Yikes! I definitely feel like a “babe in the woods,” a “green horn,” a total novice after reading an article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal earlier this month. Yes, that’s how far behind I am with my Journal reading. One of my very first posts, “deadly dilemma,” published on 7/22/10, mentioned my not wanting to subscribe to newspapers which go unread, day after day. Guess what? There’s a pile of papers sitting on my bedroom floor. I’m a pack rat, albeit an organized one. I cannot trash something until I make a conscious determination to do so. And I’m positive there are “gems” hiding among the pages of those, as yet to be read, newspapers. The article which is the subject of this post is a case in point.
“Wannabe Cool Kids Aim to Game the Web’s New Social Scorekeepers,” subtitled “Sites Use Secret Formulas to Rank Users’ Online ‘Influence’ From 1 to 100; ‘It’s an Ego Thing’,” pulls the curtain from around the Great Oz. Just as that book and film character worked the control panel to manipulate the lives of those living within his empire, so too it seems the internet wizards decide who among us will have the last word. Double yikes!!
I guess it would be naive to say I’d like to return to the good, old days when everyone “played fair.” Yeah right. When was that ever the case in the history of mankind? Even the serpent manipulated Eve into coaxing Adam to take a bite from the forbidden apple. So I guess we were doomed from the minute our first ancestors drew breath. I know it’s a fable written to nurture man’s superstitious nature, but the author had to get the idea from somewhere, probably from closely observing the society in which he lived.
Katie Miller, a 25-year-old public relations account exec and avid tweeter, was invited to a $30,000 “swanky holiday party on Manhattan’s West Side.” The invitation explained that she’d been “singled out as a ‘high-level influencer’ by the event’s sponsors, including the Venetian and Palazzo hotels in Las Vegas, and a tech company called Klout, “which ranks people based on their influence in social-media circles.” And how did she make the Las Vegas connection? “When Katie Miller went to Las Vegas this Thanksgiving, she tweeted about the lavish buffets and posted pictures of her seats at the aquatic spectacle ‘Le Reve’ at the Wynn Las Vegas hotel.”
To my senior friends who are skeptical about the value of the internet, I’d say “There’s gold in them thar hills!” So go enroll in adult education classes and start reaping the rewards of Facebooking and twittering. For according to the Journal article, “ordinary folks can become ‘influential’ overnight depending on the number and kinds of people who follow them on Twitter or comment on their Facebook pages.” Realize though that this generation is light years ahead in “gaming the system.”
Casie Stewart, a 28-year-old-social-media consultant from Toronto, has earned a free Virgin America flight, a shopping splurge at Mark’s Work Wearhouse and an all-expenses-paid trip to New Zealand fashion week thanks to her prolific tweeting and blogging about her life.
“Just got shot by fashion photographer @raphaelmazzucco in the Diesel Lounge,” she tweeted recently.
Klout dubbed Ms. Stewart a “networker” and awarded her a score of 74 (out of 100). As her score climbed, she gained the attention of a range of brands and public-relations firms who hooked her up with prizes, says Ms. Stewart, who has more than 5,000 Twitter followers. She says she tweets to build her “personal brand,” and getting perks from companies to tweet or blog about helps: “I always wanted to be well-known for being really good at something.”
Then there’s 25-year-old consultant Zach Bussey who wanted to improve his “social-media mojo last year.” He claims it’s an “ego thing,” and that he’s a social-media ” ‘passionisto.’ ” Among other services Bussey used, was one called TweetLevel, the creation of public-relations firm Edelman. “It grades users’ influence, popularity, trust and ‘engagement’ on a scale of 1 to 100.” Obviously tech savvy, Bussey “gamed the system.”
He decided to try to improve his score by boosting the ratio of people who follow him to the number he follows. So he halved the number of people he was following to 4,000. His TweetLevel score rose about 5 points and his Klout score jumped from a 51 to a 60.
“The change gave me more legitimacy,” he says. But, he warns, you can’t get lazy: “If you go on vacation for a week and can’t tweet every hour of the day, you better be prepared to see your scores drop.”
Crazy, right?!? I’m not so sure. All kinds of people are trying to win the social networking popularity contest. Even high-profile tweeters look to tech companies like Klout for their numbers. Among influential politicians, President Obama ranks at 90 out of 100, John Boehner 75, of young pop stars Justin Bieber ranks at 100, Lady Gaga 90, of talk show hosts Conan O’Brien ranks at 90, Jay Leno 65, and of business executives Bill Gates ranks at 76, Eric Schmidt 75.
Even bloggers are not immune to “gaming the system.” Don’t look at me. I can’t even put the “Rolling Blog 2011 badge” on my blog because I’m clueless as to its URL. (Check out the small, red “x” framed by an empty, white space in the sidebar.) And I don’t even know what URL stands for. I’m a writer, remember? I’ve figured out the bare necessities and a little extra. I’m no computer genius by any stretch. On the other hand fellow Washingtonian, Gabriel Elliott of Vancouver, attempting to drive more traffic to his marketing blog, “The Internet Vision,” sought to “dissect Twitalyzer, which provides users with a suite of scores free. It also sells packages for as much as $99.99 a month with extras like daily email alerts that track scores over time.”
Mr. Elliott tried to manipulate individual variables, tweaking his frequency of tweeting, while keeping other things, like his rate of retweeting-or tweeting others’ tweets and giving them credit–constant. He determined that the biggest overall contributors to his score were retweeting and mentioning other users in his tweets. He raised his scores in both areas from 5 to 25 and gained about 1,500 followers over the next two months. “It took burning both ends of the candle,” he says.
“The arbiters of the new social hierarchy,” like Klout, Twitalyzer and PeerIndex work the numbers by feeding “public data, mostly from Twitter…LinkedIn and Facebook, into secret formulas and then generate scores that gauge users’ influence. Think of it as the credit score of friendship, or as PeerIndex calls it, ‘ the S&P of social relationships.’ ” Sounds very much like the credit reporting agencies who can make or break our financial standing. So now we’re saddled with social reporting agencies who can make or break our popularity.
The companies say their aim is to provide benchmarks to help people figure out whom to trust online and a way for marketers to spot people eager to evangelize their brands. Their efforts have ignited a race among social-media junkies who, eager for perks and bragging rights, are working hard to game the system and boost their scores.
Better we let our gut instincts determine our beliefs than companies who, despite what they say, have their own agendas like monetary gain through subscriptions for their services. And who are they telling us to believe in? Social wannabees! Those wanting fame and celebrity, and all the free stuff they can’t buy for themselves.
Granted there are those who “back into” the good life, like Katie Miller. Those doing what they would normally do without forethought of the “riches” they might garner, should continue merrily on their way. But I would suggest that those whose focus is to rack up points in their favor, “get a life!” Take it from a senior citizen, life’s too short to be messing around with numbers. Get out there and live your life. There’s more to life than a keyboard, a computer screen, and ratings.
By the way, beware of “one-night stands.” While tech companies have no problem with users maximizing their scores, they don’t take lightly to unsportsmanlike conduct.
Klout employees recently neutralized a tactic they dubbed “the one-night stand,” in which people follow lots of people on Twitter, hoping they’ll follow them back, then dump them a day later. “Users are a crafty bunch,”…
I know they’re not talking about moi. Blogging provides me with the opportunity to write, as well as readers who might be interested in what I have to say. Yes, it’s heady stuff knowing that I might influence some, but whether or not I do, I want to continue writing what I feel, first and foremost. I can’t write just to rack up ratings.
but my way’s not the only way…hugmamma.