Social media will make tits out of all of us

I don’t mean Facebook or Twitter per se when I say this. I mean the way the industry is starting to leverage these platforms – usually (of course) in attempts for financial gain.

And that, is currently about influence and networks. How these new platforms make it much easier to see the connections between people and - to a degree - the different levels of influence that we have over each other too.

The information that we share on these places gets hoovered up and used in all kinds of ways. And this will only get more sophisticated and invasive. Personally I feel really uncomfortable with this – maybe it’s a generational thing? The innocent pleasure of sharing some holiday snaps with your friends has frankly, been soiled.

I’d like to define a new phrase – data blackmailing. To mean the increasing number of websites that mandate that you use your Facebook or Twitter log-in and password to use them. I came across this one yesterday.

No way to check out if it’s any good without first ponying up my Facebook details and by extension allowing the company to know all kinds of stuff about me. It’s like going on a blind date with someone and having to tell them all about your relationship hangups, your friends and your quirks and foibles before you even have time to work out if you like them enough to see them again.

Frankly, you can sod off.

Perhaps the most insidious example of this I’ve come across is the influence score app Klout. If you want to know more about Klout read this great piece in Wired magazine. Basically you have to sign up to Klout with either Twitter or Facebook and are then encouraged to connect it with all your other social networking sites like Linked In, your blog, etc etc. It then uses an algorithm to give you an influence score. (Based on for example how many people you follow on twitter compared with how many follow you, how often your friends on Facebook re-share things that you have posted etc)

It’s immensely powerful as a concept. Let’s say you’re selling a new kind of super-light backpack, ideal for gap year travellers. There are stacks of travel bloggers out there talking to this kind of audience. Who to try and work with? If they all had Klout scores you could make the decision really easily. The higher their score, the higher their level of influence and the more likely they are to be able to generate additional sales for you.

Assuming of course Klout actually works.

Klout is frankly very rudimentary – it’s very gameable. A key way to up your score is tweet more frequently about a more tightly defined subject. There’s a hilarious story in that Wired feature I linked to, about a guy who started to feel worried whilst on holiday for 2 weeks because there was no internet connection so he couldn’t tweet – which would mean his Klout score would go down. How incredibly sad and stupid. How vacuous.

But it’s taken hold regardless. In the US, people with high Klout scores are getting all kinds of attention – free stuff to trial, better job opportunities. The Wired piece I linked to starts with a story about a guy who got turned down for a job on the basis of his Klout score!

Call me old fashioned but I simply don’t believe technology can (should?) define the value of the relationships I have with other people or their intrinsic worth. Can you imagine a world where everyone is trying to increase some random score about themselves to gain greater prestige and advantage? Mental.

This social media trend isn’t just about people either – it’s companies too. Increasingly companies are trying to up the number of Facebook fans they have by running competitions that require people to ‘like’ the company’s Facebook page.

And, we’re seeing a similar trend in SEO. Social signals are now the big noise for SEO-types. The more ‘likes’ and ‘+1’s a page has the higher it will rank in search results (apparently). So, again, companies are looking for ways to generate more ‘like’s and ‘+1’s for their pages. Expect a deluge of quirky videos, dumb competitions and ‘clever’ infographics going forward. How tedious.

Everyone online seems to be screaming ‘like me, like me, like me’!

I’m a huge believer in doing less, better. I’m a huge believer in real relationships. The way you influence people is by getting to know them and understanding what makes them tick. It’s an immensely human activity.

Technology won’t replace this and to assume it will is stupid and lazy. Agree?

Pic credit: lauralewis23

52 thoughts on “Social media will make tits out of all of us

  1. @Jonathan But it's probably not worth reading. I don't have a Klout score... ;-)

  2. I deleted myself from Klout - which means less competition for the other Amy Winehouse experts out there.

    I can't believe anyone's taking it seriously. If someone is, then I wouldn't take that person very seriously...

  3. I think as we've said before Jeremy, social media is already part of the big marketing machine. Big money can be made, look at the job adverts for SM managers/experts etc, the salaries are immense for people who can talk the talk.

