The businesses looking for the 'magic middle' on social networks

Screenshot of Justin Bieber's follower count Businesses are lining up to try and harness the influence of our online friendships in order to promote themselves

As anyone who survived school will know, there was never any shortage of reminders of how popular you were - or weren't, as the case may have been.

Picked last for the football team, ignored by the prettiest girl or best-looking boy... life can be cruel when you're young.

Fortunately, we all get older and a little more grown up about things.

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Or do we? In a world of retweets, "likes" and +1s, there is no shortage of services claiming to tell you how influential and important you now are.

And if you're lucky enough to be up there with the social media elite, you could find yourself being highly sought after from eager brands trying to piggyback your popularity.

Secret sauce

This is the fledgling industry of social media influence, a raft of services which track your online reputation by monitoring activity on social networks.

The main players include Klout, which launched in 2009; Peerindex, in 2010; and Kred, which is building up a head of steam after its unveiling last year.

All proudly claim to be in possession of social media's secret sauce: an algorithm that can pick the influential voices out of the crowd.

For businesses, the appeal of this is obvious.

If you're a company about to launch a new product - let's say, a new type of dog food - it is now possible find out who tweets a lot about their dog.

But, and here's the real selling point, social influence measures can supposedly determine if anyone is listening to those tweets, thus making the enthusiastic dog-tweeter a valuable asset to a marketing campaign - particularly if you can get them tweeting about your brand.

'Magic middle'

It's these low-profile yet trusted opinion formers which companies are keen to harness. They are in what Azeem Azhar, chief executive of Peerindex, keenly refers to as the "magic middle".

"You have to think of the world as a pyramid," he explains.

"At the top are the bloggers, celebs and journalists. Companies already know how to identify those people - and those people know how to market themselves.

Reebok fitness Reebok offered perks related to a launch of a new fitness product

"When they talk, they talk with the voice of the professional - but it's not necessarily the voice of a friend. The majority of people are relatively quiet on social media.

"But in the middle is a group we call the magic middle - call it about 9% of the social web - and that's people who do have this bigger-than-normal reach and a bigger-than-normal reputation in particular subjects or topics."

Free trainers

To get the "magic middle" chattering can take some persuasion, which is where the next major phase of social influence comes in.

Fitness giant Reebok is one of a number of brands dipping their toes in "perks" - a system by which companies can offer discounts and freebies to a select band of social media users who are, according to those sacred algorithms, influential.

"What this is allowing us to do is communicate more of a brand-led story," Mr Allin says.

"So when we're launching something new we're allowing people to find out about it without a hard sell.

"It's a more informal, more conversational - it sits really well alongside what else we're doing."

Start Quote

It provides a skewed vision of influence”

End Quote Michael Litman 9010 Group

He says that Reebok have so far been encouraged by the response, but it's as yet too early to predict the campaign's success.

"We are keeping a good eye on how things are going," he added. "The real scrutiny will come in the following weeks."


Reebok will certainly be hoping to do a little better than Chevrolet, who last year lent cars to 130 people who had a Klout score of 45 or above.

The buzz was considerable with more than 16,000 "positive" mentions logged. However, this activity led to just one single direct sale of a car.

However, not to be put off, the company has just begun another campaign using Klout.

Michael Litman, head of engagement for social technology consultants 9010 Group, still needs some convincing of the power of online influence.

"It provides a skewed vision of influence and tries to adopt a one-size-fits-all approach when influence is anything but," he says.

"Importantly it doesn't take in to account offline influence.

"So you could be at the very top of your game but if that isn't reflected in the number of social followers/fans you have, you won't be perceived to be influential."

A quick straw poll on Twitter highlights some intriguing quirks in the social influence system - such as Jonathan, a student who was baffled to learn he was a leading authority on Adolf Hitler.

Or Claire, who is influential on the subject of parenting, despite having no children.

And Kelly Rose, a woman who is rightly wary of the reliability of her profile when it tells visitors that she specialises in, wait for it, diarrhoea.

