Before we begin. Yes, I spelt Clout correctly!
The dictionary definition of 'clout' reads: a heavy blow with the hand or a hard object or "a clout round the ear."
Else it refers to an influence or power, especially in politics or business such as "I knew she carried a lot of clout."
Clout v Klout
Your initial grammatical skepticism is, however, understood and is symbiotic of the new social language of business and marketing in a digital age powered by social influence.
Last week news broke that Lithium Technologies was to acquire 'Klout', a business that focuses on analyzing who is influential in social media, and a term more synonymous with digital savvy marketers -- for a fee reported to be at least $100 million. It is no surprise that technology and vanity = money. Note: I like what Klout is doing, but more on that later.
Both humans and brands in this day and age are largely vain and egotistical beings, spending considerable amounts of time improving our collective online appearance and worrying about what others think of us. The rampant rise of social media, proliferation of online personas and image crafting has no doubt only fueled these flames. But when does vanity become ego and ego become egotistical? When do brands cross a line? And are new media 'ego-metrics' of influence actually useful to your business? The answer, I believe, lies below:
Vanity Marketing and Ego-metrics
For years now marketers have used vanity as a brand-building tactic in comparison to traditional product marketing. The focus here was on the individual. Combine this with the aspirational qualities of said brand and this manifests into an altogether more enlightening, experiential brand appeal. You no longer owned a product, you became a brand.
Nike is a great example of ego focused branding. The product actually comes second as marketing is focused around the user, a user who achieves great things, a user who is on a path to self-betterment and that just so happens to be using Nike products while doing so.
With Nike, you don't so much need the product to succeed. The consumer uses the product because they succeed. They "Just do it."
Photo courtesy of Nike
Recently Nike's vanity marketing came head-to-head with ego defined, a certain Kanye West, culminating in a newsworthy clash of egos. While on stage as part of his latest sellout tour, superstar rapper Kanye West led a six minute long rant about his failed celebrity endorsement with the brand.
"Even though Nike wouldn't take his call, other forward-thinking companies will."
Taking this well documented fall out between ego (aka Kanye West) and the [was] Nike relationship, it is clear to see how the lines between vanity marketing, influence and endorsement have blurred.
The Ego v The Egotist
The line between the ego and the egotist is a fine one. Whilst ego can be viewed as a philosophy of introspection, self-awareness and pride, egotism can be viewed as self centered, arrogant and result in narcissism. It is fine for any business, brand or individual to have ego. We are human and have feeling of pride and self worth. However the fine line between being viewed as 'proud' or as 'boastful and arrogant' is tight. It's a well-trodden path, that arguably in recent times many brands have crossed.
This battle of ego v's egotist can act in a multitude of ways: both invoking support and developing affinity for a brand or distancing you entirely, whether purposefully or not.
Grey Poupon's recent brand overhaul plays on their once strong brand ego in a satirical sense. They purposefully pull no punches, if you don't know enough about the product you simply don't cut the mustard.
Another example is shown by U.S. clothing brand Abercrombie & Fitch. Their policy for actively only hiring good looking people (so it seems) and even making them stand around in their stores topless allows us to question this further.
Photograph: Richard Young/Rex Features
Technology, Social and Ego-metrics
This phenomenon may have been born out of this rise in marketers attempting to grade influence, joining the ever-increasing requirement for brands to define this. To develop and encourage the adoption of these ego-metrics to feed their own ego, and incite headlines that see them included in lists of "most influential brand" or "widest social reach".
Many social platforms themselves thrive on ego and vanity, the burning desire for individuals to tell people exactly what they're doing at this exact moment in time, or posting pictures of their lunch. However when brands replicate this behavior wander too far past the line, it moves them away from proud or self-aware, to downright arrogant and narcissistic.
This is no less why many ego based technology tools exist in the first place. Through developing a variety of influence-orientated metrics, this ultimately enables brands to position their influence [read: ego] against their competitors. They consider these 'ego-metrics' as part of their core marketing KPIs, utilizing vanity based figures to help them thrive on their ego and set them apart from others.
The Black Market of Influence
This focus on influence metrics has inevitably caused an increase in attempting to game them. Ego, it seems, also belongs to the stakeholders whose jobs are defined (and appraised) by these influence metrics. The currency of social influence can be seen through multiple companies offering Facebook likes, Twitter followers or YouTube views at a cost, just Google 'buy Facebook likes' to see for yourself.
Not long ago did stories orientated on 'like' or 'click farming' start hitting the headlines and, reminiscent of the old days of SEO, like 'exchanges' are also getting relatively widely discussed. This inevitably caused the major social networks to set out on a mission to protect their own ego, by attempting to uncover false or duplicate accounts and clamp down on this kind of activity. But the process of commoditizing influence had already started, and the demand was very real.
Suffice to say, partaking in any of these activities ultimately means that you're diluting your audience in a quest for quantitative, ego-driven influence metrics. You're not an influencer; you're a ego-driven fake. And what's worse is you're investing in your own ignorance. If there were ever an ROI (in this case Return on Ignorance) you'd be scoring highly indeed.
Ego and Influence
The key difference between ego by quantity and ego by quality is that the latter has a focus based on merit. This merit defines your clout, in the very true sense of the word.
Don't forget that, much like any form of genuine interaction with your consumers, there is no short cut, no get out of jail free card.
We should not forget here that that social platforms themselves thrive on ego and vanity, the burning desire for individuals to tell people exactly what they're doing at this exact moment in time, or posting pictures of their lunch. However when brands replicate this behavior, they wander too far past the line and it moves them away from proud or self-aware, to downright arrogant and narcissistic.
Real influence has to be earned, and when you consider whether or not you are actively influencing your customer, then think of the end-user and focus on the recipient. If you're struggling to envision this (because you bought your way to 100,000 Twitter followers) then your question already has an answer.
This is less of a case of influence and more one of an over inflated ego. To paraphrase John Hall (Influence & Co), the focus should be on being meaningful vs. reaching an audience.
Real influence should be directly correlated to pure quality content and not by social votes that can be bought, exchanged or listed subjectively.
Klout, now matter how imperfect some may say it is, does actually look at influence by value and quality influenced by merit. The future of real qualitative influence will go one step further using quality content as part of the new influencer equation.
Quality content is a key catalyst in the formation of influence. Klout is now aiming to present content from others that can be shared. This new type of content curation ties into the user's social graph giving them the ability to view and share content content that resonates/influences them.
Don't Let Ego Outrank Influence
Ultimately the game hasn't changed here and ego and vanity marketing is here to stay. There is a fine line to tread, but if you create great enough content, marketing then it will do more than just empty your shelves. It will develop your clout as a brand, captivating your customers' imaginations. It will embody their aspirations and align them alongside you and your brand vision, defining your brand perception. Developing your ego with theirs. Utilizing their influence and social reach to leverage your return on influence.
However, don't succumb to the mistakes commonly made by many attempting to grade influence through volume-based, un-scientific and crude measurements such as follower counts. Influence does not equal follower count. Vanity metrics are not always the right metrics and are sometimes dangerously misleading. Use them at your peril.
There exists an entire generation now that are digitally enabled, comfortable and most importantly, vocal. Stay focused, humble, empathetic and understanding when your customers always in sight and earshot when you're conducting your marketing activity. Focus on quality of content to avoid some of the misleading vanity metrics that people throw your way. Focus on genuine influence. Klout is actually heading in the right direction.