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ZeroKlout2

Klout, Big Data and the Meaning of “Opt Out”

Is it possible to have a Klout Score of Zero (K = 0)?

Why, you might ask, would anybody want to have such a score in the gamified realm of influence measurement, where higher scores indicate a higher level of perceived online influence?

The answer may lie in the way that Klout profiles you, branding you a Specialist, an Observer, or a Broadcaster. The answer may also lie in how people relate to Big Data, vaguely defined ranking algorithms, and the increased tendency of offline organizations to make some big, and potentially misleading, assumptions about the role of online influence in an offline world.

“Klout calculates billions of data points across over 100 million influencers every day.” ~ Klout.com

Whatever the reason, there are people who simply want out.  But opting out, and driving your score to a meaningless Zero, is apparently a bit more difficult in the Klout dimension than one might imagine.

I PRESENT TO YOU MR. SAM FIORELLA

Mr. Fiorella was recently referenced in a Wired.com article (What your Klout Score really means) that delved into an experience he had a while back with a potential employer, who eliminated Sam (and possibly others) from the list of candidates based on his perceived “sub-par” Klout Score. As listed on the Klout.com website…

It’s not the first time something in the online world has impacted a decision in the offline world, and it definitely won’t be the last (see Jeremiah Owyang’s post “How ‘Social Profiling’ Will Work In The Real World“).

Sam ultimately did improve his Klout Score (into the 70’s) but was never happy with the idea of being ranked (or branded) by an algorithm for online OR offline purposes. So when Klout offered an “opt out” option at the beginning of November, 2011, he promptly did just that. He opted out and initiated the deletion of his Klout profile, per the language on the Klout site:

Klout Opt Out

As far as Sam was concerned, he was satisfied that after opting out nobody would be able to view his Klout Score moving forward and that only trace data would remain in the system (for 180 days, after which it would be removed).

He also understood that Klout would continue track his activities on the public broadcast social site Twitter. 

Note: I wouldn’t be surprised if Klout NEEDS to track Sam privately in order to accurately determine the Klout Scores of others within his Twitter social graph. In essence, influencers who are not tracked become dark matter, or invisible thought leaders. They mess with what we perceive by influencing behavior in unseen ways. 

But there was also a level of expectation that the information gathered on Twitter (and his resulting private Klout Score) would to be kept private and OFF the Klout.com site.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way.

I PRESENT TO YOU MR. SAM FIORELLA’S GHOST

In the name of full disclosure, I know Sam personally and I am a registered Klout user. I was also aware when he, and others, opted out of Klout last year. So when I read the Wired article, and the various other articles and posts that it spawned, the analyst in me was just a bit curious to see if Sam had in fact been removed from the site. So I search Klout.com and found no public profile or information on him.

But I did come across the profile of a friend of mine, and attached to that profile, in their Influencers list, was the smiling face of Sam Fiorella. On the site, exactly where it should not have been.

Apparently, the phrase “you will be removed from Klout.com within 24-48 hours” – as mentioned in the Klout opt out statement – may not mean what you think it means.

Sam opted out from Klout almost 6 months ago. Could this possibly be the “trace data” mentioned in the Klout “opt out” statement?  I don’t believe so, as his current Twitter avatar is on display along with an assumingly current Klout Score of 52 (which sounds plausible since Klout appears to be pulling his data only from Twitter, not the complete list of social sites that Sam previously had linked to his Klout account, and it increased to 53 last night).

But wait, there’s more (thank you Ron Popeil). While I did pass on the option to invite Sam back to Klout (he wouldn’t have accepted anyway), I couldn’t resist the chance to test the software and see if it would allow me to give him a +K in Blogging. It did:

I’m not sure the +K stuck (even though it does now show me a greyed out +K button for Sam and Blogging, it apparently didn’t decrement my +K counter).

But the mere fact that it allowed me to go through the action, give me a success notification and offer the option to Tweet the +K out, was more than just a bit interesting – it was a challenge to figure out what had gone wrong, how it might be corrected and to think strategically a bit about some of the larger (beyond Klout) implications it might have.

FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION

From a social perspective, you cannot deny that influence exists – marketing, advertising and sales people have been trying to identify and target influential consumers for years. Nor can we deny that our online and offline lives are colliding extremely fast, and influence in one medium can, and will, transcend to another.

From an online influence measurement perspective, there is a defined need to look for insights in online behavior (served by Klout and other firms such as PeerIndex, Twitalyzer, TweetLevel, etc.), and the people at Klout have been very honest and open with me, and others, about how and why they are undertaking this task. 

