Does Your Klout Score Mean Anything?

Klout score bubble. I tend to be wary of anything that reviews what I write and offers to spit out a score of how valuable it is. Just as I have mistrust for web sites that claim to be “Bobby Validated” for accessibility (I’m dating myself a bit there), or personality tests that tell plot me on a chart based on answers to a small set of questions (which has been co-opted by eHarmony), or guaranteed Google/SEO ranking offers (insert any spam you have gotten through your web site’s contact form).

I’ve commented before on how, in social media, the number of Facebook likes you have or Twitter followers (Lots of Twitter Followers Guarantees… Nothing) you’ve amassed really doesn’t say a lot about your ability (having the word “guru” in your Twitter bio is an automatic disqualification).

Of course it should come as no surprise to those who know me that I don’t consider a service like Klout (“The Standard for Influence”) to really do a good job of quantifying how good or bad, influential or not I am at social media. I have no illusions about my influence #8212; I have less than 400 followers on Twitter, I don’t use Facebook for anything other than crazy talk, I hardly check my LinkedIn account, and I’m not exactly breaking new ground on this blog. My Klout score should be low. But I’d also like to know how it’s generated and if it translates to anything tangible.

Cue an interesting article earlier this month, Why your Klout score is meaningless. The author claims to have a PhD in statistics, which admittedly makes no sense to me (I get natural math, not the invented math of economics or statistics), but puts him well above me to evaluate whether or not Klout has any merit. His conclusions:

It often does not correctly order individuals in terms of how influential they are, is easy to game higher simply by adding a Facebook account, and does not respect some very basic monotonicity rules. Put simply, it acts like a derived measurement.

Earlier in the post he offers research has repeatedly shown derived measurements to be inconsistent and not trustworthy individually.

The Director of Ranking (interesting title) from Klout responded in the comments provides some context for how Klout works, but doesn’t explicitly challenge the core assertions of the article.

A professor of statistics and political science and director of the Applied Statistics Center at Columbia University weighs in on the previous discussion with his own blog post, also titled Why your Klout score is meaningless. He doesn’t dispute points from the original post, instead taking issue with the application of the term “derived measurement.” He does have this to say about Klout:

The problem with the Klout score is not that it’s subjective but that it’s cloudy: we don’t know what it is. To understand a cloudy measurement, one has to poke it from the outside. […] Which makes sense given that Klout itself seems like a tool for … selling itself! Sort of [like] other notorious rating schemes such as the Places Rated Almanac and the U.S. News college ratings.

For a bit more vitriol wrapped around a play-by-play between Klout and others, you can catch up in this post from November, Klout. Nail. Coffin. Who cares?.

Since these posts were written Klout has moved to add two more features that will likely further affect a person’s Klout score, and further confuse (or confound) those trying to measure it. Klout introduced a “+K” button, which is a take-off of Google’s own derivative “+1” button, allowing people to indicate that a particular person has influenced them on a topic (Introducing +K: Your Influence is Topical). In addition, Klout will now allow you to associate your LinkedIn account and factor that into your overall Klout score (Measure Your LinkedIn Klout)

If you aren’t concerned about how Klout and other arbitrary measurements (such as your number of Twitter followers) can affect you and others, consider these examples (from Get ready. Social scoring will change your life.):

  • The Palms Hotel in Las Vegas is providing perks to guests based on their Klout score (an assessment of social media influence)**
  • By the end of the year, Twitter said their new analytics will provide influence scores for every user.
  • People are now curating lists of the most influential bloggers by Klout score.
  • Virgin Airlines offered free flights on a new route to people with high influence scores on Twitter.
  • Hoot Suite allows you to sort Twitter results by the influence of the people in the list.

There are already people and organizations who perform triage (at best) or just selectively respond to others based on their Klout score. Apply the same motivation for spammers to game the Google algorithm to Klout scores, and you may face the risk that your former ability to reach out to a brand using social media is hampered because you haven’t paid for enough tweets in mainland China to artificially boost your ranking (or that those getting the responses did).

I think my next career might lie in goldfarming followers, likes and re-tweets.

Update: May 10, 2018

Klout has announced today that it is closing shop on May 25. Just in time for European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to kick in (on May 25). I also forgot Klout existed, but at least my score made it up to 58 from a start of 42. Whatever any of that means.

Screen shot of my Klout profile page.
It ranks me as knowledgeable on the Buffalo Sabres, which is silly, and also on sandwiches, which is oddly insightful.

I look forward to whatever Chinese start-up comes along to replace it that we can all ridicule.

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