When someone publishes an article about Klout or Kred, they almost always take a polarizing viewpoint regarding influence metrics. Some bloggers take it upon themselves to be Klout’s biggest evangelist when their score is high, and then become the platforms biggest critic when an algorithm change adjusts it. Others criticize Klout and Kred for not being effective at uses that they weren’t even developed to address.
I’m not the biggest fan of influence metrics myself, but when you consider the direction that marketing is moving, you can’t deny the value of a tool that can estimate the level of an individual’s influence. Forget about social media for a minute; Klout, Kred and other influence metrics are solutions to information overload.
It’s All About Making the Right Choices, and Informed Decision Making
We live in a complicated world where information is pushed on us loudly from every direction. There is no way that we could possibly listen to it all, and it’s easy to be overwhelmed. To cope with this mass of noise we’ve adopted a decision making approach based on generalizations. It turns out that when all things are equal, these generalizations actually work. With a limited amount of information, time and investment, most people can use subtle cues to make a correct decision.
We do this everyday. When you visit a news website you are presented with a long list of headlines and pictures. Based on what you’re looking for, the structure of the headline, the featured image, and prior experience is often enough information to decide whether you should spend your time reading that article, or move on to another.
In Robert Cialdini’s book “Influence: Science and Practice” he says that a group of professionals known as ‘compliance experts’ can effectively exploit these generalizations and turn them into weapons of influence, causing others to make decisions in their favor. These compliance professionals consist of salesmen, pollsters, political activists, and (gasp) marketers!
Weapons of Mass Influence
When a marketer is effective, it’s hard to tell that they’re exerting any influence at all. The best marketers make you feel like you’re in the driver’s seat, and that you’re the beneficiary of any quid pro quo that takes place.
The most common ‘weapons of influence’ are:
Reciprocation: People generally feel obliged to return the favor when you do something nice for them. This is especially true when they perceive your actions as a higher value. An example is when an influencer re-tweets their target, who has a lot smaller following. The target perceives a high value, and will be more likely to be influenced by the influencer’s future campaigns.
Commitment and Consistency: People thrive on consistency. They’re also more likely to make additional commitments when they feel invested. When e-mail scammers convince their targets to send them a small amount of money, it’s usually even easier to get them to send a larger amount because they feel like they’re already invested in the scam. An initial 200$ scam can quickly evolve into a $1,200 scam because the fear of losing the initial 200$ overrides the target’s better judgement.
Social Proof: Social Proof can take several forms. People will often trust you more if it’s clear that others trust you as well. An influencer with 100,000 followers and dozens of testimonials on their website will convince people of their integrity when a more qualified professional that doesn’t have the social proof can’t. Influencers have also been known to fake interviews, Infomercials have recently taken on the format of a talk show, complete with staged interviews and carefully chosen statistics.
Charisma: People are more likely to do business with people they like. Influencers can sway their opinion with humor or flattery. They are also partial to people they can relate to. Blue collar workers identify with other blue collar workers, and are more likely to vote for politicians that share a common background in employment. Physical attractiveness and perceived superiority can create a halo effect where influencers are deemed more qualified to make certain decisions than the target, despite the fact that effective influencers ALWAYS consider their own interests.
Authority: Authority is one of the strongest motivators for average people. In Stanley Milgram’s 1974 book “Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View” he recounted experiments that he conducted during his time as a professor of psychology at Yale University. The now infamous Milgram Experiment showed that an average person could be easily coerced into inflicting a great deal of pain on another subject if they were in the presence of an authority figure that insisted they continue. These experiments began in 1961 at the time Nazi war criminal Adolph Eichmann’s trial for war crimes was about to begin. The results suggested that it was possible that thousands of Nazi subordinates were “just following orders”, and that it was in our nature to do so.
Scarcity: About a year ago I went to a local electronics store to shop for computers. I was seriously considering the purchase of a Hewlett Packard Ultrabook, but decided to wait on product updates. The owner insisted that he only had the one, and that he likely wouldn’t get another order in for weeks. He almost talked me into buying it.
Three days later my cousin came home with the same laptop. It was very nice, but I decided that I was glad I didn’t purchase it because the lack of a DVD drive. My cousin told me how it was the last Ultrabook in the area, and that no one else would have one until the new models came out. I went with him to the store to buy a wireless mouse, and upon entering we interrupted the store owner going through the same Ultrabook sales pitch with another customer. I got the salesman off to the side and asked about his ‘scarcity method’ of sales, and threatened to expose it if he didn’t tell me how many Ultrabooks they actually had. It turns out that they had at least a dozen, and were overstocked because area students wanted DVD drives more than they had projected.
The idea that something is rare, or the fear of missing out is a major influencer when it comes to purchasing power. Influencers often portray their product as a scarce commodity that has a limited supply and high demand, even if that isn’t true.
