What’s The Meaning of a Klout Score? The Pros and Cons of How Social Influence is Measured

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Almost six months ago I blogged that marketers would decide on the fate of Klout.  However, with the continued buzz about Klout scores that I hear from new and potential social media consulting clients, as well as the continued presence of its main competitor PeerIndex and the emerging metric for influence Kred, the debate over how social influence is measured continues to rage on.

In fact, as Google Trends suggests, we have had a pretty stable interest in the metric to measure social media influence for the last several months:

Klout social media influence peerindex kred

Let’s take a step back and try to understand what exactly these platforms are trying to do.  We’ve been hearing people speak about their Klout scores on social networks, but what exactly do those numbers mean, and do they really profile users accurately?

Klout is an algorithmic system that it brands itself as the “Standard for Influence”.  According to its website, it measures the influence of a person or a brand by taking into account content posted on the major social networks, which drive online trends and user action. A Klout score measures influence on a scale of 1 to 100, 100 being the highest result possible. It measures the following:

  • True Reach – the number of people that you are possibly influencing;
  • Amplification – how much you actually influence these people; and
  • Network impact – how influential the people you influence are.

Klout also shows you a list of those in your network who influence you, as well as those you influence, and the topics which you are most influential in.  It also tells you what it thinks your social network profile is: a Curator, a Broadcaster, a Taste Maker, a Celebrity, a Syndicator, a Feeder, a Thought Leader, a Pundit, a Dabbler, a Conversationalist, a Socializer, a Networker, an Observer, an Explorer, an Activist, or a Specialist.

The questions now are what can Klout possibly do for you, and is it really true that it’s the standard for social media influence?

The Pros and Cons of Klout

Just as we have varying objectives for using social media for our business, there are many different ways in which we can use Klout scores to support our social media marketing activities. For instance, if you’re an emerging brand or business looking for a way of getting a general idea of how “influential” you and your brand might be, then Klout may just be what you need to see how you might be affecting people online. Aside from gauging your influence and tracking your results, the following features may also be of use to you:

  • Recent Buzz: current topics being talked about in your network that you may want to share
  • Influential Topics: topics you are most probably influential in based on what you talk about online
  • Influencers List: list of people in your network that you influence who just might be the brand advocates you’ve been looking for

Measuring your weight online is seemingly a good idea, but many critics have bashed Klout for many different reasons, including supposedly pulling numbers out of thin air. Many also question the score’s usability and if influence can even be measured at all. Although an explanation has been posted on their blog, Klout allegedly refuses to disclose how exactly the calculation goes, and what process they go through to calculate scores. Of course, divulging the algorithm, just like making Google’s search algorithm public, could allow the system to become easily “gamed.”

Aside from these potential transparency issues, Klout has also been criticized about privacy issues, specifically about pulling in information of minors and Facebook users with accounts set to “Private” just because they commented on a public post. If this worries you and you suddenly wish to delete your account, their opt-out function is not that easily accessible and is at the bottom of, ironically, their privacy policy page, which people think to be just a little too “hidden”. CEO Joe Fernandez may have apologized for these issues, but in spite of this, there are still many who continue to delete their Klout accounts.

Final Word

Should you or shouldn’t you use Klout?  In the end, it’s up to you to decide, but should you go ahead with it, remember to take everything with a grain of salt. Any single metric will only give you a hazy idea of how you’re doing online, so it would be best to have other means of monitoring your social media metrics and use your score to complement your findings.  Klout, however, is definitely here to stay, as its recent announcement of new funding would indicate, so as brands and marketers, we have to continuously adapt with the tools that exist, and utilize the good aspects and filter out the bad that any “score” provides us.

I personally remain a user and a fan of any system, whether it be Klout, PeerIndex, or Kred, that is trying to build out a metric which could potentially have value to social media marketers. Might I suggest that the problem doesn’t lie with any one of these systems: The problem of measuring social media influence lies with either 1) users who take their Klout score too seriously or 2) companies who make decisions based purely on one metric.

What’s your final word on Klout?

Neal Schaffer
The Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Maximize Social Business, Neal Schaffer is a leader in helping businesses and professionals strategically maximize their use of social media. Neal is the author of three social media books, including the recently published definitive social media strategy book Maximize Your Social. Forbes lists him as a Top 35 Social Media Power Influencer and AdAge lists his blog, Maximize Social Business (formerly known as Windmill Networking), as a top 100 global marketing blog. Neal provides social media strategy consulting and coaching, having worked with Fortune 500 companies and a Grammy-award winning musician. He has presented worldwide on social media at more than 150 events and also teaches social media marketing at Rutgers University. +Neal Schaffer
Neal Schaffer

@nealschaffer

Author, @MaxYourSocial | Founder @msocialbusiness | Trilingual Social Media Strategy Consultant, Coach, and Speaker | 日米ソーシャルメディア専門家|G+: https://t.co/BqaJvubiP8
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Comments

  1. says

    Neal, I am also a little in 2 minds over Klout.  I have a Klout account but I haven’t really utilised it.  I think like all new people to the internet social media sphere there is a tendency to sign up to everything before you settle into the few comfortable media that you use on a daily basis.  I think as I am able to free up more time to look in more detail to improve the volume of traffic to my site and build quality links then it will become more of a requirement! Even working 24/7 doesn’t seem enough!

