The Klout Fallacy from Its Marketing Manager Herself

I hit the Klout jackpot this week. No, my Klout score of 40 isn’t suddenly up. Klout’s Marketing Manager Megan Berry personally left an incredibly insightful comment on my blog. Her comment isn’t gold to me because of the ego boost (O.K., maybe a little). It’s gold because it plainly illustrates the fallacy of Klout’s claim to be “the standard for influence.” Here’s how Berry summarized how Klout scores work:

“1. Influence isn’t about you, it’s about your audience. We believe influence is the ability to drive action. You can tweet, post, blog, and be witty and insightful to your heart’s content, but influence begins when someone takes action on your content. This could be retweeting, commenting, liking, sharing, responding, or doing a handstand of joy (the latter is harder to measure). In reality, you have your audience and connections to thank for your influence. 2. Everyone (and anyone) can help your Klout. Your grandmother liking your Facebook status updates? That’s Klout. Your friend from high school congratulating you on your recent job change? That’s Klout. Your network commenting and discussing your latest blog post? That’s Klout. Whenever someone is influenced by you (and we can measure that), it helps your Klout Score.

“3. Yes, quality and breadth matter. All things being equal, having Barack Obama react to your content means more than if I do. All things being equal, having more people respond to your content raises your Score. The Klout Score is a combination of all of these factors: the number of people you influence, how much you influence them and how influential they are.”

Kristin the UnicornAs a communicator with a background in changing people’s ideas and behaviors, her explanation blew me away!

First of all, from a big picture perspective, I suspect Klout and its perk-pushing commercial customers envision social networks very differently from me. As I’ve written about many times, social networks are enabling swarms, self-organizing communities, to form around a common interest and fuel mass collaboration (a disruptive technology shift for the field of communications and just about every other business function). Klout and its commercial customers, however, seem to see social networks as just another communications channel for distributing messages.

More specifically, here’s the problem I have with Berry’s logic:

Klout measures influence by output, rather than outgrowths or outcomes. The examples Berry cite demonstrating your influence in the eyes of Klout—people “retweeting, commenting, liking, sharing, responding” to your content—are all outputs and have no relationship to whether your target audience received your message (outgrowth) and acted upon it in the way you wanted (outcome). To Berry’s credit, she does admit it’s hard to measure whether somebody does a handstand of joy after reading your content. But just because measuring outgrowths and outcomes is hard, doesn’t elevate the importance of outputs. After all, should people who tweet or post Facebook updates all day at work have high Klout? Or does that really diminish their reputation and influence?

Information alone does not change ideas or influence action. The examples Berry cite demonstrating your influence in the eyes of Klout—people “retweeting, commenting, liking, sharing, responding” to your content—also have little impact on changing ideas or influencing action, especially if your desired outcome costs a lot of money or is high risk. To effect meaningful change, your messages need to give people a sense of self efficacy or invoke social pressure/community norms among other things. In other words, you need a passionate swarm united around a common interest. The examples Berry sites—“your grandmother liking your Facebook status” or “your friend from high school congratulating you on your recent job change”—have nothing to do with this.

Klout doesn’t consider context and passion. Berry says President Obama reacting to your content means more than her reaction, implying interacting with people with high Klout raises your own. Klout, however, doesn’t seem to measure how relevant your message is to your audience. President Obama couldn’t influence me on hiring a chauffeur (like he would try) because I am not in the market for one. These days, context is king. For context to be meaningful from a business perspective, your messages need to have a business-relevant purpose that a swarm will rally around. In other words, no context + no passion = no influence.

Klout doesn’t consider the strong-tie phenomena. The New Yorker Staff Writer Malcolm Gladwell sparked a firestorm of criticism when he claimed—wrongly—revolutions won’t be tweeted because online communities have weak ties. While Gladwell underestimated the power of passion and common interest to bind strangers together online, his point about weak ties is still valid and applicable to Klout. Strong ties bind a college student sharing updates on Facebook with his small close-knit circle of friends.  Weak ties, however, bind his roommate who shares on Facebook (or Twitter) with 500+ people he wouldn’t recognize if he passed on the street. Klout seems to treat all network ties as equal, thereby creating dubious influence measures. Obviously, the teenager with strong ties would have better luck convincing his online friends to use a designated driver before a night on the town. In other words, low or no passion + potential resistance = strong ties as a must.

As far as I am concerned, businesses who rely on Klout to disseminate messages (or products as Klout perks) risk wasting time on “provide and pray,” what a recent Harvard Business Review called the worst social media practice:

“Leaders and managers provide access to a social technology, and then pray that a community forms and that community interactions somehow lead to business value. In most cases, adoption never really materializes; communities may form, but their activity is not considered valuable to the organization. “

Axe hair jell anyone (see video below)?

What do you think of Klout scores? Do you think outputs, strong ties, passion, or purpose matter?

