Coping with the Klout Reality

Lost
Image by cintamamat

Marketers and individuals will have to deal with social scoring in the form of Klout and its sister technologies.

As time progresses, technologies and alliances evolve. I haven’t written about Klout outside of general discussions on social scoring for a good long while.

There wasn’t much to say. I agreed in principal with many of my colleagues and their continuing coverage about the broken nature of influence metrics.

But I had a second reason: As a professional communicator, it’s become increasingly clear that we won’t escape Klout, Kred and PeerIndex.

The business marketplace cannot help itself. It will chase quick fixes to community building, recruitment and measuring individual online capabilities, making social scoring an obvious play. I have three reasons for coming to this conclusion.

1) Klout Integration into Bing

Bing & Klout

The integration of Bing and Klout cemented my feelings about the inevitable future of social scoring.

It’s not the first major integration of Klout, but search has always been the underpinning of the web, the place people go when they want to find something.

Bing is not Google, but it’s no slouch either. In fact, Bing steadily gains on Google, making it an important play for optimization. Suddenly, one of the best ways to make yourself found on Bing is to have a good Klout score.

The search optimization implications for this change are so far reaching that we cannot begin to understand how it will impact online social behavior. If you thought black hat SEO was bad, imagine hearing your search firm tell you to boost your Klout score.

How soon until Google incorporates Kred, Peer Index or another form of social scoring to compete?

Do they even need to? Consider how Penguin and other Google algorithm changes have made social signals critical to page rank.

2) Klout Works as an Ad Property

Artexpo Sponsor Pop Chips
Image by Artexpo: Popchips ran an ad campaign on Klout.

Secondly, I had a client who deployed an ad campaign using Klout Perks recently (I found out after the campaign was in play). The client said the campaign went really well and exceeded expectations, and that they would use it again.

This latter example is the true danger of Klout.

Whether or not it determines real influence, it does attract a fair amount of the social marketplace, people who want to be perceived as influencers. And they use Klout +1, Perks, and other tools.

These very same people can create quite a splash online, albeit if only in the sense that they can create twitter or other update impressions.

Companies will continue to advertise and support Klout because it works as an ad medium. And furthering this trend, with more dollars and perks the so-called influencer has additional incentive to return to Klout (or Kred or Peer Index).

It’s a self fulfilling cycle.

3) Return on Influence

Mark Schaefer - Future of Information Panel
Image by StoryW

Mark Schaeffer clearly believes in the Klout definition of influence, as depicted in his book, Return on Influence.

I don’t, preferring a school of influence theory called network science. That’s why I won’t publicly recommend Return on Influence, but I refuse to slam it as incorrect or wrong either.

Why?

Because the core theories on becoming a Klout influencer in Schaeffer’s book are actually based off of Dr. Robert Cialdini’s research on how individual sales people make themselves more influential and close deals.

Guess what, folks? Cialdini’s work is well-grounded in years of research.

Further, these sales influence theories date back to Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People and continue today with sales thought leaders like Jeffrey Gitomer.

I’m not saying these techniques are right, wrong, genuine, manipulative, etc. I will say my sales training was a Dale Carnegie course, that I was my class’s sales talk champion beating out big guns from Fortune 500 companies, and I have closed my fair share of deals since then. So I’ll vouch for these theories.

If someone wants to manufacture attention to garner the perception of influence online, Schaeffer’s blueprint — grounded in Cialdini’s research — will likely work. And many people have bought this book, and are following its recommendations.

The cat’s out of the box. Welcome to the world of attention-driven “influencers.”

What Can Be Done?

It’s important to talk about social scoring and its weaknesses on blogs and online conversations.

Further, whenever we have an opportunity to advise clients, colleagues and companies about social scoring and online communities, we need to advise them of social scoring weaknesses pertaining to decisions and actions within communities.

To me, I see these types of media as somewhat to very harmful because they value someone’s worth. The ethical considerations of assigning a number to someone’s social worth are significant. Additional problems stem from conditioning people to become influencers.

Accepting that Klout and other social scoring tools are here to stay, we have to find ways to cope with this unfortunate reality. Specifically, where do we draw the line?

We now have people who can’t qualify for a job because their Klout score is too low. What’s next, renting in certain neighborhoods? The ability to reproduce based on Klout score? Or worse?

Small wrongs have the potential to become big ones very quickly.

Do you think social scoring is a fad or a permanent part of our online culture?

  • I think you’re spot-on when saying the business marketplace cannot help itself. We’ve all heard “if it can’t be measured, it doesn’t get done” enough to know that corporations live and die by metrics and social scoring helps fill a void. Therefore, I agree, as unreliable as it may be and despite the slippery slope it puts us on, social scoring is here to stay.

