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.