strategies some marketers adapt to address this seeming information-overload are to “dumb down” the message or distract the receiver with another topic while making points about their product or service.

21st Century Marketing, in contrast to this narrow-minded approach, understands what a truly marvelous machine the human brain is, with an infinite capacity for learning and accepting information. Our brains have plasticity – the ability to interpret more complex messages, formulate opinions and make decisions faster than ever thought possible. Marketers who comprehend this capability can now appeal to both the rational and emotional sides of the brain to accomplish their goals.

What happens instead is that brands simply place themselves on a social network in an effort to engage potential consumers, and then fail because they are not using a multi-dimensional approach. Instead of connecting and engaging, they go at social media like they strategize advertising – here’s what we want to say and here’s how we’re going to do it. When it doesn’t work, they end up blaming the network instead of acknowledging their role in failing to incorporate object and timing into their plan.

When WalMart first decided to establish a Facebook presence, the company was able to attract a large number of fans to its page based on reputation alone. But they didn’t understand that their fans wanted to build a relationship and hold a conversation, and made the unwise move of restricting the comments option from their Wall Posts. Because their Facebook presence appeared to be little more than a one-way advertisement, the experiment failed miserably. In fact, Gartner recently predicted that failure to respond via social channels could lead to up to a 15 percent increase in churn rate.

McDonald’s had the great idea of running a Twitter campaign with its #McDStories, hoping that users would post all their wonderful McDonald’s stories and memories. What happened instead was that consumers saw this as an opportunity to post their negative experiences and complaints about the fast-food behemoth. McDonald’s simply looked at the idea of being social, but didn’t understand the meaning of context, when they went from the more general promotional language and hashtag of #meetthefarmers to a more personal #McDstories.

CMO Survey recently reported that only 6.8% of marketers believe that social media is “very integrated” into their strategy. Since it is estimated that around 6.7 billion devices will be connected to the internet within the next year or two, marketers really need to get on-board with understanding the cultural backdrop to measuring how influence motivates behavioral change.

Since building a brand is based upon establishing an intellectual and emotional relationship, marketers have to take the cultural context into consideration. Participatory marketing, where marketers don’t just present information to consumers but involve them in the process, is where smart brands are headed.  The social universe is a foundational planet for this work.  Next level marketing is a multi-dimensional approach of context which wraps around a culturally relevant understanding of message, object and timing with the workings of the human brain and builds from there. It may involve digging deeper and really getting to know targeted consumers’ world, but the results will be astonishing in terms of brand acceptance and marketing success.

This post was written and published on HuffingtonPost.