Why a Klout score may be an appropriate marketing metric

how to increase your klout score

Over the past few months, I have had a lot of fun helping guide a brand new healthcare company with its marketing strategy. It’s been a wonderful and rare opportunity to work with an inspiring company and build something meaningful from scratch.

Their marketing team is experienced and passionate but like many professionals who have been in the business for awhile, they grew up in a world focused on print and television advertising. My task was more than teaching them about social media. Somehow, I had to help them build a content marketing culture built to last in the digital age.

Assessing a culture

Week by week we worked on an integrated content strategy and we made rapid progress. But I knew that to be successful, I had to help them build a sustainable culture that creates and shares content that drives measurable business benefits. I had to make sure that this thing would continue to roll after my consulting engagement was over.

Our team needed to establish metrics that would drive the right behaviors in the organization over the long-term. But how do you measure cultural change? How do you measure whether a team is moving from a comfort level with advertising and broadcasting to one of listening, creating, responding, and nurturing an audience of relevant healthcare influencers?

We looked at a variety of metrics but the more we thought about it, “Klout” seemed to fit the bill.

I know I risk a torrent of critical responses by even mentioning the name of this company.  But if you already on the brink of a rant, I would like to ask a favor. I am taking my time to create free, thought-provoking content for you. Before you rant about Klout in the comment section, please put pre-conceived notions aside for just one moment and don’t skim the article. Then, you can rant : )

Klout is the most consistently misunderstood measurement in the field. The company has exacerbated the problem by making a number of PR miscues and by adopting a slogan of “The Standard for Influence” … which it is not. Which it never will be, in my estimation.

But let’s put that aside and dispassionately examine what Klout actually does and how I believe it will help drive the right cultural change with my client.

What Klout really does

A Klout score is an imperfect and blunt instrument. However, an upward trajectory of a Klout score is an indicator that three things are happening:

1) The account is creating content and engaging on the social web consistently.

2) The account has developed a relevant audience who cares enough about the content to share it.

3) The content is being shared by others deemed as “influencers” in a relevant category by Klout.

That’s it. Those three thing must happen to raise your Klout score consistently over time. And those are EXACTLY the things this client has to do to change their culture and create a core competency in content marketing.

As has been amply shown (and documented in my book Return On Influence), Klout can be gamed. Probably less so than a few years ago, but there are certain shortcuts you can take to raise your score, at least in the short term.

But what if a company didn’t game the system? What if you worked every single day in a legitimate way to consistently create better content, enagage with your audience, and actively build relationships with relevant influencers who can create business benefits for your organization?

Let’s make an assumption that marketing professionals at a prominent healthcare company aren’t going to cheat. To drive this metric up, they will have to do the work, and, in my view, it is the right kind of work to begin developing a core competency in content marketing.

Time to re-assess

The other thing I saw occur when we talked about Klout is that people became excited by the metric. Like most successful business people, they’re competitive and when they saw that their work could drive a number up they got their game faces on! Having a group of people express enthusiasm for a metric was unexpected, and I think important when driving change.

One of the things we will have to watch is that Klout occasionally makes changes to its scoring system that drives wild fluctuations in scores. I think the system has stabilized enough so that it is worth a try, but we’ll see.

Using Klout as a metric would not necessarily work for everybody or every company, but in this particular time and place — and for this objective — I think it makes sense. I’ve never tried it before, but I think if the metric is stable, it has potential to drive the change that is needed.

This company understands what it is, what it is not, and what it represents … a relative indicator of their ability to create and move content. We don’t even use the word “influence” in our discussions because I don’t want them to lose focus on the goal of creating, sharing, and engaging.


While Klout has been the subject of long and loud debate within a small social media circle, it is also receiving broad acceptance from many other parts of the business world. Klout has received investment capital from Microsoft and leading VC’s, including new cash from Japanese investors. It has created promotional partnerships with McDonalds, ESPN, Orange and other international brands. Individual Klout scores are being integrated into Bing search results. Understanding the meaning of Klout is being included in curriculums at several universities including Florida State and NYU. And I think it is time to consider it, in the proper context, as a legitimate business indicator.

