Ascent of the social media climbers: Klout goes mainstream

I’ve never done this before, but today I’m reprinting an entire article from another publication on {grow}.  Why? Because this excellent piece from Boston Globe reporter Beth Teitell represents one of the first times the concept of social scoring systems like Klout have jumped into the mainstream media. I think this is significant.

I started writing about social scoring a few months ago, predicting that this trend would become mainstream and that we need to be aware of and embrace these systems as marketing professionals — whether we love them or hate them.  Here is Beth’s fine article:

Ascent of the social-media climbers

By Beth TeitellGlobe Staff / February 18, 2011After Valentina Monte accepts a date, the Boston University junior quickly goes online to see how many Twitter followers her suitor has. She checks her own follower count three times a day. When she meets someone who admits to following more people than follow him, she judges. “That means you’re a loser.’’So when her Klout score hit an impressive 59 out of 100 recently, making it almost as high as Jay Leno’s score of 65, she was ecstatic. “I felt worthy.’’

Klout score? Learn it or, as Monte would say, be judged. Klout.com is one of a number of new status-measuring tools aimed at making social networking more like high school than it already is. Sites such as Klout and PeerIndex.net take public information from Twitter, and sometimes Facebook and LinkedIn, to determine a person’s influence on social media. Anyone can check her score or a rival’s by going to one of the sites and putting in her Twitter handle.

The companies use secret algorithms that go beyond simple numbers of followers — which can be bought in bulk — or friends or fans, and count retweets, the number of links clicked, and even how influential one’s followers are, among other indicators.

“A credit score for your reputation,’’ is how Dave Wieneke, director of digital marketing at Sokolove Law, in Boston, describes the Klout score.

Although many don’t know enough to worry about their Klout scores, for those keeping track, it can be one more ego boost or slap. “There’s a lot of emotion around this,’’ said Mark Schaefer, author of the “Tao of Twitter: Changing Your Life and Business 140 Characters at a Time.’’ “Generally it comes from people who have a low Klout score.’’

Garth Holsinger, vice president of global sales and business development at the San Francisco-based Klout, sees the desperation on a daily basis. “People call and say, ‘I work in social media, and I’m going to lose my job if my score doesn’t rise.’ We get celebrity managers asking how they can get their clients’ scores higher. We get people who are literally crying because their Klout score went down.’’

The stakes may only rise, Klout-wise. The company, which was founded in 2008, recently raised $8.5 million in new funding and said it plans to measure influence in more social networks — and beyond, to capture industry leaders who don’t bother tweeting or friending people.

Schaefer, an adjunct professor of marketing at Rutgers University, said the new score-keeping tools create a “disturbing’’ social media caste system that he dislikes. But, he adds, “from a marketer’s standpoint, they’re a dream.’’

Indeed, the Klout score has already jumped from the online world into the real one. As Advertising Age wrote in September: “Need a Reservation? That Could Depend on How Big You are on Twitter (Really).’’

During the Consumer Electronics Show in January, the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas hosted an event with free food and chair massages for guests with good Klout scores. When Disney debuted the movie “Tangled,’’ it asked Klout to find 500 mothers for exclusive Klout screenings and sent their children a “Tangled’’ kit with merchandise.

Holsinger said the company has 40 similar promotions waiting to launch, including one for the new BlackBerry tablet PlayBook: “We’re giving those to 100 super-high-scoring people before they come out.’’

The companies that partner with Klout are paying customers, Holsinger said. “About 1,500 companies use our data.’’

Of course, no one enjoys being kept behind the virtual velvet rope. When the corporate sponsors of a holiday party hosted by social media entrepreneur Peter Shankman invited many guests based on Klout scores, the snubbed were not happy. Shankman expected “whiners,’’ he wrote on his blog, and he did get complaints. “They’re stomping their little feet.’’ If they want to be seen as more influential, he said later, “they need to post more interesting, more engaging things.’’

