Are people confusing popularity with influence?

According to Klout, a company that “uses over 35 variables on Twitter and Facebook” as a Standard for Influence, Justin Bieber is the second most influential person of 2010.  Bieber is preceded by President Barack Obama and followed by Sarah Palin.  I wouldn’t consider this his usual entourage.
Here’s something else I found interesting about Klout’s 2010 influencers.  The top three most influential musicians are 1) Justin Bieber, 2) Lady Gaga and 3) Michael Jackson.  And the top three most influential TV shows?  1) Lost 2) American Idol and 3) Red Eye.  Stop and think about that.

Not to be insensitive to Michael’s family and fans, but he’s dead.  How is it he is more influential than all live musicians, except Justin Bieber?  It’s not that I have anything against MJ.  I love to rock out to a little Smooth Criminal from time to time and I completely respect the way he revolutionized dance.  It’s just I don’t understand how he can be characterized as currently influential.  Let’s look at another celebrity that’s passed on; this one is a personal favorite of mine – Walt Disney.   Walt Disney was an extremely influential person during his lifetime.  He was a film producer, director, screenwriter, voice actor, animator, entrepreneur, international icon, and philanthropist.  Many of his dreams became a reality, and to this day delight hundreds of thousands.  I truly believe Disneyland is “the happiest place on Earth,” and I love how his movies, shows, and theme parks bring out my inner child.  But that’s just it, the movies and theme parks created under his brand have this influence over me – not Walt.

I’m also curious about the kind of influence the TV show ‘Lost’ has on our society.  Are planes suddenly crashing onto uncharted islands?  Have we unexpectedly started time traveling?  I’ll give American Idol both popularity and influence.  The show has made an impact on our society.  From giving the everyday person a chance to make it big to the Idol Gives Back campaign every year, American Idol has given – and continues to give – us a lot.

Maybe my definition of ‘influence’ just isn’t in line with the modern world.  I relate to the definition found on www.meriam-webster.com/dictionary/influence: “to affect or alter by indirect or intangible means.”  At Klout they look at how many people read your tweet, how many friends you have, how many people retweet/like your status and other similar variables.  Again, to me this sounds like a way to measure popularity.  Merriam-Webster defines ‘popular’ as “of or relating to the general public” and even “frequently encountered or widely accepted.”  That second option sounds exactly like what Klout is looking at.

Can someone or something be popular and influential?  Of course they can!  Being popular, or famous, certainly helps, but it doesn’t mean the words can be substituted for one another.  And it’s all relative, which makes it extremely difficult to rank.  I mean my parents have been extremely influential – to me at least, and perhaps a few of my friends, but they aren’t popular.   So what does that have to do with the world of social media?  Well, I think social media is an amazing outlet that allows people to express themselves.  But does that expression translate into authority? I’m not so sure.  Social media, and what we can do with it, is still evolving; it’s just one piece of the puzzle. What I mean is that a person’s track record on Facebook or Twitter shouldn’t be the only thing considered, and measured, when it comes to determining how influential they are.  So while I appreciate the concept behind Klout – as a way to identify and measure, and I’m assuming eventually market (there is already a ‘Klout for Business’) – I think it’s too early to assume they know all the answers.

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