Klout is a long way from being a popularity metric

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been seeing a bunch of stuff about Klout come across my desk. For those of you who are unaware of what Klout is, you can visit the website try to figure it out on your own, or you can go with this brief synopsis: It’s a measure of your social media reach.

The website says that reach is measured on “True Reach,” or the number of people who respond or re-send your content; on “Amplification,” or how many people respond or re-send your content; and on “Network,” or how often people respond or re-send your content. I hope to heaven there’s more to it than that, because it sounds like they’re measuring the same basic thing three times. (These are their words – check here.)

In the company’s blog yesterday, Scott Kleinberg (an influencer, not a Klout internal guy) summarized it much more effectively by describing it as a measure of how many people you influence, how much you influence them and how influential they are. Still a bit murky, but at least it goes from volcanic mud-clear to Colorado River water-clear.

Anyway, I’ve long been dubious about Klout, but, as I said, I’ve been pelted with stuff about them. First, a friend gave me a K+ for my CRM knowledge (why, thanks!). Then, my boss Jan Sysmans got a little Klout crazy and K+’ed me and several other related accounts via those other accounts in a kind of influence daisy chain.

Jan’s actions show one of the failures of this kind of metric: when people have an incentive to change a metric, and you give them an opportunity to do so, they will. But by doing that, you contaminate the metric, thus rendering it useless. Gamifying a measurement system is a really dumb, dumb, dumb move.

I also find that Klout fails at doing what it’s supposed to do, primarily because it tries to automate the idea of “influence,” which is a supremely human thing. It’s not just the volume of re-Tweets that indicates influence – it’s the impact they have on those that receive them, the timing of their reception, and ultimately whether or not the cause someone to behave differently. (Want more – much more – on this? Read Michael Wu’s blog.)

Without those admittedly hard to measure factors involved, Klout becomes a popularity contest. For instance, the very influential analyst Ray Wang of Constellation Research has a score of 60. Paul Greenberg, the most influential voice in CRM, has a 54.

Comedian Norm MacDonald has a 64. Snooki from “Jersey Shore” has an 86. The squirrel that ran on the field during the National League playoffs has a 27, perhaps being chased by the Cobra that escaped from the Bronx Zoo in 2010. That reptile has a score of 57. So, according to Klout, a venomous serpent has more influence than the author of CRM at the Speed of Light.

The worst part of this is that some folks are taking this measurement seriously. Some writers I know are reporting that publishers are questioning their social media bona fides based on their Klout scores. So, because it’s the only game in town, this fictitious, Cosmo-quiz-level metric is now being used to make decisions that involve real money and real people.

And really, they ought not to. Paradoxically, those with high scores often know better than anyone the absurdity of the number attached to their influence As noted freelance technology journalist Joe “Zonker” Brockmeier (Klout score: 60) said, “I blame my high score on the fact that I spend a lot of time chattering on social networks and I don’t have housemates or co-workers to jabber with – and my cat hasn’t started talking back. Yet.”

So while comparing Klout scores is a nifty little social-era parlor game, making decisions based solely on a Klout score is a terrible idea. The door is still open for a legitimate, widely-available measurement of reach and influence, and maybe that will eventually be the Klout of tomorrow. The Klout of today is a long way from being that metric.

(And I’m not just saying that because my Klout score is 37. Just 37? Really? Come on…)

ADDENDA: David Strom threw up this nifty post, “17 Alternatives to Klout.” None of them are a one-stop solution, but the points he makes are great.

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With 17 years as a technology and business under his belt, Chris Bucholtz took over the role of editor in chief of the CRM Outsiders blog in 2011. He first focused on customer relationship management as the editor of InsideCRM, then moved to Forecasting Clouds in 2009 to continue honing his views on how the discipline of CRM can impact the entire business. Before developing into a CRM influencer, Chris covered a variety of technology-related topics. He was the editor of Semiconductor Manufacturing Magazine, senior editor of technology for VAR Business, senior editor at HP World and intelligence and software editor for Telephony. After a six-year stint in the U.S. Navy, his start in journalism came as a rock columnist for BAM Magazine. In addition to his business and technology writing, Chris has written three books on World War II aviation. An avid scale modeller, Chris and his wife live in Alameda, California.