    The paranoia about 'missing out' (we saw it in the early days of company websites) is leading companies to spend larger sums than they should employing 'specialist SM agencies' who bamboozle them with them jargon and funky offices.

    As an advertising copywriter I know that's what we always did too, but we did actually produce stuff that often the public actually enjoyed and increased sales.

    Klout is another chancer, trying to get a position and sell for silly money before it all goes tits up. There will be more and more coming along because it's a klondike situation.

    1. Agree. My worry is that a PR guy who I know and think is pretty switched on admitted openly in a presentation he did recently that he uses Klout to help decide on which bloggers to target for PR work for clients. A lot of people (with vested interests) would LOVE this concept to work.
      Klout retains huge amounts of information about those that sign up to it. Some have suggested that's the business model. They don't give a fig about really caluculating influence - they just found a pretty bauble to dangle in front of people to make them open up all their social media accounts to them to have a good old root around in. When you see it from that angle, wow, it really does feel dubious.

  4. It is true though isn't it Jeremy that you yourself decide who to employ partly by how many twitter followers they seem to have? I know that other people apparently do, the reasoning being that when they tweet out 'read my article at XXX', all their followers will do so and hopefully will encourage their followers to do so as well thus delivering 'amazeballs' stats to the money guys.

    But on that basis, the only people employed will soon just be Peter Andre and Lady Gaga!


    1. Fair point. But I hasten to qualify - the 'partly' bit is crucial. If I had to choose between 2 writers with broadly similar skills and experience, for certain types of project the number of twitter followers could be a decider, yes. But I'd either know them already or have done the research to a pretty decent degree. It's not a primary deciding factor. Certain brands in the USA are giving stuff to people to 'trial' because they believe them to be influencers purely due to their Klout score. They know nothing else about them. That's way different!

      1. Of course Simon. You are in business, and it makes sense. And you do know what's good from bad.

        As an Editor myself (www.foodepedia.co.uk folks!) I have no interest in people's social media activity. I only look at what they write for me.

        Of course my IT man nags me to work differently as he has his eye on stats. I tell him I'd rather have 4 readers of good stuff than 4000 of crap, or lure people in on false premises with seo only to have them bounce off in disgust a few seconds later. Luckily I am the boss! And we make no money as a result. So be it.

        Certainly in UK a few food bloggers have become inundated with free stuff and foreign trips based on their stats. So much so that some have become insane with hubris and acting like Freddie Mercury on Twitter stamping their feet and making demands. The PRs tell me they hate them all, but.....

  5. Here's the thing. It's not the tools that make assholes out of us. We're assholes already, probably, and the tools allow us to amplify that.

    Nothing is going to replace genuine human research and interaction to define the best PR match for a company. Klout is krap, klearly, but what's the alternative? Trade email and open a conversation with potential partners? Establish valuable long term relationships instead of gamed data driven high risk gambling plays?

    Oh, yeah, that.

  6. "I’d like to define a new phrase – data blackmailing. To mean the increasing number of websites that mandate that you use your Facebook or Twitter log-in and password to use them. I came across this one yesterday.

    "No way to check out if it’s any good without first ponying up my Facebook details and by extension allowing the company to know all kinds of stuff about me. It’s like going on a blind date with someone and blah blah blah..."

    Quite the melodrama, Jeremy :)

    Facebook and Twitter login are a really good idea - for the user and for the service provider - because it saves the user a lot of legwork when registering for a service.

    Why do we have to register for so much stuff? Because increasingly web and mobile are pushing to provide a more personalised experience. Isn't that's the problem everyone in travel is trying to crack right now? You can't provide a personal service without providing personal data in one form or another.

    Handing over our details is the way the web works. This blog is doing it right now. It's demanding I provide an email address just to leave a comment - you're blackmailing me! - and no doubt you're making a note of my IP address too, even though you don't disclose the fact. If my email address includes a personal domain name, you can find out my address and cross-reference that with any number of other data sources. Of course I don't have to give my real address but then the notification feature doesn't work, so your blog will limit the experience unless I surrender my personal information. Anyway you cut it, you can't personalise a service without compromising personal information in some way.

