There’s been a lot of chatter lately about the online service, Klout. And for good reason – it’s another way for us to measure ourselves, and it’s a data superstore for brands to shop and invest. If social media has shown us one thing it’s that the emergence of digital technology has proven to be the best human networking tool the world has ever seen. If it’s shown us another thing, it’s that people (and brands) like numbers. This post assumes that you already know a little about Klout and that you know how to protect your data from within your social media privacy settings. Now on with the show.
In September, I gave up my @smashadv account to start over. That account had over 5,000 followers, was on over 1,200 lists and had a Klout score of 68. I made the change because I needed a new Twitter strategy. The one I’d employed since 2008 was no longer relevant. I’d followed way too many people and was lost in all the noise. It wasn’t fun anymore. Part of the reason I enjoy Twitter is because of the actual engagement. So I restarted with @jmitchem and followed the people I liked following from @smashadv. Of course that meant leaving a mountain of numbers behind – but I was ok with that. I’m a writer and not really much of a numbers guy.
This isn’t to say that numbers don’t matter. They do. If they didn’t we’d all be living in our dream houses, we wouldn’t have to work and the world would be ruled by thinkers. But we’re humans. We like numbers. Numbers define us. Our ages. Our incomes. Our IQs. Our addresses. Our political affiliations. Our credit ratings. Our followers on Twitter. Our likes on Facebook. Our Klout scores.
As most of us know, the really important part of social media is the human connection. But you can’t discount the vanity appeal. Everyone wants to feel important. And most people want to attract other humans. It goes back to the numbers. The perception, in most instances, is that there is strength in numbers. And so the stronger and more powerful the numbers, the more secure we feel. Sure, emotionally connecting with other humans all over the planet is still the core appeal of social media, but we also enjoy feeling that we’re noticed, liked and needed. It’s human nature. This was true long before social media arrived.
Since the advent of social networking via digital media, our personal networks are not limited to the people we routinely interact at home and work. We now have access to virtually any person – anywhere. And so we flock to each other because of how we interact and what interests us. We form groups and alliances in digital environments. We build trust here. We grow networks here. We share here. Yes, we live here.
But how do we tell each other apart here? Where is our individuality? How do we measure ourselves? Yes, we all look different in our profile pix – but that little box with your picture in it isn’t exactly the best representation of who you actually are. Look, I’d love to believe that you look at hot as you do in your profile picture when you tweet about needing coffee at 6 a.m., but I doubt it. Also, with the influx of all the Linkedin people recently, most of the bios on Twitter read like white papers these days. No, our bios don’t really help tell the world who we really are either. What differentiates us is our ideas. How we engage. The kinds of things we say to each other. The stuff we share. Oh, and rankings.
But what does all of this have to do with influence? I’m getting there – bear with me.
I have a pretty high Klout score. Though I’m not entirely sure why. And let’s face it, neither are you. But, according to Klout, I have some influence online. And I don’t disagree with this assertion. In fact, I’d have to say that I’ve never been more influential in my life as I am now – thanks to the Internet. If I need any information or help, I have complete confidence that I’m only a tweet away from getting answers. Ok, sometimes two tweets. I attribute this ‘influence’ to being a copywriter. Copywriters are trained in communicating succinctly and with impact. So there’s my explanation on why my score is so high, and I’m sticking with it.
Think about this – everything we put out there in the digital realm is wide open to the world. It’s just a bunch of 1s and 0s flying around above our heads. Sure, the 1s and 0s represent the kinds of things that connect human beings on an emotional level, but as they’re flying above our heads – they’re still just cold digits. It’s just data. And if you don’t think random data has any impact, just ask the WikiLeaks guys.
Now think about this – when we sign on for all these great free accounts in social media, we’re using a service. For free. Well, nearly free. You see, while all the information that you send and receive is owned by you (thanks to copyright laws), the means (or medium) by which this information is sent is owned by the services. No, I doubt that Twitter’s going to steal your genius tweet to use as their own, but Twitter owns the residual numbers that go along with your genius tweet. All the RTs, the @ replies, how far the tweet reaches, etc. All that juicy data is Twitters. Including the keywords.
Enter Klout. When you sign up for Klout you have to link at least one of your social media profiles. And when you do, you give up the keys to your kingdom. All the data from each of the social accounts you link from is accessible by Klout. That’s how they determine whether your content is acted upon. To Klout, the more that your content is acted upon, the more influence you have. It’s pretty simple, in theory. Klout combines a few seemingly relevant variables (amplification, network and reach) to determine an overall influence score.
Klout satisfies two very important needs:
1) Klout fulfills our vanity need by providing another place in social media for people to compare numbers so that they feel like they fit in someplace. Because of this, and because it’s ‘free,’ we have absolutely no problem signing up, and then giving our data away.
2) It provides critical data for advertisers showing which people are more likely to help amplify a brand’s message. Brands see who has influence, and then approach these people with perks, or invitations to experience their brand on an intimate level. The hope is that the influencer will have a positive brand experience and then share their experience with their network. This is how you make money from the data.
Klout is a brilliant and timely business concept. As millions of humans hop on social media each week, advertisers with deep pockets scramble to figure out ways to connect with these people. It should also be noted that Klout is a perfect brand name for describing the service. No really, perfect. Unless they have a major privacy screw up, and until a serious competitor comes along, Klout will be the default brand that people think of when it comes to influence measuring.* Never, ever underestimate the power of great naming.