    • Slippery slope is a correct assessment in my opinion. Social scoring for me has undertones of political influence which greatly has an impact on access and/or disenfranchisement. Based on if (and how) you and/or neighborhood, zip code, area, city, district, county, etc. vote determines what (if any) political reach you have.

    • geofflivingston

      Logic loses again.

  • I sure hope we, as a society are smart enough not to overtrust social scoring…we’ve got to be.

    • geofflivingston

      It appears we aren’t, at least major companies like Salesforce and Microsoft aren’t. And that’s a damn shame.

    • geofflivingston

      Well, I guess we are going to disagree since I use the dictionary definition of influence, and I don’t intend to moralize about manipulation. Perhaps you can have that conversation with every sales person across the world.
      I am also very interested in hearing what “real influence” is, or really what your opinion is, since that what you are really offering..

  • Here’s the problem I see with Klout, Kred and any other 3rd party social ranking tool – they are divorced from the things they measure. Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Google and other tools (none of which are owned by Microsoft) each measure their own data internally. 3rd party tools will always be fundamentally flawed because they cannot access social network data at the root level. Always a step behind, sometimes a few…

    • geofflivingston

      LOL, good point, I’m not really sure if I can add anything to this.

  • TheTysonReport

    Interesting post Geoff. Social scoring is not a fad, it is very much the shape of things to come in my view.

    And it isn’t confined to Klout et al – Google’s emerging ‘author rank’ is another very good example of the way things are moving.

    Better get used to it people!

    • geofflivingston

      Yes, and the whole LinkedIn endorsements is another form of this, much less the obvious competitors Kred, Klout and all the PR software tools, too. It’s very much a growing trend.

  • My main beef with Klout is well documented — the +K system (or +Kred, or vouches, or smoke signals, etc.) is inherently flawed and should be removed from the system entirely or at least restructured so it can be anonymous.

    Any network that bases any part of its scoring algorithm on virtual high-fiving needs to re-evaluate its core mission ASAP. I understand the desire to gamify in order to grow the userbase, but creating a way for those users to dismantle all trust built in the system is severely short-sighted, IMO.

    Is social scoring inevitable? Yes. Does it mean that social companies should ignore their customers unless they have a target score? No. And that’s probably the one takeaway I wish people would get out of these discussions.

    • geofflivingston

      I wish we were so lucky. You know that we aren’t, that prioritization and white glove service will occur. I really wish scoring didn’t exist, in general. Empire Avenue is the worst of the lot.

  • Social hierarchy has always existed. The thing is it used to be widely based on money and physical attractiveness, which was obviously not a good thing.
    Today, influence scoring seems to be emerging as the third core criterion… which indeed comes with two main problems : it’s flawed & it can be gamed.Now I seriously wonder which is worse. Is it better to live in a society ruled by arbitrary criteria you can do nothing about, or by one you have a semblance of control over?
    Part of the solution would be to make sure we’re judged by much more objective traits, such as reliablity, kindness or skills (some of which I believe Klout & Co are desperately trying to capture & reflect, btw). Easier said than done, sadly…
    All pessimism aside, thanks Geoff for this brilliant post. Always a pleasure to read you. Cheers

    • geofflivingston

      The funniest part of the Klout game is real powerful people, those with money and position in larger society don’t have high Klout scores. They aren’t online usually. That’s why Obama was regularly outranked on Klout until someone changed the formula or his profile inside the house walls.

      Thanks for a thoughtful comment.

  • I recently wrote a post about the amount of “fakery” there is in social ie buying fans, posts, reviews. There’s too many services that put huge emphasis on the numbers and unfortunately the demand to scale social comes at the expense of purists who know that it takes time to create sustainable relationships. Me, included. I hate to give in to the Klouts of this world especially when they are perpetuating a message that is totally wrong, as well as the methods they are using to give people a false sense of influence. If you have to resort to monetizing or using these short-cuts to build community, then you’d better go find new friends.

    • geofflivingston

      I think you nailed it, giving in. Whenever possible we shouldn’t give in. I’m happy my client got results, but on our next campaign, I encouraged us to advertise in Mashable. And so we did. It’s about choosing other options and not supporting Klout wherever possible.

      At the same time, big business usually wins these battles even if they lose the war in the end with the long-term negative repercussions.

