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Klout’s no good and here’s why

I was recently shocked to see social media thinker David Graham say that the sentiment around Klout is going to change. If anything, the sentiment around Klout is going to die off as more people realise the algorithm and methodologies behind it are seriously flawed.

Klout adds impetus to the saying that “there is no truth, only perception” because it acts as a mouthpiece for it — showing users what it perceives to be the truth about their online personas.

This filter of perception isn’t infallible either, it’s incredibly easy to game it. Yesterday I logged in and gave John Beale (not a bully at all) +K for “Bullying”. The new updated version also takes Wikipedia articles into account, especially ones with a large amount of links embedded in them. Most sycophants have written their own Wikipedia entries, and it’s not hard to rustle up a couple of hundred links either. Telling Twitter the funny things that Klout considers one to be influential on, is also becoming somewhat of an internet meme. Cue the Klout applause.

Graham argues that the fact that Klout is increasing its use of signals from 100 to 400 is a good thing, but that’s only good if the underlying algorithm and methodology is correct in the first place. In this case, when I tweet an old schoolmaster that I hope he has a few beers for the rugby, the Klout algorithm assumes I have Klout when it comes to “Beer”. That couldn’t be further from the case as I’m a “Rum and Coke” man in real life. This happens because Klout incorrectly assumes that this social meta-data is somehow linked to influence and expertise.

The quantity of data points is not as important as the quality of the data point and the relationship between data points. In the above example, Klout assumes that because I am telling someone to have a beer, that I have influence over them. It doesn’t take into account whether that person takes me seriously or not.

What’s worse is that this inaccurate means of judgement is being used in real life scenarios (job interviews) to (ironically) influence people with their decision-making, says CEO Joe Fernandez:
“Klout is basically your social credit score. Consumers should care because it affects the way employers, companies and everyone looks at your ability to spread information as a critical part of the attention economy today.”

Other than the serious methodology flaws, Klout is flawed because it doesn’t accurately portray our interests and influences in real life, merely what we broadcast on the internet. While that’s got more to do with human nature than the makeup of Klout, it is a damaging result of it. If Klout is to be of any use, it is to show us how separated our online persona is from our real life one.

Author | Graeme Lipschitz: Columnist

Graeme Lipschitz: Columnist
Graeme Lipschitz is the co-founder of digital innovation agency Wonderland Works where he heads up Social Media, Search and Product Development. He was previously the business development manager at Clicks2Customers.com and has worked for Google UK and South Africa as a lead account strategist, growing Adwords accounts in the... More
  • I have to agree Graeme. I find Klout to be totally misleading. I am now an expert in Colorado – a place I have never been to, and lemonade. I know I can be a bit bitter at times but that takes it just to far. They must have got that one from me joking about what a Lemon being an entrepreneur can be.

    My Klout score also jumped from about 22 to 60 after using buffer app. I read all my content in my ipad and shoot it off to buffer app so that my stream shares content evenly and easily. How does my influence suddenly jump because I use a tool to share content more evenly? How can I have more influence over people when in all likelihood people are sharing a tweet because it has a good headline?

    Measuring influence is as complicated as we humans are. And given I dont even understand myself, thats a dran hard task.

  • Klout is a mildly amusing way to get a quick, spurious ego boost based on absolute bullshit. Anybody who takes it more seriously than that, there’s no hope for.

  • This was an article which was just waiting to be written. Klout is a crock of…

  • Bit of a trollin’ post this Graeme and your comment on perception versus truth comes across as an incredulous rant. Clearly you’re not a Klout fan and that’s that!

  • Thanks for the mention Graeme ;) You raised a number of interesting points. Klout acknowledged that you can game the system and this is why they capped the score for K+. They must be doing something right because Justin Bieber’s score dropped from a perfect 100 to the lower 90’s and President Obama’s score increased by a few points. I do not believe Klout is the end all or be all, however it does provide a “good indication” in terms of identifying who believes you are influential in specific areas. I have received K+’s from a number of influential people withiin the social media industry for specific topics and I seriously doubt they would have done so if they didn’t believe I was influential in those areas.

  • I like what it could be – its current form needs work.

    Oh – to continue pointing out silliness. I’m rated 56 and am of the ‘specialist’ variety – all while in my final year of University having not had a ‘proper’ job yet.
    (I am also influential about Israel… and Beverages. Just not Israeli Beverages).

