Should Social Influence Matter?

Should Social Influence Matter?
March 23, 2012

A couple of days ago, Altimeter Group’s Principal Analyst Brian Solis released his report on The Rise of Digital Influence. In the report, Solis makes a pretty compelling case for why brands (and individuals) should put more emphasis on understanding and growing their digital influence, since it will likely be a determining factor in the appeal of both businesses and consumers. More importantly, the report makes a thorough dissection of how to properly define social influence – a much needed analysis.

Perhaps my favorite point of his study is a statement I’ve been humbly echoing for some time: “Brands cannot afford to make marketing or engagement decisions based on scores alone.” The “scores” Brian is referring to are Klout, Kred, and other influence measurement platform scores, which attempt to show the social strength of an individual or brand in one simple, easy, jazzy number. It’s human nature to want a simple answer to a complicated question, and that’s why these numbers have infiltrated the hearts and minds of social users for a while now. In fact, some get really nutty about it, especially when their score goes down.

Assuming that the report is right on, we need to prepare ourselves as digital marketers (if we haven’t already) to make social influence a part of our daily work.

But I fear we’re teetering on a dangerous slope.

Social influence is strategic and important when dealing with brand advocates and other marketing alliances. I won’t argue that, in fact I encourage this. But what about your customers? Sure, most of your brand advocates ARE customers…but have we thought about the customers who aren’t advocates and have no influence whatsoever according to Klout or any other combination of metrics?


One of your customers has an issue and wants to voice it over social channels (as you encourage them to do). Many companies, and social software vendors, already advocate responding to customers based on their influence or, more basely, on their Klout scores. This essentially splits your customer base into two groups – the group whose influence is high enough for you to respond to in effort to keep them from tarnishing your brand (or to suck up to them) AND the group whose influence is low enough for you to be ok with sweeping under the rug so as not to cause a “public” scene about a problem.  

End scene.

You could make the argument that the rising importance of influencer engagement won’t spill over into customer support…but I truly feel it will, largely because we’re already starting to see it. I once read a BRILLIANT post on how this was happening and, more importantly, why it was a horrible idea for brands, but I can’t even find it now because the internet has been barraged with so many posts of people mercilessly complaining about their Klout score going down one point. Yes people, the voive of the silent, Kloutless customer has officially been drowned by the high and mighty 1% of influencers!

Putting logistics, strategy, and political humor aside, this trend is disturbing because it goes against the very fundamentals that put social marketing on the map. Social gave EVERYONE a voice and forced brands to finally pay attention to the little guy. It turned the pyramid of one to many upside-down and redefined the way companies communicate, provide service, and realize revenue because the customer was put first. The prevalence of social influence may be a leap backward into the dark ages.

Brian Solis makes an excellent point in that influence is not a simple measurement and needs to be carefully considered. I only hope that when push comes to shove, we don’t forget about our core values and why we got on social in the first place.

I’m very curious to get your opinion. How do you measure social success? How much is digital influence a part of your game plan?