 



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About Monica

Monica specializes in strategic communications, web and new media, and print materials with an international or multi-cultural context. She has worked on national public outreach campaigns targeting multi-cultural audiences and has conceptualized, written, and/or designed multiple websites. Monica also has written, edited, and/or designed high-profile newsletters, brochures, and reports, including some prepared in collaboration with the White House. She holds a bachelor’s in journalism and a master of international service with a focus on international communication. Monica is based in Washington, D.C.

Comments

  1. Monica: I’m skeptical of Klout myself. One of my big concerns about Klout is that it doesn’t seem to give any weight to content creators. Its one thing to share information you read elsewhere, its quite another to step on a ledge and have an opinion. Collectively, those who have an opinion shape and change the world much faster than those who simply consume it said content. But creators are treated the same as “sharers” I find this difficult to swallow.

    I do believe measuring action is important, but I don’t believe a Klout score can effectively determine if action is tied to a business objective.

    My other challenge with Klout is the actual score itself. Its a “dumbing down” of influence so it can be “measured” at a glance, yet a Klout score itself is meaningless unless we give it weight. Frighteningly, some people are giving it undo weight (in the instance of hiring for a job for example). Unless you have a clear understanding of what the Klout algorithm is actually measuring (and despite Megan’s comments, none of us REALLY know), then its a folly to leave important decisions up to a Klout score.

    • @taracoomans Thanks for commenting on my blog, Tara. You raise a great point. Klout values all impressions the same. Whether somebody is a content consumer or creater makes no difference. That’s like saying 1,000 impressions in the online version of The New York Times are the same as 1,000 photocopies of anything. Basing important decisions on Klout score is folly indeed!

    • Man that content creation point is a REALLY good one. :) @taracoomans

    • @taracoomans Hi Tara. You bring up an interesting point about giving weight to content creators. Just some food for thought, our Appinions’ Influencer Exchange actually approaches influence measurement by focusing on the influencers creating content, as well as the influencers attracting the most attention. We extract and aggregate opinions from millions of articles, blog posts, tweets, radio and television transcripts– not just social networks.

      We then base a topic-based unified influencer score according to 3 components:

      Preference: Measures the influence of an individual by examining the degree to which authors & publishers prefer their opinions over other’s opinions.

      Imitation: Examines only repeatedly propagated opinions (re-tweeted, reference, re-quoted, or linked).

      Trend Setter: Identifies when opinions about a particular topic or issue first emerged and the opinion holder who started this opinion thread.

      It’s a different approach, but we think it provides a more accurate way to discover and score influencers.

      Regards,

      Genna Weiss

      Marketing Manager, Appinions

  2. RichBecker says:

    Monica,

    Klout is nothing more than a perk delivery system that preys on the vanity of people who actually believe that it is a significant measure. I have opted out, which raises the question: what happens when more and more people with higher Klout scores opt out as many ‘real’ influencers have decided to do?

    It leaves huge holes in the algorithm, and makes it even more obvious that they are lying to marketers and members alike. As people who had higher scores drop, it lowers the so-called “influence” of anyone they followed, supported, or took an interest in. It also leaves some people that marketers want to reach in the dark because if they rely on Klout, they will never find those who opted out. Worse, they might turn people away that they actually might want to reach because they no longer have a “Klout” score, opening the marketer up to all sorts of negative sentiment.

    If I were an investor, I would be rushing over there to get my money back before it’s all gone. The lifespan of Klout is already numbered, especially because those who drop out prove they have more “influence” than the entire body of people who want to work hard and not be themselves for the sole purpose of getting a hair gel sample.

    Best,

    Rich

    • @RichBecker

      Thanks for stopping by and providing a plan to stand up to Klout. I read a post recently (see http://www.jonathanmacdonald.com/?p=5694) about how Fender, a guitar manufacturer, was able to use a similar approach to derail a survey. I think you and your fellow Klout leavers are on to something! I am considering removing myself from Klout too.

    • @RichBecker

      Thanks for stopping by and providing a plan to stand up to Klout. I read a post recently (see http://www.jonathanmacdonald.com/?p=5694) about how Fender, a guitar manufacturer, was able to use a similar approach to derail a survey. I think you and your fellow Klout leavers are on to something! I am considering removing myself from Klout too.

    • @RichBecker P.S. BTW, I saw your tweet about writing a future post about Klout even though you don’t want to write one. I look forward to reading it but can relate to being tired of Klout. I almost wrote a third post on how Klout’s roll out of its new algorithm demonstrates its team doesn’t understand influence. You’d think they’d know the importance of managing expectations (i.e., warning users of the upcoming score drops beforehand rather than downplaying them) and that inflaming passions could motivate a self-organizing community to form, investigate further (I, for one, hadn’t been paying too close attention to Klout), and do things not in Klout’s interests. Moreover, you’d think they’d know Web 2.0 requires openness and transparency (not silence and double speak). But, as I mentioned in my post, I suspect Klout’s team simply sees social networks as another communications channel. It’s kind of like somebody claiming to be the authority on fashion showing up in shorts and a tank top at a black tie. Thanks again for dropping by, Rich!

