Why The Conversation Prism Misses the Boat on Influence

Conversation Prism

Recently, Altimeter analyst Brian Solis released the fourth iteration of the Conversation Prism, a visual representation of where the social web stands today.

As part of this update the prism included influence, in a nod to how key this area of social media has become for today’s businesses, in both goals and tactics. Unfortunately, like many other examples, the influence part of the prism misses an opportunity to move beyond the obvious and really discuss where influence is going.

By primarily highlighting social scoring platforms like Klout and Kred, the prism talks less about influence and more about amplification, popularity and ego-centric versus customer-centric platforms (thanks for that last phrase, Chris Heuer!).

For me, this misses the much bigger influence picture, so I reached out to Brian on the original LinkedIn post, and discussed the inclusion of scoring and the exclusion of better solutions.

On Moving the Influence Conversation Forward (Or Not)

DB: What stands out is the Influence line. Same old platforms, either based around scores or single networks. Where’s the innovation? Where are the new leaders that are really pushing the influence discussion forward? Companies like Traackr, Appinions, InNetwork Inc., Tellagence, Measurely, etc? With their exclusion and your focus on the technologies that are questionable when it comes to measuring influence, it dilutes this data and leaves it looking a bit outdated even as it’s just published.

BS: Those companies are indeed leaders in the field. In fact, I’ve written about Digital Influence going back to the late 90s. However, their place is not on this version of the prism as the majority of them are services rather than networks. So, it’s more focused and therefore allows it to be iterative in a systematic fashion.

DB: Klout isn’t a network. Kred isn’t a network. PeerIndex isn’t a network. There is no networking to be had on these sites. Indeed, PeerIndex’s own chief data scientist sees them as the type of company that provides data and consultancy services to their clients. Even taking that aside, though, these companies aren’t really measuring influence – they need you to add your other networks for them to successfully “measure” you.

By that definition, they’re saying you’re only influential based on your public Twitter presence (since that’s all they effectively measure without your strict permissions and connecting of other accounts). It’s why their inclusion on a line of “influence” is skewing the data and reducing any validation of the prism itself.

If you want to highlight true influence, look at how Tellagence tracks the ebbs and flows of influential communities and how that changes; or Traackr’s INA solution of who influences the influencers; or Appinions and their use of offline data and reactions to flesh out online influence; or Measurely and their parent company, Lymbix, and how they can successfully identify the emotion an update or content instills in you, making it easier to identify what type of media, content, etc., to use when looking to attract that audience. *That’s* influence – scoring isn’t.

Tellagence Discover Visualization

BS: I tend to disagree…they are networks. And, if you read my report, you will see how I trash the “idea” of scores. Might help to read first. Saves time when you see we are in agreement.

DB: I read that report when it came out, and questioned it at time of publication. It proposes that scoring platforms track more than they do; they don’t. The majority of information they use is from the Twitter firehose, regardless of what they would have you believe (why do you think Kred is so worried about the legal case with Twitter?).

But you have to be consistent as well; in one breath, you say they’re influence platforms (your prism) and then in the other you say they don’t measure influence, but the potential (something we do agree on, though probably not to the same level). And I stand by the definition they are not networks – unless you call a +K a true interaction along the lines of a Twitter interaction or a G+ conversation. They are data repositories – nothing more, nothing less.

BS: No…no the report doesn’t draw that conclusion at all…in fact, it’s quite the opposite. And in terms of consistency…I’ve 10 years of research, development and experimentation in digital influence. My published work speaks for itself. In regards to an infographic that has “influence” as a category and not as a validation of the social networks that purport influence as a standard, that’s between you and those developers…

I merely created a sliver because the traction of some of those networks has the notable attention and budget of some of the biggest brands in the world. The center of the graphic is there for a reason. So, you can either try to pick a debate that at its root is out of context or you can focus your time on teaching other people about the merits of the services that help brands do a better job i.e. Traackr, eCairn, and the like.

And don’t forget, I co-founded and sold Buzzgain, which was an early player in this arena. If you step back from a ping pong game in the comments, you’ll probably find that I support your message and mission.

At this point I decided to not reengage as the conversation seemed to turn from a discussion about influence into a promo for accomplishments over questions about the inclusion of certain platforms when others would appear more suited to be there.

However, there were some valid points made, and some less valid ones, that deserve addressing, so let’s dig in some more here.

The Idea of Influence Platforms as Networks

Solis’s main reasoning for the inclusion of Klout, Kred, etc., versus more relevant platforms when it comes to actual influence, is that the former are networks while the latter are more service-led.

Yet within these platforms, there is absolutely zero networking opportunities or functions by today’s definition of a social network (unless the awarding of Kred or Klout points via a simple button click is classed as networking). Additionally, if they are networks, then shouldn’t they have been placed in the Network area of the prism?

However, moving beyond that simple overview, even the platforms included see themselves as services. Kred’s business model is to provide the data they gather to their clients, and act as a consultancy on how best to use them.

Kred for Brands

The closest influence platforms – public scoring or otherwise – come to “networking” is within the InNetwork model, where brands and influencers can connect directly within the portal and agree on project deliverables, compensation, etc. Even that, though, is limited to two parties, which makes it a more gated community/network versus a truly public one.

The Potential for Influence versus Actual Influence

In the report that Solis refers to, he speaks of social scoring platforms offering the “potential for influence” and this is where we definitely agree.

During research for our book, Sam Fiorella interviewed PeerIndex founder Azeem Azhar, who shared this interesting and definitive statement on where social scoring stands in the influence sphere:

There’s no real way for companies today, at a large scale, to identify who are the nodes that are more likely to spread messages around given categories. If you’re looking for the 7 people most important to me right now, PeerIndex isn’t for you. If you’re looking for the top 70,000, look to us. That’s where PeerIndex is and where we’re going.

There are two key parts to Azhar’s quote: influence can’t be built at generic scale, which is what scoring platforms profess to offer, and real influence comes from much smaller communities and interaction.

It’s why the platforms I suggested should be in the influence sector of the prism make much more sense than the current scoring-led inclusions – they’re measuring real influence and what that means for a business, versus those that may or may not be influential and lack relevance because of that.

The Social Bubble Needs Popping

I’ll freely admit I’m more than a bit biased when it comes to discussing influence and where it stands today, as far as the social web is concerned.

For the last three to four years, I’ve been a vocal critic of the data and identification methods that scoring platforms use when it comes to determining influence. They’re built for generic metrics, that agencies and brands can use to start the real legwork.

Indeed, in a recent survey of more than 1,300 marketers, brands and agencies commissioned by ArCompany and Sensei Marketing, 94% said “they didn’t fully trust the metrics provide by scoring platforms”, with 55% stating that “scoring platforms were ineffective at identifying influencers.”

influence marketing survey

These are the very companies, brands and professionals that the Conversation Prism is geared towards, and highlights why the continued inclusion of scoring platforms is in danger of diluting the authority of the prism itself.

If we’re to truly move beyond the social media bubble that seems to regurgitate the same names and platforms year in, year out, we need to offer real answers and solutions versus those that have bigger awareness but less relevance.

Once we do that, everyone benefits, because only the best and most relevant information is being offered. And isn’t that where we all aim to be anyway?

image: ConversationPrism.com

You can download the full Conversation Prism here.

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