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Klout-logoEarly last year I wrote a post about online influence measurement service Klout, I ran a few simple tests and came to a conclusion: Klout doesn’t work.

Based on several recent articles supporting the service, I thought it was worth taking another look at Klout and restating a few points about the value of online influence and measurement.

At the time I wrote the original post, a lot of people loved Klout. Many still do, but there has been something of an online backlash as well.

Lots of commentators have had a proper moan since then about the inaccuracies of the measurement algorithm Klout uses, and rightly so.

While trawling the internet over the past few days however, I’ve noticed a raft of articles popping up telling me that I’m completely wrong.

That Klout does matter.

And I agree, kinda.

For the record, I’ve never felt that Klout was useless. If anything, it’s the expectations of users that are the problem, rather than the service itself.

If you’re a PR and need to hunt out a few bloggers to promote your client’s latest doodad, then it’s an excellent place to get started. Go to Klout, type in ‘Doohickey Bloggers’ and pull a list.

Just don’t forget to go through each and every one’s content carefully before you send them all free rocket boots.

As I say, we’ve heard this before. It’s slowly been improving, but is still far from perfect. Despite this, several people have recently been making statements to the contrary:

Over on Convince and Convert, Jay Baer recently wrote that critics of Klout are missing the big picture.

I have immense respect for Jay, but here I believe his argument is flawed. His post claims that many are opposed to Klout because it fails to identify offline influence.

As an example, he reiterates Paul Gillin’s claim that NetScape founder Marc Andreessen has a low Klout score, because he doesn’t spend a lot of time online. 

And why would he? He’s too busy making massive piles of cash. It doesn’t mean he’s not influential.

That’s a perfectly good point but I really don’t believe that this is the problem. No-one I know cares whether or not Klout registers offline influence. Klout never claimed they could.

The problem is that Klout measures online influence innaccurately.

As an example, I recently took a week off. During that time, I significantly reduced my online presence. I checked in to Foursquare once, tweeted twice, and possibly sent an Instagram.

My score increased by three points.

During the same period, the @Econsultancy Twitter account gained 8,500 new followers (Hello new followers!). Yet the company score dropped by two points, despite more followers, more content and increases in engagement, @replies, ReTweets, conversion and CTR…

You can see where I’m going with this.

Over at Grow, Mark Schaefer also believes Klout is important, although he has a slightly different take on things. He believes that anyone who can create and move content can be an influencer.

I’d go one further and say that you don’t even really need to create, just be actively disseminating information.

I post a fair bit on my Twitter account about social media, because that’s what I do all day, but I also post links to music, stupid gifs, and on one memorable occasion a picture of me being chased by a giant wooden elephant (oddly, that last one made several people’s paper.li dailies. Proof that totally automated curation isn’t all it’s cracked up to be).

It’s not targeted or optimised, it’s just “stuff I like”.

I wouldn’t say this makes me an influencer; rather, I have just enough followers who are vaguely interested to grant me a little broadcast capability.

It’s useful, but true influence, in my opinion, is a narrowcast discipline. Occasionally someone will ask my help directly, and that’s where I can influence. I can personally recommend a product or service.

Again, it’s all down to context.

Last week Eloqua’s Joel Rothman tried to determine if a higher Klout score affected conversion rates by mapping users with high scores and comparing their ability to spread a message compared to their low-scoring counterparts. 

His experiment showed that, yes, if you have a million followers then it’s a bit more likely someone will click on a link in your tweets. If I advertise sofas on national TV, more people will see that ad than if I put it on a card in my local newsagent’s window.

Will they purchase? Only if they’re looking for a sofa.

So what’s the problem?

(Or if you prefer: Get on with it Matt, for God’s sake.)

The problem is that Klout adds up all this data and stick an arbitrary number on it.

If you’re more active or have a larger network then yes, your score will increase, and you can claim your free jetpack. Whether you're a human, a twitterbot or a dog on the internet doesn't matter.

That’s fine on an individual level, but companies need to stop behaving as though it’s an accurate rating for... well, anything at all.

