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The One Thing Klout Is Not

Three little weeks.

That’s all it took for #usguys to pick a Klout-related topic for our weekend blog-off #usblogs, thanks to @DanPerezFilms.

“HOW TO YOU BUILD YOUR OFFLINE KLOUT?”

I think this goes to show the impact of Joe Fernandez‘s brand in our group (and more broadly on Twitter) and the amount of controversy that surrounds its mission to measure online influence.

Of course, the question Dan raised is not a springboard to praise Klout’s efforts, but rather an opportunity to investigate its limits, and real usefulness. But in truth, it comes from a major misundersanding about Klout – because if there is one thing it is not, it’s a measure of a person’s “Influence”.

BUT HERE IS WHY I THINK IT DOES NOT MATTER.

First things first. In case you don’t know, Klout is one of several companies to offer social web performance metrics and ratings, alongside others such as PeerIndex or Twitalyzer. These all help businesses and individuals understand how their communicate, engage and influence their audiences on Twitter (mostly) and other networks like Facebook or LinkedIn. Klout offers clear insights into their methodology on their site, so I won’t dwell too much on what it is here.

THREE THINGS MAKE KLOUT SPECIAL

  • The way the score is marketed as an addictive game-like rating: with black-box algorithms that keep you guessing, badges and trophies your can proudly display, and social sharing functions to boast your latest results, turning Klout into an on-going competition,
  • The lure and sex-appeal of Klout Perks: those glamorous gifts, brands such as Audi, Virgin America, or Las Vegas casinos hand out to high scorers who also fit their specific targeting needs.
  • The stuff that sits under the waterline: everyday users don’t see it, but partner brands can zoom down to the level of conversation topics or location, to find influential people relevant to their business, not just “high scorers”… although Olivier Blanchard’s recent experience seems to show there’s space left to improve the quality of that targeting.

WHAT’S WRONG WITH THAT?

In her latest post Klout Does Not Measure What Really Matters, the excellent Margie Clayman raised big questions about how meaningful a rating such as Klout really is, when so much of what makes people inflential escapes Klout measurements, either online (blogs, emails, IMs, Skype) or offline (books, speeches, broadcast media, and plain old face to face interaction). I agree.

For one, I do not buy Klout’s strapline “The Standard For Influence”, or their definition of influence as “the ability to drive others to action”. The first is an massive oversell, while the second is a gross oversimplification.

Klout is great at measuring just one thing: your ability to get the stuff you say and link on Twitter read, shared, favorited, quoted…

It’s semantics, yes – but words do matter.
If that was the way Klout pitched their metrics, most of the controversy surrounding it would probably die out. Klout measures your Klout Score. That’s it. Of course, Joe Fernandez and his team are smart enough to leverage controversy to their advantage, and embrace every wave of criticism with humble acknowledgment of their current limits, and promises of future improvements. Kudos to them – they are great at balancing the two messages, and putting their brand at the heart of daily Twitter conversations.

Is Klout a real measure of Influence (with a capital I)?
No – it’s just one form of influence (lowercase i). Arguably, not even a major one if you judge Twitter by the numbers: 25 million active users on a population of over 6 billion people, most of which will never hear of the likes of Chris Brogan, Reg Saddler or Aaron Lee.
Worse, when taken out of context, the 0-100 score can send a totally misleading message about what influence really means – influence on whom? influence on what? Just take Bieber’s perfect score of 100 as an example: does it mean that he universal influence on any topic, above and beyond any other recognized thought leader? No. It just means that the fans who follow him on Twitter are more active than any other group of followers, to pass on whatever (crap) Justin says, to their friends. That’s it. It does not even reflect his offline influence on teenager hair styling.

Does it matter that it’s not really the Standard for Influence?
Well, it depends.
To some people, driving action on Twitter is a business model, so what Klout measures is kind of important – from bloggers wanting to monetize their audience and drive traffic, to brands keen on assessing how well they are doing in a new media space, or find powerful ”relays” to their content in the form of influencers, fans and ambassadors.
To most people, it’s just a sideshow to how they really drive influence and have an impact around them, either by other means of spreading their thoughts, or simply by connecting with people at a personal level. Spending too much time on Twitter chasing Klout may happen at the expense of doing things that really matter – like doing your job, creating things worth talking about, nurturing deep relationships on and offline.
Higher Twitter Klout, lower Total Influence?

