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Influence: What it Is and How to Get it! (Interview with @MarkWSchaefer)

Social influence marketing.

It’s the hot current marketing trend in the world, as personified by a host of companies like Klout, PeerIndex, Kred, and others.

But it’s such a new field, that hardly anyone really has a handle on it yet.

Mark Schaefer is the exception. He gets it, because he spent the better part of a year researching it from the inside out, in writing his new book Return on Influence.

I was a bit skeptical of the book at first; would this be another one of those trend-riding books that are filled with hype, and little substance? Is the field even mature enough for there to really be substance to report?

Well, I read the book, and the answers are “no”, and “yes” – the book is amazing, rich, and incredibly valuable.

Which is why I reached out to Mark and asked him to do an interview, to share some of his great ideas with our readers.

It was a great interview, and I’m very pleased to share it with you. Enjoy!

Interview with Mark Schaefer about social influence marketing (29 minutes)

Click here to download the transcript.

Here are the highlights of the interview (and a transcript):

Questions Asked…

  • Who are you and why are you awesome? [00:40]
  • Can you tell us about your two books? [01:50]
  • What is the real Return on Influence, and who gets it? [06:05]
  • How accurate is the abstraction of influence in terms of Klout’s measurement, and how accurate can it become? [11:35]
  • Is influence as they’re describing it too big of a word? [15:25]
  • What decisions can and can’t people and business owners use a Klout score to make? [17:45]
  • How much weight can you give a Klout score all things not being equal? [19:55]
  • If our listeners cleared 3 hours this afternoon to apply some of what you’ve talked about, what should they do with that time? [25:00]

Topics and Resources Mentioned…

Distilled Wisdom from Mark Schaefer…

  • Influence has been democratized. Anybody can publish and have power on the web for the first time in history.
  • You’ve got to create interesting content, you’ve got to surround yourself with people who are interested in that, so they like the content. The content has to move through the internet, maybe through the world for you to have that influence.
  • Klout and other social scoring platforms are only looking at one small sliver of online influence which is: can you create content that gets shared and creates a reaction.
  • The ability to move content is a legitimate source of power.
  • This is an opportunity to understand social scoring and influence on the social web, and go get in on the ground floor of a lot of this stuff.
  • Increasingly, people in sales, in marketing, in PR, in customer service, even in HR, a big part of their job is going to be: how effective are you at creating some kind of value on the social web?
  • Klout scores open up a line of questioning: why is this person relatively more effective on the social web?
  • As a business person, you’ve got to understand what’s going on. You’ve got to understand this opportunity.

And don’t forget that you can also download the transcript of this podcast.

Interview Transcript:

Danny: Hi everyone, this is Danny from Mirasee and I’m very excited to be on the line today with Mark Schaefer, who blogs at Businesses Grow, he teaches about business and social media, he has written two fantastic books, both of which I’ve read. One is called the Tao of Twitter, which is about to be released in a  new addition, it may have actually just recently been released in the new edition by the time this goes live, and another book which is really ground-breaking stuff called Return on Influence. We’re going to talk a lot more about all this stuff, but I want to start by saying Mark, hello, and thank you so much for being on the call today.

Mark: Hello Danny, I am delighted to be here with you.

Danny: So let’s start with this, maybe you could do a quick, kind of two-three minute answer to the question: who are you and why are you awesome?

Mark: Oh boy, you know, it’s very difficult to describe myself as awesome. I’m not the self-promotion type. I am a social media enigma because I don’t like, I’m uncomfortable promoting myself but, I am, I think, first and foremost, Danny, I am a teacher. I’m a college educator, I teach in the graduate studies program at Rutgers University, and I think everything kind of stems from that. My speaking, my blogging, and my books all are, all just teach people, I think, in different ways. I use every opportunity to teach, so, I think that’s how I consider myself, how I would characterize myself. As you mentioned I do blog, I enjoy that, it’s probably the most fun thing that I do, and I’ve written the two books which is, I have been so fortunate that they’ve been very well received and they’ve been very, very popular. So that’s kind of, and you know, I consult on the side as well, but again, it’s all really just down to teaching.

