This year my kids switched to a new school, and for the entire week prior to the big day they were a bundle of nerves. When I asked them what they were most nervous about one of them replied, “That I won’t be popular.” Hearing this, I dropped my head. Where I had gone wrong as a parent trying to pass along the right values to his children? Being popular in and of itself isn’t a bad thing; trying to be, though, is. What followed was a nice little chat about being yourself, having self-confidence, and knowing what people really admire—a true Cosby Show moment.
Later that week Klout announced their new ranking algorithm which stirred up a flurry of new debate as to whether online influence can really be measured. Positions varied, but there are many who put a lot of stock in their Klout standing. This reminded me of the talk I had with my kids. How so? Because chasing after a Klout (or Kred, or PeerIndex, etc.) score is like trying to be the most popular kid in school--it means you're valuing the wrong thing.
The big problem, of course, is that popularity is often based on superficial criteria dictated by others, and, so, to be one of the cool kids you’ve got to conform to their standards. This is much like Klout’s algorithms for determining your influence. On the surface the combination of all those likes, follows, mentions, +1’s, and so on might make your company look like Top Dog at Social Media High, but is that what’s really important? No.
What companies should be paying attention to instead, if they want to be truly influential is similar to what I told my children: be yourself, be confident, and be real.
Be Yourself: I say this, but the starting point for being yourself is knowing who you as a company are first. Too often companies will fire up a Facebook page or blog, but they give no thought to their tone and voice. Sometimes it’s too formal; other times it’s not formal enough and in both cases the message fails to connect. Companies that understand their identity are more consistent in their messaging, and stand a better chance of appealing to an audience.
Be Confident: If you can be yourself, being confident should be a natural byproduct. Part of demonstrating confidence, though, is saying something in a way people will sit up and listen to. What I’m referring to here is the quality of content a company puts out. Many times it’s thin and bland or just a regurgitation of what someone said. Clients and potential customers will have greater faith in your company if you produce solid, usable content that shows you know what you’re talking about.
Be Real: Someone can be popular yet still be hated at the same time. Usually this is because they are a fake, and people hate fakes. The same is true in the social world. Consumers know when a company is pandering for a Like or a Follow, and they are turned off. What they do respond to, however, is authenticity, and companies that know how to do this in their social media efforts will gain a loyal audience as a result.
Ultimately what I’m getting at here is that true social influence can’t be definitively quantified—not as it is now anyway, not when you can buy Twitter followers and spike engagement with a few short-term promotions. What does that get you anyway other than some high numbers to show off? Shouldn’t the real measure of influence be the number of people who buy from you and who keep coming back as a result of your marketing efforts? If that’s the case, which companies will be the most successful, those with a high Klout score or those that can connect with an audience, using solid content in a way that's genuine and authentic?