What your Klout score really means and why it doesn’t matter

What Your Klout Score Really MeansGood piece on Wired delving into Klout. The more I read about it the more convinced I am that it is really not much more than a game that people try hard to work while others neither care nor want to play.

In the US it is serious business and brands are looking out for people with powerful social networks as they want to reach those who can influence others.

Not so much here in the UK or at least not that I’ve noticed. At least I have never heard of an employer here cutting an interview short as the candidate had a low Klout score, but this is one of the stories related in the Wired piece.

The interview in question was for the role of VP position at a large Toronto marketing agency. The candidate had 15 years of experience working with major brands like Ford and Kraft, but he had no idea at the time what Klout was.

The interviewer pulled his Klout score up on the screen. It was revealed to be 34 (sad face) and it was at that point that the interview was cut short. In the end the company hired someone whose Klout score was 67. What a hero.

None of that makes any sense. Surely experience with brands and the ability to do the job should count for rather than the amount I tweet, post on LinkedIn and Facebook or how many high profile social networkers I interact with?

What does Klout tell you about anyone’s ability to do the job? Even more so when you learn that the guy who didn’t get the job, didn’t know about Klout, then spent the next six months working his Klout score and got it as high as 72.

“As his score rose, so did the number of job offers and speaking invitations he received. “Fifteen years of accomplishments weren’t as important as that score,” Wired says.

The article also highlights how businesses in the US are starting to use Klout to hand out benefits to customers.

There is the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas last summer. It discreetly checks the Klout scores of guests as they arrive. If they have a high Klout score they might get an upgrade although they won’t be told why:

“According to Greg Cannon, the Palms’ former director of ecommerce, the initiative stirred up tremendous online buzz. He says that before its Klout experiment, the Palms had only the 17th-largest social-networking following among Las Vegas-based hotel-casinos. Afterward, it jumped up to third on Facebook and has one of the highest Klout scores among its peers.”

If hotels like the Palms start using will airlines and other service based firms do the same? Will high social socring customers emerge as a new force whose importance rivals that to some degree of high network customers? The ability to influence becoming as important as the ability to spend.

Then there is those that work Klout feverishly like a game, like Foursquare but much more seriously. The piece interviews a graphic designer called Calvin Lee.  The man is a Klout obsessive.

He has a Klout score of 74. Lee is the kind of guy who “once” went on holiday for (like) a week and had no internet. He did not like this at all. He was “worried that brands couldn’t get in touch with me. It’s easy for them to forget about you”. He was worried his Klout score would go down.

That’s a sad story, but for Lee Klout does things. It gives him freebies and he works hard to keep up:

“He has received 63 Klout perks, scoring freebies like a Windows phone, an invitation to a VH1 awards show, and a promotional hoodie for the movie Contraband. To keep his score up, Lee tweets up to 45 times a day—an average of one every 32 minutes. “People like food porn,” he notes, “so I try to post a lot of pictures of things I eat.”

“When he was loaned an Audi A8 for a few days as a Klout perk, Lee knew exactly where he wanted to drive it. He road-tripped from LA up to San Francisco, eventually arriving at the Klout offices and shaking hands with Joe Fernandez. Naturally he tweeted and hashtagged the entire journey.”

All this says is that influence can be easily bought and sold and those who work it, work to get this notional score higher, so that they can be rated and slotted into some global social spreadsheet, get stuff. Possibly even jobs.

But it seems like people are buying into a system, putting huge amounts of stock into it, and a way of doing business, that is entirely shallow and whose value is questionable.

I could be wrong as Klout has many true believers. These include people with deep pockets such as venture capital firms like Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Venrock who are among those who have invested as much as $30m in scoring our future. Game on.

Image via socialglitz.com.

  • http://www.thesheepandthegoats.co.uk Emily De Groot

    Great post, we’ve been discussing it as pros and cons of Klout, like anything. Social media, media buying agencies etc use a similar method for deciding influencers for campaigns. They select certain bloggers based on their influence, which is decided on key criteria (like giving them a score they need to pass). They then often get to trial a product, get invites to exclusive brand events, are asked to tweet during their experience.
    Isn’t Klout democratising it?

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  • Tom

    We got slightly lambasted last year for producing a list of the ‘most influential’ UK automotive voices on Twitter by aggregating Klout and PeerIndex scores. The point we kept repeating was that the scores themselves were irrelevant, but we felt it was important to encourage those in our industry to think about the ‘value’ of social media and the return they were getting. Most of them (either individuals or businesses) are investing a significant amount of time and money in social media, so our point was that they should probably care about what impact they’re having…

  • http://www.businessesgrow.com/blog Mark W Schaefer

    Respectfully, this is a tired argument by now. Before you judge a group of people to be “shallow” and hundreds of companies successfully using these tools to connect to brand advocates as “questionable” I would encourage you to dig a little deeper into WHY these companies are using these scores, WHAT it really measures, and HOW individuals may or may not game the system. It’s easy to throw out emotional arguments without data and declare a significant marketing trend as useless but how does your unsupported and data-less opinion add to a meaningful and professional dialogue?

    I spent a year studying the subject and wrote a book about it, Return On Influence. I concluded that this trend is significant. The technology is in the silent movie stages and far from perfect but the opportunity to begin to quantify one small sliver of influence on a mass scale is undeniably important and cannot be so flippantly dismissed.