Danny: Cool, so tell us about the two books.

Mark: The first book I actually self-published in 2010 and it’s called the Tao of Twitter, T-A-O, you know the Chinese pronunciation is actually DOW which means the path. And I got interested in this because the number one question I was asked was: “can you help me understand Twitter?” and you just can’t do that over a cup of coffee. So I had this idea to write a small book that someone could read, a business owner could read, in 90 minutes and really get it. And it’s so curious Danny, because at that point, the big publishing houses had no interest in that at all – they wanted a big book, they wanted a 240-page book, and I said: “I am not going to write a big book about Twitter; that goes against all my principles.” So I wrote a small book that you could read on an airplane flight. And it’s for busy business people that are just frustrated with this very difficult communication channel, but this very powerful marketing opportunity called Twitter, and so it became a sensation. I self-published the book and it’s now the best-selling Twitter book I the world. And then in 2011 I started working on this idea I got interested in Return on Influence, on the idea of social influence marketing. I wrote a blog post about Klout, K-L-O-U-T, which is one of the companies that is just kind of bold enough and arrogant enough that to say: “we’re trying to measure your influence.” And when I wrote that blog post, it just kind of blew up, and people got mad about it, they got emotional about it, and yet, Danny, I was seeing these companies actually starting to use these new measurements and these news techniques in their traditional marketing plans. And they were doing all of these really interesting experiments, and these were companies like, you know, Disney and American Express, I mean, these weren’t no shlock marketers, so I thought, you know, there’s something there. And it’s been very controversial, the whole idea of social influence measurement, and what I try to do in the book is say: “Look, here are the facts, here’s the history of why social influence marketing is important, this is how we got there, here’s a little bit of the math and the science behind this.” And I don’t want to say it’s a math book because it’s not, as you know it’s a very easy book to read, it’s a fun book to read. And I think it’s, what I hope people will get out of this is when they put the book down, after they read Return on Influence they kind of say: “yeah, I get it now, I see what the buzz is about and I can look at this in a logical, practical way to see if this fits for my business.” That was really the goal of that book.

Danny: And you’ve done it very well, you’ve written a book that somehow manages to almost evangelize the space of social scoring and Klout in particular without turning a blind eye to the shortcomings and to the limitations and it’s very balanced book despite the enthusiasm, which is a really hard thing to do, so congratulations for that.

Mark: Thank you, and you know, it was a hard thing to do, because, you know, really, in our marketing space, social influence has kind of  been, I mean, Klout has kind of cornered the market on that so, and Klout, you know, they’ve made some mistakes, I mean, they’ve made some strategic mistakes, they’ve made some PR mistakes, they’ve disappointed a lot of people and it’s hard to be associated with social scoring as a marketing channel and not be associated with Klout, which can get a lot of people emotional, so, it has been a difficult balance to achieve.

Danny: Cool. So, let me ask you about the title. Return on Influence, like, I mean, I get obviously ROI the play on “return on investment”, but what is the real return on influence and who gets the return, is the return for Klout, primarily? Is the return for people who are kind of playing the game, trying to raise their score?

