Social influence and social media activism

I want to call-out this villainous company who is distiliing our personal information and peddling it to companies as “influence” without our permission. This is what they are doing:

  • Taking our social media information and content — and in many cases PRIVATE messages and even emails — and using this information to help brands sell their stuff.
  • Making money off of our backs, off our content and goodwill.
  • There is no opt-in.  If you use the service, you are in. No compromise.

If you think this is about Klout, you’re wrong. It’s about Facebook. And Google. And Yahoo.

In fact, this is the fundamental economic model of the Internet: Collect as much personal information as possible and deliver it to brands so they can sell you more stuff through ads and promotions.

We have been de-sensitized into not caring about this. The rules of the game on Facebook are … if you’re on the platform, you completely give up your privacy. In fact not only do they slice, dice, and dissect every word, photo and video you post in order to present you to advertisers, they OWN your information. Scary stuff. Orwellian, no?

Why is there such a huge stir about the business model of Klout when every social media platform operates essentially the same way — or worse?

Because we all see it. The big difference is that Klout’s assessment is public. Facebook and Google are certainly assigning you a number — probably LOTS of them! — you just don’t know it. So there is a psychological ickiness of being rated in public.

The psychology of an “F” — Klout changed their grading system and many people’s scores precipitously declined. Why did this bring out such a violent out-pouring of emotion, especially if the score stayed the same on a relative level?  Here’s my theory. Last week my score was an 82.  That’s a “B.”  This week I’m a 63. That’s an “F.”  After a decade or more in traditional school systems, we are hard-wired to associate these numbers with grades, and grades are associated with our egos. All of a sudden somebody gave you and “F?”  Well that will stir things up won’t it?

Privacy complications — Somewhere along the line Klout royally screwed up by opting-in minors and committing other privacy violations. Good grief.  You just can’t do that. If this happened to you, you have a right to be mad.

Since I wrote my post last week trying to assert some rational thought into the Klout re-set, there is a small movement among some bloggers to remove themselves from Klout.

I sincerely honor anybody’s right to quit anything they like and make a statement of activism. But as a digital marketing professional, why would I disconnect myself from one of the most significant marketing developments in our field? Is that activist position really going to have an impact on anything 12 months from now?

Are you quitting other platforms as well to make a statement? No company in the world poses a bigger threat to privacy and personal safety than Facebook. People are committing suicide over Facebook. People are divorcing because of Facebook. Facebook routinely and accidentally divulges our most personal information and connections to people who should not have it. They are the world’s biggest hacking target. It is not a matter of if, it is a matter of when, we will be facing a Facebook privacy disaster.

Now that’s something to blog about. Klout is comparatively trivial.

If you quit Klout to make a statement, that’s cool.  But as social scoring matures and the dots are connected between online conversations and offline buying behavior, aren’t you putting yourself at a professional disadvantage by not staying connected to the trend?

Are we protesting against the grasshopper when the lion is about to eat us all?

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  • Hi Mark,

    I have opted out of Klout for the time being until I can read everything I can about it and choose to either opt back in or not. I had a big issue with some friends of mine having Klout profiles and listed as “people I influence” because they commented on something I posted on Facebook.

    I am sure there are other privacy concerns regarding Facebook and Google especially. The idea of having privacy online is kind of silly.

    But it gets into a sticky area when Klout makes profiles for those under 18. I want to see how that will be handled before making a final decision about Klout. As someone who has a child who is not Facebook age (yet!) I see this story unfold with a bit of alarm. I am an adult. I choose to participate in social media, I choose to blog and I also do choose to be pretty accessible. That does not mean that my friends or my son have made that choice and that is my problem with Klout.

    I will be watching this over the next few weeks and months. I really hope that Klout does the right thing. I really do.

  • I agree with you on the psychology of being rated.  Could it be that there’s a sense of safety (and thus “do nothing” attitude) in not knowing how Facebook and other platforms rate?  Historically, transparency tends to catch the most flak because once people are aware, they feel compelled to behave in a certain way – in other words they think they have to now “do something.”  As you point out though, the lion’s already out of the gate!

  • Good points Nancy.  A measured response. What a world, huh?

  • I couldn’t agree with you more here Mark. Facebook is pretty evil. So is Google. But it almost feels like we have no choice but to use them. 

    Klout’s trivial nature, on the other hand, is what makes it an easy target. If you become an anti-Klout activist you can spur discussion while not really losing much if Klout decides to let you go. 

    If you get off of Facebook, you lose a lot of connections. Sure you can still email them, or call them, but there is a lot of convenience built into the Facebook platform. 

    I think people weigh the negatives and positives and decide the convenience is worth their privacy.

    It may not be logical, reasonable or even right. But I think that’s the reality we live in.

