Paul Adams, a Global Brand Manager at Facebook, had some bad news for services like Klout and PeerIndex at this year's Social Media Week event cluster: Social influence doesn't matter. Let's entertain that idea for a minute. Drop the scores, the badges and the bragging rights, and consider a different approach. 

Friends and Family

Paul's keynote was mainly buttressed by the fact that our capacity for information is not expanding with the amount of information that's available. It's not a new realization -- other experts like Rachel Happe often cite a lack of brain space as the reason we feel increasingly bewildered by technological advancements and the behavioral shifts that tag along with them. 

In the case of connections, Paul says that our brains max out at around 150, and of that 150 there's an average of four people that we really trust and are influenced by. From that angle, equating thousands of friends with more social influence doesn't really gel.

"The people who have disproportionate influence over us are our closest friends and family," he said. "They are the people who drive almost all of our purchase decisions. Many studies have shown that there’s very little correlation between how many connections someone has, and how influential they are. The reasons is that all of us are influential in different contexts." 

Yes, We've Taken it Too Far  

This discussion brings me back to an old post I wrote called 5 Business Tools for Measuring Social Influence Online. It was exactly what it sounds like, and listed services like Klout, PeerIndex and Twitalyzer. In response, Web Analytics Demystified's own Eric T. Peterson wrote an article about taking social measurement too far:

I think that anyone using our data, Klout, PeerIndex or any other online measure of “influence” to make a real world decision is a fool and making a huge mistake. All of these measures, regardless of what they purport to do, measure nothing more than an individual’s use of social media. Moreover, unless you are clearly an influencer offline (see Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, Barack Obama, etc.) your ability to influence online behavior has little or no impact to your influence in the real world.

Ditching Viral People and Viral Content

Paul finished his talk by claiming that people have been thinking about the social Web totally wrong. In addition to misunderstanding influence, he went into detail about why his least favorite word is "viral."

"People don't talk about facts, they talk and share feelings. This is critical because most marketers are pushing facts." (E.g. this is why my product is better than my competitor's, and here's a list of the awesome features it includes.) 

In a world where information goes up and our capacity for it stays the same, Paul's point of view says the focus should not be one who looks more popular on paper-- it's about what the people we trust have to say about the things we're interested in, and how those statements make us feel. For marketers, this means two things need to happen:

  • Focus on building experiences for small, connected groups of friends
  • Focus on creating a business strategy around many, lightweight interactions

This approach mimics the way we behave and form relationships in real life, and it's a discussion that I think will continue to get a lot of attention as we move forward into 2012 and continue our efforts to figure out that whole Customer Experience thing. 

Thoughts? Let us know in the comments below.