It is (just) possible to use Klout as a vague benchmark against your competitors, if you are running very, very similar campaigns. 

Unfortunately a lack of knowledge or deep analysis means businesses are still viewing these figures as deliverables.

I’ve seen a number of recruitment notices (no, I’m not looking…) where 'Increasing the company Klout score’ is a job function.

This is utterly ridiculous. Why? So your company can get free Stephen King novels?

I could work for a hardware store, there’s no reason I can’t post funny cat videos on the company Twitter account all day and get a high Klout score. I still couldn’t sell a hammer.

Similarly, it’s easy to game a system like this, especially if you want a few freebies.

Content is king, but relevance is key

In essence, this is an old argument. And I’m not saying that Klout and similar services aren’t important.

I believe that anything can be important if enough people decide it is. Money is important because we all decide to believe it is.

Last night’s football scores are important, but they don’t have the slightest effect on your daily life (unless of course, you bet money on them).

Klout scores are important, if you want to kid yourself that a large arbitrary figure has anything to do with how relevant or successful you are. 

They aren’t important as a measurable business metric, and they certainly aren’t a strategic measure or a deliverable.

I am convinced that it is possible to measure an individual’s importance to your business online using a mathematical formula.We just haven't finished writing that formula yet.

Once the algorithms are less muddy, scoring will become an important method of segmenting different audience sectors for business.

I’m thoroughly in favour of giving major purchasers and powerful PR bloggers a bit of extra love, and I also believe in the importance of nurturing low-level customers and possible leads carefully over the long term. 

I’m not in favour of randomly sending out free stuff to people who have no relevance to my customer base.

Again and again I've seen this argument pop up. I believe that Klout is on the right track, but users at all levels need to be realistic about how and why they use the service.

Are you benchmarking? Are you after a free cocktail? Or are you genuinely looking for relevant influencers?

If it's the latter, there's still no substitute for checking them out in person.

  • Big numbers don't matter.
  • Having a higher Klout score than your competitors doesn't matter
  • Quality content and relevancy matters.
Matt Owen

Published 20 September, 2011 by Matt Owen

Matt Owen was formerly Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or hook up on LinkedIn.

203 more posts from this author

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Anthony Trollope

Frankly, I think the Klout measurement has become diluted in recent months as they are now covering far too many different channels. I mean honestly, who has all of these profiles and keeps every single one of them active? - It's flawed on the basis that you could have one person more active on Twitter vs somebody more active on Facebook or G+.

I'm still a fan of Klout. I do think they will be around for a good while to come yet, but honestly, given they are a start-up, I suspect even they don't know for sure what their algorithm is yet. They are still trying to find that happy medium.

I can relate to what Matt says in this post. Actually, we have a goal to achieve a certain ranking by a certain point as I still believe its a fairly decent metric for those still finding their way in SM.

Thought provoking piece. For sure.

Best,
Anthony

about 5 years ago

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Kat Morris

I thought it was just me who found it weird! I have noticed that my Klout score is sometimes higher when I'm inactive too. I was starting to take it personally....

I support Anthony's point that these metrics can be helpful for those finding their way in SM, and at least try to take the focus away from follower collecting and on to more meaningful influence.

They can be an interesting benchmark and food for thought but in terms of targets, I'm with you Matt. Click throughs, SEO, leads, conversions, happy customers, problems solved, etc, these are your targets. Not a slightly dodgy algorithm measuring your interaction with some possibly irrelevant faceless people.

about 5 years ago

Dave Wieneke

Dave Wieneke, Director of Digital Strategy Practice at Connective DX

Yes, Klout measures...but not influence. Not even "online" influence. (though those sound good).

It measures a combination of reach, engagement and activity on social networks.

But, to modify the headline -- Klout only matters if people who matter to us believe it in. That's right, much like currency, there's nothing really behind it -- until people who matter to you start to value it.