So is there another way to measure Influence?
We can think of many other ways… such as measuring the “personal bonds” between members of a family, team or group of friends, which explains why close ones will always bear more influence than stars and celebrities of any kind… or measuring the “passion” that some individuals may have for an idea, activity or cause – something others will feel and respond to… or the “thought leadership” of those who project authoritative points of views and can ignite ideas or debates with others.

Can it ever boil down to one metric?
I believe the challenge will be more philosophical than technological – should we even try to boil down all forms of influence to one metric?
In my point of view, no. Finding relays to pass on messages on Twitter and other social networks is one relevant tactic in Brand Engagement toolkits. But tapping into Passion or Creativity will matter more, to those who want to create active tribes. Very different mindsets and skillsets at play here. As a brand strategist, I have no interest in meshing it down to a single metric that ignores what makes Passion different from Friendship, Authority or Creativity to drive influence on others.

SO BACK TO THE QUESTION – “HOW DO YOU BUILD YOUR OFFLINE KLOUT?”

You don’t. You take Klout for what it is, not for the fluffy misperceptions that surrounds it. And as for what happens offline, you live a life worth talking about, and engage others with passion, conviction, and caring. That’s how you’ll gain Influence. Once again, a different thing to Klout.

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  • http://www.margieclayman.com Marjorie Clayman

    Thanks a bunch for the mention and compliment, Tom. Great blog post – I think your definition of what Klout is makes a lot of sense. I think the way it is exploding as a holy grail is not so grand, however :) People need to be careful is all I’m saying.

    • Anonymous

      Hey Marjorie, thanks!
      I actually started writing this as a comment to your post that just kept getting longer and longer and longer… until I realized it was a post in itself ;-) . thanks for inspiring me to write it – +1 Klout point for you ;-)
      Tom

  • http://twitter.com/Ken_Rosen Ken Rosen

    Tom,
    I think there’s an important part of this you didn’t include yet: this is a VERY multi-period game.

    When dominance is likely to be profitable and barriers to entry are low, it makes sense for an early player to: (1) over-promise [intentionally mixing the promise of the category and current implementation], (2) move quickly to get on a path to the category promise, (3) listen hard to what the market says, (4) listen even harder to what the market doesn’t say, but craves, and (5) don’t completely blow it along the way to lose credibility.

    As more of our interactions go online (even with loved ones), more of who we are exposes itself to measurement. And the firm that crams all that measurement into a single, socially-credible number will benefit. That single number will not hold up to even gentle scrutiny, but it won’t matter. It will win. And both those with the highest rating and the firm accepted as the ultimate arbiter will benefit.

    This is one of the ultimate exercises in measuring qualitative experience with quantitative measures, so of course, I find it fascinating!

    Cheers, Ken
    Ken Rosen
    Performance Works
    http://www.PerTalks.com

    • Anonymous

      Very smart point Ken! I think that’s a great description of Klout’s unspoken strategy :-)
      Thanks for the comment!
      Tom

    • http://www.maxadv.com Tom Matte

      Excellent point Ken! Most people are curious about ratings and rankings. Thats why top 10 lists are so popular. We all want to see what number one is. Think about Google searches. The number one position in a Google search has a 36% higher click rate than the number two. I think Klout is in a great position to own the “Influence” category.

  • Anonymous

    Tom,
    nicely stated.

    • http://twitter.com/smartel Sylvain Martel

      Tom, do you realize the meaning of these 3 little words, considering they’re from Dan ?

      You nailed it. I gotta agree with the best Floridian filmaker l know!

      Cheers!

      SM

      • Anonymous

        WOW, that’s kind of a big deal yes ;-)
        I’ll just savor the moment, knowing fully well it won’t last!
        LOL
        Tom

  • Gabriella Orourke

    I really like how you approach this Tom. For sure, Klout is a rudimentary measure of behaviours but it is trying to get at some stuff that may be interesting/important to know~ that is the extent to which what you say and do is acted on by others. Does what you do online generate a shift or change in behaviour? Surely that’s the marketers dream. That said, I couldn’t agree more that today the measure is faulty. It seems the intent is right but perhaps the method is questionable.

    You nailed it when you said “Spending too much time on Twitter chasing Klout may happen at the expense of doing things that really matter – like doing your job, creating things worth talking about, nurturing deep relationships on and offline.”

    For me, tools like twitter, word press, facebook et al. Simply amplify natural personality and behaviour. Therefore, if you talk crap and gossip about inconsequential things, it follows….

    • Anonymous

      Yes, I agree with you Gaby.