Klout is not the only measure we are using at this company, of course.  We are combining it with other metrics and other analytic tools, including Appinions. I can see that in 9-12 months we might move off the Klout metric and on to something that is more tightly tied to direct business benefits. But for now, I believe this is a useful indicator of cultural change at a company and that is what MUST happen.

Make sense?

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  • I am one of those that isn’t a huge fan of Klout, but that said, I understand where you are coming from with your rationale. In the end, Klout is a metric, and not using it as one for ‘influence’ may prove more useful for some.

    I can see why having this one benchmark, that everyone at the company can work towards improving upon, should prove very useful.

  • I take very much the same standpoint as you, Mark, and have written such in the past that saying Klout is any kind of standard for influence is wrong but it does give an indication of activity. While this can be gamed, if you know you’re not then it can certainly be used as a metric to show spread and how your actions affect that spread.

    Just as long as it is not considered the only thing you need.

  • RandyBowden

    Very much! In fact, “What if you worked every single day in a legitimate way to consistently create better content, enagage with your audience, and actively build relationships with relevant influencers who can create business benefits for your organization” and let the metrics work and understanding the context the value would come through. But, there will always be those who have a better mouse trap and will rely on pushing old news to try and claim a slice of the pie for their on product or idea. Also, many hate to except the fact that scores reveal 1,2,3… place and ties, and it stings when ones ego gets in the way!
    Logical read Mark.

  • I can understand why anyone would not be a fan of Klout. The idea of comparing one another is kind of icky. But from a business standpoint, there can be some uses for this free tool. Thanks for being open-minded Barry!

  • Thanks for taking the time to add your wisdom today Colin.

  • Agree Randy. From a personal standpoint, it can be kind of emotional, but a business comparing itself to the rest of the marketplace on such a measure is an interesting idea I think. Very much appreciate your comment!

  • Ultimately, most companies are going to want more specific and relevant metrics and analytics to measure their performance and client/prospect engagement, as you suggest Mark. I don’t take my score seriously, but do look to increase it, which tells me I am doing the right things.

    In the meantime, for those starting out and learning the ropes, Klout doesn’t have to be entirely accurate to help. It can reflect effort on a broad scale and be very useful, particularly for the sceptics who have yet to be convinced of the efficacy of SM.

  • I think that reflects my view accurately too, Barry. Thanks for contributing!

  • Scott Eddy

    Great post, even though I do not agree necessarily with the scoring system that Klout uses, I can see how a (new) business might find it useful. Good insights into a dark subject Mark!!

  • Mark, now I am no longer CEO of Kred (Klout’s main competitor), I can step back and view the influencer platform landscape from a distance and hopefully an objective way.

    I liked your post above – but when will we see sites like Klout no longer say they are “the standard for influence” when they are clearly not?

    I don’t see them changing their strapline any time soon to “a indication of social activity”.

    What are your thoughts on this?

    Andrew Grill
    Former CEO, Kred

  • Mark, makes perfect sense to me. Even the most sophisticated of tools aren’t 100% perfect for measuring results. Klout may not be perfect, but it does measure when things are happening (or not) in the social sphere from an engagement standpoint.

    If you’re creating content that people share and interact with, your score goes up – and if you aren’t engaging and sharing content your score goes down. It’s really pretty straight forward.

    I’m of the opinion that whether or not it’s Klout, at some point in time there will be a “scoring” system in place that will do two things – one, help businesses/individuals measure their “influence” and two provide a way for ordinary humans to figure out who’s considered to be a trusted resource and who’s not.

  • Mark, I couldn’t agree with you more. Klout can be quite useful internally to help measure growth – and generating upward Klout momentum is a powerful driver for many teams.

