Tuesday, 24 January 2012

KLOUT: A Force To Be Reckoned With Or Kommercial Klaptrap Koncealed As Kudos?

I used to do Pilates. Then in December, my instructor upped and emigrated to New Zealand, and I haven't done any exercise since. December was probably also the last time I did any "klouting" to speak of. For anyone not familiar with Klout, it is the latest social media craze. Unlike Facebook and Twitter, where you can have actual conversations (after a fashion) with other members, the way you interact on Klout is by awarding...well, klouts...to other people whom you consider to be influential in a chosen field, be they journalists, TV presenters, bloggers or whoever. A klout is like a token of approval, a recognition of merit, and the more you receive, the higher your ranking on an index that runs between 0 and 100.

But awarding klouts to other people is just one way in which your overall Klout score is calculated. A raft of variables is taken into account, including numbers of @mentions, retweets, likes, and comments.

As Klout explains on its website:

"The Klout Score measures influence based on your ability to drive action. Every time you create content or engage you influence others. The Klout Score uses data from social networks in order to measure:

True Reach: How many people you influence

Amplification: How much you influence them

Network Impact: The influence of your network"

Note the phrase "drive action"...It is significant and I shall come back to it later.

I just checked and my own score has gone up 3 points (to 50) since I last looked. Yes, people have kindly carried on klouting me while I stopped dead in my tracks six weeks ago. So why did I do that? Well, partly because I was travelling most of that month, but also because I started to doubt the meaningfulness of the whole Klout system.

For starters, my fields of expertise or influence include Perfume and Travel & Tourism (which are fair enough, given the focus of Bonkers), but also Chocolate, Weddings, War, and to a lesser extent Hot Chocolate, Toolbar and Cougar. Okay, weddings...hmmm...that might be something to do with my posts on Kate Middleton's wedding scent, Illuminum White Gardenia Petals. But war? And hot chocolate? And toolbar??? It is baffling.

So that was one thing, and another flaw as I saw it is that it is considered good form to klout back people kind enough to klout you, so to a certain extent the mutual klouting cancels itself out, like when you retweet somebody's blog post and they return the favour. Ironically therefore, my being paralysed with indecision lately and failing to klout anyone in return may explain why my score has risen in the interim.

But the main reason why my confidence in the Klout system faltered is the fact that notable blogs, personalities or organisations such as Now Smell This, Katie Puckrik, Chandler Burr and Roja Dove, Andy Tauer and Ormonde Jayne, IFRA North America and the Fragrance Foundation (to name but a few) - none of whom were registered members, but who had managed to clock up Klout scores anyway - had rankings that were behind my own. That's like saying a marathon runner isn't a sports person because they've never entered a 1 km fun run wearing fancy dress. As a measure of influence - even confined to social media - Klout's net was surely way too narrow.

And then, out of the blue, right around the time I was having my dark night of the soul about the fallibility of Klout's measurement methods, I received an email from Katie Puckrik herself, congratulating me on my ranking and explaining that she had just signed up, having read about Klout in a "well-placed article" in the NY Times. However, her early enthusiasm was already tempered by a reservation about which social media were being analysed, Katie being of course famous in particular for her blog and her YouTube perfume reviews.

Katie: "...unless I'm mistaken, they only seem to take Twitter/Facebook into account, at least judging from the stats they pull up. I have a sneaking feeling that my YouTube activities aren't factored into my ranking."

So I wrote back, explaining my own misgivings, and a Klout-centric "Perfume Pen Pals" exchange ensued. Katie sent me the link to the article in the NY Times, which further confirmed my surprise that I had such a high score - a score that would gain me admittance to exclusive society bashes in Manhattan, no less - which seemed a very silly state of affairs, given the relative nobody I actually am.

Vanessa: "Well, I found that NYT article really quite surprising - in a strange Emperor's new clothes kind of a way. At 47 (my Klout score at the time, not my age), I might just be admitted to those velvet rope do's - seems quite topsy turvy really."

Katie, meanwhile, wrote to Klout, inquiring about the basis of the rankings, specifically whether her YouTube and Blogger presence was factored into her overall score.

It sounds almost too good to be true, but the person who replied to her email was called Kameron (with a "K"!) Maybe all the staff have to kloutify their Christian names as a condition of working there... : - )

Hi Katie

I apologize for the delay.

At this time, the only networks that contribute to your Klout score is Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Foursquare and Google+. The other networks that you can connect for your Klout profile, we are still testing.

Please let me know if you have any additional questions.