Mr Litman backs up his concern by saying that, according to Klout, the most influential person in the world is Justin Bieber.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    I'm so out of touch and uncool that companies should pay me to stay away from their brands.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    23.L A Odicean
    56 Minutes ago
    "Only the extreme right feel the need to express their chauvinism"
    Off topic I know but it seems you're confusing patriotism with chauvinism pal?

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Businesses have always tried to get influential groups to "promote" their goods / services, the only difference here is that they are trying to do it via users of social network sites. Seems like they are not doing to well though, I wonder why? maybe it has something to do with one of the main players establishing that the most influential person in the world is Justin Bieber.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    @26 'HugeCanoe'
    The irony of your post is clear. Good effort though!

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    I never understood why people need to constantly seek validation through sites like Twitter and Facebook, through 'likes', 'retweets' or 'favourites'. Particularly when they ask for you to do it.

    Rate this 'up' if you agree...

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    The more companies try to ram their products down my throat, the more I avoid them. I base my buying decisions on ethics not popularity so I boycott lots of the major brands in favour of smaller less known brands.

    Jordon, Peter Andre, Kerry Katona, Olly Murs and all the other ITV2 media hogs sell themselves with no shame and I make a point of boycotting anything they endorse.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Time the owners of Twitter and Facebook should be concerned that people are questionning the intent/ethics of their business models?

    A thought I hope will get past the BBC Mods. I've seen increasing interviews on TV where children are bullied on above and grieving parents have to tolerate despicable cowardly attacks on memorable sites. Yet the BBC are driving us to use these sites for comment?

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    I tweet now and then, 7 times in the last year, but I might as well stand on the summit of K2 in a thunderstorm and shout my head off for all it's worth. #21 St George's day? I must have missed that. That's what's great about England. Only the extreme right feel the need to express their chauvinism.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    It's not just about influence, but trust. Celebrities score highly but do we trust them? Are they incentivised to say that brand X is great? The headline 'score' doesn't tell us much at all. However, tools that allow us to make more informed decisions, from multiple sources, on who to engage for specific campaigns are starting to provide great ROIs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    Social networks are a complete farce. The data integrity is questionable and meaningless. Sites like Facebook and Twitter are equivalent to fashion accessories, like having the iPad 3 or the latest smartphone. Just another example of the "herd" mentality.

    Happy belated St. George's Day to all by the way! As per normal, it got no coverage on here.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    I guess then that I'm a non-social media expert. As I'm very good at getting through life without facebook or twitter. But they'll never know. Nothing frustrates me more than adverts that say 'go to our facebook page to get the deal' so for me, any product that only cares about facebook/twitter advertising isn't worth having as the company doesn't care about me at all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    What I pick up on blogg sites folks are either:
    Right Wing Fascists, Left Wing Agitators, Right & Left Anarchists,
    Middle fence Humanists, Or my personal favourite Pinko Commie Subversives...

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Typical BBC avoid the 'Real' question of the day 'Social Cleansing'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    This is not so much about a select target audience but more about exploiting peer pressure. 'It's the latest must have..All my other friend have one..etc'. Not far from the school playground after all.

    Then again, I am not part of the TwitBook masses and able to make my own mind up about what I buy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    you trust in yourself. your own in built confidence. you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. for goodness sake we are all big boys are we not?

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    All social media sites are just business. They produce nothing; are off-shore and mine your information to sell on.

    In addition, their security systems are a shambles - even for the most experienced net users. So imagine the effect on the vulnerable.

    Yes, I keep banging on about this: treat the internet as a stranger in the street. Keep your personal info' to yourself and never bank online.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    I can see how this may work to boost sales of some products, but I can't see working on others. Yes, I may solely trust a friends opinion on a low value good/service (food, clothing etc) but for higher value products, I wouldn't bother and do my own independent research.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Aw!... come on BEEB... you gotta be avin a laugh?

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    The cynic guesses that companies will want to eliminate the middleman. A robot owner of an imaginary dog is far more likely to endorse that new dog food than a real person, after all. (To paraphrase: "On the Internet, nobody knows whether you're a dog or not")

    The _real_ cynics are probably already working on developing those robot tweeters.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    I would just like to point out that I like Tanglewood guitars - the expensive models. I await delivery of my demo guitar and promise to bang on about it endlessly to both of my Facebook freinds.


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