MySpace co-founder Tom Anderson used to be known as "MySpace Tom," because newly created Myspace accounts automatically included him as a default friend. Nowadays, he may as well be known as "Klout Tom," because of his usage of and influence on the leading social networks of this era: Facebook, Google+ and Twitter.
Klout is a tool that measures your influence online. It puts a number on your ability to influence other people using social media. Tom's Klout score is 77, which is relatively high. If your work in any way involves social media, it's good to be influential in whatever your niche is. But is Klout really a meaningful way to track your influence? Should you be using it to help you in your career or life?
Ranking people on the Web has always been difficult and is often viewed as a form of elitism. There are other issues too. Social media is ripe with gaming, therefore how can anybody trust a ranking mechanism for social media? Also people have questioned the company's motives - is Klout merely a front to farm influence metrics out to marketers?
Those are all valid concerns, but let's focus on what value - if any - Klout provides to you, dear Reader.
Klout in a Nutshell
Klout aims to measure influence "based on your ability to drive action." It relies on data from social networks, so when you first join you're prompted to connect your social networks to Klout. Facebook, Twitter, Google+ (as of today) and other popular services. It's by no means a comprehensive list of social networks, but with today's addition of Google+ it now includes all of the biggies.
Once you've hooked up all of your social networks, Klout assigns you a "Klout score." It also gives you three other measurements:
- True Reach: How many people you influence
- Amplification: How much you influence them
- Network Impact: The influence of your network
As mentioned above, Tom Anderson's Klout score is 77. He's a power user of social networks. I guess he has the time to be, as his byline states "enjoying being retired" (and why not!).
Anderson's Klout score recently jumped as a result of Klout adding Google+ to its rank (aside: my own Klout account hasn't yet indexed Google+, so it doesn't look like Google+ integration has rolled out to everybody yet).
Klout defines Anderson as a "Thought Leader" in his industry: "Your followers rely on you, not only to share the relevant news, but to give your opinion on the issues. People look to you to help them understand the day's developments. You understand what's important and your audience values that."
Questions Over Data Accuracy
So how good is Klout at measuring the influence of Tom, not to mention the rest of us? That's another contentious thing about Klout. Anderson himself, writing on his Google+, noted one possible issue:
"...they [Klout] don't seem to be taking into account the new "subscriber" model on Facebook. I converted my personal Facebook account to allow subscribers about a month ago, and I now have near 900,000 subscribers."
Anderson also noted that "Klout seems to be very Twitter-heavy in its scoring mechanism." However, that was contradicted by the analysis of another social media influencer, Kim Sherrell (Klout score 67). According to Sherrell, Klout is now Facebook-heavy:
"This happened about the time Twitter power users saw significant drops, but [Facebook founding president] Sean Parker's score was through the roof. At that point, he had been Tweeting for five minutes. There is no way [Parker] could have earned that score on Twitter. The data had to be coming from Facebook."
Klout's main issue right now is that nobody can figure it out. It's at best opaque, at worst gibberish. Uber-photographer Trey Ratcliff (Klout score 84) commented in my Google+ stream:
"I log in there every week or so to see if I can figure it out - I can't! And it must be a little off because my score is higher than Tom Anderson's -- that doesn't seem right."
I know my Klout score (currently 60) is off, because it hasn't accounted for Google+ yet.
But while data accuracy and believability is a problem for Klout, we should cut them some slack. They only just added Google+ and they're probably continually tweaking their algorithms. We've seen over 2011 how fast changing the social networking landscape has become - Google+ launched in late June, Facebook has morphed and added new features at an impressive pace, and Twitter has continued to change things up.
So Should You Use Klout?
Klout's business plan is undoubtedly geared towards giving its influence data to marketers. Even so, I think it's useful to have a personal Klout score and to track it.
There will continue to be inconsistencies and complaints, about Klout scores and what they mean. But if your work involves social media, then influence is a key metric. Also it's worth heeding the advice of Kim Sherrell, who discovered that "the real benefit [in Klout] is the valuable professional contacts."
Yes Klout is flawed, but currently it's the leading contender offering influence metrics. It will likely get better over time. So I'd advise to run with it and see how useful it is for you. If you're a regular Klout user, or if you tried it but didn't like it, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.