5 Primary Problems with Klout

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Update: Klout CEO Joe Fernandez commented below and has asked to set up time on Tuesday morning at 11 a.m. EST to chat. Kudos to Mr. Fernandez for a great and prompt response.

As Klout gains steam online, the market needs to examine the platform’s actual merits, instead of buying its marketing program. Ace Blogger Conversation Agent Valeria Maltoni has decided to up the ante on her blog and rightly so.

This week, the DC Klout-up was an interesting get together of local digerati, but lacked any program or substance, and instead relied on free Pop Chips. What was hyped as Klout coming to DC turned into nothing more than a tweet-up. And this empty feeling, matches much of Klout’s actual delivery on influence measurement.

Here are five problems that have arisen with Klout:

1) It lacks qualitative analysis, and instead is an algorithm based formula that doesn’t accurately measure relationships and their ability to sway particular communities of interest. Anyone who has done a content scan online for influencers and has to manually qualify those posts and interactions will affirm that the devil is always in the details.

2) Speaking of details, from a qualitative perspective, it’s a broken algorithm that doesn’t work. So many people are supposedly influenced by people they barely mention. See Klout versus reality. Further, even with Facebook integration, Klout is still too Twitter centric.

3) The problem with Klout’s use by business lies in what makes it popular. The first of these is as friend Susan Murphy so well pointed out, it tells people what they want to hear. They are an influencer, they matter, providing outside affirmation for inside needs. We all want to be important, but marketing self esteem to people to prop a platform doesn’t necessarily match reality, per items one and two. Worse, it seems predatory to some extent.

4) The marketing of Klout is extremely questionable. In addition to people touting their esteemable rankings, the primary marketing revolves around buying people with Perks, plane tickets and tweet-ups/parties. What this fails to do is demonstrate that the influence metrics actually work. Instead, a dot com like bubble is being built around hype and Perks.

5) Criticism has not been met with substance. Whether it’s critiques of parties held by PR representatives or more importantly, criticism of its platform, the response from Klout has been returned comments (and very polite ones, to Klout’s credit), increased scores, Perks, or in the worst cases, affliliated influencer’s cries of self righteousness.

Klout definitely wants to be the primary influence measure in the marketplace. And as such, it has an opportunity to really hold that position. Its marketing has helped it achieve that place, right or wrong.

But this marketing will hit a wall in the very near future as more people look at the actual platform. For every person that touts Klout, there are three questioning it. That was a big takeaway from the DC Klout-up.

To actually cement its place, Klout will have to stop dodging criticism, and focus on brass tacks. Klout needs to resolve issues around its actual product so that it meets the promise it offers the marketplace. That includes positioning itself as a qualitative measure, and resolving issues with its algorithm.

Openly discussing and achieving a strong product development road map would be a great start. Klout also may want to consider tightening the ethics around its marketing practices, add some more meat to the marketing which supports the actual platform, and affiliate with spokespeople that have less of a personal branding axe to tout. This combination could provide the grand slam Klout seems to want.

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  • http://www.mediahound.biz @Edw3rd

    This is the problem with all the social media “reputation” meters that keep popping up, month after month, year after year. Bored developers with limited market research knowledge or experience create a scoring algorithm using open but limited API’s, as though the math behind the problem is easy and the data underlying the record as relevant. This is as disturbing as affiliate marketers and search/directory sales people that sell their services as “advertising”. Buyers beware.

    • http://geofflivingston.com Geoff Livingston

      I think Klout is sincere in wanting to develop a meaningful algorithm. It’s a hard question. Can an algorithm work? Quantitatively, yes. Qualitatively, never.

  • http://www.klout.com Joe Fernandez

    Hey Geoff,

    I am one of the founders and the ceo here at Klout. I think I read you were at the DC event. Sorry I couldn’t make it and meet in person. I would love the opportunity to chat sometime. I think you have great feedback and there is no intention here of dodging criticism or not having open discussion.

    Looking forward to it.

    Thanks!
    Joe

    • http://geofflivingston.com Geoff Livingston

      Sounds good, Joe. I appreciate you reaching out to me here, and I will email you directly to set up some time to chat.

