Tom Webster, writing and speaking

The Influence Game

Added on by Tom Webster.

We are all being scored, all the time--for our credit, our hire-ability, and now our influence. Whether you believe in online influence measures like Klout and Kred or not will ultimately have little effect--VC's believe in them, and some marketers believe in them, so get used to having a number by your name. That's the reality, as Mark Schaefer's fine new book Return On Influence lays out in some detail. In this space, I've always tried to maintain a constructive skepticism about these measures, without descending into "Klout-bashing." These services are iterating; let's allow them to iterate.

So, in that spirit...

Yesterday, I saw lots of people promoting this:

Klout

…which reminded me of a similar promotion run by Kred last month that Shelly Kramer brought to my attention.

Now, "Agency Insanity" looks like good silly fun. A lot like my Klout topics page, actually, which continues to feature my areas of online expertise, including Groundhog Day, Nausea, Pregnancy, Jersey Shore, NFL, and (thanks to Jason Keath) "Electric Housewares and Fans (Wall and Baseboard Heating Units for Permanent Installation) (Industry)."

It's good fun. It's a game. When Klout runs a promotion that specifically instructs us to "Vote to decide the nation's most influential agency professional," they are, in essence, telling us it's a game, and instructing us how to play it.

It's gamification, however, that ultimately may kill these things dead. Asking us to vote on who is most influential is essentially equating influence and popularity, a dangerous mistake. But it also says something I believe quite damaging about the influence measures themselves.

Consider if Google asked you to "vote on the best search result" for a given keyword. Do you really think you'd get the right one? Is a Twitter popularity contest the best "algorithm" to find "Best NYC Hotel?" Would you trust those search results? (Don't get me started on "social search.")

Now, I know that Klout and Kred, et al, have actual activity-based algorithms, and--again --this promotion is just silly fun. But it's silly fun that dings their brand halo, and reminds us all that yes, this is a game. You are not being scored on your influence; you are being scored on your ability to play that game, and no, that's not nothing.

The game is what keeps these services alive. They need us to play the game--if we don't "play along" by giving them access to our online social graph (allowing them to explicitly link our online identities, which they couldn't do unless we grant them authorization and tie our profiles together) they don't have any grist for their mills. So the "game" is necessary. We give them our profile information so that we can play along and try to get a better number than the next guy. Without the public game, the ego-driven need to acquire social proof, we don't authorize them to pull from our social accounts. And if we don't do that, social scoring falls apart.

So they need to be games, and they need us to play those games. But those games devalue what they are doing. It's a real catch-22 for these services.

What do you think? Is the "game" damaging to brands like Klout and Kred? Or just part of the new reality of the social web? A shiny +K to everyone who comments, and a copy of Mark Schaefer's Return On Influence to the comment with the most likes.

See what I did there?

Note: there is some fine "prior art" on this from Sean McGinnis - do read his take as well.