There’s been a lot of debate about Klout and its success in achieving its goal of measuring social media influence. Some people are openly critical, arguing that it lacks transparency or is a superficial way of measuring expertise that promotes false self-confidence. Klout has its defenders also – those who point out no service measures offline influence and that it provides a starting point for businesses to create order. In fact, online (and offline) reputation may already be influential – and getting more so – in getting people with more clout (and klout) preferential treatment (and free steak!)
I’m sympathetic to both sides of the debate. I am disappointed that Klout has further decreased transparency in scoring – I liked seeing retweets and mentions, for example. I agree they miss some big categories of influence but recognize it is impossible to capture everything and I appreciate the effort to blaze new ground. Also, I had the opportunity to listen in on Klout’s Amber Buhl’s (@amberbuhl) guest lecture in Professor Mike Mackert’s class at UT-Austin, and I was impressed how honest she was about the limitations of Klout – limitations they are trying to improve. I do check my Klout score fairly often – but more because I’m a quantitative researcher who loves numbers than because I think it defines my online influence. Finally, I share concerns that Klout could be used to segregate consumers and privilege some over others – but to be fair, haven’t those with more “influence,” however it’s measured, always gotten preferential treatment?
Despite these concerns and quibbles, Klout central premise is dead-on: engagement is the metric to gauge social media success. All of their metrics, even if they lack transparency, focus on producing content that your followers (friends, readers, etc.) find actionable in some way. For example, amplification is explicitly measures whether your posts create a response, while true reach attempts to calculate the number of people who are truly engaged with.
Now, it may be obvious that creating engaging material is the goal of social media. However, I think Klout offers an important reminder of that objective: creating content that our audience finds useful. Maybe retweets, likes, comments, and replies are not the best way of measuring that – and they are definitely not the only way – but Klout reminds us that the heart of social media is engagement. And that central component is what Klout gets right.
Disclaimer: I have been offered several Klout perks – and have accepted two. Perks are offered to its users meeting certain criteria (depending on the perk). Both perks that I accepted had limited monetary value. These perks are unrelated to – and did not affect – the content of this post. But if this post boosts my Klout – or gets me more free offers – I won’t complain!