The Ultimate Truth About Klout and Influence

kloutAn analysis of Klout, the use of it and the concept of influence from the ‘ranking’ and social network perspective.

Let me start by disappointing you. I do not know the ultimate truth. I just wanted to grab your attention. That’s what you do with a post title now and then. However, now that you’re here: I promise this post will give you a clearer view on Klout, the use of it and the concept of influence from the social network perspective.  Agree? Then, please read on.

What is Klout? It sells itself on its’ Twitter account as “The standard measure of online influence”.

In a definition of the Klout score, the company writes:

The Klout Score measures influence based on your ability to drive action. Every time you create content or engage you influence others. The Klout Score uses data from social networks in order to measure:

  • How many people you influence (True Reach).
  • How much you influence them (Amplification).
  • How influential they are (Network Score).

everyone has kloutThis definition has some flaws (as does the technology and methodology obviously, perfection does not exist). The main one being that it says something about the degree of how influential you are. That’s too broad. Klout is not about you as a person but about what you do on social networks and how that impacts others. There’s a difference. Klout looks at reach, amplification probability, engagement and NETWORK influence. I guess you noticed I have put the word ‘network’ in capitals.

An example of a functional shortcoming (not a flaw) is that Klout only looks at social networks while people show a multi-channel behavior. However with the right tools, approach and interpretation of ‘influence’ in an online marketing context, you can easily solve this.

Another issue obviously is that people who connect their networks with Klout by definition rank higher than others while at the same time Klout gives a score to every Twitter user, as was mentioned in a post by Paul Gillin this week (and, yes, obviously Klout makes money with its’ Klout Perks).

In the mean time, Klout doesn’t care about all that, as it proudly announced it now has 100 million profiles, shouting “everyone has Klout”.

There are probably thousands of discussions and blog posts that question the significance and value of Klout, mostly from the methodology and ‘influence’ viewpoint.

If I was Joe Fernandez, the founder of Klout, I would be very happy with that.

Klout founder Joe Fernandez

Klout founder Joe Fernandez

Most of the people I work with use Klout. They don’t ask any questions about it. As always, the best way to look at it, is probably somewhere in the middle of the Klout bashers and the Klout users.  So, here are some simple facts and, yes, even truths.

Klout is not about influence

I noticed this weekend someone added me to a list of “SEO reads”. I do write about SEO sometimes indeed, and it’s part of my profession. Thanks for adding me, my friend, to your SEO list, appreciate the appreciation. Now, what do I see in this list? I have the same Klout score as the social ‘presence’ of Search Engine Watch. Well, I am not nearly as influential about SEO nor in general as the people of SEW.

It gets worse. Bryan Eisenberg is in the list as well. He has a Klout score of 59, what a sucker he must be. Are you kidding me? Bryan has a thousands times more insights, experience and influence when it comes down to SEO, conversion and so much more. I’m working from home 99% of the time while Bryan writes books, speaks, travels, works for large corporations and probably makes a lot more money than I do, sitting in my attic and doing my stuff. I read the man’s books when I just started with online marketing for heaven’s sake.

OK, shall we agree that Klout is not an indication of influence but of social network activity and engagement? Thank you.

Klout (and influence) are no indication of personality

Klout groups people, or rather their social activities, in different “styles”. In other words, it says something about who you are in the social space. Today Klout says I am a pundit. My mom is proud. If I’m on holiday, I become a thought leader or a specialist. When I have a lot of spare time on my hands to chat, share and interact all day long, I’m a broadcaster or conversationalist. This reminds me of all these psychological profiling models.

Well, I have news for you:

  • People are dynamic and so is their behavior.
  • Classifications are labels, labels are simplifications.
  • What you do on social networks might say something about your personality but nothing more that that.

By the way: Klout doesn’t claim to say something about who you are, people do.

Whether Klout makes sense or not is not up to Klout

Klout is what it is. And so is PeerIndex that claims to show you your ‘social capital’. Your Klout score will not pay the bills (that would be nice, wouldn’t it?) and it does not make you a better person.

It will maybe satisfy your ego a bit (and that’s fine, we’re all human, live and let live), get you some freebies (mainly in the US), and potentially it may even get you in a posh place, that’s only reserved for the ‘social savvy’ like in this case. If a business feels it must do that, so be it.

