Koncerning Klout

I rarely see the topic of Klout come up, and when it does, it’s typically negative. No one really seems to care about Klout, anymore. But – and this is important, folks – that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth talking about. After all, dozens of marketing companies still judge applicants on their Klout score, so it must count for something, right? As recently as last fall, the social landscape was buzzing with conversation around Klout. This service – often accused of relying on faulty and inaccurate metrics – sought to place a calculable number on the concept of reach and influence. It also tried, and failed, to answer the question of Social Media ROI. It may be too late for Klout, but it’s not too late to learn from its example.

Why is it broken?

Three weeks ago, I stumbled upon an offer on a Stephen King’s Facebook page. With a high enough Klout score, the offer suggested, I could be the owner of a free pre-release copy of King’s latest novel. The strategy behind the book’s marketing plan, I assume, is to send review copies of this novel out to major social influencers, who would then talk about it to their vast networks. Unfortunately for King, this concept is flawed from the start.

A Klout user can gain points in any number of topics, and those topics all contribute to their overall score. For example, my score is built almost entirely on the topics of food, social media, and technology; things I often talk about on social networks. According to Klout, I’m a very influential ‘Specialist,’ with an audience of about 900 people. But why would any of those people care about my opinion on a book? If Klout is right – and I’m not saying it is – people look to me for opinions on food and gadgets. My opinion of a novel is essentially meaningless. Thus, Klout’s first major failing is in assigning one number to a vast network of possible topics, influencers, and listeners. A tech blogger and an investment analyst have very different fields of expertise, but according to Klout, there is no difference between them.

How easy is it to game the system?

I went into this experiment blind. I had never signed up for Klout, had never actively pursued a larger score, and frankly, had no idea how Klout even worked. After logging in with my personal Facebook account, I was somehow already scored at a respectable 43 points.

No, I can't explain that random jump, either.

My goal, and the original purpose of my experiment, was to see how far I could raise my score before the book giveaway ended, in two weeks. The first step was to exploit every advantage that Klout provided for me. I added nearly every social network Klout supported, even going so far as re-activating my abandoned Foursquare account. Within a week, I’d jumped 6 points, just from adding inactive accounts to the page.

6.36 points, to be specific, though those decimals seem to just disappear.

Strangely, my most active and widespread network, Google + barely registered a blip on my score, adding around 0.9 points to my Klout. Meanwhile, my inactive Twitter account, with a whopping 18 followers, bumped my score by 3.

Do user opinions matter?

Once my score had leveled off at 49 points, I was curious to see what else I could do. Klout had recently announced a new feature, the +K, that allows users to give Klout directly to people that influence them. To test these +K’s, I composed a brief message, and put it out on Facebook, Twitter, and Google +.

I was careful to make my purpose clear.

My message went out to a total of 874 users, and resulted in 6 +K’s (which says a few things, really). People gave me Klout in topics ranging from the obvious (Social Media and Science) to the bizarre (Entertainment and Ramen), but in the end, it all just filtered into my total score.

This is clearly a step in the right direction. What people think about my influence is inarguably more important than what an algorithm thinks about it. However, those opinions are essentially meaningless. If I earn 200 Klout in Ramen, that counts just as much as 200 points in social media, or investing, or whatever else I claim to be an expert in. Numbers are only as powerful as the context we put them in and, for the time being, Klout has no context.

At the end of the experiment, I still didn’t qualify for my free book.

Why do we need to talk about Klout?

Klout is a system, and like any system, it can be easily manipulated. In two weeks, I raised my score from “nobody” to just below “Mark Zuckerberg.” When a ranking system is that easy to influence, it becomes meaningless. Humans are naturally gifted at judging and ranking each other. We don’t need a magic number to prove our worth, our words and knowledge should do that for us. If you are doing Social right, your audience becomes your Klout. When you influence your network, your audience responds, and new arrivals will easily see that. Conversations, shares, re-tweets, even likes can lend credibility to your opinion. Did I gain any new followers by raising my Klout score? No. I gained new followers by sharing relevant content, responding to my audience, and curating a following of engaged users. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather put that success on my resume.

In my opinion, Klout is worthless, but the idea behind Klout is important. Social Media is a conversation, and just like a group of people at a panel, a tradeshow, or a convention, expert opinions hold weight. I believe that your success in social media, be it personal or commercial, depends on your ability to establish yourself as an expert voice. People want a simple number that says, “I am THIS important.” Klout is not the solution to that problem.

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Tim Howell

Tim Howell is a content manager for Make Me Social. He studied fine art, psychology, and international pop culture at Bowling Green State University. In his spare time, he is a blogger and social activist with a passion for cooking. You can find him at gplus.to/TimHowell


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