Charlie Sheen Shows Us that you Can’t Measure Influence

I’ve been thinking a lot about influence and influencers lately.  It is the title of my SXSW panel (along with the talented Kevin Dugan, David Binkowski and Saul Colt).  Businesses and social media experts alike talk about how important influencers are in building your business.

The problem is defining what exactly influence is.

One of my favorite books is titled Influence.  It focuses on the key psychological triggers that ultimately cause us to take action.

So, if influence is the ability to drive action in others, how then, do we find and define “influencers”.

There are a lot of measurement systems that try to help us define influence online.  Many of them focus on things like audience size, popularity, people who respond to you, etc.

The problem with these metrics is that they are missing is key factor.  There is a HUGE difference between influence in the sense of being able to incite action and having people listen to you.

Charlie Sheen has Massive Klout… or does he?

For example, Charlie Sheen recently joined Twitter, and before he even Tweeted he had a million followers and a Klout Score of 57, which is pretty high..  Klout is a social media measurement tool that scores accounts based on “influence”.  Sheens account immediate received a high Klout Score because by there metrics, he seemed influential.  He had lots of followers (even though he wasn’t following anyone back), a verified account (which means he is a business or celebrity) and probably a lot of mentions.

The problem, is that Sheen isn’t actually influential.  He is entertaining in a train-wreck kind of way.  Sure lots of people are following him (#tigerblood is even a trending topic) but not because he can inspire them to take action.

Brands who use Klout will often look at a Klout score as a way to identify influencers and then try to connect with them or offer them free stuff in an effort to have the “influencers” talk about their products.

In the case of Sheen, imagine if companies like Virgin Airline offered him freebies in order for him to mention them.  It would actually have a negative impact on their brand.

The real problem is three-fold.

    1) Audience does not equal influence

Having a large audience, even an audience that interacts and responds to you, does not necessarily mean that you can influence them.  Voice or reach is only one part of the equation.  Trust and credibility are the other part.

    2) Influence is topical

Even if I do have “influence” it is probably somewhat topic specific.  For example, people probably take my advice about social media, hockey or igloo building, but would ignore my advice about fitness tips.  That is because “influence” isn’t universal – it is typically related to topics of perceived expertise.  I would trust Sheen’s advice about strippers but not investments.

A few years ago I tested a service called Sponsored Tweets where I was paid $10 to Tweet something specific.  The Tweet I was given was about a K-Mart Blue Light Special on Diamonds.  I don’t shop at K-Mart and I have never purchased a diamond.  Many people responded to the tweet, with comments like “haha – was that a mistake?”.  My Tweet appeared to ignite a conversation, but it wasn’t relevant or positive.

    3) Marketers should still do lots of research

There are no short-cuts here. Blindly relying on a Klout score or website traffic usually doesn’t work.  Metrics can be general indicators, but trying to quantify the qualitative never really works well.

I’ve seem spam accounts earn really high Klout Scores by gaming the system.

I’m not saying don’t use Klout, but rather do your research and know what it is and what it isn’t.  It is not a measure of influence.  It is not a substitute for manually seeking out the people with a relevant voice in your industry.  It isn’t perfect.