The One Thing Klout Is Not


I think this goes to show the impact of Joe Fernandezs brand in our group  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 Klouts 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, its a measure of a persons Influence.


First things first. In case you dont 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 wont dwell too much on what it is here.


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 dont 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 Blanchards recent experience seems to show theres space left to improve the quality of that targeting.

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 Klouts 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

Its 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. Thats 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 its 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 Biebers 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. Thats it. It does not even reflect his offline influence on teenager hair styling.

Does it matter that its 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, its 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.


You dont. 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. Thats how youll gain Influence. Once again, a different thing to Klout.