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Klout – What’s it all About?

Over the last year most of the social mediari have been obsessed with finding influencers for their clients (you). Several services have popped up to help companies cut through the millions of casual social media users and find those who supposedly have influence over others by way of their online authority. The most popular of these services is PeerIndex and Klout. Early on, Klout established itself as the “go-to-source” for online influence. Of course Klout’s algorithm is top secret, but it essentially weighs Twitter posting frequency+followers+mentions to develop a number on a scale of 1-100 (from what I can tell)

Klout is a great starting point, but I maintain that Klout misses several very important elements in its methodology. First and foremost, all influence is contextual. In other words, no matter HOW many followers I have on Twitter, I could never be consider an expert on aerospace engineering, and please trust me when I say, you would NOT want to sit in any plane that I designed. And to that point, a person’s Klout score is likely influenced by how popular their particular subject is on the social web, this can be good and bad. Further, Klout doesn’t (yet) help you really identify key influencers in specific topical areas (areospace engineers for example).  Finally – and this is the most entertaining of my examples (trust me), Klout can’t measure or weigh offline influence. While one might argue that offline influence should be reflected in online influence, let me give you an example where this falls short.

Allow me to enlighten you on Klout’s shortcomings with two examples.

Let’s start with MilSuckee. While I don’t know him personally, I’m just fine with that, to start with, his profile picture looks like a mug shot.  I am glad that there is a lot of internet space not to mention most of the continental US and Pacific Ocean between me and this guy. I don’t really want to meet him in a dark alley, even the friendly dark alley’s of Wisconsin (hey gotta give a shout-out to the state, it is where I was born.)

But it isn’t just his off-line persona that freaks me out. Oh, no. MilSuckee is into “owning” the F-bomb along with just about every other profanity in his Twitter stream. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve been known to enjoy an F-bomb cocktail now and then, but, I am able to refrain from using it on Twitter, like, EVER. But, Milsuckee has LOTS of followers (to put it into perspective, 90% of Twitter users have less than 1,000 followers. This piece of work has 11,000+! Apparently, Milwaukee bashing is very popular, and thus, so is our character. Milsuckee is also very active  a Twitter (unemployment no doubt affords this opportunity) thus his Klout score is decently high and if he keeps up this pace, pretty soon, his Klout score will be higher than Chris Brogan. And you have to give Milsuckee credit for keeping it “real” and doing what the social media consultants are always begging their clients to be:  a human. I mean, his musings are definitely NOT bot generated, granted, his tweets might be 5th grade degenerative, but he’s a human. Whoot!  He even uses a real photo (presumably of himself) in his Twitter profile. He’s a regular best-practices poster child.

But does Miksuckee have any credibility? Is this an individual who you really want speaking for your brand? And does anyone really even care if this guy DOESN’T like your brand? How much influence can he really have? Sure, at first glance the Klout score might be intrigui

ng, but after 10 minutes of watching that stream, you’d probably abandon any relationship dreams.

But there is even more gray area to Klout than meets the eye.

Let’s compare this guy with another Twitter user, mcneilwilson, the Twitter presence of well known Hawaii-based agency, McNeil Wilson. But this isn’t just any local Hawaii company, its one with an outstanding reputation for its work with major brands both in the islands and around the country. Further, McNeil Wilson has won numerous awards and accolades for its work, in short, rheir off-line reputation is extraordinary. But, alas, their Klout score is a little..mmm..anemic. Why?! How could a company with such a stellar reputation not have a high Klout score? in the case of this particular company, they don’t have much of a Twitter following and they just aren’t THAT active and yes the stream is a little dry and maybe completely automated. So, their  Klout score suffers.

Now, let me ask you. All things being equal, who do you want talking about your company? EXACTLY. So, not only is offline influence still relevant, even to social media users, but the Klout score isn’t even the only measure of online influence. The other “beef” I have with Klout is that it doesn’t give any credit to those who actually create content and therefore have exponential influence ability outside of Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn.  AND it doesn’t really measure (that I know of) the ability of that influencer to create an action, such as clicking on a link.

So, dear business readers, when looking for influencials, use a Klout score as interesting baseline, but not as an absolute measurement tool.

Much like creating other types of business relationships, before you decide that your business should strike up a relationship with a social media influencer, be sure that the person’s reputation and relevance is on-par with your expectations – and for that, its likely you’ll have to do some good old fashioned homework. Never fear: Google and LinkedIn stand at your ready. (like my shameless links there?!).

Tell me: Have you ever had an experience where the Klout score didn’t tell the whole story?

PS: Don’t forget to join me @taracoomans, @rob and @tweetpea discuss Klout and its use for social media users and businesses at the Hawaii Social Media Summit. Moderated by @roxannedarling, our panel of professional Social Media Club members is sure to be an interesting discussion! If you can’t be there, follow #SMSHI.