    I think where Klout is most misused (and maligned) is when it becomes a platform for influencer discovery, which it might like to be but, IMHO, fails at quite miserably. Because people can game the system and become the top influencer in obscure (or not-so-obscure) topics, and someone with a hight Klout score looks like they’re an expert across many fields, Klout’s legitimacy in influencer discovery is questionable at best. Klout seems to be placing less emphasis on that recently, which might help to make a dent in the flood of bad PR pitches to “influencers” based on Klout searches.

  • Thanks so much Scott.

  • I think the market is definitely moving in that direction Beth. In fact, I think companies like Facebook are already figuring it out — we just don;t see it.

  • Good point Stephanie. I do like the integration with Hootsuite however. You can look at a Twitter list — customers, for example — and see among those people is active and can move content. Might be an interesting insight in some cases. Thanks so much for commenting!

  • I don’t use the Hootsuite integration enough! Will have to spend some time with it – I love the Twitter list idea. Thanks!

  • It doesn’t really bother me personally because it is an aspirational tagline. Wal-Mart’s tagline is “Always” the low price. Are they ALWAYS? No, but I get it.

    I think the next step is that companies will connect the dots between content, connections and buying behavior. I’m sure it is already being donw at Google and FB. klout is in a unique position, especially with the Microsoft connection, to bridge these platforms some day and make some interesting insights around the monetary value of influencers. At least that is what I would do if I were them!

    In that way, they could start to move closer to measuring buying behavior and real influence. So who knows? Maybe they should keep the tagline. Plus, it sounds better than The Standard Measure for Moving Content. : )

    Hope you are doing well on the new job and look forward to connecting with you soon.

  • Mark, I like your characterization of Klout as a “blunt instrument.” Using it as an internal scorecard of sorts makes sense, as long as expectations are properly set.

    While I agree that Klout isn’t truly measuring influence, I confess that, when I’m comparing apples to apples, i.e., two entities that are similar in nature (same industry, similar background, etc.), I sometimes do take note of their respective Klout scores. All other things being equal, if one person has a higher Klout score than another, say, that might factor into my thinking.

    As you point out, a higher score has much to do with sheer social activity, but that in itself can be a useful data point. And yes, of course Klout can be gamed. So relying on it as the only data point is foolish.

  • I think that is a very rational perspective Mark. Thanks for taking the time to comment today!

  • Interesting to see you at this point since just a few short years ago we were talking about how easy a system it is to game. Very good points though. Maybe it has taken till now for Klout to come into its own.

  • Since I started research for the book, I thought that Klout should be taken seriously. The more I learned, the more I was convinced they were on to something. The premise I laid out here is similar to what is in the book. The tech is still somewhat crude but they have a whole lot of resources behind them right now, not the least of which is Microsoft.

    I think they have addressed at least some of the gaming issues with some changes last summer. Good to hear from you Brian.

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  • Cindy C.

    My questions regarding Klout have always been that they seem to think I’m more influential than I believe myself to actually BE. When I’m not very active, my score goes up. When I’m more active (and more interactive with others) my score will go down. That confuses me, honestly.

    Tell me this, when you are gauging one’s Klout score, what do you look for? What is a “good” score?

  • Tracy Stewart

    Great points!

  • I have never heard of that Cindy. Usually when activity goes down the Klout score goes down too. The only thing I can think of is that the score is “smoothed” over 90 days so there is a lag. You might be active, but the score is just catching up to the period where you were inactive. Only thing I can think of. I believe the average Klout score in the US is around 40 so anything north of that is good. It gets harder to increase your score the higher you go. Hope that helps.

  • Thanks Tracy.

  • Cindy C.

    I can see the average thing. I guess that must be it. I’ve never been really bothered by the whole idea of Klout and definitely can allow a little “marketing license” on the tag line, but my influence always puzzled me. 😉 I seem to hang right around high 50’s.

  • Mark, I was concerned through the majority of this piece. No, I don’t believe they will “cheat” the system. However, over time we manage our business to the metrics we measure our activity against, and that is where Klout is disconcerting. Then again, any metric you select can be gamed, just some are a bit easier to game or less likely to tie to results when they are gamed.

