I have become a number.

And if you are even slightly active on social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, you have become a number too, at least in the eyes of a new breed of influence marketers.

Our numbers are being compiled, sorted, sliced, diced, priced, dissected, combined, and filleted in ways that help companies sell more of their stuff. If you are fortunate enough to have a number that is high, it might earn you a free gaming system, movie tickets, clothes, sports equipment, a vacation to Las Vegas or Europe.

If your number is low, you will receive nothing. By the way, everybody knows everybody else’s scores. They’re posted for the world to see.

This trend of social scoring is creating new classes of haves and have-nots, social media elites and losers, frenzied attempts to crash the upper class, and deepening resentments.

Social scoring is also the centerpiece of an extraordinary marketing movement. For the first time, companies can – with growing confidence – identify, quantify, and nurture valuable word-of-mouth influencers who can uniquely drive demand for their products.

Influence

The word influence used to be in the same “soft” category as love, hate, and interested. Now we’re beginning to measure it? Don Draper and his Mad Men would have loved that!

Every time I write a blog post on the subject of social scoring, my readers foam at the mouth. “The only thing that stops me from taking this seriously is that I trust my fellow citizens to oppose this as vehemently as I do,” one reader wrote. His passion sounded more like a political speech than the typical daily blog comment.

“Why don’t you take a stand and help STOP this!” another reader demanded. Stop it? Why would we want to, even if we could? What is so personally threatening about a simple ranking?

After all, common internet analytics programs already offer scads of data to determine the success of our online ads, websites, and blogs. It’s no secret that Facebook and Google keep running accounts of our every move, want, and desire with a cold completeness and unnerving efficiency that would shock even George Orwell.

We know it’s happening. We are rated and categorized constantly, and for the most part we resign ourselves to that fact. But there seems to be something dramatically different about this notion of social scoring that makes people spitting mad.

When the number crunchers twist and turn that data to evaluate people, look out! This powerful business trend is tapping into something visceral and emotional that I have not seen before.

From social proof to social scoring

Social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ are upending the traditional concept of influence. Classical models of power are being flipped around in an internet environment where nobody really knows who is who.

In our dense world of daily communication tsunamis, people yearn to find shortcuts to truth, quick reads on power, and 140-character directives to make their lives easier. The trappings of social proof implied by the number of Twitter followers or Facebook “likes” may be more important signs of accomplishment to many people than a lifetime of real achievements.

The consequences for those who seek online power and influence are vast. If you have a social media account, you are already being judged. Companies with names like Klout, PeerIndex, and Twitter Grader are in the process of scoring millions, eventually billions, of people on their level of influence.

And they’re not simply looking at the number of followers or friends you’ve amassed. They are beginning to measure online influence through extraordinarily complex algorithms tweaked daily by teams of PhD-level researchers and scientists.

They’re declaring their judgments online, too, for the entire world to see. Although being publicly rated and compared has a significant icky factor, we can’t ignore the breathtaking business opportunities.

A healthy Klout score

The new influence class

When companies such as Disney, Nike, and Microsoft are creating successful marketing efforts centered on people’s social influence scores, as a business professional, you’d better take that seriously.

In essence, these companies are leveraging an entirely new marketing channel based on widespread access to personal influence. The more success these brands have, the more swag they’ll lavish on the new influence class and the hotter the fires of indignation will rage within those left behind.

We are at the dawn of the creation of a new social media caste system determined by how and when you tweet, connect, share, and comment. The haves may score better jobs, higher social status, even better luck on the dating scene.

The rules of personal power in our world have been changed forever. And there’s no turning back. How are you going to fare?

The good news is that in this new world of social influence, even the obscure, the shy, and the overlooked can become celebrities in their slice of the online world. You no longer have to win an election, be an elite athlete, or possess movie star looks to have power.

We are entering the age of the Citizen Influencer, in which every person has a chance to get behind the velvet rope and be treated like a rock star.

This is our time. This is your time.

You too can be an Internet celebrity. You too can earn your way into the influence class.

You too can discover the power of your own return on influence. And in fact, many companies already have.

This excerpt, adapted for Sparksheet, is from Return on Influence: The Revolutionary Power of Klout, Social Scoring, and Influence Marketing by Mark W. Schaefer. Copyright © 2012 by McGraw-Hill. Used by permission.