Klout: You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

Our_sun Environmental factors, particularly light, can markedly influence neural development.

It's one of the results from a study conducted by Doug McMahon and published in Nature Neuroscience.

I bet you always wanted to know the extent to which planets and astrology have an impact on your work, love life, etc.

It turns out that your internal clock regulates all your functions depending on the hours of light on your birth date: appetite, sleep, blood pressure, physical activity, etc.

If you're born in a summer month, or in a place where the days are long and sunlight is plentiful, you're more likely a night owl, building energy throughout the day.

Those of you born in winter or in places where the days are short, will more likely be morning people — and, the study says, more prone to depression. Are you a night owl or a lark?

Light has an effect on the brain and on psychology. It made a lot of sense to me. Don't we say of someone who is always positive that they have a sunny disposition?

Then you have astrology — horoscopes. While this study* confirms that planets, in this case one planet, does in fact influence character and personality in the way they show up — as behavior — it does in no way confirms that the planets on your sign when you were born determine who you are or are going to behave as exactly.

So many factors contribute to the development of your identity — as I said in my second review of Switch (Amazon affiliate link in that post), our identity is made up of several things:

  • heritage — where we were born, where we live, our age, educational background, etc.
  • environment — transient external factors such as the economy
  • needs — they include both what we truly need and what we think we need and actually just want
  • interactions — we also define ourselves in relationship with others

Which then get married to the same and other factors contributing to our behavior — context and trust among the strongest, as I stated when I wrote about unpacking Klout, true measure of influence? The answer is no, it is not.

In response to a conversation I'm seeing about companies using Klout to reach out to "influencers" or, even more intriguing, those that may be thinking about looking at Klout scores as indication of a candidate's future performance on the job, I thought it would be good to take a very close look at the algorithm upon which scores are based and what the tool looks at — in depth.

You're invited along for the conversation.

This blog and my philosophy is one of discovery where conversation is a true mechanism and vehicle to vet ideas and build upon them. In some cases, this means calling it like it is. In all cases, I hope it means you're willing to change your mind.

We'll be tough on ideas, soft on people. This is also an invitation for Joe Fernandez at Klout to participate — I'll be happy to share how I'm planning to do this, so you can comment and have a voice in the posts.

When it comes to influence, you don't know what you don't know. This is why the conversation is much broader than one tool, this tool. We'll start with what Klout is/isn't, does/doesn't do, and take it from there.

I promised an interactive conversation about influence at SxSW — it starts here and now.


In case you missed them, here are other (not all) posts I wrote on influence:

Forget Influentials: in Viral Marketing Context Matters

Want to Build Influence? Be a Meaningful Specific

Earned Media and Influence

How to Harness Influence

Connecting with Real Influence

[the sun as seen from the space station]

*There have been many others, by the way, especially around depression in Nordic countries.

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0 responses to “Klout: You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know”

  1. I can’t wait to see what you do with this Valeria. A couple of weeks ago, I was poking around with different Klout scoring factors and ended up having a brief Twitter conversation with Joe Fernandez. My impression: nice people, but no magic in their product – just a little bit of “secret sauce” programming to automate the kind of mutual measuring up we all do on Twitter with a heaping helping of plain old self-promotion on their part.

  2. In your earlier article you mentioned that Klout attempts to measure actions as defined on the network(s) it measures. Then it was Twitter, now Facebook as well, soon to be others.
    And you rightly point out that it does not measure offline impact such as change in an “attitude, opinion, or behavior.”
    I completely agree and it is a great point. Everyone should note that, but the tool still has a ton of value. The overall Klout score, the one everyone talks about and their leading metric, is less about how much offline action they can produce and more about the engagement of their audience and in turn, their potential to drive these offline impacts.
    That potential is a valuable metric. Insight into the engagement of an individual’s audience is a valuable metric. Should a Klout score be the main factor in hiring someone or including someone in a brand’s blogger outreach program? No. Can it add value to those decisions? Completely.
    I think there are plenty of places where this score has value and as people learn to use it in the right way that value only increases.
    An even better use of Klout will come when and if they start rolling out Klout topic scores. Where individuals can be better represented in their niche, whether it is parenting or blogging or the NFL.

