In 2008 a small company called Klout launched with a product of the same name which now allows users to opt-in and link their Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Instagram, Foursquare accounts and more into a common user profile and then grades people based on their “influence” on each social network and then overall. The concept is to put a number on someone’s ability to influence through social media on a scale of 1 to 100 where higher numbers are better.
To focus on Twitter many people have noted that Klout score has more relevance than follower count. This article is essentially an extension of The Social Numbers-Driven Pissing Contest written nearly two months ago. If you haven’t read that article I highly recommend you do before continuing.
Read it now? Great! Let’s continue. What follows are the problems with Klout as I see them:
1) Interaction Quality is not easily Measureable: Klout can only calculate its figure based on interaction1 however the type of interaction is non-deterministic. What if I’m being a troll to hundreds of other Twitter users eliciting hostile responses - to Klout this is no different to a pleasant response from the same number of users for good reasons. Of course one might expect the trolling approach long-term would inevitably lead to less responses however my observations are that for some users it can be easier to get a response by trolling than by gentle, good-mannered discourse.
2) Areas of “Influence” Aren’t Specific: If Person X has 100 followers interact with them and they are all going to University together socially, then Person X would have an equivalent score to someone who had 100 followers evenly spread around the world in all areas of expertise, across all demographics and age groups. It’s not hard to see that the latter counts in the real world as being of more value in terms of “Influence” however Klout can not differentiate between the two. Klout uses Topics to show areas of focus but these can not possibly tell much of the overall picture. Famously early on, the US President was rated with a lower score than several prominent bloggers. Clearly “Influence2” isn’t terribly specific.
3) Microcosms of Enthusiasts Drive the Numbers: Social networks allow people to find each other across the world with areas of similar interest. Famous people in the real world offer an opportunity/insight into their lives by participating as well. By and large it seems that groups tend to flock together whereby groups of like-minded people tend to follow each other in small social-webs that interact amongst themselves quite prolifically. A topical tweet amongst that group could have dozens nodding in agreement, favouriting and retweeting the original tweeter and driving up their score. If exposed to the greater Twitter audience the reception would likely be exceptionally less involving. Hence the microcosm and its overly enthusiastic members tend to drive each others numbers higher than if they were graded against a more complete Twitter audience. Essentially then all scores are highly biased.
There’s more but let’s leave it there. The final problem though isn’t that there are things wrong with Klout as just highlighted but rather it’s what’s wrong with us. What is it that we find such a scoring system to be of any use or attraction at all? Certainly there are psychological needs that people want to feel validated but in the end what does it really amount to that’s tangible? In the real world scores and marks in examinations are a measure of potential competence in a given subject area. Given Klouts broadness and flaws based on its input data this information is simply far too vague and soft to be of any objective use to anybody.
Still the champions of scoring themselves as some measure of success will pound the table insisting that their Klout score is an excellent measure of social media success. Too many others will see this behaviour and wish they had more Klout and therein lies the problem with the system - for the vast majority of users the score has no meaning unless it is used to compare oneself with others. The behaviours that this drives are similar to those where everyone knows everyone else’s salary in a company. Generally it drives hostility and jealously in the under-remunerated and worse it feeds superiority and arrogance in those over-remunerated.
I’m happy with my score - I enjoy Twitter and my blog even if it doesn’t do stupid volumes of traffic but like anyone I wouldn’t say no to an increase. If I don’t get one it’s no great loss but if you’re the sort of person that only cares about out-scoring everyone else then eventually you will learn like many others before you - it’s an end unto itself and there is nothing waiting for you at the end of that road.