But there is a disconnect when a phrase like “removed” appears to mean “erased a bit” – not quite how I would interpret it.

CAN WE ACHIEVE ZERO?

When Sam opted out of Klout, he assumed that he would still have a Klout Score, but that his information would no longer be shared or visible to others – in essence giving him a public null Klout Score (K = 0) that he sought. While the data would still exist, and be interpreted by Klout, they would not share their interpretations with others.

So why is Sam Fiorella still appearing on Klout? Perhaps there is an issue that weaves around Klout’s interpretation of words, and the managing of expectations from a contractual Terms of Service (TOS) perspective. Or perhaps it has to do with the massive amounts of Big Data that we are crunching on an ongoing basis, with technology evolving at such a rapid pace that glitches and ghosts, while unacceptable, are going to occur. Either way, there is a flaw somewhere in the system, and Mr. Fiorella has become its poster child.

PRIVACY AND PERVASIVE COMMUNICATIONS

Sam’s issue with Klout is bigger than either Sam or Klout. Not to diminish what Sam is going through, neither Sam nor Klout are alone in facing issues regarding personal data, big data, privacy or changing technology. If anything, his dilemma is indicative of a much larger series of questions and issues that we face.

We live in an age of technology-enabled Pervasive Communications. Our ability to communicate with almost anyone, anywhere at any time, over a multitude of communications channels, is allowing us to unleash our DNA-driven need to create, share and consume content and information with others.

As we do this, our public actions are increasingly tracked, tagged, shared and mined by people and companies that we’ve never met. They’re sifting through piles of Big Data looking for patterns, for trends, for clues regarding what influences our decisions, and how our decisions influence – if at all – the decisions of others. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but when this activity lacks true transparency of both intent and use, the user is increasingly, and unknowingly, giving away far more than they are receiving in return.

“There is nothing in the dark that isn’t there when the lights are on.”

~ Rod Serling

The data is out there and it’s not going away. It may lose some of its relevance, but it will still be out there and is increasingly being linked with other data to create “new” data. The questions of who really owns our data (both pre and post-processing), how and when it can be shared and reused, and how much light (transparency) should be shined upon it, will likely be argued (and should be) for many years to come.

While many individuals may argue that they want their data out there (in an effort to achieve a richer, more engaging online experience), I do believe that there are different times and places for private and public, and, as individuals, businesses and governments, we need to continually ask ourselves:

  • What should the ground-rules be for how Terms of Service and ownership of data are defined?
  • How will we let these definitions and rules evolve and adapt to technology and human behavior patterns that don’t yet exist or have yet to be defined?
  • How can we provide true transparency (in simple terms) to online users regarding their data and its linkages with other data (there’s a business out there if you can create that infograph, BTW)? And,
  • How we are going play together in an ever shrinking sandbox where transparency has become a buzz-word and personal privacy continues to become increasingly elusive?

I also believe that when an “opt out” option is offered, as it was with Klout, it should be just that – a way for you to take yourself, and your data, OUT of the system. If not for your actions, the data wouldn’t exist in the first place.

 Note: Images adapted from Klout.com

Disruption and (non) Innovation, Part II

Explosive Hits Disruption and InnovationThe words “Disruption” and “Innovation” have become lexicons of our current business vocabulary. But while they are closely linked, they are (as mentioned in my post Disruption and Innovation, Part I) two very different beasts.

Not surprisingly, I increasingly hear people speak of their organizations as being disruptive in a market, of having a disruptive strategy (that is often further described as being “innovative”).  

Granted, there are some strategies that are, in and of themselves, true innovations that lead to the disruption of existing markets and the creation of new markets. For example, Ron Popeil’s televised take on the “But wait, there’s more!” product marketing strategy was arguably an innovation that created new markets, created market value that previously didn’t exist, and was ultimately disruptive to others.

Disruption creates chaos. Chaos cannot be controlled.

By definition, a strategy is not the same as an innovation. But a strategy can be innovative, and it can also be disruptive, and there are no shortage of organizations out there today that love to talk about their disruptive strategies.

But is being disruptive in a market, or towards a competitor, a viable strategy? Is it sustainable? Or is it merely something that is best used in an opportunistic manner?

Chaos cannot be controlled, but it can be leveraged.

Personally, while I almost always caution clients against relying upon disrupting their competition, or a market, as a business strategy, there is a part of me that understands the value of leveraging an opportunity to disrupt the flow of a competitor.

THE SEVEN DISRUPTIVE SINS

How an organization attempts to disrupt its competition is often tempered by the depth of their pockets, the desperate nature of their situation or their willingness to push (or even outright cross) the lines of the law. But, putting aside graft and corruption, most organizations tend to gravitate to the same Seven Disruptive Sins when it comes to disrupting their competition.

