Klout: Meaninglessness Masquerading as Measurement
For nearly two weeks, I was more influential than Professor Scott Galloway. Indeed, marketers aiming to disperse their messages to the internet would have been wise to approach me instead of the famous CEO of a successful marketing consultancy who is routinely flown around the world to speak at enormous conferences. After all, my Klout score was 47 and his was 46.
Mocking Klout is like mocking Sarah Palin: too easy, yet strangely satisfying. Both speak with loud voices about topics they don’t understand. So as Palin firmly asserted her ability to see Russia from Alaska, Klout insists that our dear classmate Linz Shelton is more influential than Malcolm Gladwell. And that Cassie Bradford is more influential than Barack Obama. And Weird Horse is more influential than David Pogue, but both are less influential than Dennis Crowley who is more influential than Aswath Damodaran and Al Gore, but less influential than someone named Megan Amram.
It’s also curious that a single person’s Klout Score can fluctuate wildly within a short period of time. Are we really to believe someone’s influence in the world is so fickle that it can come and go within days, or evaporate if someone dares to take a vacation?
Okay, so Klout’s primary product — the Klout Score — is meaninglessness masquerading as measurement. What about the topics it chooses for users? Might those be more accurate representations of their areas of influence?
We can begin our evaluation of Topics with a look at those chosen for me:
1. Television. Odd, I don’t own a television or talk about television.
2. Business. I suppose I could influence people about “business” in an abstract way. I do go to business school and tweet about Apple’s and Google’s products on occasion.
3. Klout. They better hope not!
4. Shoes. I last purchased shoes in January. I last spoke about shoes… never.
5. Entertainment. While I enjoy a good flick as much as the next guy, I am certainly not influential on the topic.
6. Handbags. You’ve gotta be kidding me.
Professor Damodaran, the global authority on corporate valuation, is most influential about Soap Operas. Barack Obama guides the conversation about Soccer and Steve Jobs. Want to know about Seizures? Tap into Peanut Free Mom, a joke Twitter personality written by a man in Boston.
One more: Klout, the corporation, is influential about Moms, Family, and Food. Who knew that the “Standard of Influence” is actually Martha Stewart! Martha Stewart, by the way, is not influential about Family or Moms, so you can unsubscribe from Martha Stewart Living and just follow Klout if you’re into those topics.
To be fair, Klout performs better with topics than it does with its Klout Score. Barack Obama is mainly influential about Politics and himself, Professor Galloway is aligned with Marketing and Branding, and David Pogue is associated with Technology and Apple. Those, at least, correspond with reality, even if Klout does nothing to indicate the relative extent to which they are influential about those topics.
But is this useful? I don’t need Klout to tell me the New York Times’s tech columnist is influential about technology or that Barack Obama is influential about Barack Obama. If Klout identified relatively unknown people who had similar levels of influence on these topics, that would be useful information. Instead, browsing Klout’s Topics is an exercise in obviousness. Who would have guessed MacWorld leads the Apple Topic list?
Let’s check Klout’s report card. The Klout Score gets a solid “F,” and their topics have some merit but are rife with errors and obvious observations. A “C” seems generous but fair. Average those on the GPA scale and you get a 1.0, or a “D” average.
Here’s my explanation: people love being told where they stand in the world. And marketers love to know who they should target. So powerful are these two forces that even a profoundly inept product like Klout can achieve celebrity status, at least until a viable competitor appears.
It’s easy to see where this is headed. Either someone will build a better mousetrap and banish Klout to the Deadpool, as Google did to other search engines, or Klout will use that $10M from Kleiner Perkins and friends to make their product meaningful. To be clear: the concept of segmenting users into areas of influence is powerful and valuable. Someone will eventually do it properly and that company will create tremendous value. In the mean time, I have a heartfelt plea:
Will everyone please stop treating Klout as more credible than Zoltar?
- Juston Payne