  • No such thing as a free lunch. If we aren’t paying for these services we are the product. Simple as. 

    We have the CHOICE to put what we want online. No one is forcing us. We have a duty to think before we put things online. So tired of people complaining about Facebook being the root of all evil – some geniuses even said that Google+ was better because it respects privacy … because we all know how well Google is at making things hard to find. 

    Anyway, as far as minors are concerned, shouldn’t we be teaching social media usage and safety in schools?

  • Interesting points, I have not joined G+ for this very reason. On Facebook I keep my privacy controls as tight as possible, do not have my real name (shhh, don’t tell) and limit any kind of personal information or photos I publish. I have a habit of using a fake name on a variety of platforms that I don’t want to own me. Unfortunately I feel there is very limited choices other than simply not using the services.

  • See how smart you have already made me Mark? It is from reading blogs like yours that I can really think an issue through all the way through.

  • That is a pretty great skill to have!  Great to hear how much you’re learning. You made my day! 

  • This is a great point, Liz. I think there is a self-fulfilling prophecy to some of this stuff. I do see that expectations — even misguided ones — can influence online behavior. Thanks for adding this interesting perspective!

  • I do think that is a very interesting perspective Eugene. I wish I had included that point in the original post!  Alas, that is why you guys are here! The comments are always better than the post! 

  • Oh that is  such a passion of mine Ameena. I have even thought about starting a site to help parents tech kids about this stuff but there is already some good stuff out there. So many parents fall into the trap of letting kids do things because all their friends are doing it and the rules get more and more lax.  There is going to be so much trouble ahead on that front.  I’m so glad my kids are grown and making good decisions! 

  • A good strategy but I wonder how much of this really works. I read so many examples of stuff leaking out and people going around the system to get information.  Read this:

    Is there ANY privacy?  Don’t think so.

  • I wouldn’t say that Mark…you’re the one that got me thinking :). 

    I actually just hopped back over here from Robert Dempsey’s blog and decided that the primary issue with Klout is permission…not the actual invasion of privacy.

    When you are signing up for Facebook you are voluntarily creating an account. Whether or not Facebook is using your personal information against you is a secondary issue. The point is, YOU are making that choice. 

    You don’t have that choice with Klout. 

    While the actual invasion of privacy may not be any greater (they are after all just using the information you are making publicly available to other networks), the issue lies in the basic principle that Klout never asked you for your permission to create an account for you in the first place.

    It’s kind of like being incidentally filmed during the taping of a TV show while you are walking down a public street. Your’e in public…there’s really nothing you can do about it. 

    If you never create a social network account, Klout wouldn’t even know you exist. 

    Or would they? Now that would be freaky 🙂

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  • And therein lies my main issue with Klout as opposed to Facebook Eugene – choice.

    I can choose what I do and do not put into Facebook. I can connect with friends and family in Facebook and put only a modicum of information in there.

    Or as a business I can create a business page and keep personal information off of Facebook.

    So I can utilize Facebook on my terms and not be missing out on anything.

    Google is another matter entirely. But a main point in the post above is that the scoring from other companies isn’t public.

    The larger issues are ones of privacy on the whole and how much we give up in order to use free services. As Mark rightly points out this is the business model of countless companies. It’s going to take more than a little while for them to find a new one.

    Thankfully as businesses ourselves we don’t have to force our community to make the choice between privacy and convenience.

  • In reply to [email protected]:[email protected]:disqus — I really love this discussion and focusing in on this element of “choice.”

    Here is another nuance to the issue.  There are dozens, and probably hundreds of companies creating profiles about you without your knowledge or your permission. The largest ad agencies already had their secret formulas, even before Klout.  The dozens of Klout wannbes are doing it. CRM platforms are combining Klout with other factors to come up with their own influence juice.  IBM is doing it secretly.   I know for a fact that the Defense Department is doing exactly what Klout is doing, and more — they’re just not telling you — and I’m sure you’re not opting in to THAT! 

    In fact ANYBODY can can assign you an influence number because all you have to do is tap into the Klout API and the public information you are giving freely, create an algorithm, and give you a number.  

    At its core, Klout is simply providing a numerical commentary on your freely available public information, right?  In a strange way it is like a numerical blog comment. 

    So if all of these companies are slicing and dicing you without your knowledge or permission, you could even make an argument that we should give props to Klout for democratizing the influence process as they at least try to get input and commentary — instead of doing all of this behind a steel door like these other companies.  At least now on Klout you can provide input and even take down influence topics etc.  A strange twist of thinking, huh? Maybe Klout is the good guy! : ) 

    If you put aside the emotion that it is happening — which it will — isn’t it better to have your influence scores out in the open and discussed?

    You guys have pushed my thinking in a new way on this. Thanks!