  3. It would be great to center the discussion around “influence” which pre-dates Klout by a few million or thousand years depending on your perspective. What is influence? What are its fundamentals? How does it expand and contract?

  4. FINALLLY…someone has mentioned the identity factors like heritage, environment, culture, etc. For years, I have said this same thing.
    One other factor in all of this that a lot of people, from what I can tell, are overlooking is that Klout is only as smart as the people who program it. That constant variable of human always can throw things out of whack. Again, look back at what Valeria said in the article about identity.
    Thank you Valeria. Great article. Looking forward to much more.

  5. Looking forward to seeing the follow ups to this post Valeria. Loved the fact that you outlined all the factors to a human being. Clearly those aren’t in the algorithm. Klout needs to step up with a better explanation of its realistic benefits.

  6. Influence is a verb, not just a noun. The current trend in measuring a person’s influence defines influence as something a person HAS, as opposed to something a person DOES. That speaks to the distinction Jason mentions between POTENTIAL influence and ACTIVE influence.
    A person can have a high Klout score (or pick another influence metric, if you prefer), but until that person actually influences your target audience to take the action you desire, it’s just a number.
    My biggest complaint with influence metrics is that they provide no insight into influence OVER WHOM? Someone with a Klout score of 74 is influential…but are they influential with my target audience? If I want to sell gun racks, for instance, should I conduct an influencer outreach campaign to get Scoble to talk about my gun racks? I doubt it.
    Thanks for adding to the discussion, V. Lots of good commentary on this topic.

  7. Valeria,
    I appreciate that you too are taking this on. You might like to know that it is reasonable to suspect that companies hiring people based on Klout scores was overhyped, a publicity stunt.
    From the articles I’ve read, several journalists have called companies and have yet to find one who is actually placing the concept into practice. Personally, I can’t see any reason for someone to do it.
    Yesterday, I wrote about one company that I was given behind the scenes access too (so I could fix some early mistakes made). They bought most of their followers and retweets and have a Klout score in the 30s. Ho hum.
    All my best,

  8. Valeria I can not wait to come along on this ride. I typically use Klout as a piece of data in a much larger context of who a person is and the influence they have. I equate it to understanding a map and a pending road trip. If you are going to go from Minneapolis to Chicago the first piece of data you need is a map for direction. This will give you a general sense of how to get there, but the traveling part is so much different. Where you eat, who you talk to, the emotions you have driving as well as places you stop, the conversations you have, reading reviews of hotels & restaurants, checking in for deals, etc etc etc.
    So if you used a map alone to chart your course at that is it you probably will miss out on many things along the way. You need to include an ecosystem of information to make the trip.
    I am glad the platform is starting from a place of discussing ideas & facts and not the people. This will include far more people in the discussion!

  9. I’m looking forward to this conversation here and at SXSW. The factors you mention above are interesting and important but are really deal with what makes up a person. Currently we can’t measure the full impact of influence because only a part of our interactions are online. What we can measure is a person’s influence or interactions that they do have online.
    A friend of mine has done extensive research on this subject and one of the things that he points out is that no single metric reflects the state of the network and no metrics today take into account the variability of people. By taking a weighted average of three attributes is better than one but it still does not give a realistic picture. You have to be able to take into account the dynamic nature of a network and all of it’s attributes.
    The conversation I would like to have is what problem is Klout solving? Because of the generic use of the term influence people look at it for their own ego, a way to reach your target market, ??? The Klout score is a novelty in so many ways for people. People that are using it for hiring inputs have lost their minds. Klout is the one of the first into this field online. Klout will come and go and others with better science will take it’s place. I’m sure this will be a lively discussion. Count me in.