    Glad to hear that you are using it as part of a mix of varied metrics. As a small part of a broad mix, particularly if you don’t have other metrics that summarize their ability to create and distribute content, I’ll swallow my concerns and say ‘OK.’

    Will be interested in hearing how the project progresses!

  • Jeff Domansky PR

    Hi Mark, I thought adding Klout was a very creative way to add another metric into your measurement mix. The fact it’s a third party, objective, if not entirely accurate service is useful. It wasn’t clear in your post whether the Klout scores would be public or private? If they are public, I admire the company for using Klout as a measurement because the results are there for all to see.

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  • Actually it also measures replies and conversations as well as just the sharing of content too.

    Otherwise good points you raise as a indicator rather than a KPI. If it can help them a team collaborate and compete (and not look for shortcuts whilst doing so) then great and it serves a purpose.

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  • Well said Mark. I also introduce clients to Klout scoring. Aside from tracking relative progress, I think they cannot ignore the fact that the score is visible, particularly on Hootsuite. In addition, with a start-up, I believe the apparent influence of the CEO on a personal basis is something that potential investors cannot ignore.

  • MrTonyDowling

    Spooky post Mark! For the last 8 months I’ve been using the ‘Klout League’ in precisely the way you talk about here. That is as a blunt way to introduce the kind of behaviours I want in my new organisation!
    It is blunt, and it comes with some other interesting lessons, like learning that the team interacting with each other had a big impact on scores. Most of my guys were high 60’s within a couple of months. we also observed what we believed were real time modifications of the Facebook element to the scores, as high level ‘Facebookers’ soared, and then pulled back a little a few weeks later.
    A fascinating idea, and I have no doubt it has helped me along with the plan of culture change I am implementing at my organisation.
    We are probably past the point where it is useful now, but there is no doubt it did for us, eactly what you talk about in this post.

  • Mark – let’s see what 2014 brings. New role at IBM is fabulous. Hope to see you again in person soon.

  • That’s a good score for a good person : )

  • I agree with you — choosing the right metric is so important because it will continue to drive behaviors after I am gone. But I have studied this company for a couple of years now and I think it is a dependable enough indicator of “content movement” and that is the real source of success on the web I think for many brands. Thanks for the “measured response” my friend!

  • As far as i know every score is public so if you know the company, you could eventually see the score. You make a good point about this being a third party metric. That is another advantage. Thanks Jeff!

  • yes, that is implied in the part I wrote about connecting with other relevant influencers. Thanks for bringing that out Charlie.

  • Interesting point. Assuming investors even know what it is : ) Klout is still a rather obscure metric to the public.

  • Yes, I recall talking about this with you many months ago as a possible strategy. I’m delighted to see that it is working! I wonder, you state that you have no doubt that using Klout as a measure of culture change moved your organization along. Is there a way you can quantify this through some measure tied to your business or is it just through your experienced observations of the organization? Fascinating case study. A team of “60s” is quite an accomplishment.

  • MrTonyDowling

    I’ll tell you what, we are just putting together the case study having come to the end of the exercise. We are looking at metrics that might be valuable too. I’ll let you have a peak if you like!
    re the team in the 60’s I’ll try and get some illustration of that too.
    I meant to say that the rest of the broader business picked this idea up from us too, so its gone round the UK as an idea!

  • aboer

    Agree with Beth…Companies like LittleBird and Traackr are trying to get there too, but at the end of the day what really matters is a Movable Index…how much of an audience an author is able to move to a piece of content for a brand, and then again whether that audience is truly targeted. The only company that has this kind of data today, really, is Google and I think their “author rank” is inevitably going to be a proxy for influence, but we may never see the scores.

  • NickWestergaard

    Mark – No rant here. I really like this post. We are so quick to jump on things so your warning was a good move as many would have zoomed straight down here with their “Well I Never!” rant. I really like your summation and your three points of what Klout actually does. I also like this role in on-going measurement pertaining to consulting work. It’s definitely a more relevant metric to look at than basic engagement date. Again, great post. Off to share the heck out of it.