    The real issue is services that take too much information. A good example of this is Highlight, the location-aware app that was hyped to the heavens at SXSW. There was no need for it to require access to your photos on Facebook but people blindly gave access anyway - meaning any stranger close enough to you could look through your personal photos even if you had made them private on Facebook.

    Every service using Facebook and Twitter to supply the credentials has to list the information it will supply to the third party - some is mandatory, sometimes you can choose (admittedly, any service worth its salt will allow for email registration too, but the example you give above is driven by social connections, hence the requirement for Facebook login).

    It's not the system or the reasons for providing personal information that is an issue; it's supplying information when it's not necessary.

    1. You know me Paul. I'm a journalist with an eye for a good soundbite ;-)
      And I do see this side of the story... I use the Trip Advisor plug-in for Facebook and I think it's really quite smart (and will get ever smarter).
      But this is indeed the problem. Most of these apps tend to ask for everything. And that's because the majority of their business plans are about date accumulation and data mining. (OK, I'm saying this is what I think - I don't have tons of research to back this claim up. But once you get your hands on all this info... what ARE you going to do with it?)
      I agree that a personalised service requires personal information. Problem is at the moment the onus is on us to give our data away first and it's acquired on the sly (oh just use your Facebook credentials - it's SO much easier!). You want me to sign up to say a bespoke travel inspiration service like Voyage Prive and give them info about me to help them help me - no problem. They don't need to know who I am friends with to customise their offers to me though. Or whether I got pissed last Saturday and there are some funny pics of me playing air guitar knocking around. If a company is offering a credible service and it's something I want, then all they have to do is ask and I'll give them appropriate information about myself!

      1. If you're happy to fill in registration forms for every service you use on the net or on your mobile, you're in a very small minority. The other reason to make use of services like Facebook Connect for registration is that one click registration means far less friction in the user flow - the conversion rates are far higher because it's easier.

        Ultimately, if a site asks for more information than you're comfortable giving, don't use it. That's the choice - and the compromise - all users are offered when using sites. And if you do connect using these methods and then find the service isn't worth the trade-off, both Facebook and Twitter have made it very easy to delete access to third parties.

        1. True. My problem is most people haven't the first idea about what's REALLY going on. Sure, you can delete third parties but it's meaningless. What really spooked me was I deleted my Klout account and then a few days later reactivated it using my twitter ID only. Even though on this new instance I hadn't given permission to Klout to investigate my Facebook account it already knew about it. The fact that I'd 'deleted' my Klout account was meaningless. Klout inc still had my original Facebook data and still used it. (Am I sure about this? Not 100% but 99% for a number of reasons I won't bother waffling on about here.)
          The message - once you have let the cat out of the bag (ie shared your data) that's it. You can't really roll it back.

          1. I use a spare Twitter account to activate sites. It has no info about me that is true. Even the email address goes to a barely used gmail. Id certainly never activate with a genuine Facebook account, that's like taking your trousers down and bending over!

  7. Here's a radical proposition for the PR-blogger-writer end of this discussion:

    Rather than agonise solely over whether Journo A or Blogger B has a gazillion followers on Twitter, fans coming out of the ears on Facebook and a Klout score on a par with Ashton Kutcher et al, why not see if their copy (ya know, the stuff they actually write) is any good as well.

    Just a thought :)

    1. Well, you have to look to the industry that encouraging the behaviour too. The schedule for TBEX is worth a look - most of it is geared towards marketing and branding; there's very little about quality of content and how to improve it: http://tbexcon.com/schedule/

      It seems to be taken as granted by TBEX, a lot of the travel blogger who shout the loudest and consequently by agencies that quality of content is a given. At the very least, it seems to be taking a backseat to visibility and counting follower numbers.

      1. It's all about 'monetisation' isn't it... Most bloggers of the TBEX ilk are not journalists they are small business owners. Quality of content isn't a given, it's just not seen as that important. Good luck to em...

        1. Jeremy, the problem with travel media today is fundamentally economic.

          It has ALWAYS been about money, it is just that for decades writers have had the luxury of letting someone else worry about the business end of things.

          They can't do that anymore.