I call them sins, for while they may have their virtues or desired effect, they may also come back to bite you. Hard

To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction.

~ Sir Isaac Newton

So let’s take a look at the most common strategies I see used, misused and abused by organizations to disrupt their competition…

1. Talent Acquisition: pulling key personnel away from a competitor, in an attempt to limit their competitiveness.

Pro: Acquiring great talent in any area of your business is always a good idea (top sales reps, developers, executives, support staff, etc.). And when pulled from your competitor, can limit, or at least disrupt their footing for a period of time.

Con: Pulling top staff from a competitor usually means offering a sweeter, more costly deal. It also opens the door for your competitor to potentially find a new, more creative or hungrier, replacement. Add in non-compete agreements (especially where customers or IP are concerned) and ultimately you may have just overpaid for talent AND given your competitor an opportunity to lower their own operating costs.

2. IP Acquisition: buying patents, or even entire companies, in an effort to keep (or take) the technology away from competitors. For example, during the dot-com boom, larger firms were buying up smaller firms left and right – not just because they needed the technology but to take it out of the market (a great example today would be the recent sell off of Nortel patents, or the likely interest a sell-off of RIM patents would generate).

Pro: By locking up a piece of technology that your competitor may rely upon or leverage in the future (a good example would be buying a smaller firm that resells product through a competitor), you can take away portions of their product/services portfolio.

Con: Buying anything costs money. And who isn’t to say that your competition will, as a result of your action, be forced to rethink their product/service strategy and develop a new one that isn’t more in touch with customer demand? More importantly, companies need to be nimble in today’s market. Technologies change fast, and you don’t want to be left holding outdated product.

3. Flooding the Market: selling products or services well below market price in an effort to take away customers and revenue from your competition (something we see often at the international trade level). Interestingly (thanks to Alan Berkson for this example), we see this all the time in the Cable TV and Mobile sectors, where vendors undercut their competition (through special contract pricing) to win customers that they know they will lose after their 12/24 month contract is up.

Pro: You can’t argue with the value of taking away market share from your competition.

Con: Every time you underprice your product, or give away an extra service, you are taking profit out of your pocket – something that few firms can afford to sustain for any period of time.

4. Supplier Acquisition: controlling the supply of parts, either through exclusive deals or acquisition, to restrict competitor’s access. If everybody in a market relies upon Company X for certain technology, bringing that supplier under your umbrella can force competitors to shift their own strategies (note: this is not the same as developing your own in-house alternatives to parts/components that are universally used within a market, such as Apple building their own chip fabrication facility).

Pro: Controlling the supply of commonly used products in a market can certainly be a competitive strength (imagine if Apple bought Intel…). It can provide (after the cost of acquisition is recouped) lower cost of goods sold.

Con: You buy it, you’re stuck with it. Take something away from somebody and they’ll find a way to engineer something better. Just as nature abhors a vacuum, so do markets. Pull a key component out of a market and somebody will find a way to replace it (with something faster, better, cheaper). Lesson: don’t force your competition to become innovative.

5. Distribution Acquisition: controlling the distribution channels for your product – a great example being the exclusivity agreements that restricted food chains from selling both Coke and Pepsi products.

Pro: If you can prevent your competitor’s product from ever appearing on the shelf, you’ve clearly got an advantage.

Con: Linking yourself to a particular distribution channel is great, until that distribution channel falls to deliver, or has competitive challenges of their own (think McDonalds/Burger King and Coke vs Pepsi).

6. Legislation/Regulation: pushing the enactment of laws and regulations that favor you, or restrict your competition is a practice as old a government and provides for a thriving lobby economy at the state and federal level. A similar example is the tactic that government contractors employ to “shape” government procurements in such a way that the specifications of the requirement can only be met by their product or service.

Pro: If you can control the playing field, you can control the game. By enacting legislation (or bid specifications) in such a way as to preclude your competition, you’ve given yourself home-field advantage.

Con: Putting aside the issues of potential corruption, laws and regulations are usually enacted in a particular context to address a specific requirement. But laws and regulations rarely go off the books, and all too often they are applied in ways totally unintended. For a great example, check out Wickard v. Filburn and the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938 which was intended to stabilize US wheat prices but is now being used to restrict a variety of activities, including the personal growth of medicinal marijuana in states where such use is allowed.

7. Creative Marketing: taking a bit of poetic license when talking about a competitor’s product. In politics, we’d call this a smear campaign.

