Sunday, June 26, 2011

Klout: Tool or Game

In the last couple of weeks I recently revived my Twitter account after having completely giving up on the service back in September of 2009. My last tweet at the time: "Twitter: You are a waste of time. I have yet to "get" your purpose. I've stuck with you too long hoping I would. But now, I say good-bye." I still somewhat have the same feelings about Twitter, but do see a few potential purposes for the service. We'll see if I grow back into using it or if I simply get frustrated by it once again. In truth, there were two reasons that I decided to jump back into Twitter--I wanted to see if I could use it to connect with other professionals in my field and, more importantly, I wanted to outrank my wife in Klout.

Before she mentioned the service to me, I had never heard of it, but as I did a few searches and read some articles, I found that it seems to be quite the growing service with aspirations of being able to truly measure your overall online reach, or as I read it, your online popularity.  Still, it seemed like an interesting topic since I had yet to find a true metric for measuring how influential someone is in the social media arena.  You can see how many followers someone has, check out how many Facebook friends (or likes) a person or page has, or check the amount of output that someone creates for either service, but that doesn't necessarily tell you how influential someone is. I could tweet up a storm, and craft a gigantic network of Facebook friends, but would that really make me influential?

Klout wants to answer that question, and I do definitely think that what they're undertaking could be valuable, but the more I think about the service, the more it seems that even though it wants you to view it as a tool, it's more like a game. I don't have to look any further than the reason why I started using Klout--I wanted to outrank my better half. I really didn't care, initially, what my social influence was. I just wanted to win.

But as I started to engage people on Twitter, connect with new contacts, and actually open my LinkedIn account after what feels like forever (side note: does anyone actually use LinkedIn unless they're looking for a job?) I was a bit more curious about how Klout worked, especially after I saw my Klout score drop after having seen it be on a steady rise (keep in mind I've only been using the service for a couple of weeks... yet they already sucked me in... that has to say something).  So I wanted to look into Klout a bit deeper.  How did they decide what my influence was?

Well, unfortunately, just like Google's search algorithm, Klout tells you a bit about what they do to calculate your social influence, but they don't give you the whole picture or insights into their methodology. I guess that makes sense since, just like Google, they wouldn't want you to easily game the system. What stood out at me when glancing over the metrics that they use to figure out your Klout score was that they were actually digging a bit below some of the surface level metrics. It matters how many followers you have, but more importantly it matters how much they interact with you. It matters that you have lots of friends on Facebook, but it matters even more that you receive consistent interaction on your Facebook content from varied sources.

It makes sense to use these measures, and a number of the others that they list, to come up with a social score, but it again feels like a game to me. It's neat to figure out what type of social media archetype I fall under (I'm a "Networker" by the way) and to see how my Klout scores grow (my "True Reach" is trending ever upward!), but does this really tell me anything useful about myself or my social media interaction? I'm not sure... but it makes me want to keep playing the Klout game to see how high of a score I can get!  Maybe that's all they hope to achieve. Since they need Facebook and Twitter (and LinkedIn... I guess) to survive, of course they're going to push you to continue to use those services, and to use them more heavily than you did before.

So I come back to the question I've posed different ways throughout this post: Is Klout useful? After thinking about it, spewing out what I think about the service, and mulling over my usage of the service... I still don't know, but I'm leaning towards a qualified "no".  Through my jaded eyes it feels like trying to get as many yearbook signatures as you can before the end of the year so that you can look at the oodles of scribbled messages and feel like you're popular, even if you didn't really interact with half of those people outside of trying to get their John Hancock.

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