Brands Beware: My Klout Score is a Farce

A lot has been made of Klout scores lately.  (update: good read from on how to fix Klout by Mark Krynsky, a funny Klout rant by Michael Sean Wright) Brands wanting to get positive word of mouth on Twitter are using the score to ID influencers that can help build buzz by sharing their experiences with their audience. Disney, Virgin America and Fox Television are just some of the brands that have tapped Klout as part of getting buzz online. The Palms Casino announced the formation of the “Klout Klub” which will use Klout to determine the type of treatment and upgrades you receive based on the amount of influence measured by the service. But brands need to be careful using Klout, because, most Klout scores are a farce.

Klout only measures the “influence” of the individual on Twitter and Facebook, and doesn’t, by definition, take into consideration the individuals true influence. Not only that, but the algorithms used by Klout to measure influence on those networks seem questionable at best. Klout scores are primarily a vanity metric, and their relevance, is at best, directional. But they definitely don’t tell the whole story, and brands that use them to deal with online influencers can find themselves blowing off people with extreme influence that just don’t calculate on the high end Klout influence score.

The problem is not that Klout is inaccurate. It’s not even that their tagline is misleading, “The Standard of Influence.” They’re a new web service after all, trying to tackle a near-impossible task of ranking every user on the social web as it relates to influence. The problem is the lack of sophistication that brands have when it comes to understanding the complex nature of influence online and connections across these networks. Klout being inaccurate is just like any other stat being inaccurate. It’s fine, until you start making business decisions based on flawed data. A brand who stakes building their reputation on Twitter using Klout as their guide is making a grave error. They’re paying attention to bad data, which can be more dangerous than no data at all.

As brands wade into the social web and look to influence conversations to the positive benefit of their business they must realize that there isn’t a tool or service that can actually do the heavy lifting for them. They need to participate, observe and (wait for it) listen to the conversations that are impacting their business. Only then can they be confident that they are reaching the true influencers that are relevant to their business.

To demonstrate the point, here are 11 people that have loads of online influence, and even tons of influence on Twitter, should they choose to use it, that have lower Klout scores than me. I’ve got a 63 as of the time of this writing. These folks all use Twitter frequently regularly, so the idea that use=influence, while flawed to the core, is even inaccurate in these cases.

On this list we have CEOs, well-known and respected authors and reporters, the founder of the largest social media organization on the planet, and the guy that started this whole social Web thing with The Cluetrain Manifesto.

Doc Searls – Klout 56 | Doc Searls’ blog

Co-Author of “The Cluetrain Manifesto”, founder of VRM, Fellow at Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard, much, much more.

Doc Searls Klout score

Tim Street – Klout 56 | Tim Street’s Site

Tim’s founded one of the most influential online TV series with French Maid TV, and is the leading voice in online video and content creation.

Sarah Lacy – Klout 58 | Sarah Lacy’s blog

The author of two books, with writing and video credits including BusinessWeek, TechCrunch, Yahoo! and more.

Brett Bullington – Klout 46 | Brett Bullington’s LinkedIn profile

Respected investor, including board seats on Digg, Oodle, Next New Networks and more. Investor in Flickr.

Kristie Wells – Klout 56 | Social Media Club

Founder of Social Media Club, the world’s largest organization of social media professionals with more than 200,000 members.

Stephanie Agresta – Klout 49 | Stephanie Agresta’s Blog

EVP of Social Media at Weber Shandwick, and founder of TechSet, the popular event organizer at premiere social media events.

Ryan Holmes – Klout 49 | HootSuite.com

CEO of HootSuite, one of the leading social media dashboards.

Cathy Brooks – Klout 55 | Cathy Brooks’ Twitter Stream

Well-respected thought leader about the impact of the social web on business.

Bryan Elliott – Klout 50 | LinkedOC

Founder of Action Sports Network and LinkedOC networking groups with nearly 10,000 members. Hosts influential thought leaders in the OC with his popular events.

Mark “Rizzn”Hopkins - Klout 56| SiliconANGLE

Editor in Chief at SiliconAngle. Former writer for Mashable.

Laurie Percival - Klout 48 | Lalawag

Founder of Lalawag, influential Los Angeles tech scene blog.

