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Klout-logoThanks to the rise of social media, there's a mad race to measure influence and help brands harness it to their advantage. That has created an ecosystem of companies vying to prove that they can most accurately identify the social media users with the most clout.

One of the most prominent players in the space, Klout, is also one of the most controversial.

Klout's many critics level various charges at the company. Two of the most common:

  • Klout doesn't really measure influence.
  • The algorithm Klout uses to assign scores to users is opaque.

Hoping to address both of those criticisms, Klout yesterday announced what it considers to be "some of the most significant product updates in Klout's history."

A post on the company blog by Klout CEO Joe Fernandez explains, "We have increased the number of social media signals we analyze from less than 100 to more than 400. We have also increased the number of data points we analyze on a daily basis from 1 billion to 12 billion."

According to the Fernandez, "All of this additional data helps us deliver a more accurate Score for everyone on Klout." In an effort to convince the world that those scores are more accurate, Klout has also published more detailed information about some of the signals Klout's algorithm takes into consideration.

So will Klout's updates silence critics? Probably not.

And for good reason: Klout says that its goal is to measure both online and offline influence, but the more you know, the less realistic that goal looks. For instance, one of changes Klout has implemented incorporate suggests that Wikipedia pages are an indicator of real-world influence:

We see a Wikipedia entry as a significant indicator of one’s ability to drive action in the real world. We’ve tested this method over the past several months and the updated Scores of recognized world leaders like Barack Obama and Warren Buffett more accurately reflect their real-world influence.

Skeptics would argue that Wikipedia is hardly an accurate indicator of real-world influence, and that citing the updated scores for Obama and Buffett as evidence of Wikipedia's value as a scoring signal is little more than Klout engaging in form-fitting.

Wikipedia aside, there is good reason to be skeptical about Klout, even with its updates. While some of the criticisms leveled at Klout by its detractors aren't entirely fair, the company's biggest problem is simple: you can't measure influence if your definition of it is oversimplified to the point of being fatally flawed. As previously noted, real studies on influence have demonstrated that it's much more complex and nuanced than Klout and many of its competitors would have us believe.

Unfortunately for Klout, a quick look at some of its score signals suggest that's (still) precisely the case. From questionable statements such as "posts to your wall indicate both influence and engagement" to dubious assumptions like "your reported title on LinkedIn is a signal of your real-world influence," Klout may be trying its best to make use of the data the social mediasphere gives it access to, but that doesn't mean the data is meaningful.

With this in mind, it's clear that Klout's move to increase the amount of data it analyzes is far more likely to make Klout look more sophisticated than it is to actually help the company achieve its stated goal of measuring influence. Which means that, whether it uses 100 signals or 100,000 signals, Klout still doesn't really count.

Patricio Robles

Published 15 August, 2012 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2406 more posts from this author

Comments (12)

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Ian

I disagree. The mere fact that Klout measures social media socially is all that matters. In the same way you want to show off your facebook page full of "likes" or the number of "RTs" you get on twitter, having a high Klout score is merely status and the measure that it takes to get there isn't largely irrelevant, it is just enough to coax social media junkies into signing in.

You can't argue that Klout doesn't account for the interactions you have on several social media sites and as such a high score does mean you are doing something vaguely right. Klout IS a social media site and I am ok with that.

about 4 years ago

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Personal Injury Specialists

Klout is for straight line thinkers - it cannot count that many people my well be criticising someone instead of influencing them or being influenced. Its daft and sad to see so many taken in by it's Foursquare like look and feel

about 4 years ago

Steve Davies

Steve Davies, CEO at Fitch Media

Back in the '90s I worked with several well-known global companies helping them implement performance measurement systems to prioritise decisions, reward individuals and cut down on the information noise inherent in any leading enterprise.

One of the principles I drummed into them at the time was to recognise that human interaction is far more complex than cause-and-effect and I helped them grasp chaos theory and systems thinking (espoused by author Peter Senge). Chaos theory (despite its name) is mostly about recognising patterns, which are framed within the modalities of systems thinking called Archetypes.

