Over the last few weeks I’ve been thinking about the news that  Klout and Radian6 are working together having seen my friend @Robert_Rose tweet about it and I seem to have an obscure English 80’s new wave song “Living by Numbers”by New New Musik lodged in my head. I imagine that very few people reading this will remember it (or lucky for you, even heard it), but it sprang to mind and stayed there, let me explain..

If you don’t know Klout it attempts to score the impact that you as individual makes on social media – or more specifically Twitter and Facebook and if you don’t know Radian6 they are the cool kids on the social media monitoring block, recently acquired by SalesForce.com. Anyway in this song I have echoing around my head, they sing such prophetic lines as

So you’re living by numbers
And numbers you answer to
You can count all the numbers
You bet that someone’s counting you

And that’s kinda what I have been thinking, that it’s easy to think of these tools and technologies in a personal way, in our individual Klout scores, our individual tweets and the various crumbs of likes and dislikes that we sprinkle around the web. But, I think that while organisations should be paying individual attention to us on the social web, as it becomes an extension of customer service, this young industry is trying to make sense of all the noise. It’s trying to derive some algorithms and systemize the whole affair and aggregate us into numbers.

I see a parallel in where I started my commercial career in Supply Chain Management. Excuse me while I wildly summarize, but in SCM the basic objective is to run the business as lean as possible and as a purveyor of SCM software your USP was an algorithm that predicted demand and enabled the business to have just the right number of that oh-so seasonal widget to be on the shelves at the right time. The whole thing is run by the machine, with only human intervention required to manage exceptions.

The key is ‘manage the exceptions’ to find those outliers, discrepancies from the norm and focus your resources on those, not the rest of the ka-chugga-machine that is stamping out widgets within an industry tolerance at a predictable level to meet demand. I think this is what is being attempted in social media and for good reason; any organization with an audience of even a modest size cannot afford to distract their business with a colony of folks mainlining on Tweetdeck and responding in person.

I’m sorry if that dings at the ‘social’ in social media, but let’s be honest about this, the volumes are getting bigger by the day (it’s not hard to find stats like this from @MyCorporateMedia). Folks say that content publishing is everyone’s second business, where does that put participation in the social web, today, a year or five years from now?

So.. You like a product, here is an (automated) coupon – hate their service, your kids are stranded in Pittsburgh – here is a person.

That’s sentiment analysis, of course. We could stop there, but I think this Klout thing (and plenty of other services that are trying to rate us as social beings) is adding an additional dimension of understanding the value of that outlier and what companies should invest in fixing it. The idea of overlaying how socially valuable someone is (I guess) is that a lot of people may have kids stranded in Pittsburgh, but you probably want to make an extra effort if it’s Ashton Kutcher’s kids (or if I am getting my Hollywood Today references right Demi Moore’s) rather than mine.

I read a lot of Seth Godin and he talks about influencers in a network as ‘sneezers’ – people with a natural disposition and the network to take and share your message. Kids stranded in Pittsburgh is obviously a negative customer service example, but from a marketing perspective, as you try to measure the engagement value of your brand (and justify the investment in minions strapped to Tweetdeck), it’s clearly going to be valuable to identify what proportion of your audience are sneezers. Being a sneezer is clearly not binary, we all sneeze a bit, so we want to measure the level of someone’s sneeziness, the level of respect they have in your community.

Hmmmm… ‘your community’ – this is where I think valuing someone by these crude followers/tweets metrics falls down a little bit. If Tony Byrne (respected CMS Analyst and founder of Real Story Group) tweets that he quite likes John Deere tractors, would that tweet be of the same value of one where he states that he’s fallen deeply in love with XYZ CMS vendor? As a member of the same CMS tribe, no, not to me.

That might be an easy distinction, maybe you can analyze Tony’s community and find we are not farmers, but what if it was me and Tony? At the time of writing I have a slightly higher Klout score than he does, we both talk about CMS and WCM, we probably share a lot of the same followers. But, if I were to say “I love SDL Tridion” it has a slightly different resonance to our CMS tribe (and therefore value to a marketer) than if Tony says it. Even in this fairly crude example, to systemize understanding this subtle difference seems very sophisticated to me.

So… measuring sneeziness and overlaying it on your social media monitoring and audience analytics to build a good picture of the engagement value of your audience – I get it and this is the direction for this industry. In addition, the size of the job at hand for coping with the volumes of social data will mandate this automated triage, it’s something this industry has to do. But, are we there yet? I don’t think so.

So, excited as I maybe by the potential here – let’s be cautious about living by numbers now.