Thank you,

So far, so lopsided. I had not even heard of Foursquare, for instance, so how influential can that be? And Google+ is pretty new.

Vanessa: "...YouTube is absolutely massive - think of the reach and impact of those viral clips of cats playing the piano etc that are seen and circulated by millions. How is that not influence? And what about the luminaries who are very influential, but do not engage with social media particularly - like Luca Turin? At least I don't think he does, whereas I have seen photos of Andy Tauer's hotel rooms in London and Chicago, and one of a chicken in his oven."

And then I started wondering about what Klout is trying to achieve at the end of the day, and have a feeling it might be something to do with linking up influential people (as determined by Klout) and brand owners.

"Free Stuff

Klout Perks are exclusive products or experiences that you earn based on your influence. Influencers have earned sweet Perks like laptops and airline tickets."

Sweet perks, eh?

"Don't Stress

You have no obligation to talk about the product. You're
welcome to tell the world you love it, you dislike it, or say nothing at all."

No worries - I had no intention of stressing!

Then in the FAQs on Perks we learn more about how their location is determined:

"Often companies are interested in giving Perks to influencers in a specific neighborhood. For instance, pizzerias in North Beach don't care how influential you are if you live in NYC. We look at a collection of data to determine your location, including the zip code that you put in your Klout profile, your Facebook location and your Twitter location (don't worry, we never share our data)."

Well, hold on a minute...the Klout people don't appear to have determined my location very closely. The only perk I have earned so far is a $10 voucher off an online sports gear company that I have never heard of, and which I can confirm is nowhere near where I live and exert my all-important influence... ; - )

And finally, when you click on the "Business" tab of the Klout website, the full purpose of the scheme becomes apparent.

"Klout measures influence based on the ability to drive action, not potentially misleading metrics like follower or friend count."

"Drive action" is the key phrase here - it isn't about driving action for its own sake but ultimately - or so it seems to me - about driving consumer purchases.

"Klout has analyzed over 85 million people on major social networks, and is used by over 3000 brands and applications."

And now for the bottom line:

Your customers don't trust advertising, they trust their peers and influencers. Get your product into the right hands and let them do the talking for you.

So by engaging with social media generally and by busily klouting one another and increasing our scores, we are grooming ourselves to become better brand ambassadors for a host of consumer products, like self-fattening farm animals.

Katie: "There I was thinking it was a simple aggregator, ranking influence in a social stock market kind of way, when in fact it exists primarily to make Klout bigger. And in such a clever way, because here we are scrambling around to get Klout to acknowledge us, while all they are interested in is that we acknowledge it."

So tell me, are you bothered about "doing the talking" for a pizzeria in North Beach or wherever you may live? And if consumers don't trust advertising, having seen how we may be being used as brand "mules", do you still trust Klout?

Now I gather that HR Managers are starting to look at Klout rankings as a measure of what sort of "mover and shaker" a job candidate might be. Perhaps they are the new gap year or Duke of Edinburgh award. So I am not saying that an individual might not benefit in terms of career advancement or admission to fashion shows and the like on the strength of his or her Klout score. However, fundamentally it smacks to me of a peer network marketing scheme built on vanity.

In fact, on an impulse I just googled "Klout" and "vanity", and found an article describing it as the "ultimate vanity metric". So there you go - there's an actual term for it!

And to everyone who has klouted me up to this point, thanks for that, as I know it was done in good faith and I appreciate the support. Only now I am not so sure that Klout has all the klout it's kracked up to have. And neither does Katie, despite having a "K" in her name...

Photo of Klout screen from offthegrid-pr.com, photo of graph from ubergizmo.com, photo of chocolate from en.wikipedia.org, photo of Katie from beauty-video-tutorial.com, photo of Katie Puckrik Smells from handpickedmedia.co.uk, photo of velvet rope from howtobeamoneymagnet.com, photo of cat playing the piano from curezone.com, photo of pizza restaurant from foodhoe.com, photo of Klout logo from level343.com


Natalie said...

Never trust a man who "kloutifies" his Christian name and is incapable of achieving subject-verb agreement IN THE OPENING SENTENCE OF A VERY SHORT EMAIL!!!!!


Anonymous said...

And have you read the rather damning Wikipedia entry on Klout? According to it British sci-fi author Charles Stross has described Klout as "the internet equivalent of herpes".

-- Lindaloo

Katie Puckrik said...

Your primo wordsmithery slays me, Vanessa. "Self-fattening farm animals", indeed! A ego-stroking nudge from Klout, and I'm human veal.

Nathan Branch said...