Even as the low scorers complain about unfairness, Augie Ray, a senior analyst with Forrester Research, predicts an increase in both the number of firms doing social measuring and the number of places where one’s ranking will matter.

“Companies have always provided different levels of service, depending on how much money a customer spends, or how recently they’ve bought something,’’ he said. “Now we’re seeing a change where an individual’s level of influence also has to be taken into account. There’s a lot of buzz about whether it’s fair or not, but I don’t know how much fair has to do with it. A company can afford to anger a customer with a Klout score of 15 but probably can’t anger someone with a Klout score of 95.’’

Indeed, with more hotels interested in Klout scores, Holsinger said the new question upon check-in will not be: “May we have your e-mail address?’’ but rather: “What’s your Twitter name?’’ “If your score is 60 or above, they will upgrade you.’’

But even those who criticize the measuring sites as imperfect still want a good score. Wieneke, who blogs about the future of digital marketing, has serious privacy concerns about giving Klout access to his Facebook and LinkedIn accounts but he’s tempted to allow access in hopes that it will raise his score by providing a fuller picture of his influence.

“Ten points would be pretty nice,’’ he said, speculating on a potential boost. “It counts as social proof.’’

The question of gaming the system or raising one’s score legitimately is the Twitter user’s version of an author trying to raise his Amazon ranking. Beyond buying followers, some people ask friends to retweet their tweets, or follow people just so they’ll be followed back.

Azeem Azhar, chief operating officer of the London-based PeerIndex, regularly hears from users eager to do better, with competition a big motivator. “How come I got a score of 35 and my friend got 45?’’ a user will write as he asks for tips.

“The advice is always the same,’’ Azhar said. “The system is designed to reward good behaviors that suggest you are building your social capital. Those are, do others share or retweet your tweets? Another signal is how many people try and start conversations with me?’’

Perhaps the best thing about having a high Klout score is that it allows one to be blasé. That’s the approach taken by Internet marketing guru Chris Brogan, coauthor of the bestselling “Trust Agents’’ — and a man with 170,000 Twitter followers.

Brogan has one of the highest Klout scores in Boston — 76.4, only about two-tenths of a point behind Shaquille O’Neal. When he meets someone who’s impressed by that score, he feels bad for the person, he said. “I’d rather be measured by something other than a set of numbers a software company thought of one day.’’

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  • Mark, I’m going to play devil’s advocate on this one. What/Who do these folks with these huge scores really influence???? And is this influence important to anyone from a truly commercial perspective.

  • “social media” has now been successfully assimilated in the system. back to square 1?

  • Ha! Maybe we need a new square altogether. This is the dawn of Fivesquare!

  • I know this whole thing about “influence” is much-debated. For, me. it’s not that big a deal — My Klout score is higher than Oprah’s. Am I more influential than Oprah? No. On a daily basis, do I influence more people on Twitter than Oprah? Yes. That’s all it means. Klout only measures a very small slice of a very small world, but that is still useful to marketers. When companies like Disney and Nike pay attention to it, I pay attention to it too.

    Thanks for the comment Steve!

  • NathanEgan

    Sorry Klout is “currently” a total joke. If you play around with it you will quickly see a pattern of meaningless feedback. Could it, would it, should it get better? Yes, certainly.

    The fact they raised a ton of money however is one of MANY indicators the social media investment bubble is about to burst and everyone will figure out what is really going on: we are obsessed with new things that we don’t fully understand. Lastly, IMHO – social scoring technologies like this and the actual gaming of numbers of friends, followers, connections or whatever are really just a mechanism for people who are insecure in real life to feel secure “online”… And remember Mark – in the words of Chris Brogan – IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU!

  • I think we need to separate this discussion. There is a difference between marketers using it and people. Since we have at most 10-12mil US twitter users each day if this stuff takes off it will benefit Twitter. It may also prevent migration to places like Diaspora/Beluga/Path etc should the value beyond being a geek alert tool proves out. But with 200mil Twitter accounts and only 110mil tweets per day most of those accounts are ghosts. I have very few personal pre-twitter friends using twitter.

