The Problem With Klout? It Has None

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Getting people to click on a link is an accurate measure of getting people to click on a link not of actual influence which is much harder to define and track.

“Fast Company Influence Project is a Gimmick,” Shiv Singh

For some people, the NY Times is hugely influential while for others FOX News is their go-to source, and what and how either reports (or ignores) the news of the day can have a huge impact on how it’s perceived and what happens next. Meanwhile, Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, et al may sell a ton of records and other products, but their real influence over anything worthwhile is relatively narrow, short-lived, and certainly not on par with the NYT or FOX.

Putting the four of them on a linear scale of influence is silly, but that’s effectively what Klout does with its Klout Score, and based on that scale, Justin Bieber is more influential than President Obama!

Because I make a habit of testing as many new platforms and tools as I can so I can judge them firsthand, I’ve been “using” Klout for a while now, initially via Hootsuite, where it’s included in user profiles and often makes me chuckle at its overly loose definition of influence. More recently, I claimed my own account and added a few other networks to see how it might affect my score, including Google+ and LinkedIn, but purposefully excluded Facebook even though Klout prominently insists that I add it “for a more accurate Klout score!”

While my score did go up by several points within a few days after adding the additional networks, it seemed to fluctuate primarily based on the ebb and flow of my activity on Twitter, peaking at a ridiculously high 63 sometime last week, before their new algorithm tweak dropped it to what I consider a still ridiculously high 49. Interestingly, their graph (see picture) doesn’t reflect that tweak, instead resetting my scoring trend over the past month to reflect the new algorithm.

“POOF!”

These are not the metrics you’re looking for…

Therein lies the real problem with Klout. While its Topics feature is an intriguing attempt to add a much-needed contextual layer to its linear scoring and might have some long-term potential (most likely as acquisition bait, perhaps to complement PostRank or Radian6?), overall, it’s a pretty useless, Foursquare-style gamification of the worst aspects of Social MEdia.

In the short-term, though, it should in no way be considered a legitimate analytics tool. Sadly, there are apparently plenty of suckers people who believe it is and found themselves blindsided by the algorithm change, as noted by Bob LeDrew in a great guest post at Danny Brown’s blog:

So I checked with a couple of people I know and trust. Surely, I asked, businesses aren’t seriously considering Klout scores when choosing consultants or working on a measurement strategy for a communications initiative?

And my trusted friends told me that while they felt it ridiculous, businesses were using Klout numbers as part of the decision-making process on who is most influential and that there are instances where brands or agencies won’t work with people who are Klout-challenged.

I responded to this with a bad humored string of profanities that would have embarrassed my mother and impressed my father, if they were in earshot.

The biggest problem, of course, is that you simply *can’t* measure influence, at least not on a linear scale, and not even on a topical level. There are too many variables, too many channels, and way too much nuance involved, and the Beiber/Obama nonsense is just one example of many.

Another example is their list of “the top influencers for Publishing in the past 90 days,” all respectable brands and individuals — including two personal friends and one brand I used to run — but rather laughable for its exclusion of, say, Markus Dohle, Jeff Bezos, J.K. Rowling, or hell, even Joe Konrath!

There is no easy button.

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez

As in guillotine. Old/new media pragmatist. Sometimes loud, sometimes poet, always opinionated. Beer, bourbon, books, games, running, soccer.

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6 thoughts on “The Problem With Klout? It Has None

  1. Caroline Gerardo

    I started viewing Klout about a month ago when someone on Twitter sent me a tweet recommend. I wondered why I dropped nearly twenty points, but the other numbers all seemed to rise. I assumed the information was based on when I am offline (sometimes for 5-6 days in a row due to rural location in Summer and early Fall) I wrote a poem about the disparity that in real algorithms should not exist. The numbers directly relate to how many times you are mentioned on twitter. I will go post your name five times, and ask two others to copy this – just to test to see if you jump up. Just for fun
    Post here: MyKloutPoem URL”>TEXT

    Reply
    1. Guy LeCharles Gonzalez Post author

      It’s basically a pyramid scheme; people dole out meaningless +Ks, and that’s layered into activity metrics that seem totally Twitter-centric, based on Justin Bieber’s Klout Score of 100 that’s only measuring his Twitter presence. #lame

      Reply
  2. Jason P

    Guy, totally agree,

    I think that Klout is fine if you are a person who is influential in the media world but for 99% of the population (forgive the Occupy Wall St ref) this doesn’t matter as I truly only care about what people think within my own social networks. I have a site called Cliqsearch.com and we care about influential people in media in order to get coverage but the greatest benefit to our consumers and businesses, products and places that are on our site is to identify those ‘normal’ people who are the biggest influencers. My friend who has been to a restaurant or used a local service such as a contractor is infinitely more valuable to me than Robert Scoble suggesting the same thing.
    I haven’t crunched the numbers but for the <1% of major influencers out there, how many people do they truly influence vs the influence that comes from their close ties in their social networks? My guess is that ultimately the opinion of the <1% doesn't influence much (lest say people such as Steve Jobs).
    Interested in your thoughts.

    Reply
    1. Guy LeCharles Gonzalez Post author

      Jason: At first glance, Cliqsearch seems to solve a problem I don’t have, and makes a huge assumption that I’m going to connect an unknown site to my social network profiles. If I want to query my network about a business, I’d simply post something directly to Facebook and/or Twitter. Not sure I really understand the use case(s) you’re envisioning.

      Reply

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