Today’s guest post is by Sam Fiorella.

Last year will certainly be remembered by many marketers as the year social scoring was “called out.”

Blog posts, articles, and conference presentations about social influence scoring platforms such as Klout, Kred, and PeerIndex were fodder for heated debate, criticisms, and rants.

Aside from the common “influence cannot be measured by a numeric rank” protest, common criticisms included: Inaccurate scores and faulty algorithms, lack of context represented in the scores, undefined relationships between influencers and followers, no real connection to sales results, improper use of scores by HR and customer service departments, and the scores are easily manipulated.

Debate the Score

The one common denominator that seems to fuel the debate is the actual score.  A number from one to 100 assigned to you by a mysterious third party – often without you knowing it – that infers something about you that may or may not be accurate. A score that makes a statement about your persona, experience or status that may or may not be true. A number that may dictate how you’re treated by brands or employers.

That’s a lot of power in a seemingly arbitrary number. The level of vitriol surrounding influence platforms exists because people take exception to the score. They don’t understand it. They want it to be higher; they don’t agree or like what it represents. If these platforms did not publicly brand people in this way, I suspect they would have generated a small fraction of the negative publicity that was hurled at them this past year and possibly gained wider acceptance from the marketing community.

So Why the Scores? 

Senior personnel at Kred and PeerIndex, two of the leading social influence scoring platforms today, confirmed to me in recent interviews influence marketing is still in its infancy with lots of room for growth. Further refinement and improvements are based on the quantity and quality of data that such firms acquire and analyze. Certainly, each of these companies is making great strides towards that end.

Unfortunately, a lot of the conversational data we produce through social channels such Facebook, the world’s largest social network, is not publicly available unless, of course, you allow these firms access to your data.

Why would you allow them such access?

To increase your score of course! To earn the social status and improved customer service available to those with higher scores and to access the perks they, through their clients, make available. You see, publicly available scores are an integral part of the plan to gain more access to data. It’s an effective tool to encourage greater usage through repeat visits and viral sharing – all of which are required to get more data.

Why Display the Rank?

Yet firms such as Appinions, which boasts its software’s ability to accurately identify brand influencers for Fortune 500 clients, don’t publicly display an influencer’s rank. Partly because that number is variable based on the context of the assignment and partly, in their words, because “influence is not a game.”

If public scores were not available, the level of gamification and manipulation by enterprising individuals would decrease drastically and that cloud might be lifted from the industry.

Is Appinions any more or less effective at identifying someone’s influence over other people? Is this just a brand game it’s playing or a sign of things to come for this industry?

Influence marketing – or the measurement of someone’s influence across social channels – is not a passing trend, but a marketing discipline that will only continue to evolve. Whatever the next phase of influence marketing will have in store, it’s clear to me that to gain the trust of brand managers, public scoring of individuals must be given a serious second thought.

What’s your take? Are publicly displayed scores preventing the influence marketing industry from gaining acceptance? Is it realistic to think that these firms will ever abandon the practice? Is it even necessary?

Sam is a partner at Sensei Marketing, a consulting and technology firm focused on aiding global companies grow their business value through improved customer experiences. He’s also the co-author (with Danny Brown) of Influence Marketing: How To Create, Manage and Measure Brand Influencers in Social Media. Connect with Sam: Web | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn