Short takes: tl;dr; online influence (#digitalsurrey); and the Internet of things (#cloudcamp)

It’s been another crazy week without any time for blogging so here are some quick highlights from the stuff I would like to have written about (and still might, time permitting!)

tl;dr

I was reading one of Matthew Baxter-Reynold’s articles on the Guardian website a few days ago and he gave a summary of the key points under the heading tl;dr.  I hadn’t seen that before but it turns out it’s an Internet meme – tl;dr is an abbreviation for “too long; didn’t read” – something that I suspect many of my blog posts suffer from. Maybe I’ll start including a tl;dr section in future…

Return on Influence

On Tuesday evening, Mark W Schaefer (@MarkWSchaefer) spoke at Digital Surrey about the use of influence marketing on the web. It was an enlightening talk and certainly something to consider as organisations increasingly judge our online influence in deciding how to (or whether to) react to and interact with us. My personal view is that Klout and its ilk are over-rated (Klout in particular is very much led by volume of online activity – if I go on holiday for a few days, my Klout takes a hit) but, if I were to give a “tl;dr” view on Mark’s talk it would probably include this diagram:

  1. Surround yourself with people who care about you (and your views) and have a pre-disposition to “move” (i.e. like, retweet, advertise, etc.) your content.
  2. Create unique and interesting content – have something to say (in order to make it “move”) – make it relevant, interesting, timely and entertaining.
  3. Be consistent in engagement – not just broadcasting but being authentically helpful and looking for opportunities to interact.

Common sense? Perhaps – but it’s how Mark suggests we build influence.  Read more in Mark’s book – Return On Influence: The Revolutionary Power of Klout, Social Scoring, and Influence Marketing.

(Jas Dhariwal has made a recording of Mark’s talk available.)

The Internet of things

The Internet of what? Well, depending on your source of technology reading material, you might have head that we’re increasingly connecting lots of “things” to the Internet – sensors, for example – and Wednesday saw a CloudCamp Special in London on The Internet of things. As usual, the evening was introduced by Simon Wardley (@swardley) with his well-practiced (but still interesting) talk on the cycle of innovation leading up to his vision of “augmented intelligence” supported by utility computing (cloud), big data, and intelligent mobile applications.

Then, onto the lightning talks with: Andy Bennet (@databasescaling)’s introduction to the Internet of things (it’s not new!); Raphael Cohn’s fascinating recital of how Smith Electric Vehicles overcame a major business issue in that “electric trucks rule, but batteries suck, and mobiles die”; Kuan Hon (@kuan0)’s rundown on cookie laws (which have a much broader impact than just websites); Paul Downey intruducing us to the wonderful world of open source hardware (which is far more extensive than I ever imagined); and Chris Swan (@cpswan)’s review of the Internet of Things in some of his favourite science fiction novels. Oh yes, a a couple of guys from Betfair stood up and tried to plug their new application cloud, which I’m sure is very good but seemed a little too like a vendor pitch to me…

Wrapping up with a panel discussion, before beer and pizza, it was a thoroughly agreeable way to spend the evening and I learned loads about the Internet of things… hopefully I’ll write some more on the topic over the coming weeks.

Can we measure online influence? And should we even try?

One of the challenges with managing corporate a social media presence is understanding the impact that you’re making. It’s notoriously difficult because there is no “one true way”. Indeed, if there was a simple way to assess online influence, I’d say that its inventor could clean up.

What we do have though is a number of indices – and two of the most common are:

  • Klout “the standard for influence”.
  • PeerIndex “understand your social capital”.

OK, so we have algorithms to generate a number, but I’m not convinced they are really measuring influence. Klout in particular seems to be swayed by volumes of online activity– I went on holiday for a week and tweeted less often, then my Klout score fell – no surprises there then; but did I really become less influential because I dropped out for a week?

Earlier this week, I wrote a post calling for “brands” to engage and not to simply use social media as a marketing tool to broadcast their own message (or positive customer feedback).  But there is another side to the story – what if you are a brand?  How do you target your limited resources effectively? How do you assess the influence of a social media renegade and decide whether they warrant a response or not?

I’m not sure that we should be trying to. Does it really matter whether a disgruntled customer is influential or not? If they are disgruntled, then they deserve help – even if that help is simply pointing them in the direction of the appropriate channel to get an appropriate resolution.  It’s interesting though to see where influence engines meay head in future (and, indeed, how they might be monetised).

At a recent Digital Surrey event, I was chatting with Simon Cast, Head of Product at PeerIndex. He sees a time when systems such as his will become integrated with customer relationship management (CRM) systems (like Salesforce.com). For a business, that’s valuable – when I call their customer services team, not only can they see details of my transactions with them, but they can also see if I’m influential in a broader sense (i.e. could I damage them if they don’t fulfil my request?).  And, not only will they see if I’m influential in general terms, but if I’m influential on a specific topic. A car manufacturer might not be too bothered if I’m influential in the world of telecommunications, but what if I could potentially affect people’s car purchase decisions?

I guess an analogy to the social capital-CRM tie up is a credit score. My credit score not only affects the financial services products that are available to me (and how much they cost) but it (along with other metrics) might be used to tell my bank how valuable a customer I am, and may influence the way that they interact with me (e.g. sending my call to a UK-based call centre instead of an offshore one). Online influence is a logical equivalent for customer service organisations, but it sounds like a risky strategy to me.

Just to recap on my earlier statement:

“[…] I know only too well the challenges of monitoring and measuring social media activity; the resources that are required; and I completely understand that it’s not always possible to respond to every mention of your company’s products and services.

Even so, I’ve heard of organisations that consider whether to respond based on the apparent influence of the user. That sounds dangerous to me – someone may only have a limited online audience (for example, a handful of followers on Twitter) but their influence could be much wider. Perhaps a journalist/analyst has a personal and a professional Twitter account (or a blog), one with just a few followers, the other much more influential? Maybe the aggrieved/frustrated consumer is also a CIO, or a stakeholder in the business services purchasing process?

We’re all consumers, but many of us have responsibility for business purchases too – and it’s unrealistic to expect that poor experiences as a consumer won’t prejudice business decisions […]”

So can we really measure influence? Maybe we’re getting closer, but I don’t think we’re there yet. And should we even be trying to? There might be some benefits, but beware of the risks too…