          It is easy for old school writers to sit back and lament the quality of blogs while patting themselves on the back for what great writers they are, but in the mean time the very publications they they rely on to monetize their writing are dying.

          Someone has always had to sell ads. Someone has always had to worry about circulation. Nothing has changed, except the person creating the content is now also the person doing the business related tasks as well.

          Turn your nose up at monetization if you want, but without it there is nothing else.

          Am I a journalist? I don't really care. Only journalists care about that. My readers sure as hell don't. I'm a traveler.

          ...and I certainly rather be an owner than have to beg for hand outs from an editor.

          1. When it comes to blogs, someone doesn't have to sell ads. Someone doesn't have to worry about circulation. There's no need whatsoever to monetise a travel blog. Before the internet, people travelled and kept journals, put on slideshows for their friends and families. Everyone didn't have to be a publisher.

            That's still the case. Plenty of people still make a living without being a publisher, but you're right - something has changed. The barriers to writing and publishing have gone. Anyone can do it now. Anyone can create a travel blog. That still doesn't mean they have to monetise them.

            The fact is that the act of publishing alone is enough to influence search, to attract Twitter followers, to build Klout scores. Google will reward quantity over quality every time. That's understood and it's beginning to show. There are some very high profile travel bloggers with very mediocre travel blogs, because quality is just not that important. That's reflected in the schedules of TBEX. It's reflected in agencies hunting down Klout scores for 'influencers'.

            I have an issue with poor content. Not because I'm a journalist (I'm not) and not because I'm the world's best travel writer (I'm not that either), but because I don't like frauds who are perceived to be successful - not because they're skilled communicators, writers or photographers, but because they game the system and benefit accordingly.

    2. Because if PR clients wanted copy, they would just hire copywriters.

      They want publicity which means getting your name out in front of people, not exquisitely written prose that no one will read.

      1. Works both ways though doesn't it. If the content is poor when you get it out there in front of people you've not achieved anything. You need both elements - great content in the right places.
        What stuff like Klout and social-media-build-your-brand-waffle peddlers do is focus people on the media, on the lame tricks to 'build an audience' at the expense of the quality of the message. Klout is the next step along this dubious path...
        What do you think of Klout by the way, Gary? Curious to know. Do you have a profile?

        1. Everyone with a Twitter account has a Klout profile unless you ask them to turn it off.

          I think Klout is stupid and I've written about it several times on my personal blog, most recently this week. I've even gotten into it with the CEO of Klout, Joe Fernandez, online.

          If you go on vacation, your score drops, which means people who don't travel will be more "influential" about travel than people who travel. Makes no sense.

          My biggest beef is that it only looks at social media and doesn't look at your website. If you write a great, popular article, you get no credit for it in the eyes of Klout, but someone who tweets the link does. It values people who share content more than people who create content, which I think is wrong.

          That being said, if Klout is going to give me a score and if PR people are dumb enough to take it seriously, far be it from me not to take advantage of that.

          Also, content is a self correcting problem. If you can't meet a minimum threshold of quality, yes you will suck.

          Also, here is no barrier to entry for being a travel writer anymore. All those people who always dreamed of doing it are now able to fulfill their wish online.

          This is just a new reality everyone is going to have to get used to: there will always be a large number of hobbyist bloggers out there with crappy blogs.

          Many of them will will attempt to make a living at it. Most will fail. You are already seeing it. People go on their RTW trip, take a stab at blogging and then quit after 12-18 months. It is part of the landscape now.

          1. I think tho gary people who 'do'social media dont recognise vacations, seems to me they remain glued to their SM sites updating all the time. Not my kind of vacation but there you are.

          2. Yep. Agree with you on pretty much all you say here.
            GET this though... I then thought 'OK I wonder what Gary's Klout score is' so I went to take a look: http://klout.com/EverywhereTrip
            And... it redirects you to a Facebook log in page. I now have to log in (ie connect up my Facebook profile to Klout) just to see your score!
            Click Google's cache of that URL though and you get your Klout page
            Wonder if this is the future? Klout only allows you to view other peoples' scores if you yourself sign up to it?