    • Karen Pilling

      Thank you for putting into words what I feel when a client chooses to pay for a community, dismissing organic and authentic relationship building as too time consuming, to compete with other corporations who are likely also buying their audiences and so it goes until social becomes a platform of smoke and mirrors… After seven years in this business, I am still a purist who has seen the power of true community, loyalty and engagement.

  • I think it has become part of the culture, for good or ill (I think ill.).

    The line about putting a value on someone’s worth is the one that caught my attention. I had a conversation with a friend the other day about how putting a dollar amount on a person demeans that person as a human being. The same is true with Klout.

    • geofflivingston

      The far reaching consequences are unknown, particularly when you consider that the system encourages attention-centric behaviors. As the system becomes institutionalized, things get worse, and worse.

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  • The fact that some of us have tested Klout and weaned ourselves off talking more on social to uncover how it affects our “score” is enough to make me wanna scream.

    I give them credit for trying ti find ways to help businesses connect with influencers – not an easy task.

    We have seen how people misuse data like this to deny people access that other wise their ability to buy would have gotten them in. Now I wish I could afford everything I wanted, but to be denied access because I made the money but my klout is not high enough smacks of us going backwards for being a self made entrepreneurs.

    I have intentionally not grown my twitter following for two years because I do not want it to be about numbers. I have taken time to shave folks off my platform to achieve better conversations in my community. How is that less influential?

    Does it matter where we draw the line if we are not being listened to? How is that social?

    • geofflivingston

      It’s not social, and as you said being denied is a classification and a stratification issue. It’s a new era of class warfare. I really see this hurting people in many unforeseen ways, particularly rewarding people who have attention getting skills versus those that have actual subject matter expertise.

  • If klout will be the standard then it has lots more work to do. It cant even gather any info from my foursquare account and only partly from Linked in. It says Beta for a reason. :)

    • geofflivingston

      Please tell that to every business that is integrating it and using. Unfortunately, there in lies the problem. We have accepted a horribly flawed system.

    • I was wondering that myself. It’s interesting how I’ve lost interest on Klout based on these reasons, yet its popularity just keeps growing.

      Interesting that none of the jobs I’ve applied for have asked for such scores. What’s the average?

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  • Marc Zazeela

    Geoff – I think the key is in your phrase “manufacture attention” as a way of gaining influence.

    Human beings’ emotional states cannot accurately be measured by machines. At present, computers do not think subjectively. Algorithms do not explain the erratic nature of human behavior.

    Of course business WANTS to believe these things work because effective shortcuts are less expensive. When will they learn that shortcuts are rarely the route to long term success?

    Cheers,
    Marc

    • Marc,

      I have to disagree – it comes down to natural language and end result, versus just pure emotion. And machines are understanding that now. It just needs the business to understand shortcuts don’t exist. Stay tuned.

    • geofflivingston

      For now I agree with, buying signals and tonality have been elusive, but algorithms are getting better about it.

  • Seems an awful lot of effort to find people who are influential enough to convince their peers to buy a product. Wouldn’t it just be easier to actually offer products which speak for themselves?

    If modern society is going to further degenerate to the point where the credit score implying our (in)ability to go deeper into debt on mediocre, race-to-the-bottom goods is no longer sufficient for the hucksters, to the point where we now need another magic number to help us determine who is worth bribing to do our shilling for us; that is, these “influence” numbers are to have any real clout themselves, we need far more professionalism than the current crop of get-rich-quick, venture-capital-funded nonsense.

    You’re going to assign a score to me based on my activity for the express purpose of selling more crap which might one day negatively impact my ability to live my own life? Straws and camels’ backs aside, make that number private, don’t make your precious, proprietary algorithm so easily gamed by sycophants, and treat it like the uniquely private piece of information you profess it to be.

    We have no choice but to be branded consumer cattle by the likes of Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion – there is no opting out of your credit score – but the credit bureaus aren’t automatically publishing our scores on psuedo-social networks, either.

    I don’t know why this bothers me so much. It’s all targeting blind consumer cattle with credit cards. So long as no superficial “influence” score limits the selection of fresh produce at the local farmers’ market (for which I will pay cash), I really shouldn’t care.

    Guess I’m just growing more jaded at how we put more into suggesting quality and results than we do actually delivering it these days.

    (Sorry for another comment rant, Geoff.)

    • geofflivingston

      I think it bothers me on this level, too. In fact, I actually deleted a couple paragraphs in this post about dehumanization because I thought they were overly dramatic. I still think when we see human behavior on a deeper level historically and on a macro level we are deep, deep shit with this. It’s a form of oppression waiting to happen.

