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Master Facebook! Take Over Twitter! Leverage LinkedIn! If your main concern is domination and rankings, you’ll never create a truly effective social networking experience.

It’s becoming ridiculous: An endless array of just-add-water-social-media-strategies promising domination of social networks. Strategies, plans and programs promise to have you swooning with power over your friends and fans. Win, score, possess, capture and command the masses. You, too, can reign supreme!

As if.

I think I’m going to quit any social network that keeps score. Long ago, I left ActiveRain, a real estate specific network, on the suspicion that many of the commenters on my posts were merely trying to pick up 25 points towards their scores. Next came Klout, seemingly innocuous at first, promising to rank your influence of others. The titles were very gentle: Curator, Mentioner, Retweeter. Influence was a clean and shiny thing, like a jewel; not the point of a spear aimed at the heart of competitors. Now I hear Klout may start ranking Google+ and even your YouTube activity. Might be important if you’re Lady Gaga or the Old Spice Guy, but for ordinary mortals, do we need to score for watching two babies talking to each other? Even EmpireAvenue has become dull. My friends and I have been reduced to “stocks” that people can “buy and sell” like equities. What should I feel if someone decides to short me?


I guess it’s only human. The desire to rank, compare, have the “most” amongst our social circles. More money, cars, awards in real life have become more fans, likes, plusses in virtual life. I’m supposed to worry that Steve has more fans than I do on Facebook; but feel better about myself because I have more than Joan? Why is my self esteem, and my ability to influence others, suddenly able to be tallied?

Did Einstein care how many people retweeted his theory of relativity?

Social networking is about human interpersonal dynamics. People interacting with people. Naturally, we’ll influence each other, the same way our parents, friends, teachers, lovers influence us in real life. And nobody keeps score on who’s influencing us the most this week: mom or our co-worker. Possible, once we start worrying about “scoring” our influence, we’ll change the entire dynamic – on and offline.

Suddenly, it won’t be about engaging people you care about, even casually, as in a business relationship. Once you’re concerned with your tally, your participation will require you to control them. To “get” them to like your post, share it, to interact dammit! so we don’t fall behind. Influence goes from being benign to being dirty.

And don’t think they don’t realize it.

One of the most important lessons marketers learn about influencing human behavior is that the customer has to feel that your message involves genuine concern for their well-being. Even more importantly, it must do so without a hidden agenda. It’s one of the main reasons they’ll listen, and hopefully refer your brand, (see Ernest Dichter, 1971). Dichter noted that most communicators – advertisers, salespeople, politicians – were too concerned with blowing their own horns (then as today) rather than putting themselves in the shoes of their listener. In fact, some customers react negatively to “top” producers in certain industries; especially if their own career has been less than stellar. It’s no different than mothers who recoil at advertisements with the overly-cute baby, sensing their own child is less so.

Therein lies the danger of seeking to dominate the social networking space, rather than have a conversation with the customer.

The better networkers understand this. I get the sense that Armani, Mandarin Oriental, Tiffany’s engage their audience without monitoring their rank against others. Southwest’s approach is jovial, friendly, lighthearted: just like their brand. It seems unlikely they’re monitoring their clout barometers in real time, either. Instead, they tell stories, ask questions, respond to comments and simply engage in conversation with their customers. Almost person to person. Then they measure influence simply: by purchases, referrals, testimonials.

After all, do we really need a ratings agency for social media?

Being unconcerned with your social network score frees up important intellectual resources for being concerned with something else: your products and services. The best example might be Apple Computer. They don’t even have a Facebook page. No icons on their home page for any of the social networks. But one would hardly call Apple anti-social. It’s customers are amongst the most vociferous promoters, loyal defenders and high spenders. There’s clearly an Apple community. It might even be argued that Apple’s social network is so smart, the company doesn’t need to manage or dominate the discussion. Apple users find their own ways to communicate with each other – and the world – without any brand controls. They’re the ultimate Word of Mouth network – all without a single status update or tweet by the brand. This leaves Apple completely focused on what it does well: study its customers and create products that consistently delight them.

Another way to think about it is this: What’s more important, volume or quality of customer interactions? Do you care that you have tons of “likes” or a smaller number of thoughtful comments? Consider that broad exposure may not be as effective in driving business as the right exposure to the right people. If we become too concerned about keeping “social score” we might easily confuse social media with advertising, rather than relationship management. (Admittedly for some people, that’s all they want, really, is just another advertising channel.)

Either way, there’s something to be said about managing one’s motivations while social networking. More frequently we’re hearing the stories of people who are disconnecting from people who post everything and anything; perhaps it’s innocent, but as the integration of ranking systems increases, it leaves you wondering. Ordinary people know when they’re talking to a robot – whether it’s a script-reading one on the phone, or a re-tweeting one in cyberspace – and they don’t like it.

I suspect that once we start treating our customers as just another point in our rankings, they’ll not like that much, either.