      Fact is lots of people have interest in gossip and other things that don’t really matter or move the earth – the fact these are shared does not mean “influence” was at work.

      In fact, you could even question the notion that “action” is correlated with “influence” – today’s buzzy headline may be wildly shared but completely forgotten tomorrow… while deep thoughts taking years to find resonance may transform the world in ways a short term lens cannot measure…

      Tom

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  • http://zachcole.com Zach Cole

    I like it. Live a life worth living and leave the Klout alone. It’s as plain and simple as that. Nice post, Tom! (On another note, I do think there is something to be said for online influence rankings – they make sense, they’re just executed somewhat backwards at the moment, but that’s for a whole other conversation.)

    • Anonymous

      Would love to have this conversation Zach!
      You got me curious :-)
      Tom

      • http://zachcole.com Zach Cole

        Then converse we shall!

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  • http://www.patrickprothe.com Patrick Prothe

    My favorite line here is at the end “you live a life worth talking about, and engage others with passion, conviction, and caring”. Nicely said and sums up what really matters. Props to Klout, though, for making us debate and talk about these metrics as it makes us recognize what counts – and what doesn’t. Thanks Tom!

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Patrick – I agree, there is huge merit in Klout’s efforts, and the fact lots of people keep talking about it show how passionate they are about this new field of social measurement. Surely we’ll be talking about it in a year, with very different tools at our disposal… but the fundamentals will remain the same. Passion, conviction, connections, care.
      Cheers,
      Tom

  • http://twitter.com/jackinessity Jackie Coughlan

    Oh, my goodness. I have a rule for myself that I’m not allowed to read anyone else’s #usblogs post until I’ve written one of my own. It’s funny how the Klout metric has become such a topic in the channel that it’s now basically our longest running conversation, and almost an inside joke, complete with the inevitable groans when it pops up

    I remember Dan’s original post on offline Klout, and it had an impact on me. I think it’s very healthy that we’re exploring this now. Thanks Tom for continuing to teach and reach out. Marjorie is an inspiration, and deserves the mention. I’m highly amused that this post is Dan Perez approved.

    What an awesome bunch of people. I couldn’t ask for better Klout influencers than you guys ;) (kidding, kidding…)

    Jackie

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  • http://twitter.com/thebrandbuilder Olivier Blanchard

    This is really good, Tom.

    1. Klout’s line of sight is extremely narrow – something Joe Fernandez has explained many times, most notably with the Bieber vs. Obama example. Its measurement currently only touches on Twitter and Facebook (and the latter may be somewhat limited by a less open API). That’s a pretty thin slice of the pie when you consider the breath of channels through which “influence” can be exerted and felt.

    2. The term “influence” as it is used by marketers (especially digital marketers) today sounds a lot like a sort of Jedi mind trick: “These are not the droids you are looking for.” The wishful thinking definition of “influence” according to these digital marketing “experts” is that the higher someone’s “Klout” score is, the more likely it is that their 140-character statements will somehow affect opinions, beliefs, biases and ultimately purchasing decisions of their “followers.” The basic assumption being that the more followers you have and the more you are retweeted, the stronger The Force is with you. That is of course ridiculous.

    First, let’s remember not to confuse celebrity with influence. Justin Bieber is a celebrity, just like Ashton Kutcher (who a year ago was Twitter’s celebrity god and would have had a Klout score of 101 were extra-credit allowed). Yet what is their influence on most people in matters of politics, religion and scientific thought leadership? Not huge. Celebrities have reach, sure. But we have to be careful not to mistake breadth of following with depth of following.

    Second, influence is not a Jedi mind trick. It isn’t just push. An influencer can’t just sway millions of opinions with 140 characters. That’s mind control, and as far as I know, no one can do that. (If JAshton’s Klout scores reflected such an ability, we would all be shooting Nikon instead of Canon, Sony, Kodak, Olympus, Pentax and Minolta.) Influence is as much pull as it is push. The influencee gives the influencer permission to become an influencer at a particular moment and about a particular topic. We are conditioned to compartmentalize influence in this way. This explains why millions of people believe every word out of Glenn Beck’s mouth, even though he isn’t exactly the sharpest tool in the shed. Is the guy a mind-controlling Jedi? No. He isn’t pushing influence past people’s logic centers and BS filters. People who believe him WANT to believe him. They allow him to influence them because what he says conforms to their world view. In the same way, people choose to allow themselves to be influenced by people whom they feel have opinions that most closely match their own, from Oprah Winfrey, Sean Penn, and Michael Moore to Lance Armstrong, the Pope, or their baseball coach.

