Data point

The standard for influence: just what does that mean?

Today, there are a lot of Klout users looking at their scores with mixed feelings.

  • Some are angry. It's unacceptable to pull the rug out from under them with little explanation.

  • Some are seeing the backlash and wondering if they should care.

  • Some don't care. It's a number that doesn't affect them.

  • Some are concerned. That number does affect them - customers sometimes base their hiring decision on it.

  • Some are happy that they dodged a bullet. They either benefited from a score that didn't change or it actually went higher.

I would say I'm in a couple of these groups. Though it doesn't affect me, the changes still concern me.

Full disclosure: I check my Klout score almost daily. I'm not at all dependent on my Klout score to entice clients, so my reason for checking it is purely out of curiosity. I know, generally, what my activity is on various networks day-to-day and I check Klout to see how it is reading my activity. For a few days a month ago, I was up to 72! And that baffled me. I knew exactly why my score was so high and it was (absolutely unintentional) Klout manipulation if I ever saw it. Long story short, a tweet of mine went viral - at least four other people tweeted the same thing and all of us had that viral experience. Beyond inciting others to share that tweet, we influenced absolutely nothing.

That one day of hundreds of people retweeting a joke sent my Klout score up by 6 points. That experience colours my view of Klout more than anything else. Especially since I maintained a fairly steadily low-70s score for a full 30 days when my score then dropped 4 points to the 68 it was yesterday before Klout flipped the switch that saw me sliding down to 58 for the first time in - I don't know - six months or so. I've tried for over two years to get a feel for Klout without much success. I've been a skeptic of its usefulness since I first heard of it and connected my accounts.

I want to start with defining influence. According to, influence (noun, verb) is:

  1. the capacity or power of persons or things to be a compelling force on or produce effects on the actions, behavior, opinions, etc., of others:

  2. the action or process of producing effects on the actions, behavior, opinions, etc., of another or others

Klout's importance is debated pretty much ad infinitum. Arguments about its relative usefulness and merits have been taking place since before I ever heard about it. Presumably, based on the definitions, an influencer has the power to get people to take action. But measuring that is a challenge. Without context, it's impossible to know just what someone is influencing or which direction. I've had people tell me that something I said influenced a decision for them - sometimes one that they didn't know they needed to make - but that isn't reflected in our interactions on any social network. To measure influence, Klout would have to somehow climb into the inner workings of the minds of all of my followers to see what they're thinking about the things I share. The variables are complex and numerous which makes influence, in my opinion, inherently unmeasurable.

Reach, however, is actually measurable. Klout does measure reach, but it brands itself as "the standard for influence", which far too many marketers take seriously. Actually, I'm not bothered by Klout's branding as much as I am the literal interpretation of it by companies looking to work with influential people. I can see the meeting about a blogger outreach campaign with a wishlist of bloggers with at least XX Klout score and XXXX Twitter followers with no thought given to the context of those numbers.

I routinely see people follow me who have thousands upon thousands of followers, very few tweets and a Klout score of at least 50 or 60 (depending on which algorithm is in use on a given day) and often no engagement with followers. To me, that's a perfect example of someone who has gamed the system with various tools that are out there. It's a tactic that is getting wider use as people have learned how Klout and other influence metrics apps work. It's misleading and actually hurts people who have that genuine, unmeasurable influence.

In a very short, succinct and incredibly effective post, cleverly entitled "Kloutpocalypse 2011" (that's totally the title I would've used if they hadn't used it already...darn) expressed my own hope about the outcome in just a few words:
"Can we now all agree that using Klout scores for things like hiring decisions, or how to triage customer service complaints, is goofy? This should be a simple data point. One of many, and a starting off point, not an end in and of itself."

Well said. Ultimately, it doesn't make sense to rely on numbers without context. The context in social media is a little more time-consuming to obtain, but the end result is worth it if you want to find the right people. As much as Klout would like to be the standard for influence, CustomScoop is right that it should only be one data point of many. Additionally, if the algorithm is going to change on a regular basis with new networks and changes in the calculations, marketers need to be aware of those changes and adjust expectations accordingly.

Did your Klout score go up, down or stay the same? Based on that, what are your thoughts about the changes to Klout's algorithm?