Finally, I think the formula for obtaining a high Klout score is ‘share good stuff.’ Everything else happens as a result of that. If you share enough good stuff, the right people will see it and act on it. It’s not brain surgery. And even if you don’t give a damn about your Klout score, you should visit their site to play around. It’s a pretty cool start to the kind of service that will certainly stick around here. After all, we humans like numbers. And so do advertisers.
*Sorry HubSpot, but you do a really poor job of explaining your algorithm and your ranking rationale. You may have started the whole ranking thing, but you neglected to consider how advertisers can benefit from the data. Obviously, Klout has had advertisers in mind all along.
10 CommentsLEAVE A COMMENT
Dec 6, 2010
Great read Jim (per usual). I think the story here is a good one. Heck, even the story of how Klout started falls right in line with many of your themes above (that blog post is in my queue already). I think your scale of the conversation is key. Klout bridges the two story lines of people like yourself who rightly have achieved higher levels of influence because of today’s social media tools. And the agencies and brands that find themselves playing a little bit of catchup to understand this new ecosystem exerting more and more control over their bottom lines.
Dec 6, 2010
Thanks Jason. This topic fascinates me. Mostly because you’ve got brands with deep pockets *just waiting* to throw money somewhere. Klout saw this need and did something about it. Right or wrong or skewed, they’ve nailed the influence algorithm. For now.
Dec 6, 2010
Enjoyed reading your post, Jim. I’ve been wondering how great of an extent volume of “talking” on Twitter (i.e., having a high number of conversations/@replies) factors into Klout’s algorithm and scoring. I suspect it’s significant.
Dec 6, 2010
Thanks Molly. I think volume and amplification definitely play a part in it. As do follower counts. But I only have 1300 followers on Twitter and 300 on Facebook – so I reckon if there’s something to be said, it’s that if you keep your audience small and intimate, maybe more people act on your content. ??
Dec 6, 2010
JimGreat article. I think that Klout is successful from what you said above: “… so they feel like they fit in someplace.” People want to feel like they are fitting in and Klout gives them that. I can tweet 100x a day and I can be influential but am I? People retweeting an article is awesome but is that really showing that I am influence or that they are jumping on a bandwagon because a SM leader like Chris Brogan tweets it and they want to be like him?I am not a fan of the numbers we know but the way that you explain it here and the fact that Klout is growing in popularity I have to come and see the light (after banging head against the wall a few times) and see how to maximize on this. There is not an accurate number that we can assign to ourselves as analytics are not perfect, Klout is no way near perfect but people want that number, they want to see “who” you are before they consider you into their group or hire you. I do not want to be a number again but in a society where numbers matter as we are assigned them to identify us, it was the natural progression for a number in social media to define us. Define all you want, I am not playing the numbers game. Love me for me, not because I am perceived to be influential. Now for a brand who wants to send me some perks, well I will not deny them but I better get moving on building that Klout score.Always the best stuff here Jim!
Dec 6, 2010
Hi Suzanne. I’m not a numbers person either. But if they didn’t matter, Twitter would remove all mention of Followers, Following, Lists and Tweets. Twitter gets it – people like numbers. We like to define ourselves, and metrics are the easiest way to do that. But I’m with you on the perks. I haven’t been approached by any brands yet, and wonder if they consider me too dangerous (honest) to approach? I have no problem sharing brand experiences with my network. I do it all the time. But they’re not always positive. Thanks for the comment, SV.
Feb 24, 2011
I think the obsession with measuring influence is absurd and dangerous in a couple of ways: First, it discourages influential people from engaging with those less so. I fail to see how this is social media, and it seems to mitigate against the very reason a corporation would want to rent your influence in the first place. Second, it makes the flat ridiculous assumption that everyone is using social media channels in the same way, for the same reasons. That, patently, is untrue… and frankly a little self-serving for some ‘gurus’ who want to capitalize on corporate social media naivete. I have refused swag, and will if offered it again. My credibility is worth more to me than a keychain, whether it’s measurable or not.
Feb 24, 2011
I don’t disagree, Bruce. But the fact is – the data is out there. It’s why brands spend millions on television advertising even though you get up to pee during the commercials. It’s a real thing, this. Just keep up your credibility, and you’ll be fine.
Death to Foursquare | Obsessed with Conformity
Jun 8, 2012
[…] That’s about it. Because I’m in business, I’ll continue to monitor the various other social media channels that come online, and I’ll continue to let everyone else invest their time and energy into vetting them. Yes, I’m sure that there will be things that come along which eventually supplant the stuff I use now (change is inevitable), but right now this is my core. And in an attempt to cut down on my social footprint – I’m killing Foursquare. Though I can’t help but wonder how this will negatively affect my Klout score. (I’m kidding. Please, don’t even get me started on Klout.) […]
Death to Foursquare | obsessed with conformity
May 22, 2014
[…] That’s about it. Because I’m in business, I’ll continue to monitor the various other social media channels that come online – and I’ll continue to let everyone else invest their time and energy into vetting them. Yes, I’m confident that there will be things that come along which eventually supplant the stuff I use now (change is inevitable), but right now this is my core. A core that no longer includes Foursquare. Though I can’t help but wonder how this will affect my Klout score. (I’m kidding. Please, don’t even get me started on Klout.) […]
My novel – Minor King
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