    Influence is a handshake. It’s a contract. A relationship. It isn’t push. (Everyone pushes the same set of ideas all day long. That doesn’t make us influencers.) Reach narrows the equation a bit, as people with the most reach (often because of a relative celebrity status) seem to exert more influence than people with less reach. (Same ideas but more people are exposed to them.) Turns out that this is a shallow perspective on influence. It still misses the second half of the puzzle: The matching piece in the influencee’s head that clicks with the “push” element and says “yes, I accept this advice and find myself influenced by it.”

    When Klout, PeerIndex and other tools manage to measure this complete dynamic across ALL channels (digital and non digital) and can narrow it down to topics, then we’ll be talking about actual influence. Until then, not so much. ;)

    • Anonymous

      Olivier, thanks for the great comment!
      I love both points you’re making…

      Yes, what Klout measures is a thin slice of all the influence media one can use, from face to face contact to broadcast media. For all we know, nothing says this slice is representative of total influence, or actually is the slice that has most leverage overall. It just happens to be the one we can track because f technology and open APIs. It’s a bit like looking for your keys under a lamppost because that’s the only place where you can actually see anything.

      And No, Influence is not a Jedi Mind trick (love this). The argument we listen to and amplify high Klout individuals because they say what we already believe, and simply fit our current worldview, is for me the single strongest argument I have heard against Klout and online influence theories – when true (and I’m sure it is to a very large extent), then there is no real “influence” (as in the ability to change people’s perspective, or actions, and course of action). There is just an amplification of things that are already there.

      That said, I think there is still merit in leveraging Klout for what it is – a tool that taps into people with “big voices” on Twitter. How these voices can be put to use to spread a brand or business message raises other questions (do they actually have authority on the topic? will they actually want to do it?), but as long as we keep things tight and narrow, I think it has its role.

      Thanks for raising the bar on the debate, mate!
      Tom

      • http://twitter.com/skypulsemedia Howie at Sky Pulse Media

        Going to part of your post Tom and to Oliver’s comment. Each business has a different goal. The NY Times wants links sent around the web. Canon wants sales. The Edelman Trust effort for Social Influence clearly bases all your influence on RT’s. So if one tweet gets 100 people to buy something off line but zero retweets I have zero influence. But the NY Times would not care because for them that would be true. For Canon I would be a goldenboy.

        So it comes to the blanket generalizations that are the problem since every tool has some value. What is important is measuring that value for you, your employer or your clients properly.

  • Anonymous

    Tom,

    Great thoughts here. I penned a piece last night in response to Jeremiah Owyang’s similar critique of Klout that you and your readers may consider appropriate:

    http://blog.twitalyzer.com/2011/02/companies-must-not-rely-on-a-single-score/

    This post follows up on some concerns that Shel Israel shared with us awhile back:

    http://blog.twitalyzer.com/2011/01/twitalyzer-and-klout/

    Anyway, we are huge fans of measuring social media at Twitalyzer … but we are also huge fans of having some sanity and real-world basis for the numbers we generate and how our customers (and others) use them.

    We’d love your feedback on our posts.

    Eric Peterson
    CEO and Founder, Twitalyzer
    http://twitalyzer.com

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Eric – I’ll check these out and share thoughts :-)
      Cheers
      Tom

  • Cheryl Burgess

    Tom,

    As I recently commented on @ProfessorGary ‘s post, “Will Klout Kill Twitter?” http://servicecocreation.com/2011/02/16/will-klout-kill-twitter/

    My real concern is the risk of interpretation by many companies regarding the use of metrics for hiring, bonuses, etc. Klout’s algorithms could easily be skewed, intentionally or unintentionally and certainly creates the fear factor for many.

    But going back to what Trey Pennington recently commented on Margie Clayman post http://www.margieclayman.com/klout-doesnt-measure-what-really-matters, ”Klout is fatally flawed, but is meeting a screaming need in the marketplace.” Gleaning from this statement is the realization that there are more changes to come on how we communicate.

    Cheryl
    @ckburgess
    http://twitter.com/ckburgess
    http://bluefocusmarketing.com/blog

    • Anonymous

      Cheryl,

      Thanks for your comment and links!

      I think you are right that hiring decisions based on one’s Klout are really a bad idea.

