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Social media ‘score cards’ are improving

One of the great things about Idaho, in general, and Boise, in particular, is how easy it is to find someone who is connected to someone you’d like to know. This makes networking relatively easy, compared to what it’s like in a big city.

But even with these “six (or maybe two) degrees of separation,” it can still be hard for local businesses to find the right people to help expand their customer base. If this is a problem in Boise, then you can bet it’s a major problem for companies with national or international markets.

One promise of social media was that it would make it vastly easier for people to connect to each other based on their interests. Snowmobile lovers could instantly connect with other snowmobile lovers in their town, their state, their region and beyond. Same with pet lovers, baseball fans, antique armor enthusiasts.

But while social media began as an exciting new path to market, it has actually led many well-intentioned companies right into a morass. The problem these businesses face is that there are now so many people active in social media that it’s hard to find the ones that might matter to them, that is to say, which ones have a high “social score.”

The response from social media companies like Facebook and Twitter has been to tell companies to essentially just “get out there and start looking around.” And for companies looking for people who want to share pictures of their cats, this has been a perfect solution.

But for businesses trying to reach customers who have some reason to care about the company’s products or services, social media has been barely a solution at all. (I know many business users who have tried social media and left just scratching their heads, wondering how having access to such a large, undifferentiated mass of people is doing them any good.)

Enter the “social scoring” companies. Klout, Kerb, social index and many more like them have been offering people (and businesses) a way to assess how “connected” individual social media users really are. The only problem is that these services amount to little more than popularity contests. How many people “like” you on Facebook or follow you on Twitter doesn’t translate directly into the amount of influence you have over other people’s thinking or shopping behavior. So my heart – or, rather, my mind – takes wing at the rise of new companies like Little Bird and Appinions.

The Wall Street Journal describes Little Bird as “crawl(ing) the social graphs of Web users to learn who they follow, who follows them and how reciprocal the exchanges are between them.” Appinions, meanwhile, explains that it has created an “influence platform” to “extract opinions from more than 5 million online sources – including blogs, social networks, forums, and newspaper and magazine articles.”

While using different methodologies, these companies are advancing the art of helping companies discover who is talking about them, what they’re saying and if anybody cares. In the process, they’re taking social scoring to a new level, making social influence searches less like popularity contests and more like the results of data-driven measurements.

Little Bird and Appinions exert a lot more effort to understand the content and context of what people are sharing socially. They are developing algorithms that interpret the effect on others of what these people share. And when someone seems to be turning heads – such as getting people to go to a commercial website and act – then and only then do they get a high “social score.”

This entire social scoring thing is in its infancy. New players will enter the marketplace with ever more sophisticated algorithms that will improve a company’s ability to be efficient about its social media engagement. As these tools get more sophisticated, companies should anticipate the need to hire or seek outside support from people equally skilled at extracting and interpreting the data these new tools provide.

The rewards will, hopefully, be worth the investment. Because for all you know now, your company’s most important influencer – the one who can really make your sales pop – might be that new startup in the storefront down the street. Who knew?

Hobart “Hobie” Swan runs vocalizePR LLC, a Boise-based agency that helps companies grow by identifying and building relationships with key influencers. He can be contacted at hobart@vocalizePR.com and (208) 949-6598. Visit www.vocalizepr.com for more information.

About Hobart Swan