      • Yeah. It’s one thing to limit the ability to incur further debt based on one’s history of repaying said debt, but to potential divide society based on who is most willing to shill for corporate interests? Deep, deep shit.

  • While I applaud Klout’s efforts on one level, there are some significant issues with the service which people are largely ignoring. Kout is a one-size-fits-all definition of “influence”. What Company A considers influential characteristics are often quite different from what Company B does. It seems overly simplistic to think that you can apply one algorithm to score them all. An algorithm which, by the way, is (and will probably always be) completely opaque to the people whose decisions it’s intended to guide.

    • geofflivingston

      I agree. It’ s unfortunate that businesses have turned to social scoring.I guess until there is a better mouse and more popular trap, we are going to be stuck with it.

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  • Interesting thoughts, Geoff. I read the book you refer to (re. sales influence – thank you for the copy, sir!), and I’m not completely sold on his premise. The problem is, sales people are geared to influence decisions – BUT, they’re geared to influence based on knowing their potential customer needs. That, for me, is not influence – it’s more gentle manipulation (sometimes deeper manipulation). Real influence, and all that surrounds that term, goes much deeper.

    • geofflivingston

      Well, I guess we are going to disagree since I use the dictionary definition of influence, and I don’t intend to moralize about manipulation. Perhaps you can have that conversation with every sales person across the world.

      I am also very interested in hearing what “real influence” is, or really what your opinion is, since you don’t have research to back it up, that is what you are really offering…

      • It wasn’t a comment about morals – it was a comment about reality. Sales people (and I class marketing as sales, so I include myself here) are, by definition, geared to “influencing” a decision. But does that influence always adhere to a dictionary meaning? No – since meanings can change when new business models come along.

        • geofflivingston

          Your reality, Danny. I’d be really careful with this language.

          • OK, it would seem we’re having different conversations here, so I’ll go back to my thought that influence is more than a dictionary definition. If that’s unrealistic, so be it.

          • geofflivingston

            It’s hard to have a conversation when you are using two different definitions of the same word. That being said, I know you have researched this topic quite a bit, and I look forward to hearing more about your thoughts on the topic. Thank you for dropping by.

          • geofflivingston

            And a public apology for being an asswipe in my initial comment. There are more polite ways to disagree, I should have waited until tomorrow to respond.

          • Thanks for the apology, appreciated although not needed – as I mentioned in our emails, mate, the dictionary definition part of my comment boils down to acceptance of that definition.

            The dictionary would have told us the Earth was flat before Galileo put a spoke in that argument; it’s something I believe to be true of any word, that definition is more acceptance of a meaning than necessarily confirmation of it.

            Cheers for the thoughts, good discussion as usual.

  • Thank Geoff, as usual, you’ve to me thinking about many different things and I’ll likely blubber through them here but feel compelled to comment.

    Some of my thoughts.

    1. I don’t think this is an either/or situation. I agree that Klout (or whatever) scores are here to stay. Waste of time to talk about them going away. Both good and bad. Let’s go for finding the most profitable use of them

    2. When I first met the kids starting Klout, I was excited by their zeal in finding data and saw how it would useful to help the clueless (and all of us) find people who MAY have clout/influence/followings. As they grew more and more leery about them using the word “influence”

    3. I gave up arguing the definition of influence. I think everyone has it like every molecule has gravity. I can’t tell you how the gravity in an apple works and the same for influence in another person. We could say it’s the sum total of their ability to move other people to do something… a nice theory till you throw in weapons or hormones.

    4. The guy with a high Klout score may be able to tweet and move mountains, or he may be a TV celebrity that has never touched a keyboard. What we DO know is that getting him to like your new widget could be a lot better than an endorsement from a hobo.

    5. I teach people to ignore their own scores, but use Klout, et al when I’m looking for people I don’t know. It’s at least as productive as asking my Twitter following “do you know this guy?” in most cases.

    6. I’ve had a super high klout score. I’ve looked at it when it was 40 yet still got invited to their VIP events. About the 3rd time I say a change (up or down) of 10 points in a day, I realized I’d better start listening to my own advice and ignore it.

    7. Which brings us to the “I need it for my job” part. If you don’t have enough clout to impress somebody with something other than a Klout score, go work on that.

    8. I play EmpireAvenue and really get to know some people there. (that’s why I play). Talk about a score that doesn’t matter! Endless discussion of doing this or that to build the score and an assumption that my score is high because of my social media connections. WRONG.. That got me a great start, but I cracked the algorithm and now “play”” very little. I look at people playing the +K nonsense game the same way.