What Klout might “do” as well is bring you some priority treatment by brands that start panicking every time an ‘influential’ person thinks he deserves better than others because of his being ‘influential’, instead of building a strong, human and respected brand. No, this doesn’t mean brands should not listen, unfortunately also to creeps who use their ‘influence’ to attack the reputation of a brand or person.

What Klout might also do is result in higher conversions for your business. I’m not making that up. A test by Eloqua seems to show exactly that and, if you think about how Klout is perceived and the underlying data, it’s not even that weird. The question is in what degree the score is or is not related.

Klout and conversions: results of a test by Eloqua

Klout and conversions: results of a test by Eloqua

Finally, several of the online tools or solutions you use for your marketing efforts, will include Klout or another influence, ‘engagement’ or ‘reach’ ranking method. Use them but with care.

What you do with Klout is entirely up to you.

You are not a loser when you think Klout is important

There are four kinds of people when it comes down to Klout and influence:

  • Those that never heard about Klout and will probably never read this post.
  • Those that know it and don’t care. Look up the score of Bryan Eisenberg (59) but also that of people I learned a lot from when starting and that really are smart and influential such as Jim Sterne (51) to name just two. Jim is, among others, a celebrated author and chairman of the Web Analytics Association. He wrote a book on social media metrics! Am I more influential than he is? Of course not.
  • Those that say they don’t care in public but really care a lot and are scared to say so or think it is beneath their level (a lot of those).
  • Those that care for one or the other reason and just say so or just use it.

There are companies that look at Klout scores of, for instance, bloggers to use their ‘network influence’ for promotional purposes. Not my cup of tea, certainly when it’s not clear and thus in a way, forbidden. In general, I also think businesses would better focus on respecting their customers instead of pushing messages out.

However, hey, if you’re a blogger and can feed your kids with your blog, who am I to judge? When surviving is at play, ethics often become of lesser importance. Some people come together in hidden places to dance naked in the rain together. Some like to stand on their head now and then, and some use Klout. That’s cool, it doesn’t harm anyone, it doesn’t make you a loser as quite some ‘pundits’ (pun indented) will think or say out loud.

Klout and influence: a personal perspective

I use Klout as well. I don’t trick the system. Some do. If that’s what they think they should do, so be it. I have my social networks connected to Klout. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, you name it. You can also add Tumblr, Last.fm and Instagram (which I all don’t use) and soon Google+, WordPress, Yelp, Quora, Posterous and more.

It’s interesting to see how Klout integrates ever more networks, and I’m curious about how this landscape will evolve. I will not start using Instagram (unless they have an Android app maybe), Tumblr, Yelp, Quora or Posterous to raise my Klout. However, if it’s important for you, I won’t think bad of you if you do. Nor will I when you use +K, a way to kind of recommend people in Klout for specific topics and, obviously also gamed by some people to artificially raise their Klout score.

As a matter of fact, for the first time ever, I gave someone a K+ on Klout this weekend. Here is how it went. That person mentioned one of my posts and said he liked it and sent me a link to a similar post he did. I liked the post, so I tweeted it. Next, I checked his blog and found some interesting stuff. I noticed he had this button to give him a Klout K+. So, apparently, his Klout score matters to him. That’s cool with me. So I clicked the button because I respected him and thought he had good insights. In a way, Klout becomes a bit a weird mix of likes, recommendations and even a bit of social networking by itself. I won’t put such a button, but that doesn’t mean I judge those who do.

However, I’m interested to see if having a link to my blog once Klout enables it, for instance, will affect SEO. It’s my business. I’m also interested to see how Klout and comparable services will evolve and what businesses will use them for.

Klout gives an indication of how you engage people on social networks and how they like or debate what I do. And, yes, I do care about that. So what? However, Klout and influence are not the same thing. Can we remember that?

Then what is influence? It has to do with who you are, what you do and what you mean, especially in your relationships with others. But that’s for another post.  Meanwhile, here is what a great man wrote about Klout and influence.

To summarize: Klout influence does not equal online influence does not equal influence.

PS: think well before retweeting this, you might increase my Klout. However, to rephraze the tweet by @cabosella , saying “klout or no klout, doesn’t really matter”, I would say: “To klout or not to klout, it might be a question but shouldn’t be such an issue”. It is what it is. Nothing more, nothing less. We’ll see what it becomes. What you do with it, is really up to you, your needs and your common sense.

