Do you know about Klout? It’s a company that purports to measure your influence online, based on your activity on Twitter, Foursquare, Facebook, Google+, etc. Klout then assigns users a score from 1 – 100 – the higher the score, the more influential you are. Supposedly, anyway. And in theory it would make sense to want a higher Klout score, right? After all, influence means people listen to you, and that’s helpful for all kinds of things.
But does Klout actually measure influence? Well, it’s hard to say. A large part of your Klout score is based on how active you are on social networks, which is important, but certainly not indicative of the quality of your participation, or how knowledgeable (aka influential) you actually are. After all, lots of retweets may take time, but it doesn’t necessarily take a lot of expertise. Klout also says that the number of networks you have connected to the service also determines your influence, so presumably Klout believes that doing a lot of social networking in a lot of places is a synonym for how important you are. It’s hard to say, really, whether there’s any validity to the Klout algorithm, since it’s secret. They’ve announced plans to make it more transparent, but we’ll have to wait and see.
What we can see is some glaring anecdotal evidence is that something is just not right with Klout. The TechCrunch writer with the same score as founder and industry tital Mike Arrington. At one point Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the World Wide Web, had a score in the low 70s. Spam bots have been known to have higher scores than humans. There’s something about real-world influence that’s obviously not being translated to their algorithm. And even a few days away from the social media machine will cause your score to drop – but certainly a vacation doesn’t mean you’ve lost any actual influence or knowledge in the real world. So really then what Klout measures is how good you are at socializing in a way that’s good for your Klout score.
Sure, if your influence number is high enough, you get “perks” from Klout advertisers – these perks are products that advertisers want you to market to your followers. And no doubt there is some satisfaction from seeing your Klout score climb, the same way we like to beat video games. But Klout isn’t a game. People have used it for hiring decisions or in my personal experience, to decide who gets a party invite and who doesn’t.
That kind of threat is perhaps the most compelling reason to join Klout, and yet, it’s also the biggest red flag about the service. After all, it’s a kind of blackmail that says you have to use Klout in order to have clout, and otherwise you’ll be passed over for the better things in life. Klout has every reason to keep you worrying too: the more people who participate, the more “influencers” they have have to sell to advertisers and the more data they have to mine. It’s amazing that a service has social media users competing to see who can be marketed to the most, and it’s a sign both of our competitiveness and need for an ego boost.
The bottom line? Klout scores aren’t a good measure of your influence, and taking them seriously only validates Klout scores more. And while some people may put stock in them, odds are those people aren’t looking at what really matters.