    9. Influence techniques are NOT moral. In fact, if I know that something is good for you and you’ll thank me for getting you to do it, the tools used to manipulate you are irrelevant. The best way to think about this is comparing it to the way we raise our children. I love my kids so much that I would do anything I could to help them. When I used a “trick” on them (as in “go to sleep so that Santa can come”) I was responsible for my intentions.. nothing to do with whether the trick was “right” or what the outcome was.

    10. The biggest problem I’ve seen with people abusing the “tricks” comes from the short term thinking that is “the end justifies the means”… most of what goes wrong in the world has someone, someplace making a decision with this kind of thinking. Again, like with kids, I hold that most people are not evil and looking to hurt others… but they justify doing things for the gain.

    The older I get, the more I see that most things come down to attitude and intention. I’ve screwed up many things in life, I may even be paving a road to hell, but I know I think I’m a better man when I make sure my intentions are backed up with my actions.

    Now, how will I tell my wife I had to spout off here for a good reason while she waited for me?

    • geofflivingston

      This was such a rich comment. I love points, 1, 7 and 9. These tools are not moral, it’s the people that use them. I know that’s the NRA bit, but it’s not a gun that will shoot people. Really, the answer is not to use Bing.

      LOL! OK, I have to think about that.

      • Thought you might like the gun reference. I was thinking more Jefferson than NRA but the point is the same.

        The other obvious parallel is money. You can do a lot of good or bad with money and you can do a lot of good or bad without it. I’d prefer that lunatic not get ahold of guns or money. It’s a amoral tool. (I think I was called that once)

    • I agree with @geofflivingston:disqus that this is a rich comment. My favourite points were 5 and 7 but it is a great piece overall. I am in the group of people who are not obsessing or even regulary check my own klout score but I do use it when researching others. I find it to be useful at the extreme ends – in other words, if someone score >70 then I usually pay more attention. Still, it is one metric and anyone would be wise to consider other tools

      • It’s a good metric if you have something other than the number. Fails when used along (ie “go get me 100 people with a K score in baseball”).

        I look at it along with other data. If I see a huge score and the tweets are from a bot, I pass. A low score from an active connection has likely got more clout than K

    • Tell your wife you are compelled to share your thoughts in hopes it would be of benefit to someone.

      • I’ve tried that… but who know, maybe it will work better when I say you told me to say it :)

  • What a great post Geoff! I am blogging on social influence on my site and have done a great bit of research into this. With companies like Microsoft investing in Klout, it’s not doing anywhere. As much as some people hate it and think it’s a waste of time, it’s here to stay and they better get used to it.

    • geofflivingston

      Thanks, Mandy. What do you think the best steps are for those of us who are concerned given that it won’t go away? Also, give us a link to your blog ;)

      • I would just advise people to keep doing what they are doing already. I mean, I would just keep an eye on your scores, but not go out of the way to do anything drastic. Measures like this (no matter how flawed it is) are going to be more integrated into our daily lives. I know of people getting bumped up on planes because of Klout scores. Bing is going to put Klout scores in their search results. Another comment on here already pointed out how LinkedIn is now doing endorsements. I could go on for hours about this – LOL. My blog link is http://www.memarketingservices.com.

    • geofflivingston

      Thanks, Mandy. What do you think the best steps are for those of us who are concerned given that it won’t go away?

  • Google already incorporates social scoring into their search results. It’s called Google+. And no, I’m not kidding Geoff.

    As for social scoring, I’ve argued about this with many people and don’t wish to argue it here. The bottom line is that companies are always looking for shortcuts to success. These numbers help them with that. As long as companies are looking for shortcuts, they will be provided. And thus the cycle continues ad infinitum. Am I cynical on this? Yes.

    Regardless, I’m not going back to Klout. I have considered it for some of my clients, however they’re having great success without it. Granted, they aren’t big brand, and they’re willing to invest the time and effort to be proactive.

    Will they become a permanent part? Who knows. I have a sinking feeling they will. As people we love easy numbers.

    • geofflivingston

      Yes, though I think Google is doing more than just indexing plus. I believe Jessica Ann is working on a post to that effect.

      Agreed on the rest! Thanks for your comment, Robert!

  • AmyMccTobin

    This infuriates and saddens me because I think that the desire for some sort of Social Metrics is generated by managers who don’t ‘get’ Social and yet want to leverage it. Klout’s algorithm makes no sense to anyone…. but that doesn’t seem to stop some employers from using it as yard stick.
    I am going to hold out and perhaps lose a job or an opportunity because I can’t stomach Klout. The influence I have with my clients is in Real Life. My years on the road in sales taught me that selling skills and real relationships meant more than anything. The idea of buying a book to be able to work the system just seems SO Wrong.

