You know you’re getting older when you think you’re discussing current affairs and the other person thinks you’re talking history.

For the first time ever, we have an economically active generation that knows life only with the Internet.  The net generation is unlikely to have ever experienced the pleasure of queuing at a travel agent to book a flight or at a bank to cash a pay cheque. I doubt they’ve waited in the rain to make a call from a public phone box either.

While people like me view the Internet as a technology that has challenged and transformed traditional industries like music distribution, newspaper publishing and communications, the net generation doesn’t see the Internet as disruptive – it’s just how they do stuff.

Return on Influence

Last night, I went to hear Mark W Schaefer*, an American marketing consultant, author and university lecturer, give a talk about the changing nature of ‘influence’ in the digital or social media age.  Mark is a charming man, passionate about his subject and, like me, lived in the world before the birth of the world wide web.

“We are on the cusp of a marketing revolution led by a new breed of influence marketers. Social media is democratising influence.  Anyone can have it. Everyone can have a voice.”  OK, a bit over the top maybe, but he is American and he did have a new book, Return on Influence, to plug.

Schaefer believes that social media is eroding the old marketing segments of ‘B2B’ and ‘B2C’ which have dominated thinking for decades, in favour of what he calls P2P, or person-to-person. The net generation is more likely influenced by individuals than institutions, making online influence an important and valuable commodity for marketers to tap into.

The key question is how to tap into this evolving army of new web-based influencers. It starts, Mark told us, with understanding who they are.

Thankfully, companies like Klout and Peerindex have been developing social influence scoring systems that determine social influence on the web.  On Klout, everyone is scored between 1 and 100.  The higher the score, the more influential you are. The average is 19, while 30 is pretty good and 50+ makes you a little bit special.  Justin Beiber is the only person with a Klout score of 100.  That’s higher than Barack Obama.

Measuring digital clout

By assessing your Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts, and looking at your blog and the level of interaction, engagement and ‘followship’ and running this data through an algorithm that’s as secret as Harland Saunders’ secret seasoning, these companies can identify and stack rank who has influence and who doesn’t. They can drill down to areas of specific influence too – like photography or music.

Some people are now publishing their Klout scores on their CV in the United States. The company, meanwhile, hopes that one day when a customer calls a call centre for customer service, the system will know their Klout score and place them in a fast or slow moving queue – businesses need to treat influencers better than those with none.

For people that grew up in the traditional, pre-internet world of marketing and communications, all of this could be a daunting development.

But wait. The comms department has been identifying influencers, stack ranking them and treating them differently since the bogeyman was a bogeyboy.  We’ve always known who the most influential journalists, analysts and commentators are. We know exactly how to work with them.   The new generation of digital influencers are no different.  We can work with them too.

The Internet has not yet created a new industry, except maybe itself. What it has done is to disrupt existing industries and existing processes, make them more efficient, reduce the barriers and cost of entry and moving marketplaces online.

I came away from Schaefer’s talk with a copy of his book under my arm and a clear thought in my head.  If you’re a ‘seasoned’ comms person fearing the inexorable rise of social media, there’s no need to stick your head in the sand and pretend it isn’t happening. There really isn’t any need to be a communications dinosaur.

Honestly – and whisper it – but we already know how to do this stuff.


*The event was organised by TechMap and hosted by Fishburn Hedges