Homecoming King and Queen. It seemed so important at the time, but we discover as adults that what leads to winning a popularity contest as a teenager is pretty superficial and doesn’t tell us what is truly important and meaningful about people. Klout, self described as, “the standard measure of online influence,” is in that same category. Having a high Klout score has about as much value and meaning as being voted onto the homecoming court. Sure, it’s great for your ego if you have a high score. However, does it really mean you are influential online, and if so, what is that influence really worth?
A few weeks ago, I attended Social Media for Nonprofits in Chicago. One of the speakers, Justin Ware, spoke about the value of finding influential online ambassadors for nonprofit causes. He referred to Klout as a valuable tool, imperfect, but a good starting place. As soon as he said that, my stomach lurched and I felt a strong desire to scream, “STOP! Don’t you know these are nonprofit professionals? They don’t have time to waste. They are here looking for help with social media.You are throwing smoke and mirrors at them.” When Justin asked for questions and comments, I expressed some of my thoughts about Klout. After Justin’s presentation, he and I continued the conversation and decided to do “dueling blog posts” about Klout. Justin’s post is here.
I have so many concerns about promoting the use of Klout to any audience, but particularly a group of nonprofit professionals. Essentially, Klout utilizes activity level on social media platforms as an indicator of actual influence. But activity is not influence, which is much more complicated and nuanced. Additionally, Twitter is Klout’s starting point, but users can grant Klout access to their profiles on other social platforms. However, those who do not allow access to multiple platforms are not differentiated from those who do. A person may be highly influential on Facebook but not allow Klout access to her profile, and is therefore penalized with a lower Klout score. Furthermore, a person with a high Klout score may be engaging heavily with a particular audience that has no relevance to a nonprofit. Since Klout doesn’t give any indication of who they believe a person is influential with other than a short list of fellow tweeters, it is difficult to determine who this audience might be. A person may be very active in the business community on Twitter. But if a nonprofit is looking to impact low income youth in the city, there is a disconnect.
Another problem is that topic expertise on Klout is so incredibly easy to impact by users. During Justin’s presentation, I mentioned in a Facebook group that I was frustrated by his portrayal of Klout as a worthwhile tool. Before he finished, Hunger Games had been moved into his top three topics of influence. Not by people who had ever met him, or by people who had any particular expertise about Hunger Games. But by four fellow members of the group who happened to have fairly high Klout scores. It is this blind trust of high scores that is so problematic. Justin suggests that there aren’t hordes of people gaming the system. However, the ability of users to determine where expertise lies when they may have no experience on a topic detracts from its reliability.
This blind trust of high Klout scores has made its way into employment hiring. As revealed in a piece on TechCrunch, Salesforce recently posted an open position in which one of the requirements was a Klout score of 35 or above. Even for an established company such as Salesforce, it is just too tempting to look at someone’s Klout score and not do the additional research that Justin recommends. And in the nonprofit world, where there is always a struggle to keep up in the world of technology, Klout may be seen as a valuable shortcut. Unfortunately, by using this shortcut, people with great skill and expertise, but less time to focus on their personal social media profile, will be passed by.
Measuring online influence is an incredibly complicated task. I’m not sure if we will ever come up with a great tool to help us determine that influence. But I am convinced that Klout is not the right place to start a search for online ambassadors for a cause, for a business, or for anything else.
What are your thoughts? Do you agree with me or do you think Justin is right that Klout is a good starting point? What have been your experiences with Klout? Please add your thoughts to the comments below.
Special shout out to the Punks, whose input played a big role in the creation of this blog post and in my life every day. You know who you are! xoxoxo