Klout should not be regarded as the standard for influence online

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By Alexandra Reid

I have a hard time believing that Klout is and should be the standard for influence online.

My reasoning is grounded in the fact that Klout, which purports to measure social media influence, is losing clout because of its failure to follow social media best practices. It seems illogical to me that so many of us are measuring our social media success based on standards developed by an unsocial organization.

Allow me to elaborate.

Klout is creepy and walled

As reported by Yahoo news, Klout has come under fire for some recent missteps. Users have expressed outrage that Klout’s “user-scraping” tactics were used to make profiles for users who didn’t sign up for the service, including children, and opting out was extremely difficult before the firm finally, under pressure, implemented an opt-out feature.

Klout’s use of “super cookies” was also attacked, as the firm admitted that its servers automatically record the IP address, browser type, or the domain from which you are visiting, the web pages you visit, the search terms you use, and any advertisements on which you click.  It also uses session cookies and persistent cookies to better understand how you interact with the site and service, to monitor aggregate usage by users and web traffic routing on the site. Klout’s unsocial self-interest in invoking subscribership was revealed by the public in this story, as was its alarming level of comfort in breaching user privacy, which is comparable to those “philosophies on privacy” employed by Google and Facebook (Although Google made a small step in the right direction recently with the launch of “Good to know.”)

I was briefly relieved to learn that Klout updated its scoring metrics algorithm to favour quality over quantity and measure the value of the interactions we are having and inspiring instead of the number of conversations we engage in online. Furthermore, it stated that it is working to help users understand changes in their scores. Both are seemingly good moves on the surface.

But, please, first take a minute to consider that Klout was still regarded as the standard for influence long before it made these updates. Of course, our understanding of what being social online really means has evolved in this time, and Klout has made a move in the right direction to reflect this new understanding. However, it seems to me that Klout was awarded authority prematurely, and much of this authority came as result of automatic profile generation. As Yahoo’s digital trends reporter Molly McHugh wonders in the previous article, “How many of its 100 million scores belong to self-registered users?”

With these updates, it seems the company is moving in a more social direction and adopting measures of greater transparency. However, while it stated that many user scores would stay the same or go up after the algorithm change, many did go down and it neglected to reveal any concrete details as to why this was the case, stating simply, “We believe our users will be pleased with the improvements we’ve made” before sharing a basic and ambiguous chart explaining a “distribution of the Score changes,” where “large decreases in Score are rare.”

While I agree that companies need to keep details of their algorithms safe from idea-thieving copycats, this situation cemented people’s opinion that the company is secretive, which is inherently unsocial. This is a tough line to walk, no doubt, and I’m interested in hearing your view on how Klout should establish and maintain a balance.

The last nail in the Klout coffin for me is that it encourages us to regularly commit a great social sin in judging one another, not by the merits of our personal interactions, but by a number spat out by an algorithm which we don’t understand that claims to measure the quality of a users’ interactions with everyone else. Does that make sense to you? I wouldn’t trust the opinion of a perfect stranger who hasn’t interacted with my connections or myself if he said one person was more influential than another for reasons he can’t explain. Would you?

Klout is too simplistic to be credible on its own

The benefit of Klout is that it gives us a very basic understanding of how good a person is at posting sharable messages. But this isn’t influence. As Dr. Morad Menyoucef, associate professor at the University of Ottawa’s Telfer School of Management, stated in this USA Today article:

There is influence when the actions of an individual can induce his friends/followers to behave like him, e.g., in adopting a new technology, in choosing a brand over another, or in voting for a political candidate. Hence if I share a post or comment on it, it does not necessarily mean I have been influenced by the person who posted it. My comment could be contrary to what the initiator of the post intended. Or I can decide to share it with someone because I believe he might be interested, even though I have no interest in it whatsoever.

He goes on to state that Klout is a simplistic take on influence because users in a network are not influenced in the same way — they are not identical with regards to the probability that they adopt a certain behaviour, and a user’s amount of influence on another user may depend on the relationship between them.

Bridging off that point, perhaps Klout also gives us some indication as to who has “real life” clout — a person’s followers are eager to listen and share what they deem to be credible and interesting information based on social interactions that have happened outside of social media. But in those instances, why would we need Klout to tell us what we already know?

But after all of this is said, social media professionals still feel the pressure to use Klout as a metric to measure influence online. I think it holds value in informing us when our social media “influence” (if you can really call it that) has increased or decreased as well as where we stand among all others measured by the same algorithm. But it doesn’t provide us with the full picture and shouldn’t be used as the sole means for measuring influence. The only apparent solution I have found to understand general trends over time is to track Klout and compare those results with PeerIndex and Grader scores – two other companies claiming to measure online influence. If all three are moving up, I can reasonably assume that what I’m doing is working. If one goes down while the other two go up, which happens on a regular basis, I know there is something happening that is discrediting my results.

What do you think?

Image: BrandFlair

/// COMMENTS

One Comment »
  • social influence scoring by Social - Pearltrees

    December 09, 2011 9:41 pm

    [...] Klout should not be regarded as the standard for influence online My reasoning is grounded in the fact that Klout , which purports to measure social media influence, is losing clout because of its failure to follow social media best practices. It seems illogical to me that so many of us are measuring our social media success based on standards developed by an unsocial organization. Allow me to elaborate. [...]

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