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Forbes "Jumps The Shark" on Social Media Influence

07/24/2013 11:21 am ET | Updated Sep 23, 2013

Does this signal the beginning of the end for Forbes as a knowledgeable source of business information? Have they finally "jumped the shark" on their way to the exit? "Jumping the shark" is actually an expression that goes back to the TV sitcom series, Happy Days. It was a show that pictured everything as rosy and happy, with neat little endings that were all nicely tied up in twenty-two minutes. The chief influencers on that show were "The Fonz," who only had to give you a look to let you know you were in trouble, and Mr. Cunningham, who set down the rules of the family.

In the midst of its ten-year run the writers must have gotten tired or were negatively influenced by the Hollywood decision-makers, when they inexplicably decided to have their characters travel to Los Angeles. Well, one thing leads to another and Fonzie ends up responding to an assault on his courage by taking to water skis (wearing his leather jacket of course) and jumping over a shark.

The stunt was so ridiculous and out of character that "jumping the shark" eventually came to be known as the moment when a television show begins a decline that is beyond recovery. While Happy Days bravely soldiered on for a few more years, it was never really the same in the minds of viewers and critics. Since that time the meaning has been broadened to define the moment when a brand or creative effort begins to lose the qualities that initially defined its success. Some still refer to "New Coke" as the moment when the Coca-Cola Company jumped the shark.

That seems to be what has happened to the once-prestigious Forbes business reputation with its recent publication of the online post, "The Marketing Magic of Klout Perks." When we look back years from now we might be able to define this as the moment that Forbes "jumped the shark." In this incredible piece, author Natalie Robehmed, a Forbes staff writer, astonishes readers when she extols the virtues of the Klout Perks program.

Instead of focusing on the thousands of online bloggers who are continually working to post pieces of well-considered commentary, Robehmed instead chooses to highlight those whose online journalistic credibility can be bought for the price of a hamburger or some other item. She laments having to pay for an ice cream cone while her friend gets to enjoy a free burger as a Perk for having tweeted about McDonald's.

She goes on to report that Klout has handed out over one million perks since 2010 alone -- does that give you any reason to think twice about what you're reading online? Even though she does point out that recipients are not obliged to say anything about the "gifts" they receive, Motorola managed to motivate 250 so-called influencers to generate almost 5,000 content posts with a recent perk.

What's Wrong With a Little Perk?

Where to begin pointing out how much this one piece has damaged Forbes' credibility? Let's start with Klout's very own definition of influence on which this whole house of cards is built. When somebody is considered to be popular, he or she is likely to get a high Klout score. This scoring system really has nothing to do with the person's credibility, expertise, or even the ability to motivate any type of action. Yet these advertisers are flocking to those with the highest scores because they are considered to be influential.

These marketers are taking advantage of consumers' naiveté and twisting it to their advantage. They are relying on information from Bazaar Voice which shows that people trust recommendations from people they know and are more likely to spend more money after seeing recommendations from friends. It says nothing about how they would feel if they knew their friends were making recommendations just to get free stuff.

A better definition of influence is evolving in more enlightened circles. Instead of being just a test of popularity, influence is being viewed as the ability to affect behavior -- to motivate someone to try something, do something or believe something they would not otherwise have done.

A study on online influence found that the traditional model of "influence" doesn't work in social media. The top-down approach of looking for someone well-known to spread the word doesn't have the same impact in the social media universe.

In his book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, author Robert Cialdini introduced readers to six principles of ethical persuasion: reciprocity, scarcity, liking, authority, social proof, and commitment/consistency. This shows a far deeper understanding of what it really means to influence somebody than mere numbers. Really Forbes, shame on you -- it's time to stop trying to convince readers to go swimming with sharks.