Mark Schaefer
is the author of two best-selling books on social media and the opportunities and challenges present for brands and individuals online.

The Tao of Twitter was self-published in 2011 (Updated in 2012), and Return on Influence followed in March 2012, published by McGraw-Hill Professional.

We caught up with Mark while he was in the U.K. promoting Return on Influence and spoke about content marketing, influencer tracking tools and more in this two-part series.

Can you explain the concept of Return on Influence?

Sure, the concept is around that fact that power and influence have changed with the Internet. Traditional models of how we may think people are powerful at work, or influential in other ways don’t apply on the Internet where there is no hierarchy, there are no organizational charts, and in fact, people hate that stuff.

Return on Influence looks at how power has changed and the special role content that moves through the internet from everyday people plays into that.  It also looks into how companies like Klout have started to measure this.

How much does content marketing pop up in the book?

I don’t really call it ‘content marketing’. The way I look at it, we are on the cusp of a marketing revolution. But it is being led by people rather than media companies for the first time in 100 years. Access to widespread high speed Internet and Twitter/blogging platforms means everyone has a voice now, so influence has been democratised.

I approach content as a way to express one’s self and eventually gain influence on the web. Now brands want to connect with these people from a business standpoint, and that is very new and revolutionary.

Ever since we began selling things to one another there have been super connectors – think the cool kids at school — and you know your product can take off by getting it in front of these people. So how do you find them? We are now analysing connections on the Internet. We can quantify influence on a mass scale and that is really astonishing. 

Which tools do you recommend?

Right now we are still in the silent movie stage when it comes to tools. We are distilling value and wisdom from big data which is difficult, and it will take time to merge interests of brands with the data available and then, more importantly, prove there is a connection between brand advocacy and purchase intent.

I’ve met with Klout’s CEO Joe Fernandez who is working closely with customers in this area. The ultimate goal is to try and create a predictive model around this. Another company Appinions has a patent in this field, and over 10 years of Cornell University research that is not just limited to the social web. The product cuts across 5 million different data sources.

So for example, if your influencers are in B2B, and they are not active on Twitter, maybe they are active on some industry website, or a forum. Perhaps they have been quoted in Wall Street Journal. Appinions now goes to those places, so it is a powerful B2B tool. Their analyses also includes sentiment analysis. Not just ranking, this is starting to give us a glimpse of where this can go. Klout has become Kleenex so to speak because there score sort of became synonymous with this sort of thing.

Everything has kind of been grouped into this category of scores, but there are at least a dozen companies working on different angles and different technologies and a lot of investment going into this field.  

Online ranking can be quite hotly contested

This is where people get confused and emotional, and where Klout hurts themselves to some degree because of their tagline is ‘The standard for influence’. That angers a lot of people because they feel “well you can’t rank how influential I am at work, or at home. How dare you say you are the standard for influence!”

What they are trying to measure, and increasingly well is how well you can create or aggregate content that creates a reaction on the web. Now can you measure if content moves? Yes. When I have a blog post that does really well, the statistics show that.

Can you measure reactions? Like tweets, retweets, clicking on a link, commenting on a blog post – those are all discreet actions or reactions that we can measure. So you can say it is important for some people’s jobs to be able to create or aggregate content that creates a reaction, like for example…a PR person, a sales person, or of course, someone who is in content marketing.

Can you enhance you Klout score just by being the one making the most noise?

I had a girl working for me that was one of the smartest human beings I’d ever ineteracted with, but when she would go into meetings with other “top level” people, she wouldn’t say a word. She would not offer her opinion, she wouldn’t participate in the meetings. So she was brilliant, but nobody knew it.

In digital terms, what this translates to is if you aren’t creating content, and if you aren’t participating on the web, don’t complain if you have a loew Klout score because nobody knows you are brilliant! You have to have a presence! They might have a long way to go. But Klout will get better over time.

(Stay tuned for part two and for more useful content marketing information, check out the 2012 Content Marketing Survey)