Influence(r) Retort

By now, many of you have probably noticed (or ignored) the Fast Company Influencer Project, an attempt to measure and analyze influence via Twitter. It is an experiment gone awry. According to the Fast Company Editor, Bob Safian, this is what it is about:

The big-picture goal of this project, editorially, is not a popularity contest. It is part of a real-time experiment in how influence spreads and who spreads it. It isn’t perfect, but we believe drilling into the data will yield useful information and spark insights–including the kinds of discussions going on here about whether more clicks really equates to more influence.

The text above was posted as a comment on Esteban Kolsky’s post “Breaking Rant: Fast Company is Incredibly Stupid“. In addition to his core post, which takes a rather direct – typical Esteban – approach to the whole thing, there are some great contributors in the comment section. First, this is my favorite part of what Esteban had to say:

It does not measure influence, by any stretch of the imagination,it simply measures reach (as well as how popular people are).  I could mount a campaign across networks to get people to click on my link, my reach across all networks is close to 120,000 people (I think I got this from some web-based tool or another).

I would add to Esteban’s point, as did Maria Ogneva (Attensity) and many others who are actually influencers. This is simply a veiled popularity contest, but it has likely had the side effect of decreasing the influence of the magazine itself. At least it has for me.  The fun part, in watching this is that some actually believe that this a real measure of influence. But, I will let you be the judge – no pressure, do not click the following link if you do not want, Martin, nor anyone else will be upset if you do not click the–>> Please Vote <<–button, right there. There is actually a quick Twitter poll behind the link, and the results might be interesting, but I will be the very first to admit that the data behind the poll is skewed, has little meaning and does not measure either reach or influence, but please take the vote, just for fun.

Applying an Unbalanced Force

From the description of of the project, I take particular issue with the following:

What the Influence Project aims to do is remove some of the mystery behind the inherent passivity of social network numbers. This experiment will show what happens when an individual takes an audience at rest and applies an unbalanced force–through suggestion, advice or direction–that converts it into an army of action.

Really?!  By asking people to ‘Tweet’ about influence in order to measure influence is not pushing things to simply an unbalanced state, but an unnatural state. What will be found is how people can game the system, not actually have influence when or to whom it matters. The simple fact that so many high profile bloggers (not me, others) are talking about it has already skewed any meaningful results. The only way to truly understand some of these concepts, call it influence or really the science behind Complex Adaptive Systems is to measure it when no one is looking. Otherwise, you come up against another long standing principle, which basically says that the simple act of measuring something alters the outcome (see here for more details).

The Social Web is a strange, dynamic and constantly evolving beast. The rules are unwritten, thus building a strategy around it is not easy. What does this have to do with CRM? Absolutely nothing, except that the Social Web is where your customers hang-out.

7 thoughts on “Influence(r) Retort

  1. I love this blog, really pleased to see it show up in my SugarCRM install and always very interested in the educated, savvy tone and breezily intuitive insights. Thank you, CRM Outsiders team!

    Best,
    Matt Jackson
    St Petersburg, FL.

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  6. Mitch,

    I don’t know if you’ve been following my dialogue with Esteban and Maria. I certainly appreciate that you’re disappointed by our experiment. I hope you’ll remain patient with us. Our goal is to spark a dialogue, and the Influence Project is just one piece in a string of editorial coverage that will unfold on fastcompany.com over the coming months and in the pages of our November issue. As journalists, we can’t expect everyone to agree with our articles, nor to marvel at every question that we ask (and every answer that we receive). But our goal is far more to gather information than to count clicks–and we well know that counting clicks alone is just one slim aspect of online influence, virality and credibility. I hope we haven’t disappointed you so much that our credibility has been exhausted, and I hope you’ll continue to pay attention to our efforts. As you say so astutely above, “the Social Web is a strange, dynamic and constantly evolving beast.” We’re trying to shine a light on that beast for our readers, even as it continues to move and morph. The dialogue we’re engaged in here is an important part of that process.

    Bob

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