  • Great point about Google and author rank. The combination of Google authorship and author rank seems likely to become a very powerful measure. It will be interesting to see if they make it public like page rank

  • Very interesting idea.

  • So interesting, Would love to see that. Maybe guest post potential at some point?

  • Much appreciated Nick. Means a lot professor.

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  • Had the same point as @RandyBowden:disqus ‘s and other one was – I agree that this particular company would slog out and do all things necessary and not cheat to get that perfect score but then a smaller company which could game the system and have higher score, will gain more visibility. And that exactly is one reason these scores do not hold good, IMO. In a perfect world, I would have appreciated Klout very much though!

  • I appreciate the fact you write about it Mark. Where would we be without a contrary opinion? Quite frankly, I think your right. People get hung up on “influence” when in reality, it’s an interesting marketing tool, as you have said. This is one more mark in that direction. There’s nothing wrong with having more gauges.

  • Sam Fiorella

    I agree that Klout is not the “standard for influence” as they claim. Not even close. At best, it’s a gauge in how active a profile is online and/or how engaged their audience is with him/her. And there’s nothing wrong with attempting to gauge those social attributes. There could be value in that, which is the point you’re making and I would agree with that.

    Using Klout to gamify an internal team to create more content, engage more people, remain active on social channels, etc. is not a bad strategy or use of the service. Of course, as you suggested, this could backfire if they run one of their now-famous “adjustments” that kills people’s “achievements” overnight.

    The one question I’d ask: If there’s value in using Klout as a game to encouraging the staff to stay involved in the program, is there also business value in the content being created?

    Why not consider a program or tool that gauges the relevancy of the audience being reached (are they potential customers or not?), the affect of that content on branding (has the sentiment around the brand changed among this audience?), and the affect of the content on bottom line (increase in desire to purchase, leads generated or month-over-month sales?). These are true measurements that Klout cannot provide.

    As a short-term strategy, I can see the value in what you’re attempting to do. For long-term sustainability, the program has to be more aligned with bottom-line business goals. My 2 cents

  • Actually, I’m not the contrary opinion. Just seems like it : )

  • Thanks for the comment. As you say, this stuff might be down the line but is far too complicated for where we are right now. This is an entirely new team, a new effort. A completely new mindset really. The goal is to get it moving in the right direction. I’m not trying to “game” any team. I’m trying to drive sustainable organizational change and that is exceedingly difficult especially when I am not onsite and nobody reports to me : )

    This is part of an integrated program that includes paid online, traditional advertising and social media. We are making efforts to tie it all together with the end result being a) patients and b) share of voice in an entirely new industry (because ultimately there is a B2B play). We have metrics connecting what we do to leads/conversions as best we can and also using Appinions for sentiment and in the longer term share of voice.

    Gauging relevancy is not an issue. The people seeking out the content need the service because they, or a loved one, are sick. The company has put the professional resources toward the project they need to put out quality content and I am working with them closely on the content plan and the community management for now. So I think the pieces are in place for the short-term and the building blocks for the long-term success but time will tell.

  • Mark,
    I agree. Klout can allow you to see the context / quality behind the score when you take the effort to explore the user’s content and social network in the dashboard. With or without Klout, it is fairly easy for a human to quickly spot someone gaming social media once you understand how social media works. People are smart enough to understand that getting an A in Chemistry class or an A in Gym class represent different things when you look past the grade. Most naysayers get stuck on the Klout score or how it is calculated and assume that people are not also considering the actual content and network behind the score. The Klout score when analyzed with the quality and context of the content and network it represents as you propose can be a useful metric.
    Thank you,

  • Interesting idea, Mark. I think Klout can be a great way to gauge temperature – how hot or cold is a person or company? I’ve looked at it for myself and clients to get a quick pulse on how we’re doing, but haven’t made it a key metric to follow. But, I could see how Klout could be a leading indicator that can help predict whether or not your efforts are gaining traction. As you said, this can’t be the only metric you use, but it can be one way to gauge how you’re doing along the way. I might have to give it a try!