    But, sadly, I think you are 100% right.

    • geofflivingston

      I do fight it wherever I can, but I don’t want to hurt myself either. I feel like my client executed the Klout campaign without telling me because they know how I feel about it. For me, that means I have become too personal.

      If you think what we have done with SATs, this is a very similar scenario.

      • AmyMccTobin

        I totally understand. I transformed my Agency from a “New Media” to ALL Media because too many of my clients still NEED traditional marketing… no matter how much fun I think online is.

        But you’re right – it should never be personal. On a smaller scale, when I have clients tell me they don’t want to advertise in a certain publication because of something the owner etc. did, I tell them that they have to be fiercely selfish FOR THEIR BUSINESS – forget the personal issues and do what brings them the most exposure. This is probably one of those cases where we must swallow and adapt.

  • ashvini_saxena

    I feel that one score should not have such a huge impact on the way businesses and people are perceived on the social media. But then the corporation obsessed with numbers will definitely want to say, hey this company we are outsourcing our work to , has a better klout score. The effect of that on awarding contracts to people/firms needs to be seen.
    I am seeing klout as kind of new kind of must do stuff ( like a few years before it was, “you dont have a site” or “you don’t have an email”). It won’t affect general public that much but businesses will have to bear one more expense, to dress themselves to the audience :). Is it going to be a necessary evil?

    • geofflivingston

      Let’s hope not. I hope to do well enough that it doesn’t matter, that I can choose my clients, but I suspect you are right.

  • Geoff Hi.

    I believe that no matter how Klout, Kred or PeerIndex try to define influence one fact remain the same… Influence is power to sway. Tools are in my opinion to general and they try to serve all industries at once. There is a big difference when you try to promote lets say movie vs. consumer goods. Movies and music has always work with WOM no doubt about that. Humans likes to belong to tribes. And of course we will go and see the movie or listen to the music recommended by our tribe as we like to talk about same subject. But clearly our tribe members don’t care what kind of toilet paper you use at home:) Art of influence is when you start attracting people outside of your tribe into conversation in my opinion. For me all of the tools that you mention in your post clearly are working on spreading awareness. There is no indications that are building influence of a brand or product.

    I think we are jet again (as history is repeating ) entering the personal age communication, we use to know that as medium of speech. So brands will need to figure out how to incorporate personal communication strategy in their overall marketing. Focus of the brands should be on objects that message is received and not only on content itself. For example 90% of all text messages is read in first 3 minutes. 99% of all texts are answered. I believe is time to start focusing more on objects then on scores as communications and connectedness is a key to success.

    • geofflivingston

      I definitely agree with you that the definition of influence is wrong, as noted by Klout and I think as I said in reference to Mark Schaeffer’s book. It is an attention metric, and I agree with you on the need to communicate effectively on a personal level, or facilitate others talking on the part of brands.

      Good stuff!

  • Brian D. Meeks

    A really interesting post. I’ve read (and written) plenty of posts mocking Klout. So much so, that I had actually stopped checking my score or caring. In just this one piece, you’ve made me think it would be prudent to keep an eye on it.

    • geofflivingston

      Well, it’s not a great technology, right? But it’s becoming a prevalent technology, and that’s why we have to do an about face on this one and look at it.

  • Thanks for this insight, Geoff.

    • geofflivingston

      Glad you found it useful!!!

  • amoyal
    • geofflivingston

      Thank you for sharing this, Arie.

  • Crap. One more thing to learn, and something that’s inherently creepy, besides. Thanks for a dose of depression, Geoff. :-)

    • geofflivingston

      Hahahahhaa! If you are great, and you are, shouldn’t be an issue. Promise.

  • Jeff Turner

    Geoff, forgive the link I’m going to post at the end of this comment, but I’ve written quite a bit about this as well and the continued move toward social acceptance of Klout and other “influence” metrics is disturbing to me as well. And I agree they are not going away. I deleted my Klout profile a long time ago, not wanting to continue to play the game of Klout. I don’t regret that decision. Perhaps if that number begins to impact my earning potential, I’ll reconsider, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon. So, my thoughts on this are in more detail here: http://www.jeffturner.info/reification-why-klout-stupid/ Please delete this link if you think it’s not relevant.

    • geofflivingston

      Of course it’s relevant! Thanks for coming by and sharing your experience on why you opted out of Klout!

    • Thank you so much for the link and your personal story here!

  • Andrew Spong

    Thanks for this discussion piece, Geoff.

