Why Klout is dangerous

I have posted two previous articles here and one at SMM Magazine on the Klout menace. Mark Schaefer has recently posted a number of warnings on his excellent blog, Grow. But I think the topic deserves another visit.

Mechanically measuring someone’s influence using an algorithm is going to be imprecise and quirky. Does anyone really believe that Justin Bieber is the most influential living being? or even the most influential online American?

I check my ratings on PeerIndex, Klout and TweetGrader and my rank on SMM marketing professors list, but don’t get distraught when I have slipped a point or another highly followed marketing professor has emerged. It is kind of fun to see how I and my online friends are rated and ranked.

What is the problem?

I am not looking for a job, selling my consulting services, desperate for a free giveaway or in need of approval. But others on twitter are. Recent WSJ and NY Times articles have shown that job hunters were screened by influence scores and some have begun putting them on resumes! Hiring decisions have been based on scores. Companies have offered previews or free goods or services to “high influencers.”

Klout is preying on these trends as it tries to make its site more “social.” Special offers for tweeters with are highlighted. And everyone can award 5 +Ks a day. For now the +Ks don’t mean anything in the Klout rankings but they give us a chance to pat each other on the back (FollowerFriday every day!) and keep us coming to the site. Watching the site daily we should get caught up in the trend of our score and worry about it. [I confess that I now visit the site more often…] Increased focus on influence measures matters since:

  • Measuring an activity changes it.
  • People will try to behave to the measure.
  • Many will cheat. (See Atlanta Public Schools)

In some of his recent columns Mark Schaefer has reported the despicable ethics in SEO: How long till they spread to SM influence? How long till a large number of tweeters decide:

  • To follow or follow-back based on solely on influence scores,
  • To increase frequency of their posts significantly
  • Choose post content based on RT rates, and
  • Hire fake re-tweeters?

Twitter will be a different environment!

What can we do?

Some actions to help save SM include:

  1. Don’t focus on our Klout score
  2. If we refer to influence scores refer to two or three measures instead of just one.
  3. Try to remain true to our interests and relationships on twitter.

Other posts see:

Will Klout kill twitter?: http://t.co/pD6HAsy from me
Klout: An Infographic http://bit.ly/nBFhtV from @markwschaefer
Social media slut http://bit.ly/p2Tj0P from @markwschaefer
Will Klout Kill Community? http://t.co/K2Ax7dj SMM Magazine
Big fat Klout scores http://bit.ly/paCZqj via @markwschaefer
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25 Responses to Why Klout is dangerous

  1. Shane Rhyne says:

    You ask, “How long till a large number of tweeters decide:
    * To follow or follow-back based on solely on influence scores,
    * To increase frequency of their posts significantly
    * Choose post content based on RT rates, and
    * Hire fake re-tweeters?”

    While I understand that folks have some suspicions about Klout and its brethren, every one of the examples you give here was already taking place before Klout was launched. Klout in and of itself is no more harmful to how people use Twitter than any other tool available in the social media toolbox. Every tool has the ability to be misused by any user. Meanwhile, the same tool may be of great benefit to another user

    Should a hiring decision be made based solely on one’s Klout score? No. Should it factor into how a prospective employee is evaluated against his/her competitors? Perhaps. After all, employers use other social scoring mechanisms such as credit score and GPA in the hiring process at times. If it is relevant to the job at hand, why shouldn’t a social media scoring system be called upon to help provide some insight?

    Yes, people will find a way to cheat the system. But, that doesn’t mean the system itself is a bad idea anymore than the presence of speeders means speed limits should be abolished.

    I’m counseling patience with concepts like Klout, Peer Index, et al. This is all first-generation activity. I expect we’ll see refinements and expectations changed based on continuing input from consumers and marketers alike.

  2. gschirr says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful note! I am sure that influence measures will continue to improve. Klout, PeerIndex and the others seem eager to improve their service. My concern is that people are already reading too much into very imperfect measures and that the impact in behavior will affect the social experience. – Gary

  3. I gotta love any blog post that starts with the word “menace.” : )

    You bring up a lot of good points here Gary and it is sad but true that any social media start-up has to deal with fighting people trying to game the system to survive. It nearly broght down Twitter. Nearly de-capitated Quora. And it could certainly clobber Klout. Will be really interesting to see what happens.Klout knows the “sanctity” of their algorithm has to be protected. Can they do it? Who knows but it will be fun to watch!