Mark: Well, one thing that I already talked about kind of the first main theme of the book and that was to really help business, business people, small business owners, marketers, understand: what is this about?  The second big theme of the book is, I hope that people are inspired by this, to see that it doesn’t matter, Danny, where you were born. It doesn’t matter what the color of your skin is. It doesn’t matter how much money you have or what college you went to. Anybody can grab this opportunity. Everybody can publish, everybody can have their voice be heard and create their own power and influence on the web. And influence has been democratized, that’s one of the messages of this book and naturally, I’m not suggesting that Return on Influence is any kind of statistical measure, it’s not. What I’m saying is that everybody has the opportunity to find, for the first time, for the first time in history, they should find their own return on influence. If they know how to do it. If they follow the steps that I have in the book. You’ve got to create interesting content, you’ve got to surround yourself with people who are interested in that, so they like the content. The content has to move through the internet, maybe through the world for you to have that influence. And so the book teaches you in a very practical way how to do that. And so I hope people read this book and they say: “Wow. I am excited by this!” And I hope they don’t get all obsessive with Klout scores. Of course, I hope they just look at the opportunity, this historic opportunity, just explore and really, to grab this.

Danny: And there’s something really interesting in the book, I mean, because I can see a lot of people picking up the book and you know, I’m describing a kind of use case, so they’re picking up the book hoping to, just, you now, get a handle on Klout and they read the book and they get excited and they start wanting to raise their Klout score, they want to, I think I’ve seen a lot of people who read the book, who reviewed the book, who were talking about the book and I have the same experience, you know, after reading the book, you watch your Klout score every day for two weeks. And you get very excited when it goes up like a fraction of a point or down a fraction of a point.

Mark: Yeah.

Danny: And so there is that effect, and then you try to raise your score, and you might try to really hack the system to raise your score, like, what are the things that Klout is looking for? But, you know, putting aside like really stupid black-hat kind of stuff that, you know, they’ll catch sooner or later and it doesn’t really do anything, but all the other stuff that they’re looking for, it’s kind of like an: act as if you’re influential in a way that raises your influence, because, you know, influential people have the ear of other people and they crate content for other people to consume, well if you do all that, if you create content for people to consume they are going to listen, they are going to be interested, it does actually make you influential. To a certain degree. And I want to, I want to ask you about that, that certain degree, because… So, any kind of scoring system, any kind of model is an abstraction. And it’s only accurate inasmuch as you build a system based on good information and feed good information into it. And so I’ve got a couple of things to throw out there and I just, I want to hear what you think, because, you know, I actually have the expert on the line and that’s really exciting to me. So first thing is that there’s a lot of things that Klout can’t measure. It’s very easy to measure, you know, how many Twitter followers you have and how many times your stuff gets re-tweeted, but as you’ve written on several occasions, I mean I’ve read this on your blog many times; Twitter is not a very influence-powerful, kind of medium. When you tweet about something, even If you’ve got tens of thousands of followers, they’re very unlikely to take action. Whereas, if you have a mailing list a fraction of that size but to engage readers and, you can drive a lot of action that way. Except that Klout doesn’t tap into AWeber or MailChimp or any of those providers. And the other thing is that there is kind of a question of: you play the game and try to raise the scores and so forth, only if you’re still kind of on the way of having something to prove, and, and I can, you know, speaking from myself, I’m certainly much more established, I’m much more recognized as an authority than I was years ago, and I’m very comfortable with that, but I’m not like a global superstar, yet. And I’m still kind of climbing that ladder and it’s, it’s very interesting to me that my Klout score is three points higher than Mitch Joel‘s, which says absolutely nothing about the disparity between Mitch Joel’s knowledge, expertise, reach and influence vs. mine. Which you know, his are dramatically higher than mine, you know? I have nothing but respect for the guy. But he’s just not a guy who has any need or interest in playing the game. And so, how accurate is that abstraction really right now and how, how accurate can it become?