  • As you show Mark it isn’t a simple issue here and there are many issues raised both by how Klout is operating and how they are acting in the social sphere.

    I will argue that having my so called “influence” score out in the open and discussed is not better. Activity on social networks, which is what is being measured by Klout, does not directly equate to influence. It might be a component but it isn’t the entire thing.

    As I’ve said in my posts on Klout, including my last one here – – I’ve had enough influence on people that they pay me money to help them. These folks never commented on my blog or tweeted my posts. So how do they factor in? They don’t.

    This is the same for many of my clients businesses and many others I know with clients not highly active on social media. Does this make them less influential? No it doesn’t.

    They aren’t at a celebrity level, and never wish to be. That doesn’t mean that within the niche or the industry they work in that they aren’t influential.

    So all emotion aside as I’m already out of their system anyhow, they’ll need to be able to measure a lot more factors before they could come even close to being considered a true “standard.” Is that even possible? I’m not so sure.

    Someone could read this blog Mark and become your customer without ever commenting or retweeting a post. Does that make you less influential?

  • The argument that Klout is useless because they could not possibly measure ALL influence is obsolete.  Of course they can’t.  Nobody argues that, even Klout.

    But this what they can do, and increasingly well:  They can measure the ability somebody has to push content virally through a system and how people react to it.  That is a legitimate source of power Robert and it is measurable. It is not ALL influence, it is a tiny sliver and guess what — they are starting to tie it to buyer behavior!  As a person, it might be distasteful to have to deal with the Klout controvery, but as a marketer, you should be out of your skin excited by the possibilities.

    You and I would never have been connected — and you would not be influencing me now — if you had not had the ability to create and curate content and get attention for it. That is your primary source of influence in the online world, as well as mine. And it can be measured, in one small part.

    So if we put aside the emotional argument that Klout can’t measure how influential I am with my customers or my kids (of course they can’t) and focus on the rational argument that this company has almost single-handedly created an entirely new marketing channel (through Perks) by measuring a person’s ability to create online buzz, we now focus on the right thing as a business — this is potentially an incredibly powerful marketing weapon!

    Moreover, brands like Disney, Audi and American Express are getting MEAUSRABLE business results from these programs.  80% of the companies who have done Perk programs have signed up for more.  That should be a dispassionate and non-emotional indication that we need to regard influence marketing as a legitimate marketing option for our customers.

  • In all fairness the way we were connected was that Dino Dogan invited you and I to be members of the Jaffa tribe in Triberr. It’s also how I was introduced to Danny Brown, Gini Dietrich, Kazia Mullin, Aaron Lee, Cori Padgett, Kim Castleberry and a number of other people. Until that time I didn’t know about any of you guys, and you all didn’t know abou me. So I attribute these relationships that I have now to Dino being a connector, not my ability to create and curate content. I was doing that already, but it’s not how I became connected with any of you all.
    Despite your continuing to call my arguments emotional in order to downplay them I will agree that Klout can measure to an extent if someone can push information through a system. However I don’t agree that that gives them the ability to call themselves the “standard” of online influence.My opt-ing out of the system also doesn’t mean that I’m not aware of what’s going on in the channel or how it could potentially be used by my clients. However that would say that I’m working with the type of clients who are alright with simply buying word of mouth marketing rather than earning it through other means. Yes it’s a shortcut and as you’ve said many times here people love to use shortcuts.This is obviously one of those times we’ll have to agree to disagree. It seems that if I continue to pursue this with you I risk all of my arguments being called emotional, which isn’t true. In fact I’m enjoying our argument here.

  • Anonymous

    Maybe when they decided to spell it with a K some thought it was a communist plot or something…..

    When I really started engaging in social it was with the understanding that NONE of what I did was private, regardless of what some platforms might want you to believe.

    I think you are right with your statement that because Klout’s number is published and what platforms are or are not used to get to that number has caused more consternation than what FB is doing with our info.

    It is what it is; act accordingly and use common sense….end of story. 

  • Marty

    This is just too cool for words. I had mentioned you (in a good way), as well as Jay Baer, in a post over at Two Bananas regarding this very issue. What I see as the dangerous trend in marketing is the blind acceptance and use of any and all tools that are presented to us. We as marketing professionals should, and do, in my opinion, have an obligation to privacy that extends beyond how we use these tools. It extends to whether they should be used at all. If we could use them to absolutely predict and guide consumer behavior, down to the individual, what would this mean for society? Is that really what this whole marketing thing boils down to, or should it always retain some level of decency? I couldn’t disagree more with some people who have commented to the tune of “don’t complain about privacy concerns.” The National Advertising Initiative has provided a good first step in how consumers should be given control over the tools we use to do what we do. For me, the concern is that Facebook, Google, Klout, whatever, do not make it easy for users to manage their privacy markers. The good people over at All Things Digital actually present a banner on their site when a new user first goes to their site, explaining that some third party advertisers, etc, use tracking cookies, and they guide the user in managing these. Kudos to them. 
    Marty Thompson
    Chief Banana
    Two Bananas Marketing

  • Klout is not broad enough to call it a “trend.” I think we are certainly well into a stage where explaining a lack of Klout score would be a nice conversation opener- and that companies who hire based on Klout scores (as a prerequisite) are probably worth skewed looks.