    However, Bing has 6 percent of search.

    LinkedIn’s socialisation of ‘Skills & Expertise’ has dismantled the value of the +K at a stroke.

    The social web is not a sales environment, and brands that abuse its etiquette and the expectations of its users by partnering with influence metrics self-disclose their failure to have perceived the postmarketing nature of the social web.

    Social is neither a comms tool nor a sales strategy; it is a state of mind, and an invitation to reorient revenue generation with an open disposition, a strong ethical stance, and a commitment to supporting social good.

    Brands and services that align themselves with influence metrics are self-harming.

  • Sorry to be late to the party but it is probably appropriate to comment : )

    There is a lot to debate here but for the sake of brevity, let me focus on one thing and challenge everyone to re-think how “influence” shows up in the online world. Nearly every argument I have seen on the topic of social scoring is flawed because folks are stuck in their thinking about influence offline and online as being the same. It’s NOT. This is old thinking and to have clarity about social scoring we need to clear our mind of these old paradigms.

    One small example. There is a ton of research on the importance of social proof. Social proof as an indicator of true influence is crap. Intellectually we may know that, but we also know that the social proof of 100,000 Twitter followers bestows authority — earned or not — in the minds of a population that does not think critically. It may not be right. It may not be fair. In fact, I hate it. But I also cannot deny that it is true and that we all have to come to grips with understanding it instead of “fighting” it.

    Dr. Cialdini, the foremost expert on influence, acknowledges these differences in my interview with him in the book. He told me that influence shows up VASTLY differently on the web, most notably through our ability to move content (something that is obviously not available to us in the carbon-based world). That fact alone should scream out to us that things are different now.

    My credit score took a dive because of some bank error that occurred five years ago. That’s not fair. But it is what it is and as a rational adult, I’m going to just deal with it instead of trying to change the financial system.

    Like it or not, social scoring is also the reality of the web, Rather than fight it, why not deal with it rationally? It’s time to cut through the same tired old emotional arguments against social scoring and understand an inexorable business reality.

    • geofflivingston

      I think it’s really hard to separate on and offline anymore. The two are increasingly intertwined, so… I know you and I could have a fantastic debate about this.

      I totally agree with you that social scoring is a reality of the web, and it is evolving in many ways as we are seeing with Google’s Author Rank. We cannot escape this reality, and to that point, I tender my resignation on fighting it ;)

      Thanks so much, Mark for coming by and sharing your point of view, just a small piece of what is offered in your book!

  • I thought the post was great but the discussion below is outstanding and definitely requires a revisit to this post. Thanks for posting about an important topic that seems to still be foggy for many people (at least for me)

  • Marc Zazeela

    In thinking about this further, and considering the new “endorsement” feature that Linkedin has implemented, it almost appears as if some people are confusing influence with popularity. Not unlike the “like” feature of Facebook.

    If you are liked by a million people does that qualify you as influential? Maybe. If you have thousands of Linkedin endorsements does that qualify you? Perhaps. If you have fifty million Twitter followers? It could.

    In my opinion, influence is not only about getting people to listen to you, it is also about getting them to change the ways they think or behave. So, if Klout’s scores are based mostly on measuring interactivity, I don’t see how that connotes influence. I may be listening, but I am not changing my thoughts or behaviors.

    Lastly, when the algorithms change and cause dramatic ups and downs in the scoring system, what is to be made of that? How do the scoring results of today compare with the results from six months ago? Have the criteria changed or have they simply adjusted the scale?

    While I agree that there are certain behavioral patterns that can be gleaned and categorized, I do not believe that given the scatter brained nature of humans, we can all be put into neat little and easy to identify piles.

    Lastly, consider the size of the Klout (or similar barometers) universe. So you have 50,000 followers. And, your Klout score is 100. And, suppose they have it right. So, you are influential among a relatively small number of people. You are an Internet superstar. A giant among your small circle.

    How important is that? Really?

    It’s time to stop and think. If I tell you I am influential, does that make it so? So, if Klout says they are the authority on defining influence, does that make it so?

    • geofflivingston

      I think you totally nailed it as far as the problems with influence as it is being discussed in the current vernacular. I liken it to personal branding and how that was taken out of context and misappropriated. What people really meant was reputation. However, now we are stuck with this hot mess.

  • Ben Edwards

    First thing I did after reading your article was check my klout score. I think you’re right, we can’t help but to peek and see how we measure up.

    • geofflivingston

      It’s human nature. We’re also very competitive by nature.

