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Why influence has nothing to do with numbers, volume and algorithms.

Would you decide not to meet a new client because their Kred score was low? Would you stop talking to your best friend because their Empire Avenue stock price was tanking? With so many potential positive outcomes of bringing people together, does ranking them make any sense?

Do you care what your mom’s Klout score is?

Of course not. But make no mistake about it: These ranking systems aren’t simply silly; I think they are potentially harmful. I can already see some people giving up before even trying: They’ll never have a big score, so they’re nobody online, right?


Adding things up isn’t any way to determine someone’s influence on others. That’s how you got the absurdity of Justin Bieber outranking President Obama (all politics aside) in Klout. Influence isn’t a popularity game, any more than saying Fifty Shades of Grey has radically changed anyone’s life, even though it tops the New York Times best seller list. 

Influence simply isn’t like sports stats; and any attempt to turn personal profiles into baseball cards is simply wrongheaded. As recent Learning Network guest Teri Conrad pointed out (min. 9:55) You’d never ask what the return on having lunch with a good friend was, would you? Susan Rochwarg later (min. 22) reminded viewers that it’s often a single, inspired relationship that is most meaningful to us. It’s the one comment out of dozens that stops us short, brings a tear to our eye or creates an aha! moment.

That’s why the premise of counting up our social media actions and calling that influence is simply counterintuitive. It’s a kind of syntax error of social media, because we’re not programming, we’re people. We’re more than digital Pavlov’s dogs whose reactions can be quantified. In fact, anyone can do volume online: just post something gross, with a cat in it, or a crying baby.

But doing influence – well, that’s hard.

We know who influences us, not because we see their name in lights over and over and over again. In fact, true influence often works when the influencer isn’t present, as we noted recently about regarding truly influential brands.

If influence can be measured, it’s by those few Tweets that people occasionally tell us we’ve helped them in a special way. The private message in Facebook that says, thanks, you helped me make big changes to my life, business, whatever. Yet computer algorithms really can’t measure those qualitative moments, so they don’t have a chance to measure human influence, even when communicated digitally.

As Aflac knows, many people recognize the duck,  but far fewer take the action the duck recommends.

Does it really matter? Isn’t it just a kind of social media “fun”? Not when we read about using these digital amalgams to make decisions about people’s lives, like whether to hire them. Wired covered this recently and we were horrified to hear a candidate’s Klout score was being used in a job interview. Remember, Klout didn’t even exist before 2009, but some people’s influence has lasted centuries. 
At the end of the day, I think of it like this: My mom is on Facebook. She has a few dozen friends and a few hundred posts. Recently, she posted a comment on my wall that made me stop short and think: I love her wisdom! But that wasn’t the extent of her influence. Her comment encouraged one of my friends to write to her privately, saying how much I’d influenced my friend’s career over the years. It was the ultimate thank you note, not recognizing my influence so much, as recognizing my mom’s.

Of course, my mom doesn’t even know what Klout is, thought I can certainly say she has it. And you probably do too, regardless of who’s counting up your hits, bits and bleeps.

Influence isn’t a scorecard. To paraphrase an old saying:
Nobody cares how influential you are, until they know how much you care.