Me

If the Palms or any other brand decided to ignore these people while paying attention to me (or treating them differently than me,) they’d be doing a huge disservice to their business.  It’s up to the strategists that are working with these companies to inform the business owners of the inaccuracy of the data, the value that they can place in it and the work they need to do to ensure that they’re reaching the people that really matter to their business – regardless of the score assigned to them by Klout.

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25 thoughts on “Brands Beware: My Klout Score is a Farce

  1. Hey Morgan,

    I am one of the cofounders and the ceo at Klout. In general I agree that the overall Klout score is meant to be just one factor when making incentive decisions around marketing. We actually have a bunch of other data (like topic specific scores) that are also helpful data points.

    In terms of how your score compares to other influencers, I see what you are saying but the Klout score is meant to be a dynamic representation of your online influence. This means that the score will ebb and flow with your activity level and the engagement of your network around the content you are creating. Over the last couple weeks your score has risen greatly while someone like @sarahcuda’s has dropped. On the site right now we are only showing the last 30 days but the fact that your score is higher than hers right now might just be a blip on the radar.

    We are constantly iterating on our algorithm and will dig into these accounts and see what else other data points we should be considering. Appreciate your feedback and happy to chat anytime.

    Thanks!

    • Morgan Brown says:

      Thanks for stopping by Joe, I really appreciate it. And, I do want to go on record saying that I hope that you guys succeed in your mission; because as a marketer myself it would make life easier to have an objective measure of influence online. To address a couple of your points:

      My Klout may have risen significantly, but is my influence ever greater than Sarah Lacy’s at any point between when you launched and now? I’d argue no. Same with Doc Searls. Same with the folks on the list. Regardless of my activity, I just can’t justify that I somehow have more influence than those individuals. Regardless of how much activity I currently have on Twitter/Facebook.

      I originally started researching this post when my Klout was 49, then 58 then 63. So while I’m on the up and up I still can’t say that there is a justification for rating me higher than Doc Searls until I write a seminal piece on the future of the Web :)

      I guess my point is that just because someone like Doc isn’t leveraging Twitter at the moment doesn’t mean that he is unable to light it on fire. Trust me, the folks on this list can, have and will if needed. I’m sure you know that.

      I know you guys are constantly tweaking the algirithm and I appreciate what you’re trying to do. It’s just that brand marketers need to understand what they’re looking at, and not make decisions wholesale based on one data point alone.

      I appreciate you taking part of your Sunday to comment and best of luck to your team documenting the influence on the social web.

  2. Ross Teasley says:

    another great post, morgan. i’d hate for your point to be swamped by an overly technical discussion of the algorithms in Klout, however. that would be, of course, a valuable discussion to have and i’m impressed that @JoeFernandez is jumping right into an open discussion. kudos, joe.

    on the other hand, what you’ve helped bring into focus for me is: while some of the marketing professionals in this world need tools that help us identify “influencers” in any market segment, the brands themselves do not… brand employees who are responsible for delivering a brand’s experience have no business trying to label one customer as more “valuable” because of their influence than any other random customer. none. the blogosphere is brimming over with tales of woe to support that.

    but, the concept of putting computers to work evaluating on-line activity in order to measure “influence” is irresistible to the computer/math geeks among us, and the venture capital world. it’s a cool and valuable endeavor. but i think the marketing profession wants services like Klout to provide some cover for social media spending… which shows a lack of leadership, imo, and is a measure of just how much growth there is in social media marketing. too many execs are still suffering PTSD from the dot-com bubble bursting… trying desperately not to be “suckered in” by new internet snake oil (read: social networks). and, maybe, projects like Klout are the lucky recipients of some extra, unearned interest because of that fear.

    that’s my 2 cents for today… thanks again for priming the conversation.