At the time of The Great Klout Upheaval in October of 2011 (when the company up and changed their measuring metrics midstream and the K-scores of PR flaks went wakadoo across the board), a raft of articles were written that pretty much summed up what Klout was all about, and what you just nicely surmised: self-fattening farm animals.

It's not about what Klout does for you, it's what you can do for Klout, and my take on the whole thing is that the owners/founders of Klout are interested mainly (only?) in how much global, deep-pocketed brand attention they can drum up so that they can either #1) float an IPO and make themselves rich, or #2) sell the company privately and make themselves rich.

They're likely fine with either option.

I also find it incredible that neither YouTube nor Tumblr are involved in scoring a person's influence, since both YouTube and Tumblr are massive social platforms that any reasonable person would automatically assume were part of the algorithm. So I share your healthy skepticism, and a conversation similar to yours & Katie's with my friend Marin back in November.

I think my favorite quote about the Kloutification of social media is from Brian Solis' article, 'Welcome to the Egosystem': “There is a balance required to engage, contributing as much or more value than you withdraw from each interaction. The Social Web is powered not by self-promotion, but by the value of the community and the selfless act of recognizing, showcasing and connecting the great people, content, and causes around us.”

I deleted my Klout account as soon as I was aware that they offered the option to do so -- and they only offered the option to do so after The Great Klout Upheaval, when a great many people became aware that their social media movements were being tracked, analyzed and publicly ranked without either their awareness or participation.

Undina said...

Why do I like Klout? Because it's my way of sending "Hi" to different people I like but don't have anything to discuss at the moment. For me it's a variation of the twitter's #FF. I do not read much into it, I do not expect anything from it - I'm just toying with it. I realize Klout exists for Klout and wants to make money on me. I can care less - as long as it amuses me.

Katie Puckrik said...

Nathan, you've inspired me to delete my Klout account.

Katie Puckrik said...

The comments to the following post on Klout make some great points:

Nathan Branch said...

Katie -- Right, thanks for that link. The comment section is a great discussion, and details very well the pros and cons of a purported measuring system like Klout, mostly (and intelligently) the cons.

Klout is strictly a marketing and PR industry tool, and maybe if it were more honest about its intentions, it wouldn't be suffering the bad rep it continues to attract. But by purporting to be the measure of *all* things influential in social media, it makes itself odious to the social platform users who have no genuine use for its marketing-oriented proddings.

And the recent news that social networks have much less impact on consumer behavior than was previously expected doesn't bode particularly well for the likes of Klout. Link to article: http://mashable.com/2011/04/27/social-media-retail-purchases/ -- with even the National Retail Federation blog stating last week that "social networks are pretty negligible as a source of measured sales."

Merely talking more often and at higher volume (which is what a service like Klout relies on and encourages) doesn't make what a person is saying somehow more valuable, so a metric that takes mostly busybody activity into account could damage the credibility of social network influencers as a whole if high Klout scores don't reflect genuine knowledge, passion and expertise (which they currently don't).

Vanessa said...

Hi Natalie,

Absolutely... And yes, I nearly drew people's attention to the lack of agreement along with the "kloutified" name, but didn't in the end. Didn't need to really!

Vanessa said...

Hi Lindaloo,

I hadn't, but just hopped over to check - thanks for the heads up! A good summary of both the mechanics and criticisms, including the priceless herpes analogy. I also agree that the the system does feed off one's status anxiety, and focus more on quantified measures of social interaction at the expense of qualitative (which arguably, its analytics may not be in a position to judge?).

Vanessa said...

Hi Katie,

Cheers for that - human veal indeed, lol! By the same token, the Authonomy website hosted by Harper Collins, where would-be authors upload extracts of their book and "peer review" and back the books of fellow writers on the basis of star ratings, has been likened to a "self-adjudicating slush pile".

Vanessa said...

Hi Nathan,

Thanks for your detailed and informative comment. I particularly enjoyed the phrase "global, deep-pocketed brand attention". Having read testimonials on the Klout site from blue chip companies who have used Klout as part of their marketing campaigns, that does seem to be a / the driving force behind it. As I mentioned in the post, Klout loves the word "drive" too!

And you are right about those missing social platforms, which was of course Katie's beef too. A friend of mine has made many connections worldwide on Flickr thanks to her outstanding animal photos, for example. She has now had an offer from a publisher in Scandinavia to use some snaps of a pig she took!

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

I think you have identified a prime way in which people use Klout and I appreciate the many klouts I have received, not least from yourself. It is like #FFs or poking people on Facebook, ie just saying "Hi" in a way, as you say.

