Klout: Measuring online influence in the digital age

11 September 2012

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We all like to think we have some influence over others online. There’s an undeniable satisfaction that comes with getting a ‘like’ on Facebook, or a mention on Twitter. While many people build expansive networks through social media, there hasn’t really been an easy way to measure the effect you have on others online.

Klout is an up-and-coming San Francisco company that aims to achieve this. Klout analyses your activity on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram, among other sites, and gives you a score between one and 100. The average Klout score is 40.

Your score depends on how much people ‘like’, retweet and share your content online. It’s an interesting idea, but does your Klout score affect anything other than your ego?

For those who work in PR or corporate marketing, Klout may be an important new tool. Wired told the story of an experienced marketer who was overlooked at a job interview because of his low Klout score. In industries where communication is vital, it makes sense that companies would relish being able to assess prospective employees with the click of a button.

The site is being used by companies to try and improve their brands too. Flash sales website, Gilt, gave discounts to people depending on their Klout score. Some hotels have upgraded people for free, while nightclubs are waiving their entry fees to those with impressive scores.

Earlier in the year Cathway Pacific Airways partnered with Klout to open their San Francisco First and Business Class Lounge to those who could show they had a score of over 40. As Klout’s website claims, companies ‘use Klout to measure their own success on social media.’

Clearly Klout is effective on several levels. When high-scoring Klout users gain benefits from their status, it wouldn’t be surprising that they would mention the business they are gaining from, possibly mentioning Klout in the process.

By creating some level of exclusivity in terms of measuring people’s online influence, this also drives more people to sign up for Klout in the hopes of receiving the same freebies or special offers. As long as businesses are still on board, the site should remain relevant for some time. I imagine that without real-world benefits, Klout would be unable to succeed purely by feeding people’s egos.

Despite the effects of Klout, you have to stand back and take a look at how it measures influence. While it is true that their algorithms are incredibly detailed and accurate, no site is truly capable of measuring influence to the extent to which they claims to. Does getting a post retweeted really mean you influence someone in any significant way? In the case of celebrities it certainly does, but in those cases their influence is clear to all without a numerical score.

When it comes to the average person I’m not so sure about Klout’s uses, aside from the aforementioned egotistical aspect. And on a slightly conspiratorial note: do you really want yet another app having access to all of your social networking information and email address? I agreed somewhat reluctantly for the purpose of this piece, only to find that the home page failed to load thereafter. Perhaps this is for the best, as my social media ego, however small, is spared for another day.

The future, at least in some areas of employment, may be influenced by Klout. Any excuse to try and build and engage with an audience is probably beneficial for all involved.

But for the time being I wouldn’t worry if your score is lacking.

Tim Viney is a Master of Global Communications student at La Trobe University, and is upstart‘s deputy editor. You can follow him on Twitter: @TimViney2.