  • http://www.staceyhood.com Stacey Hood

    Geoff,

    As the discussion has been growing on this “Klout”, I agree that their staff is going to have to start answering the hard questions about the algorithms and how they arrive at who is an “influencer” or an “explorer.” I checked mine and it stated that I influence people who I rarely have, if any, interaction with on Twitter. I know for a fact that they are not RT’ing my tweets. So there is a break-down question.

    As Valeria over on Conversation Agents mentioned, there are too many variables in Klout. The biggest one for me is the human variable. She stated, to which is a HUGE part of all of this, that our identity is molded by our background, heritage, culture and the like. But more times than not, this is often overlooked.

    Boil it down even further, all things do not work for all people. This is (insert marketing, common sense, whatever, here)101.

    • http://geofflivingston.com Geoff Livingston

      Yup, there are issues, no doubt. But there are issues with competitors, too, so it may be best of class in an emerging field. Now what do you do to boost that algorithm to really rock it? That’s a tough question that we arm chair pundits need to provide answers, too, as well.

  • Lewis Green

    Geoff,

    Although I am retired from the Marketing field, allow me to make two points:

    1. I am and remain skeptical of ratings, for the most part, and believe they are easily manipulated by those with monies to invest on increasing their standing.
    2. That said, I am impressed with Joe Fernandez’s comment and willingness to receive feedback. That’s a positive indicator of a CEO who wants to get it right.

    • http://geofflivingston.com Geoff Livingston

      Hey Lewis! You and I have seen a few of these, for sure. Mr. Fernandez and I will talk next week, and yes, it is impressive that he is commenting. I think it speaks volumes.

  • http://flashfree.wordpress.com Liz Scherer

    Key question Geoff: “what do you do to boost that algorithm to really rock it?” From what I have read, the algorithm is faulty to begin with. So I would like to understand the science, or lack thereof, that is defining the klouts versus the kloutless and how that can change to incorporate real data and analysis.

    • http://geofflivingston.com Geoff Livingston

      That’s a great question, Liz. And its one that Technorati faced, and sought to improve upon with timeliness. Capturing up to date influence in the moment. Unfortunately, by the time they did it, Technorati lost a lot of trust equity in the marketplace. That’s one aspect of the formula for sure. I am pondering the rest. It does come down to open APIs and how much you can pull… Blog influence is important, etc.

  • http://thoughtwrestling.com/blog Mark Dykeman

    There’s an almost irresistible urge to poke holes in a product like Klout, no matter how good it is, because the company promotes the product as “the standard for influence”. They purposefully set the bar high and thus they become a target.

    On one hand, it’s still early days for this kind of influence measurement. The study of influence and the related social sciences body of knowledge is not perfect or complete by any means, although Cialdini’s books and his six factors are given a lot of respect in some marketing circles. However, it’s hard to think that in maybe 1 – 2 years of putting a product out in the marketplace that Klout has all the answers for something that people have been studying for decades.

    Then there’s the signals that Klout’s application measures and interprets. Twitter is a generic, multipurpose platform that isn’t optimized for storing data in a structured format – it’s just text, so there’s a fair amount of interpretation involved. One of the few variables that can be measured at all, the RT, is not a perfect, uniform thing by any means. I’m going to assume that the Klout application is advanced enough to read through all possible text variations (plus Twitter’s own RT feature) and accurately detect them all. That’s good.

    But RT behavior isn’t an accurate predictor of consumer behavior! For one thing, a lot of RTs are automated. I don’t know how exactly it’s done, but you can definitely see the signs of automated Tweets on RTs for many blog posts when a blogger has a decent following. To my mind, some of that has to be false because EVERY SINGLE PIECE OF CONTENT gets reTweeted by these accounts.

    Sorry, but no writer/publisher bats 1.000. Over time some duds will appear. You will see a reduction in more organic ReTweets (i.e. done at the spur of the moment, which to me is the real gold that measures the power and reach of an influencer) for less valuable content, but that automated layer will remain. And who really knows all of the motivations for the automated RTs?

