Can the most influential person in the world really be Justin Bieber?

In the fledging industry of social media influence, companies such as Klout, Peerindex and Kred claim they have the secret formula which can, out of the millions of social media users, identify those lucky few who have special influence. These low profile but important opinion formers are what Azeem Azhar, chief executive of Peerindex, calls the ‘magic middle’.

Azhar describes the social media world as a pyramid. At the top are celebrities, bloggers and journalists. They talk with the voice of a professional, not a friend (‘friends’ presumably make up the bottom of the pyramid). In the middle, which Azhar identifies as about 9% of the social web, are people who have a bigger than normal reach for particular subjects or topics – the so-called magic middle.

Companies like Reebok and Chevrolet are now targeting people in the magic middle. Last year Chevrolet lent cars to 130 people with a Klout score of 45 or above. As reported in BBC online, the buzz was significant with more than 16,000 “positive” mentions logged. However, this activity led to just one single direct sale of a car. Hmm. Not very impressive. Undaunted, Chevrolet is about to launch another campaign with Klout.

However, it does appear there are some problems in identifying influencers. Social technology consultants 9010 Group conducted a straw poll on Twitter to test the veracity of the influence system. A student called Jonathan was surprised to discover that he is a leading authority on Hitler. Another woman was understandably uncomfortable that her profile identifies her as specialising in diarrhoea. And, according to Klout, the most influential person in the world is Justin Bieber. Perhaps the Queen needs to revisit her honours list.