    It also goes to what the Economist pointed out in 2007 as the re-segregation of America but along political vs racial lines. Liberals flock to each other and vice versa for Conservatives. It is why Austin is so different than Dallas. We will see this even more possibly with technology. If I am a twitter or tech geek I might only want to date other people who are the same?

    I think the one real issue or deception is the ‘viral’ side of Social. There is very little of it. The auro has been created by Agencies and Social Media Talking heads and platforms to help them make money. Very few things go viral. But yes the fact it is in the mainstream press…oh wait does anyone read the mainstream press? =)

  • Does this mean you quoted yourself?
    I still there is a fundamental disconnect between most marketing (esp. INTERNET MARKETING) and most average normal people… most articles can only ever find like two people to even talk about this stuff.

  • Karen Bice

    [When she meets someone who admits to following more people than follow him, she judges. “That means you’re a loser.’’ ] Pretty shallow opinion, but she’s young. Until I recently purged my Twitter follows, I was following more than being followed back. And that was only because I follow a high number of history sites who only follow back those who are only tweeting about history. I don’t know what my Klout score is, probably low I’m sure. I have too many other things that I’m concerned about that take up enough of my time without driving myself crazy about the status of my Klout score. I can see where a high Klout score would be relevant for those who actually work in the social media arena. I see the issue as just one more marketing device to get people to give their attention and/or money to. Interesting article, Mark!

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  • Mark W Schaefer

    Alexa rates websites. Ad age rates blogs. They are flawed and somewhat controversial but in the absence of something better, they are generally accepted for what they are. I don’t see people getting too emotional about these systems.

    The difference with Klout is that it rates people. That is both repulsive and fascinating but it makes no difference what you or I think. If it is providing economic value to major brands, and it seems to be, it will flourish. So, we can stick our heads in the sand and ignore economic reality or we can deal with a seemingly important trend in a rational and dispassionate way that helps our customers figure it out, and perhaps even gain from it. The choice to me seems clear.

  • Mark W Schaefer

    I used to think (hope) the social web would be a great uniter and equalizer. I was naive. The social web merely reflects and even amplifies the extremes in the world, especially since the extremists can also hide behind a cloak of anonymity. So I agree with you in some cases the web can provoke and promote segregation and things like Klout won’t help. Like the example used at the top of the story, it can be used as a weapon of cattiness and cruelty and probably will be. I think social scoring will be especially powerful among teens. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

  • Mark W Schaefer

    Ugh. I kind of did quote myself. That is awful. Thanks for the reality check.

  • Mark W Schaefer

    My fear is that Klout will become like a personal SEO and we will seem the same arms race and gamesmanship that we see in that field. I’m like you. Who has time or that?? Thanks Karen!

  • I can’t believe people really pay attention to this stuff Mark.

    Real influence can only be measured by the actions and contributions that are made on a daily basis that provides value to others. Regardless of a “Klout” score, you already know what you’re true value is and if you measure that by this stupid tool, chances are you don’t have much.

    If you want you’re influence to grow and your life to be enriched, focus less on meaningless numbers and more on people who you can help and serve today — that will help you gain the only “Clout” that matters.

  • Very interesting information! Thank you!

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  • The other day Brian Solis wrote that he received promotional materials from Nike based on his Klout score. Nike is one of the most important brands in the world. They are paying attention to Klout. They are integrating Klout into their marketing programs. If you are a professional marketer, and you are, how can you NOT pay attention to it to?

    It doesn’t matter if you disagree with their algorithm. It doesn’t matter if you like the idea of rating people or not. It doesn’t matter what your definition of influence is. It’s here. It’s having an impact. Let’s deal with it rationally as marketing professionals. That’s all I’m saying. : )

  • You’re welcome.