Pro: Highlighting weaknesses, or shortcomings – especially when documented by others – can be a great way to position your competitor’s product in a dim light.

Con: Nobody likes to be misled or fed partial information, and while spreading Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt is a mainstay part of both business and political culture, in the age of Pervasive Communications, fact checking is available 247. Even if your data about a competitor is true, ultimately, the continued use of this approach will be viewed as “dirty politics” and reflect poorly on you, not your competition.

SOME THOUGHTS

Disruption is a part of nature, and it is no surprise that we see it often in markets. But intentionally trying to create a disruptive strategy carries its share of risk and can take away from the value proposition of a company’s own product and services. In the end, if a company doesn’t focus on their own products and services first, disrupting a competitor won’t add any value as they won’t be in a position to leverage the (often temporary) disruption to their advantage.


Photo of EMI Album by Hans Thijs, Licensed under Creative Commons

Photo of sign at Newton-Lee Elementary School in Ashburn, Virginia by Fred McClimans.

Mentoring, Networking and Innovation – Revisited

History is filled with examples of linkages between networking, mentoring and innovation, but over the centuries the knowledge acquisition ecosystem has changed considerably. There was a time when this process was slow and rooted in tacit knowledge, but as the needs and wants of society progressed and evolved, the process became more refined—moving faster— and rooted in the exchange of explicit knowledge.

tacit-knowledge

TACIT KNOWLEDGE – SHOW ME!

Regrettably, as society and technology continue to explode at a pace that stretches Moore’s law, it translates to the current knowledge acquisition ecosystem being broken; in fact, we may be at risk of losing a generational exchange of knowledge and innovation.

Following is a fast-paced tour through related history, plus a prescription for 21st century mentoring, networking and innovation.

IN DAYS OF YORE

Centuries ago, the path to gainful employment often required apprenticeships. If you wanted to learn a trade, you had no other option: you needed to find somebody who was already doing it.

Through practice and much coaching—especially if it involved tacit knowledge—you could eventually master a particular craft or art. This was a one-to-one relationship that benefited both the master and the student. Students learned a trade that would serve them for life, and masters acquired young, cheap talent to keep their businesses alive. If you wanted to learn a trade, you had to find a person who was willing to teach you how to do it. And, if you were lucky, the master provided you with paid employment at the end of your apprenticeship.

In this type of direct one-on-one learning process, a master could only have a limited number of apprentices at any one time. This not only limited the ability of the master to educate the masses in their skill, but it also limited the ability of the young student to ask questions or bring new ideas to a wide audience.

While the collaborative sharing of knowledge occurred, the resulting by-product—innovation—was a slow process measured in decades, not years or months.

THE AGE OF MASS

EXPLICIT KNOWLEDGE RULES

During this period, the master/student apprenticeship process evolved into—particularly at the management level—a mentorship process. The master/student relationship remained intact, but it became less about passing along tacit knowledge and fundamental skills and more about the refinement and guiding of the student’s careerpath.

Throughout this revolutionary period, the one constant in the apprenticeship and mentorship processes was that both the master and the student benefited from the relationship. It was a two-way street that helped advance both experienceand new ideas.

In essence, it helped foster innovation.

THE NEXT “NEXT”

In the 21st century, we’ve shifted into a post-industrial, information-based economy that once again has resulted in a requirement for both educational change and a shift in the type of workforce required. Unfortunately, some things have changed (not necessarily for the better) along the way; namely:

  • the master/student mentorship process quickly is becoming a casualty of the global availability of information; and
  • there is a shift in the way society learns and how we reinforce our decisions.

THE “HYPER-CONNECTED” GENERATION

Technology, pervasive communication and the global availability of “any information everywhere” have had a negative impact on the state of mentorships.

Photo of sign at Newton-Lee Elementary School in Ashburn, Virginia by Fred McClimans.

Twenty years ago we had a culture where peers still relied upon personal face-to-face (or voice-to-voice) real-time communications. As we “graduated up” from high-school to university or college, we were introduced to a new level of peers and potential teachers/mentors. As we left our institutions of higher education and moved into the work-force, each new job opportunity brought with it a “new” level of contacts.

This change in contacts and peers wasn’t necessarily by choice. It was a by-product of the way we communicated and the limitations that geography placed upon our network of “on-demand” peers.

Today’s generation (some may call it Gen Y or Millennials—we’ll use the phrase “hyper-connected” here) faces an interesting conundrum:

As they move from high-school into the work-force, the hyper-connected still encounter the same “new contact” opportunities as their predecessors. The complication is they also bring with them a collection of trusted peers, with whom they remain connected through pervasive communications.