  • Geoff: great article! I really like how you frame this well-written piece: you dislike Klout, see it working / gaining momentum, yet discuss how to curtail companies wanting to use something that is working / gaining momentum. I retweeted it and LinkedIn shared it. Job well done, my friend.

    • geofflivingston

      Ha, unfortunately, I think the train has left the station. And here we go!

  • Great post, Geoff. Two points I’d add to the debate that I don’t yet see in the comments:

    1. Where’s the context? Ask me about b2b media and marketing, and I will be connected, persuasive and influential. Ask me about cars, and I’ve got nothing. My point is this: whether you’re looking for brand advocates or prioritizing customer service issues, you don’t know how much influence someone will have on your business if you’re only looking at a single number.

    2. What you measure is what you get. We can argue all day long about the definition of “influence” but the fact is that these tools measure very specific behaviors. You want someone who spends a lot of time on Twitter or Facebook and knows how to build a following? Go right ahead. But remember that’s *all* these personal influence tools can see — and if you’re using them as a single data point to make critical business decisions you’re playing with fire.

    • geofflivingston

      I do think there is subject matter expertise categories in almost every social scoring system I’ve seen, so to point 1, it’s there. How good it is? I’m not convinced.

      On 2, YES. That’s why most rich and powerful people are not online, because they are actively engaged in real world matters, not waxing their proverbial bean poles online. Big difference, great point!

  • In the Nazis’ Germany, Jewish people were viewed as people of no social worth. In 1939 the Nazis ordered Jews to wear an armband on their right arm.
    Since Klout wants to assign to each of us a numeric value of our social worth, I wonder if the individuals like me, who opted out from
    Klout and, therefore, have a zero Klout score, will be in the future required to wear a similar armband.

    • geofflivingston

      As a Jew, I felt this way about social scoring, but didn’t want to go there. You could say the same thing about an SAT score, too.

  • I believe you are striking at the heart of marketing over “social” platforms. it is a dangerous blend. It can become easy for a person to assign self-worth to their interaction online. Stamping a number on top of that just makes it worse. Now you know that there is something wrong with you, right?

    The networking science perspective sounds very interesting.It melds with my views of what happens with online networks. I do see each of us as “nodes” playing our part in a dynamic system. I have been studying algorithms so that I can understand things a little better.

    Lastly as someone with a BA in psychology, I am jazzed that you mentioned Cialdini. Reading his book on persuasion influenced a lot of my perceptual views on the discipline. It made me very aware of cognitive bias and its effects for good and bad.

    • geofflivingston

      What’s the most disturbing aspect of Klout is how easy it is to game, and to receive plus 1s, which influences your rank.

      So going back to Cialdini, even though you can manufacture influence, it is not sincere in the sense that it appeals to people when it’s based off of social gaming. Huge issue with extra bad effects!

  • I’m on record at many sites and even have a couple of blog articles on Klout and how I feel about it’s inherent

  • I’m on record on many sites and even have a couple of blog articles on Klout and how I feel about it’s inherent weaknesses. But I also agree with you that it’s not going away and it’s going to be a long time (if ever) before Klout or any of the metric measuring services really give scores that mean much of anything.
    So as you say it’s learning how to deal with it and just how much we really need or care about these “scores” that we have to address. Of course part of how you feel is related to just how much those who use them interact with you. But no matter what we all will find it hard to impossible to avoid the scoring systems so it’s a matter of learning to live with them.
    As in much of life we deal with many imperfect systems every day Klout is just one more forced upon us.

    • geofflivingston

      Yeah, I agree scoring systems are here to stay, and we will see more of them, too.

      If you look at Author Rank, you’d have to say that there’s an eerie similarity, though Google makes no bones about it. It’s the content creators that they want to rank as influential.

      Thanks for the comment!

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  • tianakai

    Great points! It’s actually terrifying that we are a society working on improving our individual ‘scores’ so much— putting ourselves first at all times.

    This post reminds me of Pinterest… funny how my friends who joined early on have 200+ followers. This does not prove like-ability, taste, style, boards, pins. This only proves that they jumped in early and all their friends blindly followed them when they connected via Facebook or Twitter. I noted that most people with 200+ friends don’t even utilize the portal. Most have 2-5 boards with a total of 10 pins. It’s a joke and defeats the point of Pinterest. I joined really late in the game, so missed the huge wave of followers, so have about 30. Those 30 saw what I had to offer and might even be more influenced by my pins than those with 200+ followers. Kinda like Twitter… It seems like a lot of smoke and mirrors.

    Sad that some candidates cannot get jobs according to their Klout rating, as you pointed out. What jobs were those…marketing and tech related only?