  8. I personally was very disappointed when all my "friends I influence on Klouty" who were experts in Winehouse, H Grant, Yoghurt, Vinegar and the Colonel deleted their Klout accounts as *my Klout score* plummetted to 51.2 (down 1.6), ya heartless bastards. How am I supposed to measure my Kloutyness now. Come back. Klout is faith. Keep the faith.

    I agree on FB/Twitter log ins to a point. Find it handy for stuff I just want to look at. Regulary hide most companies (even the ones I like) from my timeline or delete those I log in too though...Like a good FB colonic every now and again too.

    @Kevin - quality copy, from good solid writers or blogsters, now there's an idea. Not really rocket science is it.

    ps Have also changed my FB data settings so that I was born on 1st January 1901 and there's bugger all other info on there. This demographic (100 -120 years old) doesn't seem to greatly sought after by advertisers, and who the hell wants to send crap on the 1st January. Suggest youse all do the same.

    1. This point about Facebook is an interesting one. I've deleted most of my photos and dropped much of the info about me too. Don't tell my wife, but I might put my status back to single. But from what I've read you can delete stuff all you want, Facebook still 'knows'.
      But then... what's the point of Facebook if you don't trust it with your most valuable information? A bit dull if we're all bastardising our accounts so 'they' can't work out too much about us.
      I think for me a key issue with all this is the mixing of my work life and my social life. I really don't like it.

      1. There's a saying among startups - if you don't charge users for the product, the users are the product. Facebook and Twitter are only free in that you don't pay a charge to use them. They have to leverage your data in some way otherwise it can't work. I

    1. It is. I heard some stats from a future of publishing conf from the Guardian that apparently people up to age 25 don't care at all about sharing their info when using the Guardian's Facebook app, whilst anyone older really does. (I think it was 25... something like that.)

      1. Young people don't mind sharing info cos they haven't much of a history yet. When you get older, things are a lot different. You don't just want, you need, to keep your past and present a bit under wraps! They may yet come to regret their promiscuous sharing of info in a few years time.

  9. I've long not been a Klout fan and really enjoyed the Wired story, but really thought it reflected better the dire state of the employer rather than the Kloutless potential employee. Much abrogated in favour of an ephemeral digit or two plucked out of the interwebs. Really, what on earth is that person doing on an employment panel.

    In some ways it is true that Klout may be equated with noise, something that increasingly people are working to drown out. So while it is true that there is arguably a higher chance that you'll recognize the name of one with Klout, equally chances are you're muting them or paying scant real attention to what they're saying.

    So in that respect, Klout is a useful tool.

    As for the general asshattery, just as in real life, all have their own asshats, worn from time to time. Twitter is indeed a great platform to broadcast the real you - asshats and all.

  10. Such a good post Jeremy.

    What drives me crazy is when I find something of interest and click the link only to end up having to access Facebook. I do not belong to Facebook, I do not wish to belong for reasons you have expressed and others, and therefore I am blocked from viewing what originally attracted my attention.

    As for an employer rating capability against a Klout score --- words fail me.


  11. Interesting perspective.

    "I’m a huge believer in real relationships. The way you influence people is by getting to know them and understanding what makes them tick."

    "Technology won’t replace this and to assume it will is stupid and lazy. Agree?"

    I disagree. I should preface this disagreement by saying, personally, I am an avid believer in real relationships, and face-to-face contact.

    However, the day in human history where algorithms finally have more influence more than actual relationships, has come to pass.

    It's analogous to advertising - which is extremely influential, despite being as far from a "real" relationship as you can get.

    I'm going to go ahead and assume that algorithms will just influence the world more and more as time goes on - with scant regard for real relationships.

    PS, hope I didn't come across too negatively, I actually enjoyed reading this article, and I'm sure we actually agree on many points, maybe I'm just being "glass half empty" on this one ;)

    1. I do see the value in algorithms - but they need to be part of a more sane and sensible approach to understanding 'real' influence and building 'real' relationships. I was being intentionally one-sided to make a point... but I do worry that we focus too much on the clever new technology and not enough on the quality of the product we produce/content we create etc. (See my response to Gary above)

      1. I think the suits are always happier with things that are quantifiable because they make an easier pitch to clients

        Blogger x has 15000 followers, therefore we should love up blogger x. Simple logic.