    • Morgan Brown says:

      Oh wow, Ross. So much to explore here. I agree that tools for marketers to identify their biggest net promoters are valuable but still too nascent to do the job themselves. I also agree that brand employees, like customer service reps, the door guys, the waiter, the front desk person, etc. should treat everyone exceedingly well. I do think that having everyone treated equally is a bit utopian. Things like loyalty cards, mayorships, etc. are designed to ID your best customers so you can treat them accordingly, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

      Lot’s to chew on here though – I feel another post coming. Thanks for the mental fodder :)

  3. CarolinaMama says:

    Morgan I read this from Erika’s FB. I have to say I am happy you wrote this. I noticed on my Klout score, it said I influence and am influenced with people I mostly tweeted 2 years ago (pre social media explosion for me) and not so much any more. So again, not current or accurate. And I also do not have an all day twitter presence or FB. My work and personal life do not allow it.

    I am banking on quality and consistent time that I do have. Sounds good?!

    • Morgan Brown says:

      Thanks – I’m glad you enjoyed it! And I agree – quality and consistent time with real people. That sounds like real influence to me. Better than any number, but good to hear yours is on the up and up! ;)

  4. CarolinaMama says:

    PS Just checked after reading Joe’s comments. My Klout just went from 38 to 52! :) And it still has a few folks I have tweeted lots two years ago… Maybe a blip. thanks guys!

  5. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the post Morgan, I’ve been watching Klout with a lot of interest but haven’t understood it yet either. I have felt skeptical the same way about HubSpot’s Twitter Grader and other products that use math to determine the strength of influence and relationships. Match compatibilities, keywords etc is not the issue–any robot can do that. With all the inaccuracies these platforms could point people or brands seeking influencer’s in the right direction or cause them to miss the them completely. Ultimately, there are still too many human elements and emotions involved for an algorithm to figure out. Whew, real people still matter!

    • Morgan Brown says:

      I agree with you Bryan. The measurement analytics are too rudimentary at the moment to accurately grasp someone’s clout/influence. Just because I’ve been using Twitter more than someone else doesn’t equate to more influence, it equates to more noise.

      And amen to your closing thought – real people still matter! Thanks for the comment.

  6. Hi Morgan,

    I’ve been struggling with the same issue. Not just around Klout, but how people treat social media channels in general. I had an interesting discussion with Michelle Manafy on this topic, as she’s the editor of EContent magazine and has influence in a particular area. Yet, she still wants to get her Klout score up.

    You can find the conversation here: http://itsfreshground.com/2010/11/michelle-manafy-on-clout-vs-klout-fresh-ground-24/

  7. startabuzz says:

    Amen and HALLELUJAH, Morgan. Thank you!! I, too, hope that @Klout succeeds in what they’re trying to do, but at present, it’s flawed at best. On Friday, my Klout score was 72 and I was a “celebrity” (still laughing about THAT). Today, after taking a break to spend time with friends over the weekend, I’m now listed as an “explorer” or a casual user of the social web, trying to make it work. The notion that my influence is greater than ANYONE on your list is patently silly.

    On a broader scale, I think that effectively measuring influence is EXCEEDINGLY difficult. What and who is influential to me may be vastly different than who & what is influential to you. I find @Klout very interesting, but I’m unsure of its real-world usefulness.

    • Morgan Brown says:

      Thanks so much for the comments and validation of what I’m seeing/feeling. I think you’re right. The idea of influence is so nebulous and specific that putting a generic number to it seems inadequate. While I think the problem is interesting I think it’s dangerous territory for both brands who use it as gospel, and companies that are trying to measure it, like Klout and their tagline “The Standard of Influence), to think of it as the definitive measurement of who to pay attention to.

      Thanks for the comment!

  8. [...] has also been concern about how the measurement will be used. From the accuracy of Klout scores via Morgan Brown who wrote about his Klout score being a farce, to Charity Hisle of 2witterbug who wrote [...]

  9. Valid points Morgan!Truth of the matter is, Klout (badly) measures Twitter activity alone – they measure Facebook stuff since a few weeksIn http://www.martijnlinssen.com/2010/11/why-i-think-klout-is-krap.html I show how Klout is doing a half-hearted job at even that – their Chief Product Officer read it but didn’t comment…Fact is, nobody really seems to care about it all. Klout appears to be the standard for influence thanks to their excellent marketing techniques, and I wonder what’s going to change that. Solid arguments like yours, and mine, aren’t, it seems, for now.Almost all people who get a Klout score higher than what they think it would be are simply happy, and will fight for the klout cause – handing out attention, recognition and appreciation surely makes you liked and loved…

  10. [...] Brands Beware: My Klout Score is a Farce The title says it all in this one. “A brand who stakes building their reputation on Twitter using Klout as their guide is making a grave error. They’re paying attention to bad data, which can be more dangerous than no data at all.” [...]