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  • http://www.antonymayfield.com Antony Mayfield

    A game that some play and others ignore is spot on. The social network equivalent of a pyramid scheme is another…

    These scoring systems are useful in some instances, possibly, but focusing on them skews behaviours in odd ways and is corrosive, or at best what Umair Haque called “shallow usefulness”.

    Individuals might take a cue from the Schumpeter column in this week’s Economist that concludes that the best route to a strong reputation is to not worry about it too much and get on with doing useful, interesting things… http://www.economist.com/node/21553033

  • http://www.astarcloud.com Bartley Doyle

    Hi Gordon,
    It is certainly true that a lot of effort has been invested in building Klout into what it is and as a result of careful product development I think it is a visionary service.
    As an employee of AStarCloud.com, a Salesforce.com registered implementation partner with offices throughout the U.K. and Ireland, one of my passions is in bringing organisations through the new Social Media and Cloud paradigms by showing them how to migrate their business process onto the Web and how to use SocMe channels to improve their customer relationships and strengthen their brand.
    As a result of this effort they learn that Salesforce is tightly integrated with Social Media such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and Klout by offering a Social Media Hub as a central control point to be able to listen to and engage with customers and prospects and manage those relationships through a mobile, social and open interface. Key to this, is understanding a prospect or contact’s level of influence in the online community. To this end Klout is a great tool that instantly evaluates this. As business today move across this paradigm, it is vital that they embrace these new technologies to ensure their success in the future.
    My experience, both professionally and privately, with Klout has been a great one. It should be noted that there is a KloutStyle matrix which categorises Social Media (SocMe) users into different profiles, for example I waver between Socialiser and Networker. These “KloutStyle” have slightly different makeups based on factors such as frequency and consistency of messages, diversity of channels used by the individual, responses to comments and posts form others, number of followers and influences gained. Klout is now linked to twelve different Social Media of which I use 11.

  • http://www.thesheepandthegoats.co.uk Emily De Groot

    Mark W Schaefer makes some interesting points about social badges in the post below – and why he’s chosen to ignore them for now:

    ‘I’m hoping that if I put that “social proof energy” toward delivering consistently great content that the results will follow.’

    What do people think about Whuffie? Which is based on your reputation in social networks:
    ‘In a world where reputation is wealth, only those who do good and well unto others are the richest.’

    Any interesting case studies of brands using this for identifying influencers?

  • Polly Becker

    This piece is hardly “flippant” Mark. If something can be worked as this piece says then it is game. Get over it.

    If any of us goes away and puts in plan a place to up our Klout score like the man mentioned in this story we could do it. What does that tell us?

    Does it tell us we have good comms skills? No. Does it say we are good writers? No.

    Does it say we are profilic at posting on social sites? Duh yes.

    Same for you Tom, I’ve seen lots of these lists.

    If you work for a bigger organisation and are visible on Twitter and the web you get a higher score because your output is promoted across a greater amount of digital real estate.

    What does that tell us? Same thing, cover a lot of digital acreage and you will get a higher Klout/Peer Index/Some other social scoring system.

  • http://www.sociabull.co.uk Dane Cobain

    Am I the only person that finds this a little depressing?

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  • http://www.restlesscommunications.co.uk Chris Reed

    The sooner we stop giving Klout attention the better as far as I’m concerned.

    The automated Twitter account which goes ‘bong’ each time Big Ben chimes, has a higher Klout score than the Editor in Chief of the Guardian.

    I rest my case.

    But not before ranting about it here http://rstl.es/IbBqWD

    An algorithm can never deal with the subtleties that judging ‘influence’ requires. And people who worry about their own ranking, are generally not worth worrying about.

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  • http://www.thesheepandthegoats.co.uk Emily De Groot

    Great blog post Chris.
    Your feelings are along the same lines as this
    We’re currently profiling some influencers for a campaign, authenticity will be a key factor (not just a social score from an flawed algorithm.)
    I’m going to read Mark’s book though just to get his full thoughts and examples of where Klout may be useful.

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    This is madness – my Klout score is about 35 – I had better do something about it if I want to work

    What about quality of content and thought? Am I being old fashioned, probably


  • @gordonmacmillan

    As far as i know quality doesn’t feature, although that might be reflected in the number of shares you get for your content. But yes madness.

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  • Payer of Attention


    Nobody in the USA gives a rat about a Klout score except for Klout and their investors — it is not “serious business”. The anecdotal evidence you gleaned from the Wired article was about an ad agency in Toronto.

    *Please note, Toronto is in Canada, not the US*

    It’s a sad day when a Yank has to teach a Brit world geography.

    Cheers indeedy…

  • @gordonmacmillan

    Thanks for the update on exactly where the Great White North lies in relation to those united states, but if it is happening in Canada it is happening in the West and East of the US. He was applying for a job at a large agency. No offence, but I don’t see Canada taking the lead on this, but following a trend established by others.

    Klout isn’t being given millions of dollars because investors think it might work, but because Klout is being used by companies and brands. It is a US baby and one that grew there first before spreading. Yes its hokum but there is no telling people and it has not gone away and shows no sign of doing so.

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