  • Well, Mark, my mind has a tendency to pick up a tid-bit of a thought and run wild with it. I admit, I wasn’t looking at it from a large company point of view. Tunnel vision is what I think they call it.

    My reply was based on how I felt a person or personal brand could most effectively strengthen their influence in the community.

    Seeing it from the point of view you bring up obviously broadens the perspective and considerations when looking how to improve your online influence and marketing strategy. There’s a little more to it :p

    As we get to know each other better Mark, there will be times you’ll scratch you head and wonder if I’m a rational thinker or not – Sometimes I need a little help. Your statement makes sense, and for big business rational considerations trumps emotionally charged opinions all day long.

  • Well, sorry for my little rant. At the core, I agree with you. It seems very childish to worry about a numerical score as a proxy for your life. I think the quote from the young lady in this article is sad … maybe even a bit shocking. And while this is being adopted at the top, I think it will trickle down quickly to all of us. I mean somebody is already worrying about the impact on their employment if they have a low Klout score? Wow. That is scary stuff but also the real world.

    Thanks for your input and support always, Mark!

  • The biggest issue I have with this is my Klout score is higher than Jay Leno’s so, according to this, I’m more influential?! HAHAHAHA!!! The other thing is that I keep getting offers from Klout for, what they determine, a high score. But it’s never for stuff that I would actually influence. So far I’ve had offers for movie tickets to kid’s movies and a Kobe Bryant poster. Really think I’m going to be influential in either of those categories?

  • I kind of can’t believe it either, Mark. But clients are constantly asking how to reach the influencers with the high Klout scores. They’re not willing to listen to whether or not those people will actually have influence where they need them. After the WSJ did a story on it last week, I knew we were doomed.

  • This is an important issue in my mind, one that has potential harmful ramifications for consumers — I mean this unawareness by consumers encourages the big business mentality of “buying” or “gaming” your way to marketing superiority in the marketplace — yes?

    Can’t seem to shake that manipulative corporate mindset, can we?

    If you and @ Mark S. formulate a offensive strike to combat these scheming initiatives, I would gladly join your army : )

    Geez!

  • I have to admit I really hate the Klout score, but it makes sense why people adopt it. Social media is very messy. There’s not a lot of easy answers and clear cut distinctions for most businesses and people. Because of this it’s not surprising that people want something definitive they can measure.

    Humans are wired to need answers and we don’t deal well with ambiguity. Although Klout sounds like a good idea from the surface level some of the implications I’ve seen in the real world haven’t been so pretty.

    For example at the last agency I was at there was no good way to judge if Twitter was being used effectively for clients. Along comes Klout and managers began to say “why is the Klout score down?” “get out Klout score up!” with no real business case or objectives to go along with it.

    Also I recently met an individual who was spending all his time to raise his Klout score. He got it up to a 59 which he was so happy about, then he realized it had done nothing for his business or his clients, who could care less about his “Klout”.

  • Many people already consider me offensive : )

    This is a very keen point Mark and Gini. This is open to gross mis-interpretation and it is a battle we will be fighting with clients. No question. It is going to make things very complicated.

    Here is the other thing I am not looking forward to — I have a relatively high klout score. What did I do to deserve it? Nothing. There was no strategy. Klout just happened and there was my score. Whether it is high or low, I am just going to be the same and I’m not going to be in the mood to teach people my “secrets!” There are none!!!

  • I’ll take the poster. : )

  • That is pretty sobering Brandon. Kind of makes me a little sick. What a world.

  • Until another ranking algo comes out, I guess clients will always ask for this. On the other hand professional SEO consultants always say that Google ranks matter a lot more. If we start to follow Klout we might as well look at the number of Likes on FB pages.

  • Oh, I thought it had something to do with looks or something haha –

    Mine is probably lower than yours Mark and Gini has an unfair advantage over both of us… I think I’m going to have to actually pop on over there and take a look sometime haha!

