What Really Happens When Influence Increases?

Crowd of InfluencersJoe Fernandez of Klout recently said Klout’s goal is to help every person maximize their individual influence.

It is no secret, as a marketer you want to influence purchases. You use advertising, content marketing, PR, and the influencer programs Klout wants to sell, to change perceptions and purchasing behavior.

But what would happen if Klout achieved this goal and every person became more influential? How would it impact you as an individual and as a B2B marketer? (addition: I’m not saying Klout is necessarily a measure of influence, that needs its own separate discussion!)

The Diminishing Return on Influence

At some point, marketing activities reach a diminishing return.

  • If one email a week is driving great results, 10 emails a week won’t drive 10x the return.
  • If 50 GRPs a month is working well, 500 GRPs won’t work 10x as well.

Similarly, if the influence of people around you suddenly doubled, you wouldn’t start doing twice as much of whatever they recommend.

As individuals, there is a limit to the actions we can take. We are constrained by the number of hours in the day, our credit limit, our physical abilities or the other commitments we have already made.

If, at the advice of your financial advisor, you start spending less and saving more, your financial advisor becomes more influential in your life while others that were influencing your spending become less influential.

How Influence May Shift

So what actually happens when everyone’s influence increases? Here is what I would expect to see happen, I’d love to hear your view in the comments!

  • We will be buffeted by more and more influential voices, but with only a limited capacity to act, the actual net influence on our lives will be minimal.
  • Traditional channels of marketing influence, such as advertising, will lose among the increasing volume of influential voices competing for our attention.
  • The actual influence of the most influential people will increase, both as individuals seek out singular voices they can turn to and the voice of top influencers is spread further by everyone else. These names we know become beacons among the noise.
  • Our personal network, those we know, know the expertise of and trust, become more influential. Similar to the top influencers, they become the beacons we look to as are buffeted by more influences.

In summary, the most influential and our personal networks become more influential, but the mass of influencers Klout is looking to help will cannibalize their own influence.

Your Turn

Is Klout’s mission actually eroding the potential influence of every individual? As more people influence us, does the potential individual influence of each person actually decrease? It seems so to me.

Let me know what you think in the comments below or on Twitter (@wittlake).

Photo Credit: EA / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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  • geofflivingston

    I really see Klout as a game for the attention starved. In reality, attention is not necessarily influence, far from it. Hope you are doing well!

    • Agree, and I don’t mean to endorse Klout as a measure of influence here. That said, Joe’s statement, that they want to maximize influence of every individual, is a very interesting point to start thinking about. If everyone around you influenced you more, what would happen? How would all of that influence change your behavior, or would all of the increases mostly cancel each other out when looked at as the net impact on your life?

      Thanks for comment, I’m doing well here still. Hope you are also!

  • Hi Eric,

    Obviously I’m biased, but Klout and scoring platforms don’t offer influencers. They offer a high level starting point of people who could be influencers around a topic, but there’s nowhere near the level of detail needed – across several factors – to make the data truly valuable.

    The other “flaw”, if you like, is it’s using today’s definition of an influencer, and that places that person at the heart of the marketing circle. But they don’t necessarily have any commitment to a brand, other than the compensation they received. And they amy not connect to the target customer.

    It’s why we have to flip influence on its head, and place the customer back at the heart of the marketing circle. Do that, understand where they are in the purchase life cycle, know who is in their immediate and contextual circle when it comes to influencing their decision, and you’ll find the results you’re looking for.

    • Danny, I really like your closing perspective, thanks for sharing!

  • Sam Fiorella

    Your point is well made – and, in fact, supported by research. Danny and I share this concept and research in our book. It’s based on the power of dyadic relationships; the power to influence purchase behaviors lies in the one-to-one conversations we have with very specific people, at specific stages of the purchase life cycle (awareness, consideration, etc.) not in broad brand amplification to general audiences.

    The context of the relationship, the situational factors surrounding the customer, and the customer’s location within the purchase life cycle is what influences purchase decisions, not mass brand amplification.