    Here’s another minor quibble: the @mashable Twitter account (ostensibly and originally Pete Cashmore’s personal Twitter account) has a huge Klout score. To my mind, the RTs are driving that, although I’d be willing to believe that other factors are in play. But what does the massive number of RTs really mean? What percentage of RTs are translating into people reading Mashable’s posts? Then, what percentage of those posts are translating into reader action?

    Also, do people really share enough, complete information to analyze with sufficient accuracy and depth?

    Klout can only measure what it can measure. I’m picking on a couple of specific things, but I’m sure there are plenty more questions out there that should be answered.

    None of this is news to people who watch social media carefully, I’m sure.

    Having said all that, I certainly don’t blame Klout for creating a product and setting a BHAG – that’s what great organizations do. I think that it’s important to mind that if Klout is the “standard for influence”, there’s still a long way to go to get the standard up to a usable, credible level. And any company would have a hard job to get there, so this isn’t a criticism of Klout itself, except that you have to interpret their tagline with some critical thought.

    In summary, Geoff, your primary problems are the kinds of things that can hopefully be addressed over time…

    if we assume, of course, that something like Klout is a good thing in the first place.

    • Lewis Green

      Mark, you are right on target regarding BHAG. Great companies and companies who want to be great set BHAGs. That is to be admired.

    • http://geofflivingston.com Geoff Livingston

      “if Klout is the “standard for influence”, there’s still a long way to go to get the standard up to a usable, credible level.” Enough said. And you are right, the challenge is significant.

  • http://econsultancy.com Matt Owen

    Hi Geoff, good post here -I’m glad to see there is a bit of buzz surrounding this subject at the moment. It’s particularly troubling that several businesses are using Klout scores as a basis for rewards, and even seeing it as a key deliverable for their social media strategy.
    I carried out a short experiment recently and discovered that currently Klout is extremely easy to fake (I’ve posted about it on the Econsultancy blog if you’re interested:http://ecly.co/ecSWt9 ).
    Businesses need to realise that while it is important to target those with influence, it needs to be contectually relevant to provide any value. Nice to read a post breaking down some of the problems so clearly. I do feel that Klout have the basis of a decent product, but there’s a lot of work to be done with the algorythms before it becomes meaningful.

    best,

    Matt

    • http://geofflivingston.com Geoff Livingston

      Matt:

      You nailed the real issue. Klout’s success is the problem. With real businesses using the solution, we have to have a more critical eye of the algorithm. Can we recommend it to clients, why, why not? Are the weights worthy of a numeric badge on someone’s online worth? Serious questions…

  • http://www.klout.com Megan Berry

    Hey Geoff,

    Nice meeting you at the DC event. Appreciate hearing your feedback on Klout in person and at the event. As I said there, one of the reasons we throw those events is to get to know the people using Klout and to hear their feedback in person. We really are listening and our goal is not to bribe you into changing your mind but to listen to what you have to say.

    Thanks,
    Megan Berry
    Marketing Manager, Klout
    @meganberry

    • http://geofflivingston.com Geoff Livingston

      Hi Megan. I remember seeing you at the event, but I’m not sure we talked. If so, please forgive me, I am a bit bleary of mind these days… 7 week old baby. Yeah.

      I believe that, and I look forward to a good conversation with Klout about serving the industry with a productive influence metric. Best wishes.

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  • John Archer

     I don’t even look at my Klout score anymore. It isn’t relevant to what I do. It doesn’t take into account the FB groups that I’m a member of and it doesn’t take into account the activity on my personal blog.

    It appears that Klout is quite biased to Twitter activity, which for me has become a waste of time. There is no quality on Twitter – it’s all about quantity and I’m not into quantity. I take a more longer term view of my online social activity. I try to build long term relationships. It appears to me this in not the mandate of Klout.

    When my blog and FB group acitivity is humming, my Klout score goes down, presumably because I’m ignoring Twitter.So – Klout doesn’t represent me at all.

    . . ./John Archer

    http://johnarcher11.wordpress.com/

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