  10. I recently blogged about Social Media Influence and how it lacks the biggest insight of all, which is offline behavior. Am I rich or poor? Do I buy things that influence others? Do I chat a lot off line talking in person to people thus influencing them? It also lacks what a marketer with a goal needs. Do I just want something seen and passed along? Do I want an action? A resulting Sale?
    In my case I have only 3-4 ‘real life pre-twitter’ friends on twitter. All my connections are people I have never met except for a handful. And since my Facebook account where all my friends are is 100% private I can not see any form of online measurement figure out my value or worth that is close to reality.
    And with only 6-10 million people a day using Twitter in the US you miss 95% of consumers.
    Now this does not negate learning about people and making decisions on how to treat them. Just like in NYC if you regularly patronize a restaurant you might get a free round of drinks that other patrons do not get.

  11. Hi Valeria – very nice post.
    I wrote something vaguely similar over on the Econsultancy blog recently (http://ecly.co/ecSWt9)
    It’s worrying that many companies are using Klout as a kind of ‘universal indicator’ of influence or as a performance metric. Ultimately influence and reach are only valuable if they are contextually relevant to your business -looking forward to reading your follow-up posts.

  12. Valeria, up until a month ago Klout was only handling Twitter data. Algorithm to that is interesting, but far more interesting is the consistency with which that is applied
    If you search for Klout on my blog you’ll find 4 posts on the quality of Klout detailed underlying data – which is absolutely unreliable and statistically impossible
    I’m glad that more and more people start scrutinizing Klout’s ways. Experience has shown me that they fail almost every test
    Good luck!

  13. @Geoff – this is my life’s work and project. Thank you for offering. I’m going solo.
    @Dennis – the point and the beauty of it is that it’s data driven technology. Early days for the kinds of insights and information we need to make world changing business decisions.
    @Jason – and the reason why I’m excited about Joe participating in the conversation is that he can help define what his vision is longer term. It’s one or an aggregation of a couple of data points. How you read it and use it depends on how *you* look at the world, not the true impact of that person to whom it is attached. And like many things in life, you get out of them in proportional measure to your ability and experience to contextualize the information and look beyond any one metric. Plus, let’s face it, people often confuse ability to measure with true measure of what they are looking for ultimately. In many cases this is because they don’t know what that is… to be continued for sure. Glad this conversation interests you.
    @Jack – you’ll need to wait a few months for the full enchilada on that (announcements when appropriate). Suffice it to say that I have spent several years learning and researching it in the context of human connections/life in the ages. What we will drive home here is the more pragmatic aspects of understanding how to harness influence to benefit customers and their communities, help businesses connect with them, etc.
    @Stacey – … and the people who use it. Let’s not forget that.
    @Anna – the cultural anthropology factors are a bit more qualitative and situational. What’s happening is that people with personal agendas are driving the conversation of what the tool does or doesn’t do, etc.
    @Scott – it is also a verb, yes. Influence is with the influenced as well. Mark Earls has done good work on this side of the conversation. So many assumptions, and such a narrow view of this topic. I once heard someone who yields a lot of influence say that true influence is never cashed in, it just is, or something to that effect.
    @Rich – reports to that effect – companies hiring people based upon Klout scores – were indeed exaggerated for publicity purposes. You’re going to have that, bloggers looking to have dozens of comments to show how “influential” they are 🙂 In all seriousness, one can’t buy love.
    @Keith – and how often online directions are misleading, or take you around an unnecessary loop? A map is also not going to show you what it not there until after you put it there…

  14. @Matt – that’s why the best kind of influence is the kind that is created. What you measure with tools, even with your friend’s metrics (I am also talking with someone who has done extensive work on measuring it, BTW, as part of a larger research project/narrative) is past performance, which you’d like to project onto the future. Even when someone does something today, this moment, in the real time people are so enamored with, the new fashion, you have no indication that they will do that again on your behalf/for you. More thinking in future posts.
    @Howie – context, yes. And being able to connect behaviors, messages, and incentives has been at the core of the current marketing practice. However, we keep overlooking the ability to help those who are already doing good by our products and services get the word out more efficiently/at scale, etc.
    @Matt – the silver bullet syndrome 😉 Thank you for the link.
    @Martijn – Klout is only part of the conversation we will have here on influence. Thank you for the tip on the posts. I will check them out.

