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Influence Is Not The Same As Popularity

Posted on Apr 5, 2013 by in Digital Culture | 2 comments


You hear a lot of people complain about ‘social influence’ and services like Klout, PeerIndex and Kred that claim to measure it.

We hear that it’s inaccurate. That it’s not fair.  And it makes the internet a worse place to be

All this may be true. But whatever the technical flaws or the ethical ramifications of third party social scoring, it is a mistake to say that it doesn’t matter. A great deal of the emotional energy that animates the critique stems from a misunderstanding over what these companies are actually measuring. People are mistaking popularity for influence. They are related but not the same.


Let’s reconsider what we mean by ‘influence’. For big data aggregators, this means your ability to push content through the social web.

If you create a social event, do other people interact with it, thereby creating subsequent social events?

This is a RT of your tweet, a Like on your status, a comment on your blog. Each of these subsequent social events is an influence signal for the original poster, and it is the aggregate of these of these events, via algorithmic arcana, that produces your score. Be aware that this has nothing to do with popularity. You can be massively unpopular and still produce a high score. In fact, thats how some people do it.

Why does it matter?

The logic of it being better to reach more people rather than less holds true on the social web as much as it does everywhere else. It is at least a measure of potential value – something good might happen, because you can increase the possibility of it happening.

It matters in recruitment

If you have the choice of hiring two candidates of equal standing and one had a high social influence score, and other did not, who would you choose? It’s a no brainer – you go with the guy with the higher score.

For certain roles, this escalates to a requirement. If you’re hiring a marketer, a PR guy or someone to do sales for you, you’d better spend some time investigating the guy’s ability to push content through the social web. He’s in comms, talking to your customers, representing your business. You should care how far his chat might go.

Employee network value

When you recruiting an employee, you’re not just hiring him  – you’re hiring his network, or at least borrowing it for the time he’s with you. His ‘network value’ is an important  factor on his ability to do effectively do his job. Don’t have a Klout or PeerIndex score of above 50?  Please don’t apply to my Head of Marketing job – you’re not getting through door.

It’s not perfect. The science is inexact. And maybe it does make the internet a worse place to be. But it matters and just because you don’t like the way the world is going doesn’t make it go away.

I don’t like this freezing weather, but it’s still happening.

  • Ramon Pedrollo Bez

    Interesting, Hung. I agree *external facing* people do need to be influential. Cheers.

    • Hung Lee

      Thanks @twitter-14833423:disqus .

      It’s already real for ‘external facing’ people now, but the reality in the near future is that there will be little distinction between ‘internal / external’ employees. It’s already happening – you have a problem with a piece of software you are using, do you go the contact page and send an email to customer support, or do you find the lead developer on Twitter and @mention him?

      We all face out now – companies that realise this will aim to hire people who can be assets in communication and brand building, in addition to their operational function.

      Glad to have your contribution – valued opinion, as always


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