    Thanks for continuing the conversation!

  4. I have been on Twitter for only about 2 months and my Klout score has been in the mid-40’s for most of that time (once I started to follow it). What I found interesting is that I have been on vacation the past ten days, have not sent a tweet for at least a week, and my Klout score has gone UP. I guess because of the new followers, but certainly this doesn’t bode well for the algorithm actually measuring my “influence,” whatever that is..

  5. gschirr says:

    That is interesting! My score reliably drops if I am gone for more than 2-3 days. You must have staying power!!

  6. gschirr says:

    Thanks Mark. Great point. I think SEO gaming (redundant?) is frightening even to mighty Google. I don’t really care if gaming takes down Klout but I care about the user experience on twitter… Please keep generating your thoughts on this issue on “Grow”!

  7. itsjustahat says:

    Shane’s right. That was happening before. I also agreed with your analogy to speeding… taking it a step further I think the enforcement agency in the analogy would be Facebook, Twitter, etc making large enforcement steps to combat black hat techniques… and while they have put up signs is there really any agents on the case?
    Their actions just don’t lead me to believe they have a serious problem people selling likes, +1’s, retweets, and furthermore they are not putting the issue to rest by ensuring the marketing world that there will be blow back from doing so.

  8. I’m not so sure that Kout and Peer Index are the algorithms that we need to worry about.

    Surely, there is an algorithm inside of Google or Microsoft or some other startup that is measuring ‘social media influence’ and using it to determine what content is important. Google essentially admitted this by including +1 statsitics in their webmaster tools. Today, Klout does not move traffic around the internet so the point of gaming it is minimal but Google moves alot of eyeballs. I suspect that its the the Google Algorithm, not Klout, that is driving the SEO behaviour.

    Having said that, that is the nature of the game. We all use Google everyday because it delivers the most relevant content. If it lost this edge, we would use a different search engine. If it was easy, Google wouldn’t be as profitable as they are.

  9. Klout only matters if and when you are getting the right attention, otherwise who cares! All social Media platforms are broadcast vehicles. Information flows at warp speed. Most people are online for a short time at different times during the day. If you are marketing ideas, products or causes you need frequency to get attention. It also means you need a good engaging content strategy. People retweet becuase they don’t have enough engaging content. If your content informs your brand will win, otherwise people will just skip by you, no matter what your Klout score!

  10. johnochwat says:

    Nice post. I made a few similar posts in a blog post last month (http://johnochwat.wordpress.com/2011/06/22/getting-klouted/). I disagree with Shane. Yes, it’s first-generation activity, but it’s a company’s rating tool that’s now being used by other companies to gatekeep who sees what. And once you start altering your behavior to optimize your Klout score (maybe to score schwag), well … you’ve just sold yourself out, haven’t you? And that means instead of reacting to you as a human, we need to react to you like you’re something else — namely, another kind of advertiser.

  11. gschirr says:

    My concern exactly. The people at Klout aren’t necessarily bad guys and they seem to be trying to improve their measure, but the effect on aggregate SM behavior could be disasterous!


  12. Jim Hilker says:

    I think it is extremely inaccurate to place any judgement on Klout or any SM count or rating. I also know first hand that credit ratings can be very misleading and inaccurate. The problem does not lie in the technology mechanism, the problem is when employers do not look at prospective employees as PEOPLE, each with various talents, gifts, and of course unique circumstances that are not found from SM mechanisms. I recommend that SM rank and credit scores should not even be a consideration in employee searching, nor posted on a resume. My perspective is that of a 30 year business owner and employer / supervisor, and a professional online and social media marketing developer / manager.

  13. Well, of course, there is an iteration process here (the mesured object tries to game the mesuring subject’s algorythm). Whether this sort of feedback effect is out of proportion, that’s the question not so easy to be answered. I’m inclined to Shane’s view that it is perhaps one of the numerous effects in play and not necessarily the biggest one.

  14. I think that there is an iteration process here. The object of the mesurement is trying – like in most of the known cases when the object is human – to game the subject/the measuring agent’s algorythm. Whether this feedback effect is out of proportion, it is not very easy to decide and I’m fo one not in the position to do that. However I’m inclined to confirm Shane’s view that this effect is one of the numerous an not necessarily the biggest one.

