When Klout launched in 2008, it unleashed a new sort of status competition on the Internet. (And more than a touch of skepticism about its product.) Retweets and Likes had always been an implicit competition—it’s part of what makes the platforms that encourage them so addictive—but never before had that influence so clearly translated into a concrete "score." The Klout Score became not just a bragging point, but in some cases, a metric for hiring.
The whole system was, of course, designed for the benefit of marketers. With social media, everyone had been given an opportunity that had once been reserved for celebrities: the ability to amplify their opinions beyond the people in their social circles. Each social media account had the potential to be its own little marketing engine, and Klout provided brands a way to harness that power for their own machines by pinpointing the individuals most likely to have influence over their target demographics. They could buy those individuals’ (hopefully vocal) loyalty with coupons, exclusive experiences, and free merchandise called "perks," which were introduced in 2010.
How did we end up connecting 550 million social media profiles to what was essentially marketing service (it recently added content-sharing tools)?
"In the beginning, they told you, ‘hey, guess what, you’ve got a Klout score,’" says Alex Taub, the cofounder of SocialRank, a new take on Klout’s initial concept of allowing brands to drum up buzz by reaching out to key individuals. They did not say, "Hey, do you want to participate in a program that gives discounts and free stuff to people who have influence on social media?"
Taub’s SocialRank ultimately wants brands to pinpoint and reward people who matter to them with something Taub calls "Micro-endorsements." Its strategy, like Klout’s initial strategy, also focuses on providing some piece of information as an incentive for individuals to sign up.
But in this case, the enticement is exactly the same as it is for the brands and celebrities who use SocialRank: The app shows individuals three metrics about their own followers after they connect their Twitter accounts (plans to add other social media services are in the works):
Most Engaged Follower (MEF): The person who interacts with you most on Twitter, as calculated by metrics like Retweets, favorites, and @ mentions.
Most Valuable Follower (MVF): The person who can spread your message furthest on Twitter, as calculated by metrics like number of followers, verified status, and number of lists on which the account is included.
Best Followers: The people who are both engaged with you and have the most reach, based on a combination of the previous two criteria categories.
For an extra $25 each month, users can see their top 100 followers in each category. The bet, in other words, is no longer just that individuals can pass on messages from marketers, but that they also think like celebrities or brands—that they want to know and analyze who their most valuable followers are, too.
When brands sign up, they get essentially the same information about their followers as individuals do. But they can use that information a bit differently.
As Taub scrolls through the list of accounts that have already logged on, among them are a famous television show host, a professional sports league, a mobile phone carrier, fashion brands, and one of the largest fast food chains. Some of them are rewarding their top followers manually. GoPro, for instance, sent one of its most engaged followers a free camera with gear (he already had the camera, so he plans to give it away to one his followers—"More virality," Taub says). Spotify set one of its most engaged followers up with a free premium account.
Down the line, when SocialRank has a steady supply of both individuals and brands signed up for its platform, Taub hopes that brands will manage who they reward from within the SocialRank Platform (the company is still working out exactly what that means within the rules of the FTC).
"The endorsement industry is a $50 billion industry for the 1%; it’s for actors, comedians, musicians, and celebrities," Taub says. "We think that there’s an interesting opportunity with the rise of social media for an [endorsement] solution for the 99%."