Thoughts from Conversation with Klout CEO Joe Fernandez

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Ace Blogger Seth Godin doesn’t participate on Twitter, but has a Klout score of 70 in large part due to retweets and mentions. This phenomena typifies what Klout calls the Warren Buffet problem.

Yesterday, Read Write Web published the larger findings from the open interview with Klout CEO Joe Fernandez responding to criticisms published here. Publishing the larger post separately seemed important, a way to provide a larger portion of the industry information about the most pressing Klout questions. In addition to the discussion about evolving the algorithm and the ethics of Klout Perks in the Read Write Web piece, Mr. Fernandez covered several other points raised by critics.

One of the more interesting aspects was a discussion about gaming theory, which has been considered in the design of Klout. The interface, badges, classifications and the way it looks is important to encourage people with lower scores to develop more influence. In that vein, Klout sees its system as a way to encourage people to develop their online networking skills and become more influential.

Social games as a community activity have become a huge web activity online, and is drawing more attention in the marketing space. This is a topic worth further consideration.

Generally, the whole Peter Shankman party issue arose as a result of this rather troublesome press release. While Klout has an informal relationship with Shankman, Mr. Fernandez did say the release was not vetted by Klout, and could have been toned differently with less elitism.

The party itself was an experiment to see what the algorithm could put together, and by accounts of attendees, it wasn’t the usual group of folks in the rooms. Attendee David Spinks said it was an enjoyable affair, and Mr. Fernandez said the experiment may or may not be repeated.

Also, by simply participating in the open call, Mr. Fernandez resolved the point about Klout not responding to criticism. Further, he took some tough questions, and should be commended for openly facing criticism with a kind attitude.

General Perceptions of Klout Moving Forward

Klout certainly has its hands full. That became crystal clear. Perhaps Mr. Fernandez said it best when he said the very word influence is a lightening rod, and Klout’s algorithmic approach to determining it will always attract debate.

As to the algorithm itself, it will clearly evolve. Klout is actively weighing the strengths and weaknesses of its system. It’s well marketed at this point, and as a result, has an opportunity to become the top influencer measurement.

Why? Because no matter what, businesses and nonprofits will seek an easy way to determine influence, and as Klout evolves it may have the best answer. Klout still has flaws that admittedly need to be overcome, but that’s the truth.

Klout’s definition of measuring actions differs greatly from industry definitions of actions (donations, sales, etc.). Because data about these types of actions are not readily available to the industry by companies and nonprofits, participation data is what’s left.

It’s hard to sign off on quantitative metrics that focus on participation. The current output of this participation data still produces questionable results. But the commitment to diversify and scale to meet 20 disparate sources of social data (see Read Write Web piece) is more compelling than a simple solution like Twitter Grader or a blog solution like PostRank.

And so, if Klout successfully evolves per Mr. Fernandez’s remarks, it would be foolhardy for a professional not to give Klout the respect it deserves. For better or for worse, it looks like the leader at this point. And the business and nonprofit marketplaces want a solution to at least begin cultivating “influencers.” Whether that’s the right approach is another matter altogether.

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.