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.