  • Barbara Ulmi

    I like your thinking here! It can easily be expanded into cookie tagging on keywords in paid media.

  • Hey! Klout fills the gaping chasm in my meaningless existence. I have influence in yoghurt! (But not, weirdly enough, in Range Rover or lipstick, which are two things I really do have influence in.)

  • Preach!!!

  • David, you’re the best local example of using a studied approach to social media to build a B2B profile (I use you in case studies) so I take what you have to say about any of this seriously. I do pay a lot of attention to Klout as a total score because it’s a number, and it’s easy to get obsessed with numbers. It’s also the only rating system I have to give me an indication of where i figure in the social media firmament. That said, they do need to sort out the anomalies – as an experiment, I tried to list Range Rover as a subject I’m influential in, and their list of options would permit “Rangers” and nothing else. So they open themselves up to criticism. It’s interesting that in an environment which prides itself on its measurability, there seems to be no measurement that isn’t open to dispute. So I find myself going back to my personal, anecdotal experience with influencers like you, and rating people on my own interactions, rather than a number.

  • THE CHALLENGE, BUGS
    What I like about Klout is the challenge they took on, to quantify or measure online influence. Given all the issues raised by users and researchers around Klout, there are definitely some bugs somewhere whether it is the approach or methodology. There are very few pioneers who have made progress without challenging the norm or introducing a new perspective.

    STILL IN BETA
    Klout’s approach or their methodology may not be perfect but I am encouraged by the progress they have made so far. Even though Klout has been around for a bit, the product is still in Beta. This tells me that the company acknowledges there is still some work to be done. I definitely think that Klout is on to something with the idea. They might need to Tweak, Revamp or Completely overhaul everything to get it right.

    SENTIMENT AROUND QUANTIFICATION
    I do believe that the sentiment around quantification of influence in general will definitely change with time. At some stage I believe it will be a credential that plays a role in our interactions in business. The credential might take a different form but I think it will be necessary.

    A MORE HUMAN SYSTEM
    The challenge that Klout faces is how to make their system more human. This challenge is not unique to Klout but machines and artificial intelligence in general where practical decisions need to be made from vast data. Making it more human means Klout arrives at the same conclusion a human would or Klout’s results are more in line with reality and what’s actually happening on the ground. Does Klout’s analysis talk to the personal experience or anecdotal evidence? Making it more human means Klout will not make some of the mistakes researchers are pouncing on where for instance people are pronounced influencers or experts in areas they have little to do with. Maybe Klout might be the tool of choice for that, maybe not but I believe they are on to something.

    In summary, as Gregory put in an earlier comment, I like what Klout could be

  • I have consistently questioned the value of Klout, not least because it appears to disregard some very key issues of social/community dynamics and the fluid nature of influence across time and topic/conversation. It also misses other key issues like the fact that the individuals seen as influentials are often surrounded by other influentials who almost by definition have a low susceptibility to being influenced – so the influentials don’t influence (as irish as that may sound) – some interesting research been done on that recently.

  • You couldn’t have worded that better Walter :) Hasn’t this been the issue for some time on most of the social networks i.e. many social media influencers promoting and buoying each other up.

  • Pam and Sarah put Klout in a nutshell, people who live by Klout might also believe Alexa’s data.

  • Read what 13 experts have to say about the new Klout algorithm: http://windmillnetworking.com/2012/08/22/klout-experts-social-influence-algorithm/

  • An interesting post Graeme … I’m of the school of thought that welcomes disruption & there is no question about it, Klout, PeerIndex, Kred and others created a new way of looking at online ‘influence’ (though I hate the word, it’s the one we live with for now).
    I’m not in the least bit interested in trying to ‘game’ the system, just as I wasn’t with Red, Digg, StumbleUpon and other content aggregators which redefined their genre at the time.
    I don’t really give a continental about the ‘scores’ perse … who cares. But I do see merit in what they’re *trying* to do … and what Klout & its ilk *could* become.
    I have had some interesting offline engagements with brands which *get* social … and am intrigued by the way digital presence translates into real-world engagement. This after all is what we all strive for … to communicate in such a way, that we strengthen relationships and ultimately add real value to those relationships, business and/or personal.
    Does Klout matter? I think it does, just not in the way that it’s currently perceived and positioned.

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  • lucia

    you said it!

  • Wow Jon, is that all you’ve got?

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