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Since inception, online influencer targeting has been a fraught activity.

In the early 2000s, brands had to fight the temptation to simply create their own fake influencers. Perfection of mommy blog targeting (one product for you and one to give away to your fans) was often achieved at the cost of polarizing their community over issues of authenticity. If individuals can’t trust their community leaders to not be unduly influenced by what are perceived as bribes, who can they trust?

Klout, which familiarized a mass of consumers with influence measurement, has regularly been the subject of withering criticism. “Kill me if I Klout,” wrote the gadget-catchall Gizmodo. “If I've ever interacted with Klout... punch me in the face,” said the net-comic XKCD.

Econsultancy's latest report, Influencer Channels: From Klout to Klouchebag, takes a look at these issues, asks why, and explores ways for marketers to effectively work around these antipathies.

Perspectives on the cause of the animosity vary. Klout’s founder, Joe Fernandez, chalks it up to bruised pride:

There’s no way to get around the fact that we put a number next to your face and it’s tied to your ego.

Andrew Grill, the founder of Klout competitor, Kred, says that the public animosity is all Klout’s fault:

There’s a lack of transparency. Our competitors are a black box – no one knows how they come up with the score.

Tom Scott, the creator of Klouchebag (“The Standard for Asshattery”) has a different perspective:

Klout is a vicious little game, based on exploiting fear of being left behind, fear of being less popular, and fear of missing out. It annoys me… it's an enormous amount of effort designed to game an arbitrary and often-changing system, at the expense of actual human interaction and creation.

Redemption is possible: Scott and other critics disregard the positive experiences that Klout can offer. Being able to measure one’s own network impact is intellectually compelling. Discounts and freebies and being told that you’re important and special is fun. There are many ways to make Klout work for both consumers and brands, and for the company to shed the negative aura that has clouded its potential strengths.

The problems people have are not with Klout’s technical functioning. It’s with the social and cultural ramifications that Klout openly aspires to create. When the marketing industry explicitly talks about influencer marketing, and brands hungrily eye consumers, it’s no wonder people are repulsed - they care about their friends more than they care about products.

Influential consumers understand how Klout works: it’s the company that wants to capitalize upon their relationships, and use coupons to turn their heroes into shills. 

Klout, Kred, and PeerIndex can probably avoid these issues with two strategies:

  • Don't preach influence for influence's sake 
    Use scores to teach users how to participate better in their communities. Adopt a few techniques from online personality tests, and tell people, in detail, about what their score might indicate, and how to improve it. The "here's the lowdown" provided by Edelman's Tweetlevel is a good example of how to do this.
  • Think should and shouldn't, not can and can't 
    Many of the metrics marketers are prioritizing right now, such as impressions, are often inappropriate for measuring the success of community engagement. It's up to both influencer services and the marketers who use them to define success in a way that is sustainable, not disruptive, for the communities they seek to influence.

Historically, many new marketing methods have been met with repulsion, only to later become accepted industry standards. It's important to remember that digital influence measurement and targeting is still in its infancy. In his 1963 publication Confessions of an Ad Man, David Ogilvy declared:

I am angered to the point of violence by the commercial interruption of programs. Are the men who own the television stations so greedy that they cannot resist such intrusive affronts to the dignity of man? They even interrupt the inauguration of Presidents and the coronation of monarchs.

Forty-nine years later, no one becomes violently angry when a tv program is interrupted - they may merely walk away.

For more on Klout and influencer marketing , see Econsultancy's latest report Influencer Channels: From Klout to Klouchebag which includes conversations with Dr Michael Wu of Lithium Technologies, David Armano of Edelman Digital, and Kred CEO Andrew Grill.


Published 26 July, 2012 by Sam Dwyer

Sam Dwyer is an Analyst based in Econsultancy's New York office. He can be followed on Twitter @sammydwyer.

24 more posts from this author

Comments (8)

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Karen Moran

I admit it - I hopped onto the Klout bandwagon last year. I checked every day for those worthless little Klout perks. I didn't really change my social interaction to up my score but did get caught up in having a decent score. That was until Klout reconfigured how it scores and mine plummeted 14 points in a matter of hours. I've since opted out - what a royal pain that was even finding how to do that. But...glad I did. I continue my interaction as I should and don't feel left out by not getting a Weather Channel umbrella or a Fox sweatshirt. ;)

over 4 years ago

Oscar Trelles

Oscar Trelles, Agency executive, startup advisor, entrepreneur, connector. at R/GA

I'm sorry, Sam, but some of us do have a problem with Klout's "technical functioning" or, in order words, the mechanics of their algorithm. I immediately stopped caring about Klout when they told me I was influential on "Tim Burton," after mentioning the guy's name once on one tweet.

about 4 years ago


Sam Dwyer, Analyst at Econsultancy

I gladly concede your point, Oscar - I was considering the mechanical operation as it is idealized, but obviously one can't (or, rather, shouldn't) ignore the basic fact that these products often do not yet work as advertised.

about 4 years ago


Dave McAllister

Every now and then I'll go look at Klout, but given it's black box approach to calculating my score, I've assigned them to the category of "games I play" and since my ego isn't part of my gaming experience, I don't need to maximize my score.

about 4 years ago

Philippa Gamse

Philippa Gamse, Adjunct Professor at Hult International Business School

Justin Bieber has a Klout score of 100, and Warren Buffett's is 48 (last time I looked). What does that say?

about 4 years ago

Oscar Trelles

Oscar Trelles, Agency executive, startup advisor, entrepreneur, connector. at R/GA

It says I should be advertising on Justin Bieber's Twitter stream :)

Influence is relative and subjective, and a such, it cannot be quantified in terms of "likes" and retweets. If anything, what Klout is able to measure is an individual's visibility in the social networks, which is completely valid from a marketing perspective. They just need to call it what it is and be transparent with their survey methodology, or the algorithm, as we like to call it.

about 4 years ago



So agree with Oscar's first comment. I have topics I know or care little about. I also have been carefully watching my score for interest's sake with their new rollout and it hasn't budged an inch, even though I did a major ramp up on my social media activity and interaction on all channels. I actually dropped a point. And it was quality interaction. Klout sucks. Not an intelligent way to put it, but to the point!

Kred, I dig. I used to love Klout, but no more.

about 4 years ago

Suzy Turnbull

Suzy Turnbull, Owner at Digital Marketing Partners Panama

I received an invitation to join Klout last month (late in the scheme of things, I know, but I am a skeptical and cautious user of social media).

The minute I signed up, I decided unreservedly and immediately to opt-out again. Get real people, isn't this just a piece of clever propaganda funded and perpetrated by the worlds two biggest social media networks?

Whoever in their right mind would fall for such nonsense? Wait, I can answer that question - only egotistical, vanity driven nutcases. These people don't live in the real world, have no real job or purpose in life and clearly have tons of time to waste. And to you Klout, what an incredibly irresponsible load of rubbish you are circulating and perpetrating. Please, please find something more useful and purposeful to do in this Digital age.

about 4 years ago

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