Some great blog posts about Klout were written this week by Jason Falls, Liz Strauss, and Christopher Penn. Although I’m reticent to write another post about Klout or do a synopsis of posts by writers who are far more accomplished than I, these three posts skillfully vet the enigma of the self-proclaimed, “standard of influence.” I figured they’re worth a meditation.
Jason’s post, “Please Don’t Quit Klout. Or At Least Don’t Announce It.” was by far the most entertaining. Jason tackled the elephant in the room head-on when he states that the championing of Klout scores is tantamount to an “ego-trip.” And while I imagine that probably rubs some people the wrong way, consider whether an influence metric should trump business performance metrics? I think not. You wouldn’t stay in business long being Beiber-esque on Klout but not converting prospects into customers. From a personal perspective, consider if the measure of a friendship should be quantified by an algorithm? Of course this is preposterous as the feeling of closeness between friends is quite subjective. The more you consider the reasons behind quantifying influence, the more reasonable Jason’s assertion becomes.
Liz’s “Klout, my story and why opting out was my only choice,” provides voice to those who viewed Klout as a tool and not simply an ego-boost. Liz reveals through her personal experience that some people made an earnest effort to use Klout’s mechanisms, and found that the methods that Klout uses to monetize their site were contrary to the values that they hold. The post goes on to describe the reasons she decided to remove her profile from Klout.
Both Jason and Liz’s opinions are substantiated by the Klout business model. Klout is (at least on the surface) an earned-media advertising buyer. Their model (which is both exceptionally well-designed and egregiously ill-conceived) relies on perpetual gamification, nebulous segmentation, and suspect calls-to-action to drive social advertising. It’s tantamount to a television conglomerate who sells advertising, but can’t guarantee which channels the ads will broadcast on, or when they will run. The gamification is constructed by assigning a prestige number, which (to Jason’s point) has little substantive value. The Klout monetization model lends credence to Liz’s concerns about serving motives contrary to their corporate mouthpiece.
What is important about these two posts is that Jason and Liz are attuned to the prevailing opinions of Klout. People understand that ego and the proclivity for gaming drive interest in Klout. It’s not a useful tool. With the exhibited behavior of Klout (such as data mining of teenagers) seemingly contrary to their stated intention, Liz’s concerns about inconsistent values are widespread as well.
Christopher’s post “Should you opt-out of Klout?” offers an important additional perspective. While he affirms the same issues that concern Jason and Liz, he points out that the Klout API (Application Programming Interface) is currently being used by quite a few applications. By opting out of Klout, you are not only erasing yourself from Klout but all of the applications that mine data from the Klout API. Additionally, Klout is generous about the amount of API calls that developers can make. So, it’s accessible and widespread to a degree that only Klout understands (salesforce.com is an example he cites of a company that draws from the Klout API).
It made me wonder if Klout’s business strategy may be similar to McDonald’s business strategy. When Richard and Maurice McDonald opened McDonald’s, their intention was to start a chain of “fast-food” burger franchises. When Ray Kroc bought the company, he changed the model so that McDonald’s made the majority of their profit from leasing real estate to franchisees. McDonald’s isn’t about the quality of the products it serves, it’s about its capability to serve lowest-common-denominator consumables with the largest reach possible.
Just as almost no one would tell you that a McDonald’s hamburger is good cuisine, no one would say that Klout is a satisfying measure of influence. But maybe Klout’s influence metric is an easily consumable, unsatisfying product because it’s intended to be? Maybe Klout is more about the back-end than what’s on the menu?
Christopher Penn on “Awaken Your Superhero”
An interview with Liz Strauss
Jason Falls on Social Media Experts (a personal favorite)