Mark: Yeah, I think, first of all, you need to take a step back and look at what Klout and the other companies are trying to do. And they’re trying to look at something very, very narrow. They’re not looking at how influential you are at work, they’re not looking at how influential you are at home, they are only looking at one small sliver of online influence which is: can you create content that gets shared and creates a reaction? And they’ve got these powerful algorithms, they’ve got PhD scientists working on this stuff every day, so, you mentioned Mitch Joel, or a guy like Brian Solis, or even yourself, Danny. If you look at what is your source of influence, look at your own career, or look at Brian’s career. Three years ago or five years ago, before we had the opportunity to create content that got shared, who would have heard of Brian Solis five years ago? I think Brian is a very bright guy, no doubt he’d be very successful. But would he be the well-known kind of guru celebrity that he is today if he couldn’t publish content that moves? No. That is the source of his power. That’s the source of my power. I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to write the book if I didn’t have a blog that built an audience. You’ve done a wonderful job with your blog, with Twitter and with your book, so you’re creating content that moves. So on a relative basis, you could say Brian does it better, and does a better job than me, and you have done a better job than, you know, many, many other people, and so, I think on a relative basis, Klout scores more or less only look at that. They look at: is this someone who is creating content that moves and gets a reaction? So, that’s all it does. And I think it does measure something. I mean if you look at who has Klout, high Klout scores, and who doesn’t, it kind of passes the sniff test. It’s like: “yeah, those people can really move content.” And I think it’s, the ability to move content, is a legitimate source of power. I mean, I would contend that if someone like Chris Brogan or Brian Solis, that’s their major source of power, and wouldn’t, they would have very limited power without that. Or even a guy like Robert Scoble, he built his name on his blog. If he didn’t have his blog, he might still be working in a camera store, which was his first job out of college before he started blogging. So I do think it measures something, I do think that, however, we are still in the “silent movie” stages. So it has a long way to go, but, you know, I think the important this to understand is that it does measure something, it’s like a credit score. You know, credit score doesn’t tell everything about you, it doesn’t even say whether you’re going to repay a loan. But it does measure something and it’s a good, it’s a good meaningful shortcut for people to try to make decisions.

Danny: Well, so that touches on something really interesting, because you’re right, it is a good shortcut, it’s a good kind of rule of thumb for measuring a specific kind of influence, you know, how good are you at like, you said creating content that moves. And so I’m, the two thoughts in my head are first of all, is influence as they’re describing it, maybe too big a word?

Mark: I don’t think so, I mean, I think I used this example in the book, I used it in a blog post I know. I was quoted in the New York Times, I was featured in the New York Times. Now, how, why me? Why me? I’m not George Clooney. I was featured in an article in the Sunday New York Times that was then syndicated to newspapers all around the country, all around the world, I was even picked up in the London Daily Mail. And why? Because of my ability to publish content. I think this is a legitimate source of influence today. I use examples in the book of mommy bloggers, who have now been invited into some of the global children’s, you know, World Vision Organization Initiatives. All of a sudden, these stay at home moms, they’re being invited into these new areas, where they have an incredible amount of influence, incredible amount of power, that were never available to them before. So I really think, Danny, that this is a legitimate source of power, and here’s the exciting part: this could only happen in the last two or three years. And that’s why I think this book is so important, because it is new. It’s happening right now. And this is an opportunity to understand it and still get in on the ground floor of a lot of this stuff.

Danny: I think you’re right, I think that’s very well said, and you’re absolutely right, this is the time when it’s all starting into, It’s very important to understand just how it’s all coming together, and like you said, it’s not, you know, your Klout score is not how influential you are, it’s an approximation like credit score that you can use to make decisions. So, just as a credit score can’t be used to make any kind of decision, I mean you’re not going to look at somebody’s credit score and see “Do I want to be friends with them?” Or “Should I accept them into my university?” or stuff like that. It’s good about specific decisions, what decisions can and can’t people and business owners use a Klout score to make?