  • How do you game the system? I’m serious. What do you have to do? a) You must be active. b) You must share content c) People need to interact with you. So that’s what you can do to raise your score. You know what? That’s what i WANT them to do!! do you call that gaming? I call that doing the work.

    And a competitor is not going to necessarily have more visibility because they have a higher Klout score.95 percent of the population don’t even know what a Klout score is.

  • Robin Taylor Kleban

    I really like this post. The logic behind it and the authenticity in which it’s all presented is fantastic. Although I haven’t closely followed the full Klout ‘debate’ – I’ve always struggled with its true meaning. Somehow you’ve cleared up all the fog in my brain with this post and the context you’ve put around it. And I admit that I did a semi-“ugh Klout”-eye-roll before I read your plea to hold off on my rant…

    I’m glad I did. Thanks!

  • (part 2) I had another thought on this concept of “adjustments.” I think it is desirable and healthy for a company to make adjustments to improve their product. If they don;t advance, they will dry up.

    Klout is in an unusual position of iterating (and sometime making mistakes) in a very public way. It’s not ideal but they have no choice.

    The way people yowl when they make an adjustment (two big ones in three years?) always makes me wonder. When Google changes their algorithm, fortunes are lost. When Klout changes their algorithm, we may not be eligible for a sample of shampoo or a free Big Mac. It’s just not that big of a deal and in the end it will hopefully be more accurate and stable.. I think the emotion surrounding their adjustments is overblown. I would be concerned if they DON’T make adjustments to serve their customers (brands, not us) better. : )

  • Thanks for weighing in and sharing your wisdom professor.

  • I think “leading indicator” is exactly the right way to characterize it Laura. If they have the right behaviors to drive a Klout score, I would expect other results to follow suit. But first we have to get it cranked up. : )

  • Ha! Thanks for your honesty. I’m glad you stopped by to read the post and I’m happy you felt it helped clear things up.

  • I’ll be in London in June.

  • Thank you for your insights – I have frequently used Klout scores to demonstrate social media value to clients. I think it does demonstrate some type of metric that is easy to understand and can be compared.

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  • Thanks for your comment! I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

  • Mark, we know a & b can be automated and for c, I have seen many folks offering services to show ‘interaction’.

    My point was, while people like you and me, put efforts to build each of these organically and know how hard it was to reach those scores, some competitor will always find a way to circumvent that and might beat your score too. And well, we lose business to them.

    Am sure, Klout would have put many checks to keep off people from gaming the scores, but end of the day, they have a business to run and may be would not mind little bit of controversy over their scoring systems. So, I’ll always take the scores with a grain of salt.

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  • Chris Conner

    Great insight Mark. What resonates with me is having a metric that can be used internally in the early stages to demonstrate that you are doing something worthwhile and getting noticed for it. As you say, over the long term, other metrics will become important.

    It’s hard for me to see how comparing your own Klout score to anyone else’s will ever be a relevant measure. It seems to risk being a distraction from more useful long term metrics. If I am missing something, I am happy to hear about it.

  • Point one … agree.

    Point two … I don’t know. As I said, Klout is a relative measure of an ability to move content. Brian Solis has a higher Klout score than me. Does he create content that moves better than me? Yes. I have a Klout score higher than students in my class. Do I move content better than them? Yes.

    Is that important to know? I don’t know. I don;t obsess with it, but if I see somebody new online that has a score over 80, I want to investigate to see why! They must be up to something interesting : )

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  • Yes, @markwilliamschaefer:disqus, this does make sense as you frame it here, and I’m inclined to try this out with an upcoming new client as well.
    Also still looking for that ONE (simple) analytic tool we can use to capture/measure interaction and engagement across all the major platforms, so thanks for the tip about Appinions. I’ll check that out.

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