    Klout’s mission to “create influencers” is self-serving. The more people playing their game, the greater their database, and the more they can earn from selling access to that database. Good for them. The problem , for brand marketers anyway, is that Klout-fluential people don’t necessarily have the required context to sway those purchase decisions. For B2B and B2C businesses alike, it’s a fools investment.

  • meganeskey

    I see Klout (today) as an imperfect but useful tool for influencers who are already influencing to measure and validate their impact, rather than a platform designed to maximize influence. Most of what happens via social media influence happens offline, during F2F conversations and decisions that are made outside of the digital arena. Klout doesn’t measure this. The key to being a real social influencer is having a consistent group of followers who have real “clout” outside of social media, and can act on your blog post and Tweets. Most of these people will never be social media influencers, since they have no time for that. Real “Klout” is much more than influencing purchases. Having social influencers as followers is the best way to get your message to the right people at the right time, so if Klout has a plan for creating more online influencers, more power to you…

    • Megan, agreed, Klout doesn’t actually measure real clout. Thanks for the comment!

  • JeanneBrown

    Thought-provoking and full of common sense, as usual, Eric. I first heard of this with The Attention Economy, written by Tom Davenport and John Beck back in 2002. Maybe some of the technologies have changed in the past 11 years, but the fact that we are humans with just 24 hours in a day hasn’t. It might be time to revisit this theory, given the proliferation of channels over the past decade.

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  • meganeskey

    If Klout is reading this, then I’d like to see the influence analytics platforms start to include blogging in the scores – not via # of comments, but via visitors from other countries. It is a global playing field now.

  • Eric, love it! There are some interesting assumptions in your section on how online influence may shift. A lot of it depends on whether influence is a zero sum game or not.

    Does one person’s rise in influence “take away” from another person’s influence?

    Let’s say that low degree of influence means getting someone to think differently. And higher degrees of influence mean getting someone to behave differently.

    (Some might argue that thoughts are a deeper degree of influence
    than action, but I’m taking an outcomes based approach to marketing

    Can the degree to which I am influenced by all other people rise and fall over time?

    Next, let’s look at reach vs. degree. A big name endorser may have a high reach, influencing tens of thousands of people, but the actual behavior change is quite low – a 1% increase in sales for that industry.

    Another advocate may have a low reach – interacting with just a few dozen people, but the degree to which they can cause permanent, sweeping behavior changes could be staggering. Think of small, niche communities, with a few key thought leaders.

    Lots of movement and related factors regarding influence. And as Megan writes, there’s much much more influence happening offline, that’s not measured by services like Kout at all. They’re probably tinkering with the algorithm right now to fix that…

    • Kitty Kilian

      Yep. I agree.

      Also – think of what happens when you get a new baby. You thought you had already invested all of your love in your partner. Bey hey, all of a sudden your heart has expanded by 100%.

      That does not take away from the love of your partner. Although admittedly your attention may shift a little ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Same thing happens here. Some older influencers may still keep their importance even if you spend less time with them, and move on a little.

      I think Klout is influential just because it is there. When I decide to follow someone via Hootsuite and Hootsuite shows me a high Klout score, I will follow back sooner.

      • Kitty, I like the parental analogy about having a new baby. It works! Love can be limitless, and influence can be limitless. Influence does not need to be a finite resource, unless we let it be so.

    • Andrew, awesome comment. I think a lot of this comes down to a definition of influence. I’m more in the “influence drives action” camp when it comes to the definition, and there, it is actually a zero sum game.

      More time on one thing (per @disqus_1DvCOGQPcf:disqus ‘s (That’s Kitty Killian’s, Disqus is acting wonky!) perfect example, when you have a baby) means less time on others. You may still care just as much about other things, but they don’t influence you nearly as much as they once did because a new baby is a pretty overwhelming influence.

      Completely agree on reach and relevance to an individual. I’m not actually a big fan of Klout, but I did think Joe’s vision statement in that Wired piece was provocative and sparked the thought on what would happen if everyone’s influence increased.