If you hate Klout—and you probably do—try to take a deep breath and read ahead with an open mind.
Few things are as frenzy-inducing as Klout and its attempt to measure personal "influence." I have studied this social scoring trend for more than a year and, unlike every other blogger on the planet, it seems, I've come to the conclusion that this is indeed an important development. For marketers, being able to measure social influence is of historic importance.
Before I get into why, let's knock a few obvious facts out of the way:
- Klout cannot measure every type of influence. Never has. Never will.
- Klout can be "gamed." Is there anything on the Internet that can't be?
- It sucks being publicly rated and compared to other people.
- Klout made some PR and privacy blunders and deserves much of the criticism it has received.
But there's way more to Klout than that.
Before the Internet, you had to actually accomplish something to be a celebrity. Today, anybody can drum up attention with content that moves through the social web.
I'm not what you would call your normal "influencer." I haven't held office, I didn't go to Harvard, and I don't play for the Yankees. I have a small business, consult, and teach at Rutgers University.
But give me a blog and Twitter and I suddenly have people from all over the world telling me that I have impacted them. I've been quoted in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal for one reason: I am able to create, and move, my content through the Internet.
A nobody like me can become an influencer. And that's pretty cool. Influence has been democratized—and, with Klout, quantified.
The ability to create and move content is the absolute key to influence in the online world. So think about this—to the extent that you could measure that, wouldn't you be indicating online influence?
That's what companies like Klout, Kred, and PeerIndex are attempting to do. They are finding the people who are experts at creating, aggregating, and sharing content that moves online and creates a measurable reaction. Nothing more. In the old days, we called this "buzz."
That may seem rather simple but it's actually complex, and from an academic and business point of view, a significant development.
"Influence" has been one of the most studied aspects of politics, marketing, sociology, and psychology, and yet it has never been measured in a statistically valid way on a mass scale. Until now. Creating content is an action. Having a link clicked, or a message re-tweeted, is an effect. Finally, there is something to measure. In fact, there are billions of actions and effects to measure and compare every day.
And this trend of measuring social influence is getting more sophisticated month by month. The startup company Appinions now looks for influencer data across 4.5 million sources. Klout is getting closer to developing models that demonstrate influencer impact on purchase intent. You can sort customers by Klout score on Salesforce.com and universities like Florida State, Northwestern, and NYU are incorporating Klout as a teaching tool in the classroom. Notable venture capitalists like Kleiner Perkins, David Pakman, and Michael Arrington have invested in the company.
For decades, companies have spent big money trying to identify and nurture word-of-mouth influencers. This is an expensive and inexact science. Klout is disintermediating and unleashing that process, at least in part, by providing almost instantaneous lists of potential brand advocates.
By dissecting and analyzing millions of pieces of social media content each day and tracking the content's movement, popularity, and reactions, the company distills your social influence to a single number between 1 and 100. It's kind of like a credit score for influence—it doesn't tell you everything about a person, but it's an indicator of how well a person can create online buzz.
From stay-at-home moms blogging about couponing to a shy L.A. web developer who tweets more than 200 times a day, a new era of citizen influencers with hefty Klout scores has emerged as a word-of-mouth force ready to post, link, and Instagram about their favorite products and services. And that is attracting the attention of major brands.
Although the technology is still in its silent film stage, some of the biggest and brightest marketers like Disney, Audi, and Nike have already incorporated Klout influencers into traditional marketing efforts. And it seems to be working. According to Klout, each influencer in one of their "Perk" programs generates an average of 30 pieces of content and millions of possible impressions. The cost per thousand impressions is low compared to other forms of advertising and, being that that ripples are generated by people who love genuinely love the brands, the impact is organic.
So while it is easy, and maybe trendy, to hate on it, Klout is becoming a legitimate channel for indexing and connecting with word-of-mouth influencers.
Cut through the noise and keep an eye on the signal. Klout and the social influence movement is on the rise.
[Image: Flickr user Eduardo Meza Soto]