  11. Kimmie Chann says:

    Great post Morgan I couldn’t agree more…brands should definitely do more research before deciding to base their incentives completely on one measurement platform alone. This is not just about Klout but other measurement tools as well. Businesses shouldn’t rely on a just a score. Brands should find their target audience first then approach the influencers who most interact with that audience. Glad you shared this with us!!

  12. Anonymous says:

    Well, a score of ~50 is nothing to sneeze at. I doubt the Palms would ignore such a significant score.

    Cheers.

  13. I think Klout is a great Twitter tool and it should be considered as such, just a tool. A tool which I’m sure will improve over time ;-)

  14. nealschaffer says:

    Excellent post, Morgan, and very timely because it seems the world is abuzz with talk about Klout. A Klout score is just a score, and nothing else. It is one indicator of many regarding any given person’s online status, but if social media marketers are using this one score as their basis to target “influencers,” they are truly painting a digital picture of an extremely analog world of people like you and me.

    I had a chance to meet Joe at BlogWorld and I am also a fan of the mission of Klout. He’s a great, sincere guy running a great company. And it definitely would make life for all of us marketers a lot easier if the number was more “accurate,” but unfortunately it will never be accurate but only one guide amongst others that we can decide to use or not.

    On the other hand, this raises a whole new issue as to whether people who are active in social media or “influencers” should receive any special treatment at all…but I will leave that for another blog post… ;-)

    By the way, good to see you blogging more and looking forward to your future posts! Your enthusiasm for social media is infectious!

  15. Jim Mitchem says:

    Dude, you just garnered a ton of traffic and comments on your blog. That’s online influence. It’s so much different than traditional influence. Not that I’m justifying, my Klout score is a 73 (which is ridiculous) but I definitely have more influence online than I did when there were only traditional channels. First of all, I’m a writer. The online world was invented for us. Add to that that I’m a copywriter trained in the art of communicating with impact (see emotion) in really short bursts – and it’s clear that microblogging was a gift to copywriters. Any copywriter willing to put in the effort and make the emotional investment necessary to effectively engage hundreds or thousands of humans in this medium will do well in any kind of influence ranking.

    I dunno, online is just different somehow. Great post. Intriguing topic. Humans like to rank.

  16. [...] been some buzz lately (here and here and here are three of the many recent examples) about the twitter influence measuring [...]

  17. Agreed!

    When I first learned of Klout, I’d only been on Twitter for about three months (and off Facebook, actively, for about two). So my score of 19 was neither surprising nor disappointing. It climbed a few points and then, when Klout began updating scores daily, took a leap into the 40s.

    Recently it broke 50, then went to 56 for a while, then 57… I was offline for two days at Christmas and it jumped to 58. One day back and it sunk to 57 again. Same thing when I went dark for three days around New Year. (Apparently Klout thinks I’m more influential when I keep my trap shut.)

    So here I am with almost five months on Twitter and my Klout score is higher than the founder of HootSuite. (Difference: he invented it; I spend too much time using it.) My Klout score is equal to or higher than three of the four members of Klout’s executive management team shown on their website (http://klout.com/about)–the only exception is Joe Fernandez, but I bet if I took a fortnight off Twitter I could beat him.

    I love using myself as a guinea pig to test things, especially in the online world. From my own experience with my Klout score, I can tell you it’s just plain wrong. Fun to play with, but not a true measure of influence.

  18. Quora says:

    What determines Influence? Klout score, fan numbers?…

    The problem with “influence” measurement tools is that they measure “activity” and mistake it for “influence.” There is more than one type of influence: active influence, where you are influential because you’re prominent on the service or among…

  19. [...] referring to its many inaccuracies, although you can read about those here, here, here, here, and here.  I’m saying that your Klout score, framed ever so beautifully in a font I personally love, [...]

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