Deliver your friends unto the marketing maw

I only became aware of Klout relatively recently when I read an AFR article on its use in recruitment. I must admit I’m a bit of a careful social media user. I’ve read many articles on what I need to do to harvest social media and push my rankings upwards, but just can’t quite bring myself to that level of personal touting. So Klout’s idea of pulling the number and ‘significance’ of my friends and followers on social media into one place and giving me a ranked score made me wince slightly.

Then there was the obvious question of how meaningful any score that could be so obviously gamed could be. Writing about Airtasker a few weeks ago I noted how many of the tasks involved getting people Facebook likes or Twitter followers. Then today’s New York Times reported on companies offering Twitter followers for less than a cent each – $5 can buy you 1,000 followers. Apparently people are doing it enough that a counter business has started up in checking whether followers are real. (Fake Follower Check tells me 2 per cent of my own followers are fakes – the funny thing is I can’t work out who they are.)

The $5 for 1,000 followers is a lot cheaper than the $90 for 1,000 fans quoted in today’s Sydney Morning Herald article about a new Australian online fashion store that will only allow people with a Klout score above 40 to shop with it. Apart from immediately thinking that Jasu has achieved a lovely marketing coup with the concept, it also strikes me as a frightening trend.

The whole social media ‘thing’ is creating an economy where we rate people by quantity rather than quality. It’s the reason I’m a careful social media user – I tend to think a small number of pertinent followers beats a huge number of found, or purchased, randoms. Worse, the use of any system which can be so easily gamed shows a frightening confluence of technology and naivety. The technology allows us to do something but we’ve yet to find the controls and restraints that make sense of it. That sort of statement often gets made in relation to technological advances; the difference with social media is that it’s less about the enabling technology and more about actual changes to our society.

There are a lot of genuine social media users who appreciate the opportunity it affords to participate in a wide-flung community of interest. Some of the groups of scientists I follow on Twitter are great examples of the use of the medium to exchange information. That’s actually using it as a social medium. But when you start using it as a way of counting coup or validating a person’s significance based on the numbers of people they have as Facebook friends, we’ve turned social interaction into a numbers game. Our value is set by the number of eyeballs we can deliver to advertisers. A few years ago that was something you’d say in relation to those awful party-plan sales where people would sell plastic dishes or scented candles to their friends; now it increasingly applies to anyone using the Internet.

Image: Social Media Monopoly by Crystal Gibson via Agile.

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