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  • http://twitter.com/BillNigh Bill Nigh

    I have posted sarcastic tweets about Klout, and have not let it influence how I behave on social media channels, but I can’t help but feel a tiny pang of disappointment when the score drops. My opinion of it dropped considerably the day I saw a Twitter account that is an absolute crap purveyor with a score of 80. Oh well :)

    • http://www.conversionation.net J-P De Clerck

      Hey Bill. Guess what: I have been sarcastic as well. Since then a lot has changed regarding functionality. And feeling that dissapointment: we’re human beings, aren’t we? ;) What matters to me is your honesty. Thanks!

  • http://twitter.com/tawatson Tim Watson

    Nice summary. I agree that Klout is not true influence, but equally a better Klout is likely on average to be better than a worse Klout. I know a couple of people who were competing to get the best Klout. A nonsense I would say. I see Klout as a diagnostic metric and certainly not an end goal. Certainly something which does better than a measure of more followers, since that is even more nonsense, is welcome. Metrics always have limitations and anyone reading them would do well to understand what they can and can’t say. So this blog helps with that a lot.

    • http://www.conversionation.net J-P De Clerck

      Exactly my point. I just used a bit more words, thinking about some snobs ;)

  • @stripysocksrock

    I find it has strange ideas about what I’m influential about. Klout thinks babies and cookies amongst more logical stuff. It’s thinks my friend dan is influential about zombies. We have both tweeted much more about many other more interesting topics that it’s ignored.

    • http://www.conversionation.net J-P De Clerck

      That is weird indeed. No answer to that. Maybe it has predictive features we don’t know of yet ;) Thanks for the comment.

  • http://twitter.com/onreact_com Tad Chef

    The problem with Klout is that it rather measures activity and not influence. I had a phase of a few weeks where I used Twitter etc. far less and wrote many more blog posts. In the meantime my Klout score dropped significantly because nobody retweeted my tweets as I didn’t tweet. So people who automate their Twitter accounts and autopost RSS feeds from popular publications tend to have more Klout than genuine users who don’t even have the time to tweet much because they do real work. Many of these have true influence beyond shallow UGC.

    • http://www.conversionation.net J-P De Clerck

      Exactly my point. Thanks.

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  • http://twitter.com/Bhanukaran Bhanuprakash

    Friends! :) I completely agree to what everyone is saying about Klout. But, I guess its a tool which gives you some benchmark to your overall social media efforts. The way i see it is optimistically, the tool tries to showcase different set of “analytics”. However, I don’t consider it for any professional use. But, it is a tool which motivates brands to use Social Media more effectively. For me every tools acts as a motivational factor to explore and try out something new always!

    • http://www.conversionation.net J-P De Clerck

      I don’t know about the motivational factor, I think that’s not the role of Klout, nor should marketers see it as such. However, it is indeed a tool with benefits and disadvantages and can be used within its limits by marketers in different ways. Thanks for the comment.

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  • http://www.ferreemoney.com/blog/ Local Search SEO

    You can “game” Klout by being active on Twitter vs. Facebook and other SMM sites. Like many, I got caught up in trying to improve my Klout and Empire scores, but who really cares? 

    IMO, time spent engaging and developing relationships with people who actually “belong” in your Circle (G+ and otherwise) is a far better SMM plan.

  • http://BasicBlogTips.com Ileane

    Hi J-P, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I have some issues with them but not the ones you might think. I’ve seen tons of posts doing these kinds of comparisons and I’m sure it’s not intentional. But I noticed that when you compared your scores to others, you only mentioned men. Do you think there are any women with lower Klout scores than yourself that deserve higher ones? But I guess my real question is this – do you think there are any women that are just as “influential” as those men you singled out? I would love to see something like Klout, Peer Index or what ever else they can come up with change that mentality, because I’m not sure there’s any other way.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/ggarvin Glen Garvin

    For the “nay-sayers” let me ask you this simple question:  If you were a marketer, would you rather have advocates that had high klout scores or low klout scores?  Or better yet, would you rather upset a customer who had a klout score of 30 or one who had a klout score of 80?

    • http://www.conversionation.net J-P De Clerck

      Hey Glen, first of all: I’m not a “nay-sayer” nor a yes-sayer. Second of all: I think it’s best to work hard not to upset a customer in the first place, regardless of his Klout score, and to make sure you know your customer well, regardless of channels.

      Online influence says nothing about the importance of a customer. And, to be honest, when looking at the Klout perspective: I wouldn’t care. Because there are many ways to be a 30 or 80 but most of all because Klout says nothing about how people react when upset.

