Parent company Lithium Technologies, which specialises in marketing tools, has decided to ‘sunset’ the service just four years after its acquisition because it feels “Klout as a standalone service is not aligned” with Lithium’s long-term strategy – Peter Hess (CEO at Lithium) wrote in an email to customers last week.

Although the acquisition provided Lithium with “valuable artificial intelligence (AI) and machinelearning capabilities”, the company has pulled the plug much to the (genuine or otherwise) disappointment of some users…

It’s not all doom and gloom for users of the service, though, as the CEO did allude to a possible Klout replacement through “the launch of a new social impact scoring methodology based on Twitter,” leaving the door ajar for a new service.

To make a bit more sense of what happened with Klout, we reached out to a few social media experts for their thoughts and comments on the announcement…

Why is Klout closing?

Dan Barker, Digital Marketing Consultant:

“Klout is one of those interesting footnote tech stories. Joe Fernandez – the founder & CEO – launched it apparently out of boredom in a period where he couldn’t speak due to jaw surgery. He quickly built it from nothing to $40 million in funding, before passing it on to Lithium Tech for $200m (albeit I don’t know what was cash/stock/etc, or what terms were other than he joined their overall board). There was a period where people were interested in Klout to such an extent that he received death threats when they changed their algorithm – something that with hindsight feels both ridiculous to the point of feeling it may have been a PR story, and yet would be unsurprising if similar happened with SnapChat or similar today.

“I don’t know why Lithium picked up Klout, but my guess is they’ve ‘extracted’ what value they were able to into their main tools already, and the actual Klout interface had become a double-edged sword of having just enough value to keep running, while costing lots in management & tech resource.

“The fact that they’re closing on GDPR date – I guess – means that the ‘management overhead’ is too great taking into account the changes they’d have to make, or the ‘remaining value’ of keeping it separate, with GDPR-required tweaks, is so low that they’ve decided it’s a sensible time to shutter it. The fact that they don’t mention GDPR perhaps means Lithium are still finalising their compliance steps, and therefore don’t want to shout about it too much.”

Where did it all go wrong?

Michelle Goodall, social media consultant (and trainer of Econsultancy’s Fast Track Digital Marketing and social media courses):

“Klout, Peerindex and Kred were amongst a number of social influence ranking, or ‘social capital’ tools that were popular for a period of time but then either got built into other tools or evolved into influencer marketing platforms.

“The truth is that influence is highly nuanced and any attempt to reduce it to a single number, based on a single digital data source that can be ‘gamed’, is a flawed concept. Any decent, strategic comms or PR practitioner will tell you this.

“Like many I tried to increase my Klout score and got up into the 70s. It  was a interesting and useful experiment – it also benefited me personally when I was gifted by whisky companies and book publishers as a result of my high score through Klout Perks – a reward system for nascent influencers with high scores.

“I learnt when to tweet, what subjects to tweet about, keywords to use whose amplification really mattered. All very useful for helping clients with their social media and communications strategies. However in the pursuit of a massive Klout score my Twitter feed became totally boring and one-dimensional. I pained over whether a specific tweet would negatively affect my score – it stripped all of the fun out of social media.  I guess the big social media influencers today are still grappling with this daily existential crisis. I am glad that I don’t!”

“Remember the terrifying Black Mirror ‘Nosedive’ episode where people are constantly trying to gamify a system of credits through behaviours and social media posts? Well criticism of blunt social scoring tools like Klout centre on:

  1. It will always bring out those who will try and break or game an algorithm
  2. It’s an unsophisticated way to determine genuine influence
  3. Who governs and protects what can be done with the ‘social capital’ data – whether for marketing purposes or governmental/societal purposes
  4. The potential impact on mental health of those who are focused on a reductive popularity score

“Much has been written about social credit apps in China and the potential human rights implications…”

Will Francis, Founder & Creative Director, VANDAL:

“…the bigger challenge for Klout seems to have always been monetising influence. Countless influencer marketing platforms have come and gone, I even co-founded one myself in 2010 but later turned it into the agency I ran and sold – Harkable – because we struggled to gain traction. Influencer marketing is just incredibly hard to automate whilst preserving the things that make it powerful – quality, authority and authenticity. Like it’s older cousin PR, it is ultimately based on human relationships.

“Klout had everyone’s backs up from the start, with many rejecting the notion of being graded by some algorithm and having their digital worth hang over them. But in the end the founders did succeed, by selling it to Lithium in 2014 whilst the platform still had value. The only losers here are those whose Klout score meant anything to them, though in today’s fractured social landscape of ephemeral content and private groups invisible to Klout, I’m not sure if they exist now.”

Dan Barker

“In terms of Klout as a tool: It feels very much ‘of its time’ now, a small function that had some sort of status for users, and maybe helped brands to differentiate people who looked vaguely influential on a metrics basis from those who did not. Most brands will be further along with how they do that kind of thing now, and therefore re-spinning out Klout as a standalone thing just would not really work without some radical extra functionality (they tried perks, but from an outside point of view that didn’t seem to take off massively, and they sadly became a running gag for longer than they were a hot tech topic).

“A quick glance at the volume of Google searches for ‘klout’ shows how interest has dropped off:

“In terms of the remaining value of the interface: I logged in again on hearing the news and thought “65 – is that good or bad?” – I suspect everyone else has forgotten too. The topics they list me being expert in seem vaguely like things I talk about on social media sometimes, but even LinkedIn endorsements seems to (despite the criticism they get) do a better job. If they hadn’t been bought, it’s easy to think of lots of possible directions they could have taken – become more integral to your phone, pushing out into the real world & spreading the areas they topical covered outside of just the narrow slice of things people talk about on social media, etc. But all of that would likely have cost a huge amount even to begin testing. The data itself has value, but 2018 is a period in which people have become scared of the consequences of having large amounts of ‘uncertain provenance’ data.”

And what of the future of influence?

Michelle Goodall:

“Klout and other social capital tools arguably played a role in fake influence being created, but at least you had to work at it to game the system. These days, many brands are working with social media influencers with huge numbers of followers without checking whether they have bought them or the quality/demographics of their fans. The truth is we’ve got a long way to go to work out a way to measure real influence with AI and not HI (Human Intelligence).

“We are at an interesting time where technology companies are analysing whether it is ethical to be reductive about our digital behaviours and the possible implications of that to society. But there is clearly an appetite for using artificial intelligence to simplify the process of identifying influencers, rewarding positive behaviours and reaching mass audiences through those with ‘social capital’ and I’m sure we’ll see the technology adapted. Klout isn’t dead. It’s just resting.”