Mark: You know I think it’s an indicator. I mean here’s an example, and I think it’s kind of a controversial one, certainly, a provocative thing to think about. Increasingly, a small business owner, certainly someone who’s in the marketing business, a lot of their success is going to be determined by just what we’re talking about. Can they create content that gets attention? That can create some buzz. Increasingly, people in sales, in marketing, in PR in customer service, even in HR… a big part of their job is going to be: how effective are you at creating some kind of value on the social web? Making these connections? So, if I’m interviewing someone for an entry-level marketing job, and both candidates seem to be equally qualified, they both have had internships, they both have had good grades in college, they’ve been active in extracurricular activities, they’ve demonstrated, you know, that they, they have a good fundamental knowledge of marketing. And one has a Klout score of 55 and one has a Klout score of 15, why wouldn’t you hire the one that has a 55? If all things, you know, I all things being equal. This would indicate that this person is successfully active on the social web.  For many entry level marketing jobs, that could be something successful. It’s just like if you’ve got two candidates for a bank loan, and one has a credit score of 55, and one has a credit score of 15 – who should you give the bank loan to? I mean it’s just, it’s just, why not?

Danny: Well, It’s, I mean, almost anything can be used I an all things being equal kind of scenario, though, right? I guess what I’m asking is: how much weight can you give a Klout score all things not being equal? Like if you got two candidates who are not equivalent?

Mark: Yeah, well I mean I think it’s an indicator, so if someone has a high Klout score, I think that would open up a line of questioning. How active are you on the social web, let’s take a look at this person’s blog. They’re actively, they obviously can create interesting content. Is that an important requirement to this job? Let’s look at this person that has a Klout score of 15. Why? Well, maybe they’ve had something, a barrier, keeping them from being active on the social web. If a person has a 55 only because they spend all their, all their time on Twitter, well then maybe it wouldn’t be the smartest thing to do. I think that it’s an indicator, I think it opens up a line of questioning to see what’s behind it, why is this person relatively more effective on the social web, and then this other person. I think you used a good example of Mitch Joel. I mean, Mitch, I don’t know, relatively speaking, what’s his Klout score and yours?

Danny: I think his is, I mean, as of now, these things fluctuate, his is 58 and mine is 61.

Mark: Okay, so, Mitch obviously, I mean, he is one of my  intellectual heroes of the web, he’s written an amazing book, he’s got podcasts, he’s got blogs he’s creating, he’s creating content like crazy.

Danny: Yeah, I feel the same way, he’s got one of the few podcasts that I listen to religiously.

Mark: I never miss one of them. So, so he’s got a 58, which, by the way, is in the 95th percentile, actually, above the 95th percentile, so I mean, 58 is nothing to sneeze at. And relatively speaking statistically a 61 and a 58 are probably the same anyway. But I mean Mitch doesn’t spend a lot of time on Twitter, you know? So, you know, I think that that’s a perfect example of what we’re talking about. First of all he’s got a 58, he’s in the 95th percentile of influencers, you know, in the world. I’d say that’s probably right. He may not have a score as high as you, or a score as high as some other people, but that’s because he’s running a business. So I think it’d be stupid for someone to make a decision to hire someone with a Klout score of 61 vs. a Klout score of 58 only because of that. You’ve got, it’s an indicator. You’ve got to look at the whole picture.

Danny: And I think that’s really good, like, I think it was Ramit Sethi who gave this example, he wrote a book I will Teach You To Be Rich and he has that blog. And he was talking about, I believe it was getting into colleges. Cause, you know, when whether it’s getting into, yeah, getting into colleges, I think I’m remembering the story, he had just started school at Stanford and so his former high school would hook him up with high school seniors who want to get into college and they, the question he would always be asked was – “What is the grade, what is the GPA that I need? What is the one number in order to get into college?” And he would always say: “well it’s not that simple. It’s a well-rounded thing, you need this, you need that…” And they’d always come back and say, no I want one number. And I think a lot of the controversy around Klout is people are kind of trying to do the same thing. Boil it down to one number.