As a “trusted” group, and taking into account peer pressure, it is no surprise they rely heavily on this group of peers when it comes to making lifestyle or career decisions. Rather than seek out the advice of those with experience in their new-found field of employment, the hyper-connected often are likely to seek the counsel of their long-term friends.

This may fill the need the hyper-connected have to gain confirmation or acceptance of their plans, but it diverts their attention from the value that an outside advisor or mentor can bring to the equation.

THE NEED TO MENTOR

Why do we mentor others? Like parenting, it’s motivated by both selfish and selfless aspirations.

We want to:

  1. Bestow on others our own knowledge;
  2. Give them the opportunity both to work with us and for us; and
  3. Pass along our collective experience to those who we trust to continue our legacy.

At the same time, we recognize they may become our peers or even our competition—something that both forces us toraise our game to the next level and challenges us to find innovative solutions to win the game.

Where does this innovation come from? The innovation comes from the exchange of ideas with those we mentor.

WHY NETWORKING IS KEY TO LEVERAGING MENTORING

It’s often been said that it is not what you know but who you know. Today, more than ever, people recognize the value of diversity of opinion. We also recognize that a person need not have just one mentor and that mentorship needs—and mentors—may change over time; ultimately, helping to form a group of trusted advisors.

How do you accommodate this?

Mentoring is part of a larger ecosystem of networking. It requires you to reach out of your comfort zone to find those who are “where you want to be.” Unfortunately, too many people are afraid to—or don’t feel the need to—truly network and reach out to establish these long-term beneficial relations.

Simply reaching out online to ask an experienced person a question, or asking for a limited piece of advice, isn’t true networking. It often results in answers that lack context.

What many of today’s younger generation fail to realize is that networking isn’t about:

  • following people;
  • commenting on a blog; or
  • asking a question from a person with whom you haven’t built a relationship of trust.

While the old axiom “you may find that the most successful people make the most effective mentors” still applies, it has taken on a new meaning in the digital era. It isn’t about how many people you follow or how many people follow you, buthow many personal relationships you cultivate through your online community.

TOMORROW’S WORKFORCE

As we migrate from a world driven by process to one focused on innovation and problem-solving, we see the benefits of both data-driven components and experiential/tacit knowledge—something that is ideally suited to the:

Internship > Mentorship > Employment Model

As we create new professions (community managers didn’t exist a decade ago), we find that traditional education falls short in preparing candidates with the requisite skills and mindset to be successful.

Today’s questions are now:

  1. “How do we bridge that gap?”
  2. “How do we cross that functional/educational divide?”

The answers are that we—collectively—need to reach out proactively to schools and to students in the early stages of their careers. We need the hyper-connected to:

  • Think analytically; and
  • Evaluate events and circumstances and make the most effective and positive decisions they can.

And we need to:

  • Push them towards internship programs that foster and grow this critical skill set; and
  • Ultimately, lead them to mentorship programs that offer opportunities and provide for the mutual exchange of knowledge and ideas that lead to innovation.

THINGS THAT MAKE YOU GO “Hmmm…”

We invite you to ponder this mental checklist:

  1. Are you reaching out to your local college or university community (or your summer student base) and offering internships that make a difference?
  2. Are you willing to both educate and learn from your interns?
  3. Do you realize the value (both for your organization and children) of helping the next generation of leaders benefit from your experience (careful – this requires a time commitment…)?
  4. Are you willing to openly give to those that you mentor, allowing them the opportunity to learn from you, work for you and perhaps even compete against you?

If the answer to any of the above is yes, you are one step ahead of your competition.

This post, co-authored by Alan Berkson with Fred McClimans, originally appeared on October 2, 2011 in  PR Conversations. It has been reprinted and updated here.

Alan Berkson is a principal at the Intelligist Group in New York, USA, where he focuses on helping businesses move past blockages, leverage unidentified or underused assets, and identify opportunities for growth. He provides provocative commentary and theories on a variety of business strategy topics on his blog, The Intelligent Catalyst. Connect with him on TwitterGoogle+ and LinkedIn.

Fred McClimans is the managing director of the McClimans Group in Washington, DC, USA, where he focuses on helping businesses improve their strategic business influence and find creative ways to drive their market from a proactive perspective. Read his blog at fredmcclimans.com. Connect with him on TwitterGoogle+ and LinkedIn.

Together, Alan and Fred are working on 2020F, a global community being built to identity, track and trend disruptive events that have the potential to influence long-term change in both related and tangential markets, including developing actionable solutions to both minimize the risk and maximize the opportunity of current and future disruptive events.