It doesn't matter if I belive in Klout, if my clients who want advice about the digital world use this to decide who is credible, then it matter to me. Bogus or not -- if it drives behavior that matters to you, then it counts.

about 5 years ago

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Adam Schweigert

It's also more than a bit suspicious that many of the over-the-top pro-Klout posts in the last week or so seem to have been by people who are members of some unofficial advisory panel for Klout (they all at least disclose this fact and say it hasn't affect what they've written...but...)

about 5 years ago

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Jason Kapler

Even if you could measure influence in its entirety (which you can't) you wouldn't be able to change conditions other than to prove your brand is inauthentic in how it approaches marketing.

There are no shortcuts to excellence. Obsess on what makes you unique and consumers find you.

about 5 years ago

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AJ Kohn

Klout measures something, but I'm still not sure exactly what that something is.

Whatever it is measuring, enough people perceive it to be valuable, which (perception is reality) essentially makes Klout valuable.

But it's not really influence and the steadfast game theory nature of the number lends itself to a strange type of incentive.

There is a tremendous amount of nuance in measuring what I refer to as the engagement graph. I don't think Klout does this justice. Are they tracking robo-syndicated Tweets? Are they measuring the diversity of their engagement to attribute for such services as Triberr? So right now Klout feels more like a popularity metric and not an influence metric.

And it rewards those who seek popularity by being brash and talkative and social. Some of those same people will be influencers. But not all, not by a long shot.

What I find more interesting is how Google is looking at influence. With the implementation of Google+ (identity), the promotion of authorship (rel="author" and the acquisition of PostRank, we're likely to see some sort of AuthorRank metric that equates to influence.

http://www.blindfiveyearold.com/google-influence-metric

But it won't be a number. It'll simply show up where it matters most, in search.

about 5 years ago

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dominiq

Thanks for this excellent article.

The major problem, to me, is that there is no such a thing as a "global online influence".

The concept of influence is derived from the concept of tribes and community. One does not have influence. He/She has influence in certain circles/tribes over some specific topics.

There is no way that one can come up with a magic score that can capture this granularity.

Let's take an example. If you're selling an expensive and design iPad Case, the influencers that you are looking for are

- Fashion influencers (i.e the one that when they talk about something, it becomes trendy)
- Who cover tech accessories from time to time and have expertise and relevancy in the doman.

Just taking a score on "ipad" ( which will lead you to Mashable) or to "iPad Case, leather" (which will lead you to Moms - who usually are way more popular overall) will not help you position your product.

One need more than a score to do that. My favorite model (which is close to the one we use) is the Forrester model for influence, putting mass maven and mass connectors as critical individuals for influence on the web.

Here is a link to Forrester paper ,( Ray Augie): http://blogs.forrester.com/augie_ray/10-04-20-peer_influence_analysis_what_it_how_marketers_use_it
This is to me way more accurate than a single number.

Best

about 5 years ago

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Richard Jones

Matt we should chat. Klout score will have little impact in the democratisation of marketing. The reach score generated by www.engagesciences.com is based on the amount of actual shares, invites and conversions generated amongst the friends of a fan in relation to a brands marketing campaigns. This is a much more valuable metric

about 5 years ago

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Gokhan Tunc, SEO Executive at Wonderlabs

Very interesting article but same verdict: quality and relevancy matter. Still in late 2014so many agencies and seo's ignoring those! I work in https://wearewonderlabs.com; a digital marketing agency, and always stick on quality, relevancy and uniqueness ...

almost 2 years ago

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John Woodman, Creative Director at Digital Marketing Agency Manchester

I am in the digital marketing game and I'm considered an old hand now - I say expert, others say old hand! For me the concept of influence is all about being at the fore front of your market and a recognised expert. There's a reason that Apple, Adidas, BMW, Coke, and McDonalds have so much influence with their audience. And it's not because they're using an online 'influencing' tool. I agree with Gokhan from Wonderlabs about relevancy and quality. People seem to forget these in favour of perceived shortcuts that no one refers to as shortcuts (as this sounds lazy and poor practice).

over 1 year ago

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