What’s your Klout score? Do you have Kred? What’s your social capital on PeerIndex? What am I even talking about?

With every Tweet, status update, check-in and comment, your online activity feeds into a new index that attempts to rank your digital influence. In 2008, I described how our online activity would eventually contribute to a social consumer hierarchy or PeopleRank that would one day align our online and offline selves. Now, you and I are already indexed, and our “score” is becoming a measure of our digital identity. Those who place value in these numbers are already evaluating your online presence to make decisions that either work for or against you. The Klouts, Kreds, and PeerIndexes of the world are become the standard for measuring authority or stature, whether we like it or not.

But I didn’t sign up for this!?

While you can opt out of these services, the truth is that many won’t. Brands are flocking to these services to throw free products, incentives or offers at those who possess digital repute. Others are showering the digerati with rewards and recognition. It is what it is. And of course, there’s always a flipside to consider. Employers, lenders, organizations, universities, et. al. are either deploying or exploring processes to evaluate digital influence as part of their decision making cycle.

Oh, yes. It’s time to take these scores and services seriously, and also your online activity for that matter.

The reality is that digital influence is one of the hottest trends in social media. I’ve studied the digital influence landscape since 2009 and have published dozens of articles and papers on the subject over the years. I also spent the better part of last year researching and writing a report for The Altimeter Group, which I’m happy to announce is now available… “The Rise of Digital Influence and How to Measure It”

What was clear from the beginning is that brands, consumers, and startups alike shared a common misunderstanding of what influence is and isn’t. See, influence is the ability to cause effect or change behavior. None of the services available on the market today actually measure influence. That doesn’t take away their value however. These services do measure a form of online social capital, which does indeed offer value, if you know what to assess and appreciate. Social capital contributes to the capacity to influence and is defined as the networks of relationships among people in a particular society, enabling that society to function effectively.

While the new report was written as a ‘how-to’ guide to understand influence, engage people more effectively, and design programs that spark desirable effects and outcomes through social media influence, there’s also value for anyone active in social media. By exploring social capital, how it’s earned, and also how it converts into influence, people better understand how these scores not only affect online reputations, but how what we do and don’t do defines them.

The most helpful lessons in the report go beyond how to improve online relationships between brands and consumers. Its value lies in the lessons it holds for us as human beings, as individuals, to think or rethink about what we do online and how it works for and against us. We cannot complain about signal to noise problems, when we are contributing to the noise without taking accountability.

Regardless of the score, your path is yours to define.

To those who figure out how to shape and steer their online persona, they will naturally change how they engage online. Doing so will contribute to a desirable representation and ranking based on the person they wish to portray. But that takes a thoughtful approach.

I was asked by good friend Josh Constine over at TechCrunch what I thought the three takeaways from the report are for brands, consumers, and academics. It was a conversation that I feel was to valuable to leave hidden away in an email exchange.

For brands, influence is much more than digital word of mouth. Brands now have the ability to extend their reach beyond traditional consumers to connect with connected consumers. Relevance is key and understanding what influence is, how it works, and how to align with the right people will help you not only tap into conversational markets, but also earn relevance in the process.

For consumers, you are already indexed. While it might seem like a game, influence scores are to be taken seriously. People are not only measured, decisions are made for or against them based on the information in these networks, whether they know it or not. The takeaway here is to think about your online presence and to determine how these scores affect you now and over time. You short and long term goals may require a new approach to social networking or the creation of a separate account to maintain balance through “multiple personality in order.”

For Academics, social capital is taking shape in social networks and affecting relationships, decisions, and ultimately actions and outcomes. As people are already scored and evaluated, it’s important to help people understand how their activity works for and against them. None of us majored in Facebook or Twitter. Our parents or teachers didn’t teach us about the perils or opportunities in social networks. Someone has to convey the power of social capital, how it’s earned and spent, and how online activity impacts offline decisions. We must lead a new generation of public personae to help Generation C help itself.

Download the report “The Rise of Digital Influence and How to Measure It,” or view more documents from Altimeter Group Network on SlideShare.