    But, anyhow, I find it great that you are keeping on emphasizing the danger. The minimum result would be this excellent and interesting thinking process and the discussion about this.

  15. Pingback: Social Narcissism | Imagine Your Reality Social Narcissism | Business & Social Media Coaching

  16. Alan Wilson says:

    The measure of effectiveness in any communication is partly its inherent value (is it “true” for me, the person communicated to) and partly measurable by the reaction, which can be very hard to quantify – tiny (as yet), sporadic, granular, jittery, or tsunami. So Klout’s just a single index based on a particular algorithm applied now, perhaps. Like any index the system can be gamed. If we don’t bear this in mind we can easily be misled. Thanks for pointing out. What will be interesting is to see how it’s being used in a year’s time. Or not. Me, I’m not going too wild about it.

  17. Great points. I got wrapped in the allure of Klout a month or two ago, checking every day and trying to do things to raise all my scores. Then it hit me that I should just use Twitter the way I want to use it and not to please some third party site trying to suck me in. Now I rarely look at it.

  18. Gary, I am glad you are raising this issue. Here is a post I wrote recently that speaks to some of the concerns you surface:

    Cassandra says “caveat emptor, twitter.”
    Dear friends & colleagues,

    I have been an active user of Twitter for over two years and cannot thank this medium enough for helping me clarify my message & enhancing my compassion for the global view. So I must start with gratitude.

    I will end; however, with caution. They changed the Twitter settings recently so that I can get immediate notification if I am RT, favorited, or mentioned. I have noticed a change in my own habits as I am checking more frequently to get the oxytocin rush of “who loves me now!” Tongue in cheek-but to the chemicals in my brain are getting reinforced and there is some real significant wiring going on that is giving me a false sense of who I am or who I want to be. If it is true for me, it is to some degree probably true for you as well.

    I ask my clients to change their settings and at most to check messages only once every four hours. We need to ensure we are focused on our physical world. For those of you concerned about competitive advantage–don’t confuse “availability” with “responsiveness.”

    We all want to be relevant. We all seek to add value. The more accurate you scan the environment and the more articulate you are in that description is the way in which you will rise as a voice to be heard. Having depth & responding with wisdom often requires time for reflection, quiet, and even sleep cyles. Don’t be seduced into a false sense of connectivity if you are becoming disconnected from yourself.

    Franz Kafka once wrote that “poetry should hit you like an ice-ax.” He meant it should jolt you alive or wake you up into what you believe or don’t believe. Eric Hoffer was the ice-ax for me with his wisdom:

    It would be difficult to exaggerate the degree to which we are influenced by those we influence.
    Eric Hoffer

    How many people do you know at an “all you can eat buffet” who walk around the options first and seek to fill their plate with only the foods & the amounts for vitality? It takes great self-knowledge and discipline to have that kind of discernment — especially if there is environmental (peer) pressure. Feedback consumption & content consumption can begin to look like gluttony and have the same deteriorating effect on self-esteem.

    I am a big believer in this medium. It is wise to participate in social media and my favorite is, in fact,Twitter.

    I just want you to design your strategy prior to diving in.
    I want you to create boundaries for your own protection.
    I want you to be reflective of your participation & consumption.

    In all things, moderation is the key to vitality.

    Urgent for your protection,

    Jennifer aka Cassandra

  19. gschirr says:

    Jennifer: REALLY interesting take on the twitter experience! – Gary

  20. gschirr says:

    You have been saved!!! 😉 Thanks for the note!

  21. gschirr says:

    Alan: Thanks!

  22. Gary, thank you for bringing up the Klout question and creating such a lively discussion. Agree, Klout and any other single tool to measure influence will lead to gaming the system, so there should be two or three. However, Klout is a startup and what they do by making you go back to their site more often is just a strategy to increase its online presence. The same strategy is employed by startups, I think it’s fair. We just need to adjust our outlook on social media and influence.

  23. gschirr says:

    I don’t think that they are truly EVIL (like Google pushing drugs, for example) but I do think that their success is a menace to the social side of social media. – Gary

  24. Paul Harvey says:

    Have you considered deleting your Klout account and thereby not playing their game?

  25. gschirr says:

    Paul: Probably a good idea… I stopped giving out +Ks long ago… – Gary

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