Thoughts from Conversation with Klout CEO Joe Fernandez

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.