No, this is not some silly diatribe about why you shouldn’t drink and tweet (though you shouldn’t). This is all about an article I read in the New York times by Stephanie Rosenbloom entitled “Got Twitter? You’ve Been Scored”.

The gist of the article is that companies like Klout, PeerIndex and Tweet Grader are trying to make a buck by rating you and selling that information to marketing companies. The theory being that the higher your “score” the more influential you are in the social world. This makes you very valuable to brands because your alleged influence translates into gross impressions or eyeballs or whatever they are looking for at the moment.

Leave aside whatever fuzzy math they are using to determine your Score of Influence(SOI). Can a number accurately reflect how powerful your tweets are? Will the scoreboard tell us if people are actually listening and paying attention?

This is a clever business model. If Klout and their ilk can convince the advertising community that these ratings are valid, money will flow into their coffers. Let’s face it, even though television is the most dominant (and effective) marketing medium – digital is so much sexier. That’s why you read article after article about the dramatic growth in digital advertising.

But, back to the scoreboard.

Going a little deeper -what exactly is influence, anyway? Isn’t it just another variation of word-of-mouth? Are you influenced by people you trust or people you follow? Is there a difference?

We all have way more on-line “friends” and contacts than we do in the real world. Who’s opinion do you value the most? Someone you trust or someone you follow?

Have Social Media so dulled our perceptions that we blindly follow every tweet or post – suspending our critical faculties because, well, the Internet is never wrong? (I read that on Wikipedia)

To be influential you need to be a credible authority on whatever subject you are talking about. If Seth Godin talks about marketing – I listen. He can influence my opinion. However, if he gives me a movie review or tells me how much he likes a new soft drink – I don’t care. I don’t know Seth as a person and have no idea if his tastes in movies or sodas are similar to mine. However, if my friend Tom posts about a great restaurant – I’m interested. I can guarantee you that Seth Grodin’s Klout score dwarfs my friend Tom’s. But, in this situation – who is more influential?

The point here is that all this brouhaha about influence comes back to the simple concepts of value and trust. Is what you are saying valuable – to ME? and, can I trust you. Are you shilling or sharing?

As social media continues its climb out of the primordial digital goo it evolves at an astonishing rate. It seems we are always playing catch-up. Looking for ways to define what we see. Trying to put some sense of order around this chaos.

SOI (I made that up, by the way) is yet another attempt to define and outline the power of Social Media. It has as much meaning as we ascribe to it. It will also have more meaning when someone comes up with a metric that covers every single social media platform and combines your engagements and interactions into one number. Facebook + Twitter + Your Blog + Flickr + How much you text + How many email accounts you have + Linked In = Good luck with that.

As I was thinking about this situation it came to me that we could actually game the system. If 20 or 30 of us got together and re-tweeted each other and “liked” everyone’s comments, we could actually raise our Klout score. Then, I found out that Danny Brown did exactly that.

The sheep expert. Who knew?

Your thoughts?

Steve Allan, Social Media Specialist