I would recommend anyone who's truly interested in understanding the systematic behaviour of human interaction to take a look at these - over the years I've proven these time and time again and they make an excellent series of test cases before implementing any tool such as Klout.

Some years later I ran Experian's Integrated Marketing business where we managed the user data for companies such as BSkyB, Microsoft and Skype. BSkyB were especially receptive to looking deeper than the cause and effect and benefitted greatly from such a mature understanding of their customers.

The challenge for 'Big Data' is learning how to focus on the patterns that matter (seeing the wood from the trees), adding more data points and sources is usually in my experience a very bad idea unless of course it’s just for bragging rights.

about 4 years ago

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Robson Cartes

Very interesting article, I am also somewhat skeptical about the simple fact of measuring the influence of one person or even the influence of a company, for example, I believe there must be an expert to tell the importance of a particular company . There are cases where we know very well what these people and companies do and in what areas they operate. It is the quality work of a group, a team, an organization that will determine your search, but also the cost benefits that these companies offer from its major customers and partners as the end customer. However I think is very valuable, allowing these same companies have more information about the importance of his employees, his products and services are to the lives of people like me for example. Even though at the end of a given process, can be a potential customer or prospective employee. I emphasize that I find interesting this kind of research, after all is a creative way so that such companies know that we are watching and we know what we want.

about 4 years ago

Adrian Bold

Adrian Bold, Director at Bold Internet Ltd

As social media breeds so much vanity, it's no surprise that sites like this will continue to gain some traction and support from 'those types'.

about 4 years ago

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Olivia H

Given the recent hype surrounding Klout I decided to test it using a twitter account. Within less than a week I was able to push the influence score into one of the mid-level influencer groups. This account has less than 40 followers and after weeks of inactivity it still holds a "conversationalist" Klout score. Hmm.

about 4 years ago

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Anjali

I am speaking of my experience which is similar to Olivia. However I saw huge spike in my score when I changed my status on Facebook. If my Facebook is dormant my score went down also higher activity or RT's on twitter did not change much in Klout score. I think they rely heavily on FACEBOOK!

about 4 years ago

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Matthew Cain

I think critics needs to get over it. Klout is what it is: an amalgamation of lots of pieces of data which hint at the impact of a social media account and cumulatively, provide some rough estimation of the importance of account a v account b.

Just as you can't measure the influence of Rupert Murdoch nor can use measure the influence of Justin Bieber. But that's not really the point.

about 4 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@Matthew I think, if some employers weren't asking for Klout scores when people apply for jobs, we could just happily ignore it and treat it as a bit of fun.

about 4 years ago

Jim Banks

Jim Banks, Head of Biddable Media at Cheapflights

I am actually a fan of Klout. They are consistent with their measurement, in the same way that the likes of Hitwise didn't have data on everything that went on in respect of traffic to and from sites, but it was a consistent set of data applied to everyone.

I use it as a personal barometer for my social activity, to fill in the gaps in connecting with people who have taken the trouble to complete their profile correctly (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Google+) and I also like Klout lists and use them before conferences to find out who might be worth talking to, not by reading their scores, but by reading the words in their profile, so someone who likes cats, walking etc. is less likely to be a conference meetup target.

My advice, fwiw, is not to take the score as the only meaningful piece of information, read between the lines and there is a HUGE amount of accretive information available.

about 4 years ago

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David Green

I think alot of people have been using Klout as some sort of definitive measurement of social media success. Its not. The data I think people should worry about is your conversion rates and the size of your community.

about 4 years ago

Jim Banks

Jim Banks, Head of Biddable Media at Cheapflights

Graham,

It's a bit like being a Google Adwords Professional. It shows a prospective employer you have passed an exam. There were services offering to take that exam for you for $50, I know it would not be difficult to game a Klout score if you were that way inclined.

Any employer asking for those types of credentials are not the sort of people you'd want to be working for.

about 4 years ago

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