Klout doubt undermines its, well, clout

October 31, 2011

CALGARY, AB, Oct. 31, 2011/Troy Media/ – As of this week I am far less influential than last week. Nine points less influential as a matter of fact. You should probably stop reading this since I won’t sway you anyhow. I now lack Klout.

Misery loves company, and I’m not the only one lacking Klout this week. Thousands were downgraded by Klout, a service that purports to measure influence on social media, due to a change in their algorithm. I went from a steady 61/100 to 52/100. The numbers are somewhat meaningless though, a bit like the old Spinal Tap joke ‘mine goes to eleven’.

As Sherilynn Macale wrote on thenextweb.com:

Quantity over quality

‘My Twitter stream this morning seemed to consist of nothing but negative reactions to the recently rolled out Klout score changes. Friends of mine . . . reported score drops as high as 20 points. Others, disturbed by the sudden score nosedive, were quick to dismiss Klout’s supposedly ‘more accurate’ scoring model.’

Accurate in what sense? As pollster Brian Singh of Zinc Research told me recently, Klout’s main flaw is it measures quantity of publishing versus quality then uses that as a proxy for influence.

‘Klout’s notion of influence values breadth of topics and nature of interaction,’ says Singh. ‘It does not capture the important dimension of quality – the quality of the network nor the quality and richness of a personal connection.’

It all comes down to what you think influence is, and whether an algorithm can capture that.

Klout seems to have mistaken the number of fans or followers and shares or retweets as being indicative of influence. But in an era when I can easily buy followers, or where a clever joke goes viral and creates retweet volume, is any of this truly indicative of influence? I’m dubious.

‘Klout values generalists over specialists,’ says Singh. ‘The algorithm can be gamed – it rates those who engage in conversations across a range of topics and industries over those who maybe be highly influential in their area of expertise. I know. My score is the same as the Calgary Herald.’

Klout user Tyler Murray put it succinctly when adding his voice to the hundreds complaining on the company’s blog:

‘Explain why Timothy Whalin, a guy who has 10k followers and is listed 1,500 times, has a lower score than most casual Facebook users . . . As an advertiser, I would much rather reach a guy like Timothy than a casual Facebook user who has high influence with his grandma.’ 

A key issue here is trust. Having a broken speedometer is better than no speedometer at all, but it does not inspire confidence.

Many have suggested increasing the transparency of the algorithm would increase trust. Google has never had to do this, instead building trust when the results make sense and fixing evident flaws that skew search results. Besides, that would involve giving away the secret sauce.

The real secret is Klout may not even be about influence.

Klout all about rewards

Ed Lee, director of social media for DDB Canada blogged ‘Klout is for advertisers; not influencers’. Lee writes: ‘If you don’t pay for the product; you are the product . . . You don’t pay for Klout but you accept the perks that its advertisers pay to give you. So, as an advertiser, do I care whether your Klout score is one or two points higher than it should be? . . . I don’t think I do and I don’t think clients do either.’

So if Klout is merely a reward points system, bring it on! I’ll take my perks in iTunes credits please. Meanwhile, as Macale writes ‘For now, social influence scoring is, at best, a trivial pseudoscience akin to horoscopes or astrology.’

Doug Lacombe is president of Calgary social media agency communicatto. He blames his drop in Klout on Mercury being in retrograde.