  2. says

    The Klout buzz has seemed to regenerated over the last month.  Probably the release of Mark Schaefer’s book, “Return of Influence” has brought Klout back to the front page, and perhaps Pinterest needed a breather. While I do agree with “take it with a grain of salt” I would suggest for those in Social Media, Marketing, etc. to pay attention to these scores a touch more.  They do have importance with brands and relative companies.  You don’t want to have a score of 37 if you’re a Social Media consultant.  Enjoy the ride.

  3. Pamela McGowan says

    Good article Neil. Thank you for sharing! I think that for anyone involved in social marketing Klout and other social influence tools are at least a starting point for trying to understand and weight the value that these social interactions/conversations have. I realize that Klout is not the end all be all however at least from what I see it is relatively accurate with certain things such as topics. Take me for example, according to Klout I am influential in Marketing, Cleveland and Running. Anyone who knows me wouldn’t argue. It will be interesting to see how this concept of social influence evolves. At least for now I am using klout at least weekly and enjoying some of their freebies too!

    Cheers,

    Pam McGowan
    @pachladis:twitter 

  4. says

    Excellent! (as always) I find Klout goes hand in hand with other means, but so far, works for me. It tells me, kinda what I already knew, but didn’t have anything solid to work with. I need to cough up more content. 

    • says

      Klout obviously invested a lot of money into its algorithm, so it has to have some level of significance – but, at the end of the day, it truly is one single metric out of many…

  5. says

    I just signed up with Klout. I admit I signed up a bit blind to it’s value, but googled information to learn more, which brought me here.  I follow you on twitter and once again you have brought clarity to what I am trying to sort out. Thanks, Elizabeth

  6. says

    The big problem is the ‘Topics’ section are not reliable. You can easily be an expert just from talking about something a lot. Context is missing and to use Klout effectively you would need to do a lot of research on individual people. Meaning I would see a Topic someone ranks as an infuencor and have to actually read their twitter stream to see if this is true, read their blog if they have one, and maybe interview them. That is a lot of freaking work.

    The problem with online influence is that it is online. For most businesses off line action is the most important resulting activity. So for a media or content company or a blogger readers on line are important. But everyone else Klout misses off line infuence. And 99.5% of our communication is private or offline.

    In the late 1990’s Henry Blodgett was promoting Stocks to buy publicly and online. But offline/private he was ridiculing these companies that had no business going IPO. So in hindsight Klout would have you buying Henry’s buy ratings. Brands beware. I tell clients trust no one with a Klout score over 50. It means they live too much online vs the real world.

    • says

      You’re absolutely right Howie. But, without Klout, you’d have to do more work! No system is perfect, but, like I said, it is one metric which might be of help in certain situations.

  7. says

    Excellent post, Neal. You really dissected Klout very well.  I agree with you that an online influence measuring tool is needed by marketers and consumers alike.  Although it clearly has limitations, I think that Klout is doing a decent job of filtering relevant metrics into a simple system that makes some sense.

  8. says

    Obviously I’m interested in this subject since I studied it for a year and wrote a book about it! (Return On Influence).  I determined that Klout does measure SOMETHING, and increasingly well — our ability to move content online that creates a reaction in others. It is a small thing, but important. In fact, where would you and I be without an ability to do this?  For my career, it may end up being a very important measure. I would encourage your readers to keep cutting through the drama and emotion surrounding this idea of being rated to discover an important marketing trend that will not go away any time soon.

    • says

      Hey Cuz,

      Thanks for stopping by – I’m honored!

      Yes, you are definitely the one who wrote the book on the subject – so thank you for chiming in. Yes, Klout is spending a lot of money developing an algorithm – and while no algorithm that measures human activity can be perfect – it definitely means something.

      I also agree that Klout (or the others) aren’t going away either – and that we should rise above the emotionalism. That’s why I recommend _everyone_ to at least have a Klout account – and I still think that those who don’t have one are only at a disadvantage…

      Thanks again Mark!

  9. Chuck Blakeman says

    I have to disagree with “I suggest that the problem doesn’t lie with any one of these systems.” 

    The problem lies exactly with these systems – they can’t and don’t actually measure influence.  The best example – Klout does NOT take into account blogs which are written on proprietary platforms.  You can throw up a blog on a generic platform like WordPress and get “Klout” for it, but a very expensive and proprietary blog platform will not show up.  Who do you think builds such proprietary platforms? Exactly – those with the most social media influence.

    Until Klout can figure out how to measure the most serious influencers in social media and their proprietary platforms, Klout will simply be measuring the “best of the rest” and leaving the highest influencers out of the picture.  That’s not how you build a system to measure influence.

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