      Maybe the 80 customer is a smart and understanding customer who collaborates to solve an issue and the upset ones that feel like sharing how angry they are, are all Klout 30. So, frankly, I wouldn’t really care.

      Finally, according to me, we should look way beyond the brand advocate who is an obsession for many businesses, especially those that never asked themselves if maybe they better have a customer advocate, someone in their company who makes sure customers don’t have to be upset. Customer experiences and preferences matter, not channels and certainly not technologies. My 2 cents :)

      Thx for commenting!

      • http://www.facebook.com/ggarvin Glen Garvin

        I hear ya… Of course, we don’t want to upset a customer in the first place.  That comment gets a #duh.  But, just saying… if you had a contained choice:  who would you pick to be pissed off at you?  A 30 score or an 80 score?  Even the most cynical would say a 30 score… so there is some merit.  

        My guess is that Klout will continue to get better and better.. as they over over their history… and eventually be the standard.  Maybe not, maybe someone else will but there is merit to knowing your customer and scoring in them in some way on some scale.  We all do it now with loyalty program and frequent flyer/shopper programs, right?

        • http://www.conversionation.net J-P De Clerck

          Hey Glen. You know, I could write an essay about why I really wouldn’t care and why Klout is the least of my concerns and should not matter to businesses either. But, really, I already wrote so much about it. It’s a waste of energy.

          Why would businesses worry about it if most of them don’t even have a proper customer service program in place to start with. This is what often happens in businesses that have some kind of reputation program on social.

          “Red light, red light, boss, we have a complaint on Twitter from an influencer!”. “Quick, isolate the problem, give him a call, solve the problem and send him a case of beer.” “But boss, I can’t solve his problem. I need support from xyz from departments a and b, and they say there is no SLA (or whatever) for that customer.” “I don’t care, solve it now, you’re our social dude.” Kind of.

          We’ll probably never agree on Klout but that’s OK. Sure, loyalty programs exist and if people want to build some, based on online reputation stuff, that’s OK but really, I don’t care about the 80. Maybe that makes me more than cynical. You have to be if for every brand you start with a Twitter account, after a while you start completely over on Twitter as I did today ;) It’s a matter of priorities and perspective. But I hear you. And the thousands of people whining that their Klout score dropped and they worked so hard for it ;)

          Cheers.

        • Anonymous

          Hey Glen. You know, I could write an essay about why I really
          wouldn’t care and why Klout is the least of my concerns and should not
          matter to businesses either. But, really, I already wrote so much about
          it. It’s a waste of energy.

          Why would businesses worry about it if most of them don’t even have a
          proper customer service program in place to start with. This is what
          often happens in businesses that have some kind of reputation program on
          social.

          “Red light, red light, boss, we have a complaint on Twitter from an
          influencer!”. “Quick, isolate the problem, give him a call, solve the
          problem and send him a case of beer.” “But boss, I can’t solve his
          problem. I need support from xyz from departments a and b, and they say
          there is no SLA (or whatever) for that customer.” “I don’t care, solve
          it now, you’re our social dude.” Kind of.

          We’ll probably never agree on Klout but that’s OK. Sure, loyalty
          programs exist and if people want to build some, based on online
          reputation stuff, that’s OK but really, I don’t care about the 80. Maybe
          that makes me more than cynical. You have to be if for every brand you
          start with a Twitter account, after a while you start completely over on
          Twitter as I did today
          It’s a matter of priorities and perspective. But I hear you. And the
          thousands of people whining that their Klout score dropped and they
          worked so hard for it

          Cheers.

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  • https://twitter.com/#!/MaryRuthStimmel MaryRuth Stimmel

    Excellent read. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I agree that too the Klout score isn’t a true indication of influence, so I like the way you framed your viewpoint. Very balanced. Although…I do admit to checking my score regularly, lol…guilty as charged. :) It’s funny though…I recall awhile back when Klout significantly changed some kinda algorithm to determine scores, and a TON of social media gurus in my city (with fairly high Klout scores) saw their score immediately tank. Big time. Suddenly, these same folks who had touted their Klout score just a few days before either… a) threw somewhat of a temper tantrum online to the effect of “Where does Klout get off changing their scoring like that!?!” or… b) said gurus became immediately aloof, indifferent or smug to their new score saying that Klout scores are irrelevant. Another example of how “dynamic” people can be when something in their universe suddenly shifts, lol… @maryruthstimmel

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