    As far as the letter grade thing- as someone accustomed to A’s and who had never graced the 80s (yes, I have checked my score), the grade analogy doesn’t compute– that’s for a rarified bubble of (former) 80+ Kloutists.

    So– ignoring a trend? No. Ignoring Facebook might qualify for that, but not Klout.

    I do subscribe to the idea that those of us in the social media space should check out all these tools. I don’t think we need to play hard when we don’t like the rules. Those I know who have opted out, I can still count on to speak intelligently on the topic

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  • I’ve enjoyed the conversation too.  95% of the blog posts I have read about Klout have been an emotional outburst along the lines of Klout is useless because it does not measure the influence we have with customers or our children or whatever. That just completely misses the point of the business trend. They simply get caught up in the “standard of influence” thing which of course hits a hot button with everybody (kind of a bold tagline!) but does not reflect the business value of what is being delivered.  I did not mean to pick on you specifically. 

  • Thanks Bill. I hope that’s enough!

  • Really good points Marty.  This will be THE issue of the next few years.  A disaster seems unavoidable … which will probably lead to regulation. It is already happening in some countries such as Germany.

  • Thank you for your dissenting view.

  • Jake Molson

    Any business value that a platform may or may not have is immediately lessened when it classes itself as “the standard influence”. That’s not people being emotional or missing the point – it’s people using common sense and not being sucked in by unrealistic claims.

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  • @markwilliamschaefer:[email protected]:disqus I step away from the computer for a day and I miss this?! 

    I trust Klout more than the federal government any day of the week. I think the problem is that it feels like they are PUBLICLY judging you. Like they are the cool kid in class and picking people for their dodgeball team.

    I was actually talking about this discussion with my girlfriend yesterday because it really got me thinking about things. Her response was “So what’s the big deal? You think Klout is the only one doing this?”
    Of course she’s right. What about all these new services popping up like MyLife that are collecting information about us?

    We’ve definitely reached a point where privacy isn’t coming back unless you want to completely disconnect and live in the middle of the woods.

  • Anonymous

    Frankly, I believe we’re our own worst enemy. Because the power of FB, Google, and others is a function of operating leverage, their battles become our battles. Are we part of the process? Truly I advocate privacy–it is up to each of us to voice our concerns. At the same time, do we not gain or give insight in comments and lend our word into the blogosphere? With regard to Klout, I am concerned whether their algorithm is done to reflect qualitative data. And Klout’s scoring nomenclature, Mark – please give them a better way to represent performance. For now, I’m giving them an “F” grade.

  • Anonymous

    Intersting article, good comments too.
    personaly i don’t do private anywhere so there’s nothing to hide. I
    also don’t click adverts on fB or Google so they don’t get me that way
    either. Klout is a little like a hyped game and people seem desperate to
    get higher for what, sales or self centred vanity? Again personally I
    just get on with life being social and sociable where relevant no need
    to worry about figures then.

  • Seems like a rational strategy! Thanks for commenting.

  • Very interesting observations, Ann. I think the Klout nomenclature is a hot button for a lot of people! Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  • You have hit on the point exactly. There is a lot of emotion about this because it is so public, but they are FAR from the only ones doing it. They are only the lightning rod but it is a much bigger issue.

  • These privacy concerns have been going on for years, long before social media became popular. Just like the grocery store and gas cards, personal information is stored, sold and analyzed for the purpose of soliciting us. Just like we ignore the big merchants in order to save fifty cents off a can of beans or a free cup of coffee, we ignore the injustices of social media to connect with family, friends, and business contacts. As long as we’re willing to look the other way in order to benefit from each site, the problem will always be there. 

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  • Very interesting perspective Brian. Thanks for taking the time to weigh-in! Much appreciated.

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  • I resisted Zuck’s temptation for years but finally relented in June. I was fully aware of all the privacy concerns but came to the conclusion that online privacy is an illusion. If people or companies want your info, they’ll get it through one Ave or another.

    As for Klout, I put a band-aid on my ego and stuck around after the change. The reason I left is because I abhorred the fact that my 16yr old sister, grandpa, and wife’s grandmother were dragging down my influence! I also realize Klout isn’t going anywhere so it’s likely I’ll be back.

  • Yep, it will be a force to be reckoned with.

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