Tag Archives: influence

Start Your Community With Role Models, Not Influencers

I just finished reading this article in last month's Fast Company where the CEO of Pinterest, Ben Silbermann, discusses how Pinterest got started, where it's at today, and what its future may hold. In it, they highlight some of the ways in which Pinterest defied best practices when they first started – they didn't include any leaderboards, they didn't highlight the most popular pinners, they used an infinite scroll layout instead of pushing for more clicks and pageviews, and most interesting to me, their first community members weren't "influencers" with high Klout scores. They were role models who would care for the community as if it were their own.

"In Pinterest’s early days, Silbermann gave out his cell-phone number, attended blogger meet-ups, and personally composed weekly emails that were sent out to Pinterest’s tiny, but growing, community. "It’s like you’ve built this little city with nobody inside of it yet," he says. "And you want to fill it up with the right kinds of people who are going to teach future people what they should be doing when they move in." Most Silicon Valley types look at early users as viral marketers; Silbermann saw them as role models. (Until recently, Pinterest’s welcome email advised users to "pin carefully" because "your pins set the tone for the community." The site bans nudity and discourages users from posting images of too-skinny models, otherwise known as "thinspiration," after the phenomenon became a problem.)"

What if PR and social media community managers stopped worrying about targeting the influencers with the most Klout, the highest PeerIndex score, or the highest Empire Avenue share price, and instead worried about identifying the people who are best equipped to create and maintain a healthy community? What if we looked for qualities like good taste, helpfulness, and compassion instead of followers, pageviews, and likes? What if we focused our efforts on the people who will become the community leaders, rather than simply the people with the loudest mouths?

If what we're doing is truly building online communities, shouldn't we first recruit the people who will actually be you know, building that sense of community and modeling the behaviors you want to see from all members?

One of Pinterest's first and most active members wasn't a social media influencer. She's the founder's mom. Silbermann's tactic of starting his community with role models isn't new. This is a tactic that I've used when building online communities behind corporate firewalls. In those closed communities, the first members weren't the VPs or the corporate comms people – the people with the most influence – they were the people who were most passionate about the community. These individuals felt a deep sense of responsibility for the success of the community. They shared the same goals and philosophies. They were the ones who modeled the behaviors that we wanted the rest of the community to emulate. They were the ones who would tell the boss he was wrong so that it would be ok for others to do the same. They may have only brought in 50 new people, but that wasn't their purpose. They were recruited because they were the ones to create that strong sense of community among the current members so that when new members joined, they joined a community with an established culture and purpose.

Now, if your goal is to simply get a million Facebook likes or sign up two million users to your branded community, then by all means, pay Lil Wayne to Tweet your URL to his 8 million followers and watch the numbers stack up. You can trot out your pageviews and member numbers to your boss all you want. Just don't expect those thousands of people to actually do what you want them to do. On the other hand, if you're looking to build a vibrant community of brand advocates who will buy your products, share your messages with their networks, give you honest, constructive feedback and build other brand advocates, then you should instead look for people who will model those behaviors. These people may not have the biggest names or the most "influence," but they're the ones who will create the foundation for what your community will be.

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Klout for Enterprise 2.0 Networks is a Bad Idea

"The performance review of the future will include services like Salesforce.com's Chatter and its Influencers feature, which measures how much weight you carry among your peers"

This is a quote from a recent Fast Company article discussing how enterprise social networks behind corporate firewalls are using Klout-like tools to measure how "influential" you are within your company and it terrifies me. I then read "Enterprise Social Networks, Performance Reviews, and Company Culture," on the Social Media Club DC blog that rightfully (and thankfully!) takes issue with this idea of ranking people's influence on these internal networks. I left the following comment there that illustrates why I believe trying to assign influencer scores within the confines of a company's social network is not only a terrible idea, but that it can virtually torpedo any chance that that network has of being successful. 

"People like things like Klout because they ostensibly allow you to stop wasting all your time talking to the little people who don’t matter, having meaningless conversations with non-influential people and actually creating relationships with people – you can cut through all that crap and maximize the reach of your messages simply by using this little rating system!!! (as a side note, I need one in real-life too – little did I know that my best friend’s reach and influence are really low and I should stop hanging out with him and instead make new friends who can optimize my conversations better). I don’t blame Salesforce’s CEO for taking advantage of this laziness that exists among his customers, but I can’t see how in any world, things like this being a good thing for creating collaborative organizations. As Shirky said in the video, you can’t eliminate all the fluff and get just the brilliant ideas. Communities don’t work like that. People don’t work like that. Enterprise social networks don’t work like that. Instead of trying to find easier ways to identify influencers so you don’t have to actually take the time to participate, try spending five minutes a day reading some of the posts and actually talking people – that’s going to be the easiest way to identify influencers, and hey, it’s got the side effect of maybe making you an influencer too."

Maybe the folks at Salesforce aren't just trying to take advantage of the public's laziness and weird fascination with "influence" scores. Maybe they truly believe they're helping these organizations filter out unnecessary content and focus on what and who matters. In that case, let's explore just a few of the unintended consequences that will occur, thereby destroying the very network this feature was created to help.

  1. People become less willing to help their colleagues unless they get "likes" for it
  2. More time is spent on identifying and sharing interesting, but ultimately non-work related things to increase their "influence" at the expense of their actual work
  3. People may actually become less likely to comment and like other people's content because they don't want others to get higher scores than they doBringing Klout to the Enterprise? Get ready for the interns to become more influential than your C-suite
  4. #TeamFollowBack appears on internal networks
  5. Posts that lower the barrier to entry that actually create the sense of community disappear because they don't positively impact influencer ratings, meaning fewer and fewer people feel comfortable sharing anything
  6. People will game the system and quickly figure out which types of posts result in the higher influencer scores
  7. Leadership becomes even less engaged because hey, why waste time actually talking to people when I can just look at the ol' leaderboard to determine who matters
  8. Criticisms, often the most valuable posts of internal social networks, would disappear as there would be no incentive to comment or like those posts, much less make them yourself

Thankfully, the commenters over at Fast Company see the flaws in attempting to quantify people's using organizational influence using an internal social network. Unfortunately, despite all the criticism of tools like Klout on the open Internet, there seems to be a demand somewhere for tools that reduce actual people and relationship to numbers. So, I have no doubt that we will begin to see influence features embedded into internal social networks with increasing frequency. And, even more unfortunately, just as marketers and social media gurus have propped up their own Twitter follower, Facebook likes, and Klout scores at the expense of the community as a whole, we will see similar situations behind the firewall as well. 

Rather than creating features based on proprietary algorithms targeted at leadership who don't use the platform, Enterprise 2.0 vendors should instead be focused on creating a transparent rewards system that encourages collaboration and communication. There is a place for gamification and rewards on these internal networks, but they should reinforce and increase collaborative behaviors, not selfish ones.

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