Step By Step Influence
Influencing another party is not always the correct approach. Given the circumstances, we may need to enter into a negotiation, or simply select an appropriate solution together.
Example: If I am trying to sell you web hosting, your response to my initial offer will determine how I approach the sale. If you agree that you need hosting and that you’d like to purchase it from me, we simply need to select the correct hosting plan together. If You insist that you do not need web hosting or that your current host is superior, I still have the opportunity to attract your business by negotiating a lower price or a high value offering. If you do not have web hosting, and are unsure of the benefits, that’s when influence becomes a correct response.
- The process of one-on-one influence is fairly simple.
- Give an opening statement.
- Confirm the target’s needs.
- Present your offer as a viable solution.
- Listen to, and evaluate the target’s response.
- Respond Appropriately.
- Make your offer.
- If the offer is accepted, you are successful. Thank your target, who is now a client.
- If the offer is refused, analyze the refusal and make a decision about the best way to initiate another offer, repackage the original offer, or convince the target that your solution is indeed optimal.
What is Real?
These ‘weapons of influence’ were identified by Robert Cialdini in 2003, several years before Facebook opened branded pages for business. Today, they’re eerily representative of the social media marketing movement. People stress relationships and value, but major influence usually finds its way back to one of these six methods.
- Reciprocation: Blog Commenting, Re-Tweeting influencers, Triberr,
- Commitment and Consistency: E-mail marketing, blogging, regular Facebook posts, up selling
- Social Proof: Twitter, Klout, LinkedIn Recommendations, Connect.me, testamonials, customer reviews
- Charisma: Professional photos, flattery, video, achievement lists, humble brags, photo manipulation
- Authority: Publishing books, testimonials, prominently displaying job titles, influencer lists
- Scarcity: Limited offers, stated inability to engage due to workload, exclusive content, beta testing, invite only.
When a public figure seems too good to be true, they probably aren’t. Anyone that would be considered effective at online business is self aware, and are certainly aware of the effectiveness of these weapons.
Before you write effective influencers off as manipulative and dishonest though, consider your own plight. If you have your own business, you will find yourself using influence at one time or another. These are natural techniques and tactics whether you’re fully aware of them or not. Wouldn’t you rather learn business from the person that has mastered influence?
Never Enough Information
If you had every piece of accurate information available, there would be no need for any of this analysis, procedure, or secret weapons. The problem is that your knowledge is incomplete at best, may not be reliable, and involves a lot of intuition.
During any attempt at influence you will need to place values on every variable. You don’t have an unlimited time to research everything, so any tool that can quickly offer a viable metric should be a welcome addition to a marketer’s tool kit.
No matter what their shortcomings are or how much you dislike being a metric yourself, both Klout and Kred are viable metrics when you’re tasked with identifying influential individuals out of a large group that are active online and comfortable with their role as an influencer.
Laws of Diminishing Returns
Without Klout or Kred you could still identify influencers. Finding the most influential bloggers or personalities on social media isn’t hard because they’re usually pretty visible. The process gets much harder when you’re tasked with finding 25 top influencers in a specific niche category that will be willing to participate in an online marketing campaign for a nominal fee. Klout and Kred could both create a list of 25 influencers for your campaign in just a few minutes, and the results would be comparable to a quick selection made by an employee with minimal experience on the given topic.
You could identify a better group manually, but it would take exponentially more time and resources to complete. These influence metrics exhibit an extreme case of diminishing returns in all the cases of group influencer identification that I’m aware of. Why spend a week researching and compiling a list of 40 automotive influencers when Klout can create a similar list that performs just as well in the given scenario in less than one minute?
Of course the greatest results from group influencer identification come when the researcher uses a combination of influencer identification tools and their own research. Start out by compiling a Klout list of 50 names that will be whittled down to a final list of 25 after spending a couple hours investigating your preliminary findings. This would take very little time compared to research that was wholly manual and will often yield a better list. At the very least it takes advantage of a computer’s analytical capabilities to complete the hardest part of influencer identification in an extremely short amount of time.
Smoke Em’ if You Got Em’
By allowing your personal bias to rule out the use of tools that are very effective at what they do, you’re only hurting yourself. An average mid-sized company encounters hundreds of instances every day where an estimate of a person’s online influence would be beneficial. All this means is “how many eyeballs will likely be exposed to sentiment that this individual posts online”. Researching every single person’s social media presence isn’t practical, but we humans have adapted to make accurate predictions based on limited information. Klout and Kred are just another source of information that you have full context on, and a thorough explanation of what they mean.
Do you have a prejudice against influence measurement tools because of what they represent? Have you used the measurements in any practical ways to improve the results of your own marketing campaigns?