Why Klout scares me; Hint: It’s not the tool itself

Photo from Klout.com

Lot of people talking about influence and Klout lately. There was Chuck Hemann’s post on the Klout that stole Christmas (has potentially the best accompanying photo for a post ever). #u30pro covered the topic of influence and discussed Klout specifically last Thursday. Nate Riggs had an interesting post about his experiments with Klout and how he’s figured out certain behaviors that drive up your score. And as I’m writing this, I’ve just finished reading a post from GigaOM that asks “What if you were paid based on your Klout score?” and gives an example of how Salesforce is headed down that road with an internal social network.

So I obviously missed the memo that it’s National Talk About Klout week. I’m wondering if this Sunday we should all change our avatars to our Klout scores and see who can make the biggest one-day jump. Maybe, as Chuck, Kasey Skala and I discussed earlier this week, bars and clubs will start letting people go to the front of the line if they have a Klout score over 75. If so, I’ve got some work to do :) .

I don’t mean to sound like I’m bagging on Joe Fernandez and his Klout team — btw, Joe just sent me a tweet asking if he could answer any Klout questions, and I respect the hell out of people who listen and monitor on Twitter, so points for him. Kudos to Klout for the work they have done. As a PR pro, I understand the value of buzz and WOM. No one can deny that Klout definitely has people talking.

That said, Klout scares me…a lot. But not because of the tool itself. No, I’m much more scared of the lazy PR and marketing pros who are looking for an easy way out when it comes to tracking influence; one number they can search within less than five minutes, use to prioritize an outreach list and call it a day. You can’t measure the impact of PR/Marketing efforts with one or two numbers. You couldn’t do it (accurately) with impressions and you can’t do it with Klout score either. Both numbers are just one piece of the puzzle, one chapter in the story.

Case in point — an example that came up during #u30pro Thursday night. Oprah Winfrey has a Klout score of 73. But she hardly talks to anyone at all on Twitter. She posts very infrequently, and when she does, it’s almost always a one-way broadcast post. She isn’t engaging in any conversation. So is she using Twitter right? Well, Klout says she’s very influential. And I understand, it’s because of her reach — more than 4M followers. But I’d argue that through Twitter — which is what Klout measures — she has very little influence at all.

That’s just the first part of the example. The second part is actually more important, IMO. Pew just came out with a study this week that says 18-29 year olds are the most active group on Twitter. Now not to stereotype, but how influential do you think Oprah is among 18-29 year old guys. I’m guessing hardly, if at all. So what’s the point I’m trying to make? Simply, that there is no such thing as universal influence on Twitter or anywhere else. It does not exist!

The Klout conversation will be a positive if we can all take a step back and talk about what influence really means. Influence is not impressions. It’s not followers. And it’s not the same for every case or brand. For example, what’s influential to Hallmark, a client we work with at FHKC, may not be influential to the Ford Fiesta movement, or Jane, a senior at Northwestern. Influence doesn’t exist in a bubble. And if you are trying to put it in one, you are missing the bigger picture. It means different things to different people in different situations. There is no holy grail for influence. Just like there isn’t one for social media measurement.

You and I have a responsibility when it comes to Klout or any tool like it. The first part of that responsibility is to understand the tool and what it does — check out Nate’s post for more on that. But the second part is to make sure the people in our industry understand what Klout is all about. That they understand even Klout CEO Joe Fernandez says “it’s not meant to replace common sense.”

If PR and marketing pros walk away from Klout touting it as a one-stop solution for influence on Twitter, then we have failed to educate our peers on the value of this type of a tool — as one piece of the overall influence puzzle. But if a tool like Klout gets people talking about overall influence, how we misjudged it in the past (impressions) and the right way to judge it in the future, then it’s a conversation worth having. A conversation that is much less scary than at first glance.

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I do have problems with Klout itself, for the way it promotes certain members that have no real world influence, and at the eod, not sure online really matters that much if it doesn't call to action.

And yah, here's my old post on them: http://pop-pr.blogspot.com/2010/12/numbers-dont-add-up-popularity-doesnt.html


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