      I reached a 75 score 3 months after joining Twitter, with less than a thousand followers – what does that prove? That I had high influence? seriously? of course not – it showed that I could engage and interact with a small group of people here with my own voice, but says nothing about my ability to scale it up to a much larger group and a business account. It says nothing of what I may have sacrificed to achieve this score. And worse, I lost 8 points since starting my blog and doubling my following, which arguably increased my influnce, not decreased it (at least because a large part of what I share is my own content).

      This is not what these metrics are for.

      Cheers
      Tom

      • http://twitter.com/skypulsemedia Howie at Sky Pulse Media

        BTW careful my Klout score took a 7 point nose dive over night after a few blog posts and comments I wrote that were negative. Do we know they aren’t going to use their score to stifle dissent and oppress the masses eventually having everyone wear a massive digital scoreboard around their neck flashing our score and being jailed if we are seen in public without it?

        While my Klout drop was bizarre and correctly stated my tongue in cheek comment here…who knows what can happen or how it can be used?

  • Kenny Rose

    Spot on Tom

    As ever your laser guided thought processes hit the mark. Klout is a product and not very well developed at the moment. That said I like innovation and business and I hope they can develop a model through iteration that becomes more and more valuable. In a sense they are getting torn to pieces by customers. The only reason they are surviving is they have innovated and they have good management team who know how to engage, reflect and deflect criticism in a positive and professional manner. The fact remains until they can marry offline and online klout and establish a rigorous process of measurement. The product will always remain a fad open to misinterpretation and ridicule.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Kenny!

      Taking a balanced view – I think it has its role. It’s not perfect (what is?), and Klout’s team is working hard at balancing the hype with the reality of improving an algorithm every day. The trouble is more with what surrounds it, the misinterpretations and misuses of the score, than with the score itself.

      But boy! is this still a hot topic here! I think this will end up being my most successful post since starting this blog in terms of reader engagement… Klout is, no doubt, hitting on an area we are all really interested in!

      Cheers,
      Tom

  • http://twitter.com/robertheadley Robert Headley

    I agree with you entirely. Klout is a way to measure your reach, not much more than that. If they approached it that way there would not be nearly as much controversy.

    As far as offline klout, I try to treat my online and offline self the same, I am the same person as much as I can be. I hope that my ability to learn and my willingness to help will help to increase my offline klout amongst my friends, family and loved and respected members of society.

  • http://twitter.com/skypulsemedia Howie at Sky Pulse Media

    I knew I liked you Tom. This is one of the best written discussions about Klout to date. Often when I blog about them it is to highlight their shortcomings to balance the hype.

    One thing that sealed things for you with me was the fact you used the 25 million active twitter user number. That is important. Twitter like Facebook like to use impressive Gross Account numbers. With Twitter now having 200 million accounts. But my studies show about 4 tweets per account I follow on average in my stream. Based on 100-110mil Tweets per day 25mil users are accurate. Of that 60-70% are non-US.

    I commented on another blog post just yesterday that being generous with 10 million active tweeters in the US a Brand could be ignoring 96% of the 250mil US consumers. And if Klout and other Social Influence rankings gain traction who wins? Twitter? Will it mean people will use it more? Is it a good strategy to tell someone the only way to a perk is to build a Twitter network of enough size that could take 6 months? To me that is a overwhelmingly huge barrier. For that effort I don’t want a case of Pepsi Tom. I want my own bottling facility! 8)

    • Anonymous

      Maybe getting active Twitter-influencers their own bottling plant is a good idea!
      Thanks Howie for the build – I agree with you on the limited reach… getting there early is important, but should not get in the way of building the brand with a scale audience. Media and marketing landscape is changing… ast… but it does not make everything before Social Media irrelevant or obsolete. Far from it.
      Cheers
      Tom

    • Anonymous

      Maybe getting active Twitter-influencers their own bottling plant is a good idea!
      Thanks Howie for the build – I agree with you on the limited reach… getting there early is important, but should not get in the way of building the brand with a scale audience. Media and marketing landscape is changing… ast… but it does not make everything before Social Media irrelevant or obsolete. Far from it.
      Cheers
      Tom

    • Anonymous

      Maybe getting active Twitter-influencers their own bottling plant is a good idea!
      Thanks Howie for the build – I agree with you on the limited reach… getting there early is important, but should not get in the way of building the brand with a scale audience. Media and marketing landscape is changing… ast… but it does not make everything before Social Media irrelevant or obsolete. Far from it.
      Cheers
      Tom

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  • http://twitter.com/skypulsemedia Howie at Sky Pulse Media

    I would comment but I already have. More than my allotment. LOL Yes Timeless!

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