But there again, strictly speaking, if everybody awarded Klouts just as a way of greeting people rather than a recognition of innate merit, that could lead to a situation where the system became a measurement of how many friends a person has, which is something that Klout is trying to avoid by its focus on the influencers who are "driving action". I think that is going on in our own perfume community - the #FF thing, I mean - and it is another reason why the model is flawed. Which is not to negate the friendliness of the gesture in any way.

Vanessa said...

You go, Katie!

Vanessa said...

Hi Katie,

Thanks for this link - the comments to the post were indeed most thought-provoking, especially the discussion around the blurring of boundaries between "influence" and "busyness".

Vanessa said...

Hi Nathan,

The comment discussion was good, as it presented both sides of the argument, and my reference to HR Managers in my post was intended to highlight the positive side of Klout. For I guess if you want to find a "media savvy" person to run your business - or for whatever end - a social influence indicator of any kind is probably better than none.

But I agree that the marketing-linked agenda of Klout is not apparent until you start digging around its website, so for that it deserves a rap on the knuckles - or a little klout, even!

And yes, it is a blunt instrument in terms of not being able to evaluate the quality of the interactions, and I wonder if it ever will?

Olfacta said...

When I was in 7th grade the kids would circulate "Slam Books," which were small notebooks, a person's name at the top, and comments about what people really thought of them on each page. We all lived in fear of the damned things. But I'm a grown-up now, and grown-ups don't need silly s*it like that.

Um...wait a minute.

Ok, they seem to need them now -- but when will people get it through their heads that all of these "social" networks are simply data-mining, with the ultimate goal being to sell data to people who make a lot of crap nobody really needs?

Vanessa said...

Hi Olfacta,

Wow - those "Slam Books" sound scary! They do say that children can be cruel though...

And I am tending to agree with you that "data-mining" is the name of the game here. With Facebook and Twitter, you half know the bots are logging our info, yet the interactions with people through the site are meaningful and fun in themselves - it is a good way to keep in touch simultaneously with a wide circle of family and friends blah blah. With Klout, however, the only thing you can do is award Klouts and be klouted.

Tara said...

Really interesting post (and comments) about something I knew nothing about. It does sound like a form of affiliate marketing. At best those ratings are all rather spurious. Do you think you're going to stick with it?

Vanessa said...

Hi tara,

Ignorance may well be bliss. Even as a non-member, you have a Klout score of your own somewhere on the site, only the search function wouldn't work for me just now!

I am curious to see if my score falls, as I feel it must now, and when it gets below 40 I might knock my account on the head.

Nathan Branch said...

My immediate thought on reading Undina's comment above is that the broad marketing of Klout as a social media platform rather than a specialized measuring tool could be its own downfall.

The general handing out of Klouts as a way of saying "hello" or "I like you" is fine enough as it is, yet it's also precisely why the relative nobody (in your own description) is garnering higher scores than the individual with expertise and real influence in her/his field -- and this undermines Klout's very reason for existing.

Re: your comments on #FF -- When I first joined up with Twitter, #FF was really useful and I discovered people and sources of information I might never have otherwise. Now, I have #FF blocked on my Twitter apps because it's morphed into one big weekly group hug and wave parade; just another way of saying "hello" or "I like you", with its underlying usefulness buried under six feet of casual social nudging.

Which is too bad, really. Klout and #FF are both fine tools when looked at objectively, but in order for them to be truly effective, they have to be employed with careful deliberation. But that's not going to happen on a mass social network level.

There's undoubtedly room for a service like Klout -- and undeniably there's demand -- but Klout's widespread adoption as the gold-star awarding equivalent of the Facebook "Like" button muddles its own message.

Undina said...

I've read Katie's and Nathan's comments and I completely understand (and support) their position: Klout isn't a good measurement tool of anything when it comes to those who are somebody (like Katie, Nathan or Klout Tom from the article). But for me - who isn't anybody now and, moreover, doesn't even strive to become anybody, - it's just one more Like button (but I am careful with assigning proper likes... I mean +Ks - not to tell you, Vanessa, that you influence me in the important topic of Toolbars ;) )

Vanessa said...

Hi Nathan,

I do think Klout's marketing is muddled - or that the corporate agenda is somewhat obfuscated, certainly. I didn't ever take it to be a social media platform rather than a measuring tool, but I just clocked that people in our community were relating to it in that way (me included), which was one of my misgivings about the whole ratings system. It quickly becomes a popularity contest, and my score is way too high I agree, though I am sure it will be coming down again shortly. Hey, I didn't think I was anywhere near that popular, never mind influential!

