We then turned to talk about whether groups like Klout (or Peer Index) are accurate representations of actual influence as defined by the ability to impact decisions. Megan Barry gave a good description of how Klout is currently measuring influence and some of the heuristics behind the Klout model. But, there are still nuances to be worked out. While influence scores are a good benchmark of activity, it is still unlikely that they represent an actual measure of true influence as they measure activity and amplification over relevance and impact. For example, if I were to tweet a funny comic or a shocking photo, it is likely that I will inspire far greater amplification of that content (e.g. retweets) than if I were to share a thoughtful piece of content about the strategic business impact of B2B online communities. Now, it is far more likely that I can provide content that helps an organization shape their thinking about communities, than influence the world of humor, however, my online influence score will be more positively impacted by my popular-interest tweet than it would be by my thought leadership article. This is an inherent flaw in most reputation management systems.
Similarly, many a marketing manager has tried to calculate ROI of online influence, but they are often trying to measure the wrong things. Too often the focus on influence ROI is focused on counting up transactions - how many times have I been re-tweeted, how many click-throughs did this link get. These are all interesting indicators of interest, but not necessarily significant indicators of influence as the impact on decision-making can vary widely.
Another discussion highlight was around the topic of how B2B and B2C influence differs online. There are different models for online influence. To amplify (B2C model) and the ability to lead or shape ideas (B2B). For both, experience is a measure of influence but there is a difference in scale and depth for each.
In the B2C market, especially with consumer goods of a low to modest price point, decisions are made in a much more rapid cycle. Therefore, online influence can be largely exerted through the formula of reach + frequency + recent experience. Example, amplification of a computer, a restaurant a vacation spot can all lead to wider adoption. Deep experience or passion play a role, but the ability to shepherd an opinion in a rapid cycle is especially critical.
With complex decisions, online influence matters much less than with transactional decisions as the risk of making a wrong decision is tractable. For example, if I were to made a bad decision on a restaurant dinner, that does not have material impact on my life or profession and therefore I am more likely to act upon a recommendation I find online versus making a enterprise-level software purchase or even choosing a wedding venue.
In the B2B world, reach is less important than depth. Decision-makers rely most heavily on peer referrals when making strategic or expensive decisions. One colleague who has hands-on experience will naturally weigh exponentially more heavily than endorsing tweets of 100 strangers! It is the details of practice and depth of insight that helps shape larger decisions and the public social media marketing tools rarely provide an appropriate platform for these kinds of explorations to occur online.
This points squarely at the reasons why many organizations, having tried their hand in social media marketing on the public channels are now turning to develop their own online communities to service customers. Because the audience is smaller and more selective, there is a greater opportunity to actually reach, engage, collaborate with and influence the people that matter the most to the organization.
Influence goes two ways --companies, through a credible and meaningful social presence can amplify their position in the market and often yield tangible ROI and customers have the power exert influence over a company or an outcome. The sweet-spot of online influence is found in the balance of giving and getting.
Here is the link to listen to the webcast recording and also to see the slides in support of the session.