Klout announced a radical overhaul to its scoring system, site design, and score transparency. But what is the real impact? Will it make a difference? I had a chance to speak to Klout CEO Joe Fernandez to try to determine the depth of the changes that were announced today … and answer the question on everybody’s mind — “Will my Klout score drop?”

Substantially more data points

joe fernandez

Joe Fernandez of Klout

The new site will be introduced this week to a small set of users and will roll out in increments over the course of the next few weeks, according to Fernandez. Among the most important changes, Klout announced that it is beefing up the robustness of its scores by looking more broadly and deeply across social platforms:

  • Klout will now consider 400 distinct data inputs to determine your score, up from 100 data points today. New data inputs include stuff like Facebook photo tags, LinkedIn job titles, and Wikipedia entries.
  • By expanding the number of platforms and inputs being considered, Klout will analyze 12 billion data points per day (up from 1 billion) in an attempt to provide more accurate scores.
  • The company is providing slightly more consideration in its algorithm to what Klout calls the “real world” influence of LinkedIn and Wikipedia.

Tempering the vacation effect

A major complaint about Klout is that people’s finely-tuned scores drop whenever they go on vacation (and stop tweeting/posting). Fernandez said that Klout is giving more weight to relatively stable data inputs like LinkedIn profiles and Wikipedia entries that will help minimize the drop in people’s scores when they go on vacation. Scores will also be considered over a 90-day period instead of a 30-day period so that sudden inactivity will have a less dramatic impact on scores.

Transparency

Klout is adding a Kred-like feature called “Moments” that allows you to see which specific activities influence your score.  Fernandez says this will help people “create better content” through constant feedback on what is providing the biggest actions from your networks.

Privacy

Klout has been caught up in some embarrassing privacy miscues, including showing profiles from minors on the site and re-introducing people into the Klout system who had opted-out. Fernandez said they have hired an outside privacy consultant for a “long-standing engagement” to perform audits and also that they have a full-time team overseeing privacy on a day-to-day basis. “We’ve learned our lesson on the mistakes we made,” he said. “Our goal is to lead the industry in matters of privacy protection.”

The Bieber versus Obama debate

bieber versus obamaAn endless Klout complaint is that Justin Bieber, previously the only person with a perfect score of 100, has a higher score than the president of the United States. Fernandez believes that putting a higher weight on Wikipedia and LinkedIn will provide a fairer perspective of “real world” influence. And yes, the president now has a higher score than Justin Bieber.

Gaming the system

Fernandez told me they have designed new systems that will “turn the knob down” on people who are gaming their score instead of driving action by organically providing great content.  ”We will protect our system,” he said, “and reserve the right to take action if somebody is using tactics to simply raise a number artificially.”  For example, he said that a person who created 100 re-tweets by sending out “100 pieces of crappy content” would be penalized compared to somebody who earned 100 re-tweets with one piece of great content.

Site Redesign

According to Fernandez, the new design, which has been in the works for a year, will “help you feel more recognized than judged” with more “emphasis on content rather than your score.” As you can see, the profile page has been dramatically re-designed, with a real emphasis on the the new “moments” feature:

The Klout mobile app

Fernandez admitted that the current Klout mobile app is “painfully crude.”  However, an improved mobile app is in the approval process through Apple that will include the distribution of Klout Perks. This is expected to be available sometime this fall.

Do Klout Perks drive purchases?

While Klout Perks (free gifts generally provided to people with high Klout scores) can have the same short-term impact as coupons, Fernandez said they are getting closer to developing models that demonstrate influencer impact on purchase intent.  He said that they are eliminating the noise and complexity of this work by working closely with several brands on a statistical analysis to determine a new “strength of influence score.” This score may be able to forecast buying behaviors based on patterns in an influencer’s audience.

The bottom line

Klout deserves credit for listening to their critics and attempting to knock down the problems one by one. Will it silence the critics? Of course not. If you hated Klout last week, you’ll probably hate Klout this week too. When it comes to Klout, logic rarely prevails.

I think the more important question is, has Klout improved its service offering with substantive changes?  Yes and no.

  • Probably the biggest concern has been privacy. It appears that Klout has taken a no-nonsense stand on this, but time will tell if they can be a role model on this issue.
  • Likewise, Klout’s dead serious tone on people gaming their system is the right move. Any social platform that becomes popular eventually attracts corruption. Spammers almost killed Twitter in 2009 and Quora in 2010. Klout realizes that its ability to hold off the gamesters will be critical if they are to present legitimate “influencers” to clients.
  • On “transparency” they seem to have stepped up to requests with the “Moments” feature, although Kred appears to still provide more detail in this area.  If you have the time to study it, this feature is useful and provides insight into their algorithm. The company also provided a detailed list of factors that impact your Klout score.
  • By quadrupling the inputs to personal scores, the scope of their influence assessment far surpasses any rival. But it also adds substantially to the complexity of the algorithm and creates opportunities for things to go wrong. The changes will not significantly impact the fact that a Klout score will still be weighed more toward Twitter- and Facebook-centric activities.
  • Most of the other changes announced today — emphasizing content over scores through their design, minimizing the vacation effect, and the “Obama over Bieber” change — are simply window dressing to moderate criticisms, in my opinion.  It’s not going to make any real difference in their business model or the scores of the everyday social media user.

At the end of the day, Klout, Kred, and PeerIndex only measure one thing: Can a person create content on the social web that gets shared and elicits a reaction? That of course is a legitimate source of power on the web today in this Era of the Citizen Influencer where everyone can publish and have a voice.

But after several years of effort, Klout is still missing out on a real gold mine of online influence — blogs and YouTube videos. These are the forums where rich content is created, discussed, and shared. Today, Klout scores are impacted only by activity on Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, LinkedIn, Google+, Klout, and Wikipedia. You can also connect YouTube, Instagram, Tumblr, Blogger, WordPress, Lastfm and flickr, but they don’t compute in your score.

Will Klout’s announced changes make a difference?  I think they have taken steps in the right direction, but the only meaningful answer will come from its customers — the real ones who give them money, not us.  Can Klout deliver effective incentive programs that nurture powerful word of mouth influencers and create brand advocates? The company seems to be on a roll, creating 400 influencer campaigns in the past 12 months, but time will tell.

And, oh by the way …

Will your Klout score drop?

(Drum roll) Probably not. Klout CEO Joe Fernandez said that the changes to the system are substantial, but only about 10 percent of user scores are projected to drop, compared to 40 percent in the Klout-pocalypse of November 2011.

I would be eager to hear your views of these changes, but fair warning — I’m weary of comments with no more rationale than “Klout is stupid.” If that’s where your head is, read this short explanation of social scoring systems before you comment! Thanks!

Disclosure: I have never taken a Klout Perk or any form of compensation from Klout.  My publisher McGraw-Hill worked with both Klout and PeerIndex to offer Return On Influence as a Perk in the spring of 2012 and there may have been a small indirect benefit in terms of additional book sales. 

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