Sweet Indulgences: Twinkies and 'Likes'

A general view of social networking apps on an iPhone.
A general view of social networking apps on an iPhone.

All the Twinkie nostalgia over the past month got me thinking. What was so special about those cream-filled cakes that their demise caused our nation such distress? It certainly wasn't their nutritional content; they were basically big fluffy capsules of empty calories. They didn't even taste that good (no disrespect). The only thing those sugar pills had going for them was that we've been eating them our whole lives. Even with the introduction of tastier treats, and despite the warnings from experts (note the "F" grade), Twinkies have been a readily available indulgence that we've relished.

As I thought through the Twinkie conundrum, I couldn't help but be drawn back to my favorite subject: social media marketing. There are parallels between gorging ourselves on Twinkies and measuring the value of our social audience by the number of "likes." Experts have been telling us for a long time that we need to ditch these empty "likes," but they've been so easy to get and so ingrained in our social media upbringing that we continue to indulge ourselves. I had a first hand experience with this recently when a client charged my agency team to achieve the fabled 1 million likes. We were eating Twinkies and loving every minute of it.

It's admittedly not easy to follow a strictly healthy diet, but at least we know how to define the nutritional quality of our food (see the government's guide at ChooseMyPlate.gov). In the context of social media, it's more difficult. Which types of interactions are valuable? And in a world where everyone can have a public voice, who matters most? There is simply no agreed upon measure of quality engagement on social media... at least not yet. At Klout, we're trying to unlock the "who" part of this equation. The lens that we use to identify quality engagement is influence. Influencers are people who have grown an audience that listens to them. They're people who create content that others consume, and they're early adopters of content and products. We believe these influencers are the most valuable people on social media, and that businesses, organizations and politicians that are interested in eating a healthy diet on social media should pay attention to them.

Some good proof of why quality matters comes from the publishing vertical. SimpleReach released some recent research that measured what drives traffic back to publisher sites. Their social measurement layer for content creators and distributors gives them a unique view of this data, and enabled them to prove that the volume of tweets (and retweets) is the single largest determinant of traffic back to an article. Further, they found that someone with a Klout score of 70 generates four times as many retweets as someone with half that score (note: a score of 35 is just below the average). Simply put, publishers who focus on quality engagement stand to achieve a higher ROI on their social budgets.

There are many examples of companies experimenting with quality engagement. Some have made special product offers, extended VIP treatment, and held casting calls based on influence. NMX recognized the most social CMOs in the Fortune 100, and Grey Poupon famously made fans apply for membership to the "Society of Good Taste" in order to like their Facebook page. But most companies are at the same stage with influence as the average person in their late 20s is with food. Their metabolism is slowing down and things that once tasted good are starting to give them heartburn. It takes time to accept this new reality and to make healthy choices an ingrained behavior.

As you unwrap your final Twinkie and begin the New Year, there's never been a better time to reassess your social strategy. Say farewell to empty calories "likes" and resolve to start eating right. Old habits die hard, but your body -- and your boss -- will thank you.

This post is part of a series co-produced by The Huffington Post and Blogworld, in conjunction with the latter's NMX BusinessNext Social 2013. That event will feature some of the world's leading social-business luminaries and influencers, each of whom will be speaking at the event to provide an up-close look at how the world's most successful businesses harness the power of social.