        Blogger z has 3 followers but we reckon he/she is so good we should start dialogue with him/her right now. Creative thinking.

        But Option Z is one very few people would want to stake their company car on right now.

  12. When I was an adman the deal was, 'we entertain you and you try our product in return'. Seems fair exchange. And people did see TV ads as entertainment, some good, some bad, talked about at water coolers, imitated in playgrounds, catchphrases going, as we would say now, viral etc.

    One thing still constant today as SM replaces trad ads is 'you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink' So if the product is no good, although you can possibly make people try it once, you cannot do anymore after that.

    So content should still be king

  13. If everyone wants to be slaves to 'social media' and be plugged in 24/7 to be able to exist, let's just keep doing what we're doing and sign up for every Facebook/Twitter/Klout and The Next Big Thing that comes along. It really is pretty obvious that it will run the lives of the mass majority on this current path. It's going to need a lot of people who are brave/smart/naive enough to say they can live without it to break the cycle. It's a societal development (like Reality TV) and the more we buy into it, the more we create a society of low-brow non-creators. Or 'tits,' if you like.

    1. It certainly is a case of if you aren't 'doing' SM you're told by all and sundry that you're at best a bit weird and at worst some kind of sociopath. And if you're a professional writer you can add 'cutting your own throat' to that list.

      Older writers with established reps can remain off SM, although their editors are becoming increasingly disinclined to accept that stance. The value of the old writers to a publication was mostly an assumed and unprovable one, hence the often ludicrous transfer fees they commanded. That and all the nepotism.

      If they wont tweet or blog, the young editor's argument goes, how do we know they are being read and adding value to the publication? Only by hearsay and that won't convince the sharp young management suits crowding the corridors and sniffing for old blood and ways to cut costs.

  14. My polite PR take on Klout is that it's a load of rubbish. It a) rewards people for making constant, annoying tweets, b) doesn't regulate in terms of subject (e.g. Travel PR could tweet endlessly about lasagne and pan pipes, and our Klout score would rise - but we'd look like chumps to anyone actually viewing our feed) and c) is, as you so rightly say Jeremy, very gameable and easily influenced (pun intended).

    Our own PR take is that when we're looking at which bloggers to take, we try and take in as many factors as possible, to give us the best shot of getting it right. Number of followers etc, yes. But also appropriateness and style of content, the lay-out of the blog, any sense (or lack of) of reader interaction, and so on and so forth - the more the better. Relying simply on numbers - and, particularly, on a dumb influence-measurement metric like Klout - strikes me as really moronic.

    Time to go tell Twitter about my new panpipes..

    1. I think Richard is only doing what is realistic. Press travel writers are hard to engage, too busy,often too rude and superior etc. Bloggers are far easier to lure onto press trips and you get copy pretty much instantly (no waiting for a pub date 6 months away), so client gets instant gratification.

      The first way of sifting through the 1000s available is to use some kind of statistic and move from there to a short list

      Whether bloggers actually influence real people with money to spend, as opposed to the circle of blog is another matter,.

  15. I didn't really find Klout to be all that. I initially signed up, but haven't done anything with the account since then. Same with Alterion. I feel it's more productive to focus on Facebook and Twitter and YouTube, as they are more popular.

    But I agree with some of the comments; social media is absolutely key to your visibility in this day and age, especially if you don't have the backing of a major publication. Speaking as someone who has completely built my own media "empire" up over the past 5 years to the point where I now run a dozen different niche sites + blog full time...social media has been the difference between making a lot of sales on my products and not making any....because word of mouth is huge. It's also vital to the overall visibility of your product in Google, as well as your rankings, because Google puts a lot of emphasis on the importance of Social Media links.

    However, with all the SM outlets to choose from, it's hard to know which ones work. My advice is to stick with the top 5 or 10 and see which ones work best for you and then go from there, as not all of them work for every person. I can't stand MySpace, for example, yet a lot of other bloggers I know still use a MySpace page.

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