11 comments
Scott Shulick
Scott Shulick

Nice coverage on influence and Klout. Influence is about admiration, respect, power and persuasion. And thanks for dispelling the myth of follower quantity - it's actually quite easy to get a lot of twitter followers (usually of poor quality). Much harder to be influential.

@dkmomus
@dkmomus

I'm not a friend, nor follower, nor even supporter of @MilSuckee and I hardly find humour in his tweets (from what I've seen based on this post, at least), but surely Klout advice or any other metric advice can be given without implying that he's a criminal and unemployed. Cheekiness in a blog post is wonderful and I think it builds a following especially when you've got a lot to share --which I assume is what you were attempting --but the down-your-nose characterisation of this poor sap just seemed out of line.

Laura Kinoshita
Laura Kinoshita

Well-written article. I love your tone of voice, enthusiasm and examples (though I would like to see more from McNeil Wilson with regard to their own online presence). I've learned true influence comes from people who connect disparite social circles together. Those who can be a bridge and take a message from one group to another. It takes observation and experience to discover these people. Often, they are not the ones to take center stage.

Benjamin Slayter
Benjamin Slayter

Tara, first I really enjoy your observations here, and your research is top rate. My comment isn't really to your article, but to the question you ask on twitter about whether companies should be considering using something like a Klout score to determine influence. I think something is necessary not in an elitist sort of way, but to help separate the wheat from the chaff. Given the influx of "street teams" of 10-follower hash tag spammers in the music industry, there has to be a way for those of us who use this as a communications tool to filter that stuff out. What is the sound of one hand clapping?

Love your insight and ability to put it into words, and as another said, great job with the research.

Roxanne Darling
Roxanne Darling

Good coverage Tara. I do understand the urge to "know the score" - it is so prevalent in mainstream and it appears to be a time-saving tool. When we buy wine, we do look at those durn ratings even though we know their shortcomings.

In my case, I am not even relevant among Hawaii users as far as Klout goes, because I have moved my conversations and influence away from Twitter. :-)

I am sure their algorithm will continue to improve however useful IMO for brands (and would be hiring agents) to consider the still low adoption/penetration rates of Twitter in the general population. Twitter is so good for a few things and really inadequate for a whole lot more things. So anything metric based heavily on the Twitter will suffer from the same weaknesses.

You totally cracked me up finding Mr MilSuckee though! Awesome research points for that.

Rob B
Rob B

Great writeup Tara, got a chuckle at Milsuckee's expense on the unemployment jab. Looking forward to discussing Social Influence with you at #SMSHI

Dania
Dania

Tara. Good read. Interesting perspective. In my work, I recently had an advertiser ask me about my Klout scores. Lucky, I had just seen a tweet about it and checked out my score and read briefly about it. I see Klout as another measure along with facebook and other social media. But nothing, will take place of a referral or positive recommendation by a real person. IMHO

taracoomans
taracoomans

@dkmomus: Much as @milsuckee "owns" his profanity, I "own" my snark. That said, I'll agree that this posting was particularly pointed and the points could have been made without several of the comments you mentioned. However, having recently visited your blog "Where mockery, satire, and a whole bunch of other stuff live and thrive!" I know you can appreciate fully the satirical nature of writing a blog. On the other hand, it is a true representation of my opinion of this particular user and at the end of the day, I can't apologize for feeling the way I do. That said, I truly appreciate your willingness to express what others no doubt also felt while reading the blog post. Thanks again!

taracoomans
taracoomans

@ben - you make an excellent point. Here's what I tell my clients: there is no substitute for effective listening. "Hashtag" spammers will continue, its remarkable how quickly they develop, we saw it here during the tsumani warning when #hitsunami was trending. But for those of us who are regular users (and really, if you are managing an account for a brand, you better be a regular user), we are pretty good at spotting the opportunists. Absolutely no metric or tool that I know of can measure the value of human judgment and critical thought. Its ironic that the more digital our communication gets, the more important critical thought becomes. You are right, we have to develop ways to consider the source and Klout is definitely a great tool for it. I'm a user of Klout - I look at it for myself and for my clients, but all this has to be put in perspective, Klout IS an excellent starting point for that, but right now, that's all it is-a STARTING POINT. I suspect that Klout will continue to mature its algorithm and we (social media professionals) will continue to evolve our use of the tool.

taracoomans
taracoomans

@Rob - thanks for reading! I'm looking forward to our discussion too! See you later this week!

taracoomans
taracoomans

@Dania - thanks for the comment, personal recommendations will always be superior, I agree. Although my article doesn't really reflect it, I do think there is a place for Klout scores, I just think we have to put some perspective to it and give people an understanding of what it is (and isn't) measuring.

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