    Cheers to both of you — off to the beach ; )

  • I see Klout as kind of a personal SEO rating. If you think customers were obsessed with SEO, wait until they get ahold of this : ) Thanks John!

  • I agree and I also pay attention to my own AdAge score, which may or may not mean anything, but it sure is fun to watch! I guess I just want some targeting and segmenting in the Klout score. I mean, I’m not going to do anything for Nike or Kobe Bryant or kid’s movies. But if you figure out I have a high Klout score and I’m going to have influence for publishers, PR and marketing trade organizations, and companies that want to reach PR and marketing professionals or business owners and entrepreneurs, you’re moving in the right direction. Until then, I see it as a huge waste of time and resources.

  • What’s my unfair advantage? I’m better looking?? 🙂

  • It certainly does feel very “highschool-ish”. On the one hand I really don’t care what my klout score is, but at the same time I am curious about it. I must admit I have recently looked at my score and got a little bit excited to see that it has jumped up a few points in the past week. Sick I know…

  • So funny. High schoolish yet fascinating : ) Thanks Michelle!

  • Mark, thanks for posting. it is significant, but I fear not necessarily in a good way. Services like Klout are all about tracking reach. And, i’m sure, for many, that’s the goal. but, as with all things, it gets back to your own goals in going social. Are you aiming for mass reach or a smaller, more targeted community. it’s the difference between a b-to-c approach and a b-to-b approach. It takes focus and discipline to be clear with yourself about what you’re trying to accomplish and how social serves that need. Services like Klout can put a lot of distracting noise into the system. it does point to the need for metrics, but i think these kinds of metrics are on the wrong track.
    (btw, the premise that a company can afford to anger somebody with a low klout score is frighteningly bad direction. perhaps they need to have a formula for what their klout will be when angered!)
    so, agree the moment is significant, but klout-like services are a long way from the answer.
    @jpundyk

  • Maybe your skiing and cycling is leading them in the wrong direction? They see you as a sport influencer Gini.

    Seriously, I am sure they define the Klout demographics (I hate that word) based on the person. So as a woman they assume you have kids and have some influence over kid’s movies, or movies your kids watch.
    Go figure, I think it’s mostly a failure of figuring out what the influence sphere of a person like you has.

  • Looking forward to read Tao of Twitter Mark.

  • Agree, Jeff. Well said and thank you!

  • Oh great John. I’m really pleased with the feedback I’ve received on the book!

  • Total Hottie – haha!

  • I like you more and more every day!

  • thanks for prompting the discussion. it’s an important one. helpful to look at these things closely and clarify the hype. be interesting to circle back to this in 6 months and see where things stand.

  • All I can say is mine was 62 a week ago and now is 55! So I am being punished by Klout since nothing has changed though I have more followers. Its called Klout Vendetta! Watch out Gini they are going to come after you next! =)

  • LOL Well the Tao of Pooh is one of the best books ever. So it is only fitting to have the sequel to the Te of Piglet the Tao of Twitter!

  • LOL You will get your TV show. Its going to happen. Still working on the details of whether it will be a comedy or a talk show. Depends on which offer gives me the biggest payout as your agent.

  • Did you see the South Park episode about Facebook. I think that sums up everything when it comes to peer pressure. If you have not its a must see. Meaning drop everything and watch it.

  • The interesting thing is that as I look at my Klout score (which is fairly high, so someone send me some swag!), they are showing me influencing and being influenced by people that haven’t engaged in months. For a service that rates on engagement and relevancy, they don;t seem to be eating their own dog food.

    -RG

  • Social Scoring FTW! I personally like with @postrank is doing with connect and influencer scoring. Klout is a great substitute for basic social metric though!

  • Thanks for your comment Michael.

  • That’s an interesting observation Randy. My list was “stuck” for months and then suddenly changed and was more relevant a few weeks ago. BTW, you are one of my influencers. Yeah, I’ll buy that!

  • >Klout is a great substitute for basic social metric though!
    Agree with you

  • It’s a start!

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