Mark: That is a really good observation, that is a really good observation, yeah. And I think, you know, I think if people read my book will get over that. I mean, because it, like you said, it is a balanced book, and a look at some of the issues, look at some of the sociological issues, some of the problems around aiming it and cheating it and cheating on it, and so forth, but you know, I think as a business person, you’ve got to understand what’s going on. You’ve got to understand this opportunity, or, you know, it’s like trying to compete and not know about newspapers or not know about television, you know? The influence that people can get on the social web, this is the new word of mouth influence. Newspapers are going away. Televisions are going away. More and more people are spending time on the social web, and finding and connecting and nurturing these word of mouth influencers is extremely important to understand.

Danny: Mark, we’re running a little low on time, so I want to just ask you one more question. This is the question I ask at the end of all our interviews. Let’s say we’ve got, well we have got lots of people who have been listening to this, lots of people have been enjoying, getting a lot of value out of this call and some people who have been listening to this have just been blown away, they had a light bulb moment like: “wow, this is important, I really have to get on to this wagon, because something was happening that I wasn’t aware of or I wasn’t sufficiently involved in, and I should be.” And they’ve moved enough they say: “you know what, I have to take action, I’m clearing three hours this afternoon to do something about this.” And they definitely need to get informed so they’re going to spend the first fifteen minutes of those three hours ordering your book on Amazon, which I highly, highly recommend, to everyone who’s on this call.

Mark: Thank you.

Danny: What should they do with the other two hours and 45 minutes?

Mark: Good question, well, other than read the book…

Danny: Well, it hasn’t arrived yet.

Mark: It hasn’t arrived yet. Okay, well then, you know, I mean, I’m not trying to be tricky or clever or facetious, but I really think if you want to understand this trend and how it applies to your business, number one, I think you should read the book, because that’s what the, that’s the purpose that’s what’s unique about this is it’s the first book of its kind, and I think it looks at it from every angle. It looks at the history of it, you know, the implications, the problems, the present and the future. So I mean, I think that kind of surrounds the issue as complete as I could imagine it. The other thing I would do, Danny, is I think people ought to spend some time looking at, you can get a lot of free stuff from these platforms, so, Klout, Kred, PeerIndex and I’d also take a look at a platform called Opinions, which actually they announced themselves as a company after I wrote the book, but Opinions goes beyond social media, they’re actually getting, they’re culling these, this information from 4.5 million sources across the web, so this is kind of a glimpse of the future of where is this going. They’re looking at these opinions in context. So you can explore some of these sites, there’s free stuff on these sites that you could start to do. Another thing that you could do that a small business could look at very quickly, is a lot of these platforms like HootSuite have now embedded the ability to look at Klout scores in the Twitter stream. So if you’re already keeping Twitter lists of your customers, of your competitors of, your sales leads, of your employees, you can create a Twitter list, you can plug it into HootSuite and boom, you can see who is being the most influential and that might be a good start to understand who are the word of mouth influencers that are interested, that could impact my business.

Danny: I think that’s a great idea, and another way that people can do that, just because I use Gmail, there is a Gmail plugin called Rapportive, and Rapportive can plug into Klout among other things, so whenever you receive and email you can see what is the Klout score of the person, very much like you said, it kind of just starts giving you a sense of the lay of the land.

Mark: Yeah. Right. Exactly. And it’s using kind of publically available information and as we’ve talked about at length here, it doesn’t indicate everything. There are certainly flaws. But I think it is an indicator of one sliver of influence, but that is very important, and it’s becoming more and more important with so many people’s jobs today.

Danny: Awesome, so, for everyone who’s listening, Mark has written Return on Influence which you can go grab on Amazon and you really, really should, there’s a link below the interview or right in the transcript where you’re reading. You and also go ahead and pick up a copy of the Tao of Twitter, which is also great, and Mark bogs at Businesses Grow. Mark, is there anywhere else people should go to find you?

Mark: I think you covered it my friend.

Danny: Awesome, well then thank you very, very much for taking the time to do this, I’ve had a great time just chatting with you and I know this is going to be really valuable for our listeners. So thank you.

Mark: Well thank you, you’ve done a great job with the interview.

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