The Rise of Online Influence – Coverage of Two Sessions at SXSW 2011

I attended two packed sessions at SXSW focused on the power of online influence. With the rise of companies like Klout it is a topic that has become more and more buzz worthy over the last year. I wrote about the rise of Klout here.

Is online influence important and is it valid to use a quantitative Klout score as a measure of your influence?

Below, I have tried to piecemeal some of the highlights from the sessions.

Amplification is the new search

Influence is about amplification, meaning the likelihood that your online content will be acted upon, for example in the form of re-tweets or comments. Sloane Berrent, Founder of Lippe Taylor, pointed out it is becoming more important to be amplified in social media than to show up in top three of Google. However, amplification does not do it alone. It is about having amplification from the RIGHT people.

Influence does not equal popularity

There was a lively debate over the topic of influence versus popularity. Moderator and social media consultant Saul Colt was most vocal about the topic, using Charlie Sheen as the example. Just because Charlie Sheen reached more than a million followers within days, does not make him influential. Would you want Charlie Sheen to pitch your product? Click to read his blog on the topic.

Having a broad audience is useless in itself, it is about having a relevant audience where you can build trust and credibility. Loose associations on facebook are not as powerful as niche communities.

This quote puts it in perspective:

Don’t count the people you reach. Focus on reaching the people who count.

Fast Company’s Influence Project was categorized as a popularity contest. Here is what was written in the program:

“Influence “experiments” like Fast Company’s project do more harm then good when it comes to defining and measuring influence. It’s more than how many people you can get to vote for you. Instead of counting the people who you reach, you need to reach the people who count.”

Click to check out the Influence Project.

How to reach the right influencers: context and passion

Influence is about context and passion. Sloane Berrent explained how she tweeted about using a particular chair. The company listened to the conversation, then followed up and offered her a chair, free of charge. Because she was passionate about this particular chair it was an authentic experience that resonated with her followers. Later on another chair company reached out to the ten successful bloggers, offering them a free chair each. This approach is risky, since it doesn’t tap into passion but follower count. Some bloggers tweeted about the free chair, but their motivation was monetary, not passion.

Does Klout work?


During one of the sessions (“throwdown”), I asked this question:

The panel was skeptical about Klout, saying there needs to be a qualitative review as well as a quantitative to measure true influence. Klout has no context (yet), and should only be used as one of many tools.

Later on in the next session, Joe Fernandez, CEO of Klout, agreed that Klout is not the end all, and the process of measuring influence cannot be completely automated. However, he said Klout is working hard to optimize their algorithms, and they are “obsessed with getting the data right.” Your Klout score is measured at the topic level, meaning how does your network respond to your topical messages?

Klout’s focus this year will be to clean up the data and deal with bots and spam. They want to reduce the amount of “chit-chat” interfering with getting a true measure of influence. Next year, they will dive deeper into understanding people’s influence at the topic level.

So far Klout has conducted several marketing campaigns on behalf of brands like Disney, Nike and HP. Many have been successful, but there has been some backlashes. Joe Fernandez emphasized, giving influencers special treatment does not mean you should treat the rest crappy. Connecting marketers with influencers work when it is on target, and you reach super passionate people.

Along with “gamification”, “online influence” perhaps were the words most buzzed about at SXSW. It will be interesting to see how the business model evolves.

The two sessions:

Influencer Throwdown: Proving Influence Once and For All

Saul Colt, Smartest Man in the World

David Binkowski, EVP Digital Mktg, Lippe Taylor

Kevin Dugan, Dir Social Mktg, Empower MediaMarketing

Krista Neher, CEO, Boot Camp Digital

Influencers Will Inherit the Earth. Quick, Market Them!

Anthony Ha, Sr. Editor, VentureBeat – Moderator

Joe Fernandez, CEO, Klout

Mike Yavonditte, CEO, Hashable

Sloane Berrent, Founder, Lippe Taylor


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