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Return On Influence – A Book Review


Whether you like it, love it or hate it, whether you agree or disagree with its philosophy or purpose, there’s no denying the fact that Klout and other social influence scoring sites are changing the way we all think about online influence and social media. This is the overarching theme of Mark Schaefer‘s latest book, “Return On Influence – The Revolutionary Power of Klout, Social Scoring, and Influence Marketing”.

There is a simple reason for the meteoric rise of social scoring sites like Klout, Peerindex, and the newest kid on the block, Kred. They promise to keep a running score on something that’s inherently elusive and extremely difficult to measure in any quantifiable way: How likely is it that you will affect behaviour and actions related to a specific topic?

It’s pretty easy to see why this would be valuable information to have. Being able to identify key influencers around specific topics would give businesses and individuals much greater ability to communicate precisely focused messages.

There is of course a great deal of debate around whether such a thing is actually measurable, and whichever side of that argument you fall on I’ll leave you to decide. Ultimately though, the perspective presented in this book will provide insight in to how the algorithms calculate influence scores, the different ways certain actions will affect your score, and how businesses are using these sites to their advantage.

Mark Schaefer does an excellent job in this book by looking at the popularity of Klout, PeerIndex and others as a simple reality of today’s online world. The bottom line is: These sites exist. If trends continue, it’s clear that they aren’t going away anytime soon, so you’d best understand what they do, how they work, and what they can mean for your business.

Schaefer presents both sides of the story through relevant anecdotes and personal experiences. You’ll hear stories of tremendous success along side stories of people gaming the system and being discriminated during job interviews because their scores aren’t high enough. You’ll also hear how social scoring companies like Klout are constantly working towards more effective measurements and minimizing the chance that the system can be gamed.

Social scoring is in its infancy, and as a result it’s sound advice to keep an open mind about it. Given the frequency with which new communication tools have appeared in recent years, I don’t think that anyone can guarantee a prediction about how the business of social scoring is going to play out. But this book gives clarity to some very muddy waters. Overall, Return On Influence is an excellent read, and it will certainly give you pause to rethink your position on influence scoring, regardless of whether your for it or against it.

Find ‘Return On Influence’ on Amazon

Note: This review was not solicited in any way, and my copy of Return On Influence was purchased.

This article originally written for http://crowdshifter.com

Measuring Online Influence – Ridiculously Subjective, Subjectively Ridiculous

Influential? Maybe. But influential about WHAT exactly?

Yes, once again we’re talking about the ultimate divisive topic: Measuring Online Influence. Now, up until just today you’d be very hard pressed to get me to agree that the commonly referenced ‘influence scores’ are anything but arbitrary numbers that depict nothing more than the level of activity observed across the social landscape.

However, my opinion of the logic behind the approach of various influence measurements is now in a state of flux, and it’s the result of the least likely (at least, from my point of view) person who would ever influence me about anything: Justin Bieber.

Personally, I think the ‘manufactured celebrity’ that is ‘the Biebs’ is ridiculous in all forms. And one would assume that his actual ‘influence’ would be negligible to anyone over the age of 15. However, influence is a very subjective term, and can really only be used when talking about influence over a particular topic or action. It needs to be placed in to context, or it just doesn’t make any sense.

Bieber has a perfect Klout score of 100, theoretically making him one of the most influential people online. But influential about what, exactly? What’s the context?

The context for this particular example? Instagram

Bieber posted his first Instagram photo (a shot of a Los Angeles freeway during rush hour) a couple of days ago, and within hours had gained over 1700 followers. Currenty, he sits at over 5300 followers, making him one of the most followed users on the photo sharing service.

According to this article:


“Bieber was picking up 50 Instagram followers a minute in the hours after joining, with one comment every 10 seconds – unprecedented numbers for Instagram, which has seven million users.”

It’s also easy to rationalize that of the 11 million followers he has on Twitter, a portion of them likely ‘discovered’ Instagram as a result and proceeded to download the app and begin using it. He’s essentially increased the speed of adoption of Instagram among a certain demographic (ie: that of his followers).

So, we can safely assume the following course of events:

  1. JB uses Instagram
  2. JB gains thousands of followers on his Instagram account
  3. Instagram gains users from his pool of followers on Twitter
  4. Instagram’s user base increases as more of JB’s followers join
  5. Perceived value of Instagram goes up incrementally as user base grows

It sounds completely ridiculous that one single user can drive such adoption of a photo sharing service, but the proof is there. Justin Bieber has influence over his followers to adopt a new social photo sharing service.

But as you can see, this is one very specific instance of how someone with ‘celebrity’ status can influence a large group of people to adopt a service that doesn’t cost anything to use, and has no barriers to adoption other than simply owning an iPhone. His influence over his followers in other areas is likely insignificant. For example, I don’t imagine he’s influencing people to vote for one particular party, or to choose a specific college, or to choose one brand of car over another.

In addition, the current influence measurement systems have no way to actually distinguish between a topic of actual influence, and one that just generates activity. The two are often mutually exclusive. For example, if you make a mention of ‘elephants’ in a funny tweet that gets spread around, and all of a sudden the current metric systems believe you’re influential about elephants. Hardly an accurate measure of your real online presence, however.
I think that when put in to context, a person’s Klout score, PeerIndex number, or TweetGrader level may actually have an accurate correlation. The problem is identifying that context, and determining if it was simply a one-shot instance, or realistically representative of that persons actual expertise.

What’s my point? Your Klout score or PeerIndex number is fun to see, but should NEVER be used as an actual measure of someones influential value. They simply measure activity, and at best, the likelihood that in a specific instance their endorsement may possibly encourage adoption of certain things. Bottom line: It’s just not possible to measure someone’s influence based solely on activity. There are far too many other factors that come in to play.