In a world turned digital, we are all famous now. Or, at least, we all act, and worry, as though we were.
Way back before the internet changed everything – let’s say the early 1990s – it was only public figures who had to think about things such as audience reach, public ratings, reviews and fans. Now, thanks to social media in all its forms, those foreboding measures are a part of daily life for many of us. We produce media – mostly about our own lives – in the hope that it will be viewed, rated and liked. We hope for greater online reach and influence. What is it that we thirst after, when we do all this? A kind of fame, surely.
Until recently, though, the social media commodification of our daily lives has been informal, undertaken on the understanding that no one is really keeping score. Now, that’s all about to change. Or, at least, it will if a host of start-ups get their way. Online platforms such as Swaylo (www.swaylo.com) and Klout (www.klout.com) aim to aggregate your behaviour across social media and provide a rating of your popularity and influence. For those – and there are many, now – who live online, that’s going to feel an awful lot like having their whole lives held up for very public -appraisal.
Take one of the leaders of the pack, Swaylo. That platform uses Facebook data that records the number of interactions you have with others, your posts and the reactions to them, plus your friend network, to calculate a rating of your social influence between one and 10. More than 6.3 million users have signed up to see how they rate, and Swaylo has managed some pretty impressive influencing itself: this month it announced that it was being snapped up by Mark Zuckerberg and folded into the Facebook family.
Another prominent player, meanwhile, goes further. Klout tracks your activity across a wide range of online platforms, but also seeks to measure offline influence by including data from LinkedIn profiles and, if you have one, your Wikipedia entry. Barack Obama recently pushed Justin Bieber off the top spot in the Klout worldwide top 10: the US president’s Klout Score is currently 99 out of 100, against Bieber’s 92.
It should come as no surprise that millions of ordinary people are using Klout to rate their influence. The human capacity for fascination with the self is endless, and people have always known that their social reach is a key part both of who they are and what they can offer to others. Brands and businesses know this, too, and they’re already offering free products and other perks to high-ranking members of Swaylo and Klout: think of it as social-media-age, peer-to-peer advertising.
We are heading, then, into a new age. Some call it the age of Brand Me: a time when your personal brand will have to be tended to just as carefully as Obama and Bieber tend to theirs. Where will it lead us? Back in April, the business bible Forbes magazine talked about how employers are using Klout scores to make judgements about job candidates. How long before the key question at glamorous Manhattan cocktail parties will no longer be about your job, your car, or even your family name, but simply: “What’s your Klout?”
• David Mattin is a senior analyst at www.trendwatching.com