    • @RichBecker P.S. BTW, I saw your tweet about writing a future post about Klout even though you don’t want to write one. I look forward to reading it but can relate to being tired of Klout. I almost wrote a third post on how Klout’s roll out of its new algorithm demonstrates its team doesn’t understand influence. You’d think they’d know the importance of managing expectations (i.e., warning users of the upcoming score drops beforehand rather than downplaying them) and that inflaming passions could motivate a self-organizing community to form, investigate further (I, for one, hadn’t been paying too close attention to Klout), and do things not in Klout’s interests. Moreover, you’d think they’d know Web 2.0 requires openness and transparency (not silence and double speak). But, as I mentioned in my post, I suspect Klout’s team simply sees social networks as another communications channel. It’s kind of like somebody claiming to be the authority on fashion showing up in shorts and a tank top at a black tie. Thanks again for dropping by, Rich!

  3. Ironically, If Klout marketed itself as what @RichBecker says it is below (which seems to me like its not off the mark) I wouldn’t have a problem with it. If they said “We find popular people, give them free stuff and hope they tell other people” I’d say hey, cool. I’ll tell my popular friends with the loudest mouths about it, and maybe I’ll get some cool prizes out of it.

    But this crazy idea that popularity IS influence, that this is a metric that should be measured and publicized – that people should chase their score even if it means encouraging things that are the antithesis of influence – it’s quite troubling. And I’m reluctant to use the real world pull that I have (limited but MUCH more effective than my online presence) to help them grow, in any way. I can’t bring myself to proliferate a lie, now that I understand it to be one.

    • RichBecker says:

      @Tinu “I can’t bring myself to proliferate a lie, now that I understand it to be one.”

      Wow. That really says it all, and ultimately why I dropped it.

  4. “Everyone (and anyone) can help your Klout.” But “having Barack Obama react to your content means more than if I do. ” So we’re all equal, but some of us are more equal than others?

    Why is Klout so worried about splitting hairs on this point? I’ve seen them comment and try to abuse people of the notion that interacting with high-scoring Klouters is better for their score than not. So why not some out and say: “it makes no different if you tweet at Justin Bieber. But it does matter if Justin Bieber tweets at you.”

    Why are they so worried about obfuscating this point?

    • I would imagine that it topples the Matrix they seek to create. @tonia_ries The illusion is that “hey, to us, you’re just as important at Justin” – because the regular Joe is what the machine needs to operate – there aren’t enough Justins and Snookis and Obamas.

      They need the people who are influential over the people who make up the mass market. But they also need us to want to be like those people so they can find the people who are cheaper than the Justins, Snookis and Obamas to get to the mass market. And then there’s the fact that we are Part of the mass market. And that in truth, we have more influence over our friends than the stars.

      If we don’t buy into the illusion… there IS no illusion. But what they don’t seem to get is that there doesn’t NEED to be an illusion. We’re past that, this is the post-traditional age of advertising and marketing.

      • @Tinu@tonia_ries

        You’ve said it all, Tinu. Reminds me of movie I’ve seen a few times with the lines: “I am the great and powerful… Wizard of Oz.” “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”

    • @tonia_riesYou make a great point, Tonia. There’s a bit of double talk there… or Animal Farm. Which reminds me of a point I’ve read on a few other blogs, such as http://www.punkviewsonsocialmedia.com/does-klout-use-your-kids-facebook-profile-inflate-their-numbers/. If we are all equal, why is Klout collecting information on race, household income, gender, zip code, etc.? Is that strictly to sell to advertisers or part of its algorithm? How would race or gender impact your score? Moreover, how does Klout plan to gather than level of detail from our Tweets & Facebook updates? It’s all a little creepy … and for what?

    • @tonia_ries P.S. Is your son’s profile completely gone from Klout now? Were you able to delete it to your satisfaction? Also, thanks for stopping by my blog?

      • @CyberlandGal Monica – they made some changes so that unregistered Facebook users no longer have a Klout profile. Instead, if you look under Friends / Facebook, it shows your Facebook friends who have not yet signed up for Klout, but they have a question mark instead of a score. (I don’t see my son there, but that could be because he’s not getting picked up high enough on the list – I do see other Facebook friends, though.) The good news: they listened, realized they were on *very* thin ice, and made some changes. Now we can go back to all the other reasons to hate Klout … :-)

  5. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this retweeted 44 times in my Own stream from people ccing me. Is Twitter’s button broken or what? Check tweetmeme, that number seems off. Anyway, stopped by to let you know that this showed up on Klout’s topic page about Klout.. Different one up now but if you look at that last link that was cc:ed to us both, you’ll have the link.

    So apparently you have enough clout about Klout to show up on Klout criticixing Klout…

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