  15. Parking the debate as to the value of klout for a moment, I think there will be pretenders to the the Klout throne. The trouble with Klout is that it’s routed in one social media channel – Twitter. But our social media lives, more so than ever, sit in a multitude of different channels.
    Klout’s strength is to recognise the demand for people to be measured against a set of criteria. The trouble is, that it should be used as a guide and not as the gospel truth.

  16. Your points about context and trust are exactly why I value the long form context and thought process displayed in an individual’s blog post, eBook, or blog comments. That’s why I find it hard to believe that individuals would place so much weight in a Klout score that focuses on social media channels like Twitter and Facebook which are based on short-form context or an update mentality.
    I believe that measuring and understanding influence in social networks is vitally important. However, it’s going to take more than a Klout score, convenient soundbites in someone’s Twitter stream, and the social proof of thousands of Twitter followers to convince me these factors are the sole basis for anointing someone as an influencer or thought leader of merit.
    Show me you can structure an argument, have done the fact-based analysis to support that argument, and after reviewing and understanding those items within the proper context, maybe I’ll grant you my trust.
    Thank you Valeria for thoughtfully provoking our thoughts and opinions with this post. I can’t wait to read and learn more as you share more about this continuing and compelling subject.

  17. It’s one path of forensic evidence that’ll tip you off to who’s working with whom for real.
    Like cell phone records. Kinda. Like digital dumpster-diving.
    There’s a place for it, and yes, somebody will make a better mousetrap.
    I look at my own Klout score/summary and I have to agree with what I see there.

  18. I have been *very* curious about the real value behind Klout, how it works, how the score is calculated and whatnot.
    I never put too much value behind it, but I admit it was good to see it growing bit by bit, I guess it’s in the human nature to find comfort in seeing “evidence” of one’s personal growth.
    Looking forward to reading more on this in the future.

  19. I too, have wondered about the value of Klout. And the whole notion of “Influence” – which in many cases rings hollow. More like high school then modern business. It’s all a matter of perspective and I look forward to seeing where this goes. I think you have to start somewhere – and they’ve certainly provided a kickstart to the conversation.
    I’ve also become hugely intrigued with Neuroscience and find your points here fascinating. As a March guy, I am more of a morning person. It’s fascinating how our backgrounds/environments shape who we are. I look at myself and think about what could be / if, then. And recognize that we do have the ability to change – to overcome resistance by taking action.
    Switch is such the perfect framework for making such change.

  20. @Tom – they are planning to integrate more social networks in addition to Twitter and Facebook profiles. The trouble though is that some people use more their Facebook page than profile, like me for example. So even adding Facebook doesn’t give you an accurate read of someone’s activity, never mind influence. And yes, these are early days. We do know everyone’s after the maximum results with minimum efforts, so tools will proliferate.
    @Tony – it looks like people’s thinking with social continues to follow the usual marketing approaches and tactics. Get me eyeballs, get me a celebrity, get me, get me… when the opportunity is connection. Early days on it all, and people love to have fast yes and no answers. Everyone grows very uncomfortable with ambiguity and flux.
    @Don – the scores merely reflect exactly what they count and track. However, they hardly give you the full story on persuasion.
    @Gabriele – it started from good intent. If you ask the “why” question instead of the “how” you will see that everything takes a proper place in the mix.
    @Patrick – or by reflecting upon what makes us who we are. it is very possible that opportunity lies in embracing who you are vs. trying to “overcome resistance”. I like the little song about rowing merrily downstream.

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