Wednesday, May 2, 2012

If We’re All Influencers, Then Who The Hell’s Listening?!

I recently read a disturbing article about Klout. What exactly is Klout? It’s a company that measures social media analytics to determine people’s influence across their social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Because, you know, we all love to have a single number that places us in the continuum of people against Justin Bieber (the only celebrity with a perfect 100 Klout score). Aside from the admittedly great name, Klout frustrates me. In the Wired article, Sam Fiorella, a recruit interviewing for a VP position at a marketing agency, was dumbfounded when his interviewer asked for his Klout score. Right then and there, the interviewer looked up Fiorella’s score…a disappointing 34. In Fiorella’s own words, “[the interviewer] cut the interview pretty short after that.” Fiorella later found out he’d been eliminated as a candidate because his Klout was too low; they hired someone with a 67 instead.

Does that suck for Fiorella? Absolutely. But hiring people based on Klout scores isn’t where I take issue (although it’s level of absurdity should be noted). No one’s arguing that we aren’t an insanely connected society. I’m friends with someone on Facebook who I haven’t talked to since middle school, just because he posts really interesting articles about Israel. But with all those connections comes another symptom of social media today: constant information overload. A recent Washington Post article pegged the average number of friends on Facebook at 359 – although, to be quite honest, I couldn’t tell you the last time I saw someone my age with fewer than 500 (only 100 or so of them actually invade my News Feed). And while reports for the average number of Twitter followers vary widely, only 21% of people on Twitter have tweeted more than 10 times in the last month.

That’s a lot of people out there just listening. Listening to celebrities, friends, family members, politicians, and most importantly (at least for Sam Fiorella and marketers everywhere) companies. That’s why everyone’s out there trying to find the influencers today. They’re the ones who will say the new Malibu Red liquor is baller, or that the Doritos Locos taco is like “kissing a unicorn on a pot of gold.” Marketers love these people. They help constantly slashed budgets go further and get at that ever-important word-of-mouth factor that can be so elusive.

Influencers are the new nationwide commercial campaign in today’s online social media obsessed world. But I feel companies are getting caught up on the message disseminators and ignoring the people who are listening. Think about it, we only care about that blogger with 250,000 unique monthly views because the vast majority of those thousands visit it daily. And you know what? A lot of them may not comment. Companies can’t “reach” them in the comfy ways they’re used to. They can’t shape the message with a witty campaign crafted by the best New York creative staff.

How do companies solve the “listener problem”? Well, a logical next step could be to create tight relationships with bloggers and provide them with lots of product and lots of latitude to say what they want and lead their followers with a company behind them. But that breaks the precious independent blogger barrier that so many bloggers pride themselves on:

“If I’ve sold out to the man, then how will my followers know I’m telling the truth?!” “Why should they believe that I’m not another talking piece for a company?!”

Which brings us back to where we started. I don’t believe we’re anywhere close to solving the “listener problem” marketers and companies have in social media today. Where are your company’s listeners? What are they listening to is it you, or is it someone who just came across your product? How do you know what the listeners are doing with that information when they’re not online? Whoever and whichever company solves these questions will undoubtedly open the door for a way to move past Klout scores to find the holy grail of the next sale.

Justin Alsop is a graduate student in the Northwestern Medill IMC marketing program. He’s an avid listener and sometimes influencer, you can find him at @JDaneA.

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