In an effort to continue delivering online content, Forbes recently published two blogs by contributor Haydn Shaughnessy. His original piece was The Top 20 Women Social Media Influencers. Those results were then incorporated into his follow-up blog, Who Are The Top 50 Social Media Power Influencers, 2013? Although Forbes claims no ownership of this list, when something so unsound and unimaginative is published under the Forbes imprimatur of useful business knowledge it raises concern about the battle between the need to publish content and the desire to maintain editorial legitimacy.
The integrity of the Forbes contributors has at times been called into question based on their remuneration and efforts to drive traffic to their own money-making ventures. But the criteria which Shaughnessy establishes for his list is enough to raise questions about his own credentials. Instead of finding out what really matters or developing his own standards, Shaughnessy uses PeekAnalytics as his primary guide for determining influence. With their tired standard of measuring Twitter followers, PeekAnalytics adds nothing to the conversation of influence measurement. Similar to every other list that has been made based solely on Twitter followers, there is no attention paid to the metrics of comments on their blogs, content quality and other social networks.
Instead of useful metrics, PeekAnalytics has a measurement it calls "Pull" which is supposed to show how much greater one individual's audience is than that of the average social media user. His top influencers supposedly have pull that is two to three thousand times greater than the ordinary individual. In truth though, this notion of pull is as weak as a Klout score because it relates nothing about substance, vision, and power to motivate action. It doesn't even rate originality. If someone tweets, "Hey did you hear the latest Kardashian joke?" and it gets 10,000 retweets, is that really more influential than somebody who tweets something innovative or profound and only gets 1,000?
He also says that his criteria included the notion that:
"The experts had to be writing about social media and not just marketing, though that criterion was loosely applied -- writing about social media and content marketing, for example, qualified people. We also looked for people who create content on a regular basis -- not just people who are distributing other people's content via Twitter."
The list itself negates his criteria because some people don't blog about either of these topics, and do only share or reproduce other's ideas as their own. In the old days, this would have been called plagiarism; now it is simply providing content.
There is nothing which states if there was any effort to track the credentials of those listed or are we simply to believe those who say they are experts in their field? While there is nothing wrong with flipping burgers, I fail to see how someone who was doing so less than three years ago can suddenly become a brand or social media expert ... Some people that did make this Forbes list don't even work in the social space. They may blog a bit as a sideline, but the reality is that the ability to create a Facebook page or gather a million followers doesn't mean you have any real experience.
What Do You Have to Do to Get on a Forbes List?
As with any list, it is possible to actually get things right sometimes and there are at least a few people like Christopher Pen, Marsha Collier, Ann Handley and few others on the list that can truly be called influencers. But the very core of the list is wrong because it is built on faulty assumptions of what influence is. How many of these people did something remarkable on the social web? Although the main definition of influence includes the ability to motivate an action, a simple retweet does not meet the standard of influence. Is the truth more likely that this is self-promotional and designed to drive traffic to the same old set of bloggers who are paid for blogging?
Forbes list shows no obvious understanding of what it really means to be an influencer or thought leader on today's social web. People who deserve to be here are too busy working to change the conversation, and are not worrying about their Klout score or number of Twitter followers. They don't trumpet their scores as if they were all that mattered. Instead they focus on what really does matter.
What happened to looking for people who are changing the business world in positive ways, people like Danny Brown, Olivier Blanchard, Valeria Maltoni, Michael Brito or David Armano? Why aren't people like Gini Dietrich and Susie Parker recognized for their effectiveness in combining PR and social media? When it comes to business marketing, what do thought leaders like Maddie Grant, Sam Decker, Frank Eliason, and Neville Hobson have to do to make it to a prestigious Forbes list? Tim McDonald, Deborah Dederick Ng or Karima-Catherine Goundiam are leading voices when comes to community management, while Ekaterina Walter and Scott Monty are at the top of their fields as the two most human and recognizable faces in social space when it comes to brands being human, but they are not at the top of this list. For that matter, where is Arianna Huffington, a true force who turned blogging into news?
How can any list which purports to be about the brightest and the best in the field omit Seth Godin and his work on tribes and community, or Brian Solis, one of the most preeminent thinkers of the day who is driving the future of social media and communications? Marjorie Clayman is leading conversation behind how to use social media in B2B and she is also very well known for supporting and making a voice for social good.
If you want to really learn about blogging talk to Amy Vernon, Mack Collier or Lee Odden. Geoff Livingston is known for his insights into big data and social strategies, while Amy Tobin, Hessie Jones and Sam Fiorella have been debating and teaching us about social business integration. Why did he skip the names of Patricia Wilson, Susan Borst, Michelle Blanc, Amber Osborne, Tom Webster, Linda Bernstein and so many others who are trailblazing new paths in this exciting new frontier?
Finally, who is more of an influencer in education and the power of the positive than Angela Maiers, whose name will probably never appear on one of these lists? These people are all professionals who are moving the needle in this social space. They have education and experience and are not just proclaiming themselves as experts.
What Influence Is, For Those Who Don't Know
It seems that today everyone thinks they can write and preach about influence, even though they have no clue as to what influence is. In order to rank people on the ability to influence we need to understand influence, not just define it. When people just try to define influence they come away with something as useless as what is used in this post.
The real definition of influence is quite simple -- influence is the power to sway. But understanding influence is far more than just knowing this definition. Understanding influence in contemporary online world means understanding contemporary notions of identity and identity construction. Identity, ideas of person and self are cultural constructs; they are ideas and values that are part of our culture.
So the real question here should not be who will make the next Forbes list, but how can the author of an article about influence omit the names of so many of the brightest and best thought leaders in the field? This is especially shocking when you consider that all of the people who did land on his list were, or still are, inspired by some of these very same people? Those who have been omitted are at the forefront of the social universe and indeed are the reason that we can talk about the things shaping marketing in social space today. There are very few people like Brian Solis who is out there every day blogging and bringing creative ideas to the table, but he and these others aren't even recognized or rewarded as the leaders they really are.
Shame on you, Forbes.