I don't do the #FF salute thing, and feel a bit of a curmudgeonly refusenik for not doing so, but frankly I haven't the strength - or technical dexterity - to engage with all those hashtags and @ signs. I like your phrase "its underlying usefulness buried under six feet of casual social nudging".

Authonomy (on which my own book-in-progress still languishes like the Marie-Celeste) is another flawed system. Every month a book rises to the top as a result of the frenzied self-promotion and mutual back slapping of wouldbe authors, and Harper Collins gives the winning manuscript its official consideration. I am not sure a single publishing deal has been awarded to the Gold Star books that cross HC's desk in this way, but I haven't looked in a while.

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

I totally understand where you are coming from, Undina, and I was interacting with Klout in the same way until a few weeks ago, when I started to call it all into question. I figure that the people in this community whom I care about I will primarily show that by reading and commenting on their blogs, by getting involved in private email exchanges, and the odd bit of banter on FB and Twitter. Pokes, #FFs and Klouts are *a formalised method* of greeting people ie an artificial construct. A bit like those photos photographers sneak up and take of you at the school reunion / Grand Canyon / riding a roller coaster etc, and then try to sell you as a souvenir of your experience. It's the contrived nature of the thing that bothers me if you know what I mean!

Musette said...

As you and Olfacta discuss further up in your comments, this is nothing more than data mining and helping to establish Klout for its own success, much like those poor souls who stand behind the velvet rope, to help bolster the image of exclusivity of the club they are not being allowed admittance to. The internet 'commercialized' very quickly (and unsurprisingly) and there will be more and more of these marketing concepts coming to us, as individuals/businesses/etc try to figure out how to best utilize the Net to maximum effect, without being eaten alive in the process.


Vanessa said...

Hi Musette,

I think your image of the poor souls outside the club is spot on! The Klout experience has taught me to question the premise of all the "Internet overtures" with which one is confronted these days, and to be wary of "being eaten alive", as you say!

French Language and Culture Consultancy said...

Next time you're near the Magic Roundabout, burn around and come and have a cup of (scented) tea with me! Swindon is ghastly - what were you doing there??? I'm near Burford, husband from Staffs (went to Shrewsbury) and I love perfume!!

Thanks for your beautiful blog x

French Language and Culture Consultancy said...

read :"turn around", but 'Burn' has a certain Freudian appeal, do you not think?

Vanessa said...

Hi French Language and Culture Consultancy,

There's a mouthful! ; - ). Thanks so much for your lovely comment - it is fun to meet a person familiar with Swindon - not the most prepossessing of towns, it is true. And Staffs is a bit under the radar as a county. A lot of people come to Stafford by mistake, looking for Shakespeare's birthplace.

I know Burford - The Lamb and The Bay Tree are great watering / eating holes though it is many years since I was there. But that general Cotswoldy area was my more scenic stomping ground when I lived in Swindon.

And yes, "burn" is a fine Freudian slip!

French Language and Culture Consultancy said...

Hi Vanessa! I've no idea why French lang and consulting decided to be my avatar!! And I don't know how to change it! Yes it is lovely down here - my husband is from Staffs, he went to Shrewsbury school. Next time you're down here, pop me a line
steffie.caddick@gmaiil.com x

Vanessa said...

Hi Steffie,

Don't worry about the long link - I clicked on it anyway and found your real name. Is your husband related to proprietors of R J & A Caddick by any chance, the motor repair company in Stafford round the corner from where I used to live? : - ) It is not such a common name, so thought to ask!

French Language and Culture Consultancy said...

Vanessa Hi, no he isn't related to them but Caddick is a name associated with the potteries.... they used to own a tiling company? I think the name is Welsh originally, and the Adams part of it came along about 300 years ago. It's funny that you are there and also have been down here to live! By the way, I have just stupidly bought a perfume I can't get along with... 24 Faubourg. Fell in love love love with it in the shop and now....ughh! So weird. I'll keep watching your blog, it's so lovely. I'm on inspirebreathecreate.wordpress.com xx

Vanessa said...

Hi Steffie,

That is interesting about Caddick being a local name - though I am not familiar with the tiling company of that name.

Oh dear, I am so sorry to hear about your mistake in buying 24 Faubourg. I must say it is not one I care for particularly myself - the animalic base doesn't agree with me. I will keep my ear to the ground in case I find any takers. It is so annoying when that happens, and I have most certainly been there too!

Will take a look at your blog too...