Monetizing influence will destroy the fabric of social media

What is influence? It’s a massive question in the world of social media. Thousands of man hours are being pumped into companies who are trying to solve the problem in the hope that one day, you’ll be able to search a category and an application will spit out exactly the 5 top influencers you need to be communicating with to push your product.
I’m in the lucky position whereby I could be classed as an ‘influencer’ in a field (not social, sadly!), so I can quickly decipher which tools work and which don’t. I’ve tried blog ranking systems, I’ve had a go on Klout and I’ve used bespoke services. The commonality between all of them?

They’re all useless.

It’s not their fault though. It’s the fault of online influence and all its amazing intricacies / variables. The simple fact is that you’ll never be able to have a perfect system that analyses influence; you’ll always need human intervention. Why? Because anything that has an algorithm involved can be gamed and is open to error (the banking industry felt the full force of over dependence on algorithms first hand).

I don’t want to share the dark arts of social media with you; needless to say, with a bit of elbow grease and some solid hours, you can quickly create the impression you’re an influencer on various platforms. Why would you want to do that? Well, now businesses know that the power of recommendation is a powerful marketing tool, they want to montize that.

For me, this goes against the basic fundamentals of social media. It’s the one area of marketing where a business had to become better if they wanted to engage with people. It’s been a land mark business leveller that once again put the customer in control of the relationship, now I fear we’re endangering that power by allowing ourselves to become part of the machine. Klout and their long term vision of rewarding influencers for talking about their products with gifts, vouchers and treats is a horrible concept.

We’ve seen first-hand that people don’t like being sold to by celebrities when they’re flogging chocolate bars via their Twitter accounts. I felt kind of betrayed when Jack Wilshere insisted on plugging a computer game via his Twitter account before Christmas. How would I feel if my friends were plugging high street coffee? Disgusted.

Dave from Chafford Hundred might have a lot of friends in my social network, but please, don’t think he has a clue when it comes to coffee, and don’t think because he’s recommended it in a status update I’m going to rush out to Starbucks, regardless of what his Klout score says. Creating a game out of influence wedges a block of mistrust into an arena that has predominantly, resisted marketing messages unless they were relevant and well thought out.

My hope is that influence is left in the hands of those who truly are influencers in their field. I hope that we don’t pay people to sell to their friends and I hope that we just accept that sometimes, the human eye is a more powerful tool than a fancy algorithm when it comes to identifying what is important to people.

@PeterWood33 from @SteakLondon

  • http://www.rubycanuby.com.au Daniel Upton

    Excellent points and well put There’s something cynical and empty about the monetization of influence. The funny thing is, many people using social media (in my circles at least) are secretly plugging away at their own ‘influence’ empire and would love the opportunity to make money from plugging a product – they justify this by saying they believe in the product and would have done it anyway. It’s a bit of an ethical gray area I think?

  • http://www.rubycanuby.com.au Daniel Upton

    Excellent points and well put. There’s something cynical and empty about the monetization of influence. The funny thing is, many people using social media (in my circles at least) are secretly plugging away at their own ‘influence’ empire and would love the opportunity to make money from plugging a product – they justify this by saying they believe in the product and would have done it anyway. It’s a bit of an ethical gray area I think?

  • http://www.text100-uk.com Lance Concannon

    Well said – I’ve wanted to write a post about this for a while, so kudos for getting their first.

    The fact that people are willing to believe “influence” is something that can easily be calculated from a few variables with a secret algorithm says a lot about their understanding of what influence actually is.

  • Nick Walter

    It has been interesting to see how this has evolved since the talk regarding rules for disclosing paid endorsements via social media, I have never seen a disclosure. Anything that mentions specific products makes me cringe if not by that company whose job it is to do that. Surely the best way forward, rather than plugging specific products via various influencers, is for brands to just talk & interact with their followers, so when they need your product/service, you will be one of the first that comes to mind. Like anything in life, if you have a good personality, people will like you, you are bang on that the human touch is needed, however more time consuming – it will always be better long term. I suppose the line between influencers and advocates is a thin one, the truth is no one likes to be sold to, but minds are easily influenced and brands will do anything to take advantage.

    Good read!

  • http://www.crowdsurfing.net Martin Thomas

    Social media is first & foremost an editorial rather than advertising channel. It works because we believe that the people we engage with are not driven by a financial imperative, but by a desire to communicate, share and reciprocate. As with other media, it needs to maintain a clear distinction between editorial and paid-for content. Unfortunately in their dash for cash, Facebook and Twitter are both blurring this distinction – Facebook Sponsored Stories being the most blatant example.

  • http://wewillraakyou.com Wessel van Rensburg

    Interesting points, but this monetisation of influence is what mainstream media has been doing for ages. And what Michael Arrington is doing now. This is just the start.

    This blog post is about why social media is so allergic to hierarchies (Long read) http://mhambi.com/2012/01/the-new-status-of-status/