Klout: A Measure Of Influence (Alternately: How One Woman Became Influential in “diaper” Overnight)

The internet has recently bestowed a new toy upon social networking/Intranets geeks. It’s a site called Klout, which measures a person’s influence (or “Klout”) throughout multiple sites in their social network- mostly Facebook and Twitter, but it also covers FourSquare, Instagram, Tumblr, Flickr, etc (and even LinkedIn, which I’m still confused by/convinced is solely for job hunting people in the over-40 set, but that’s another story for another day). Klout measures four aspects of a person’s social networks, and comes out with a composite score, which is your “Klout”.
Using Klout is a pretty simple process; you log into their site via whatever social networking sites you want to factor in your personal Klout equation, and the site calculates your score. This, of course, raises all sorts of privacy issues. Besides the larger “OMG they have access to my Twitter account!” problem that we are far too complacent about across the board, it occurs to me that there are probably scores of people who don’t think of themselves as having a broad social network. For example, in the same way that I don’t bring my mother on pub crawls or drag my friends to Christmas Eves at my grandmother’s house, my Twitter and Facebook aren’t linked together; even though I know that finding my Twitter is likely a simple process, I like to keep some aspects of my life separated from each other. Facebook is for family stuff; Twitter is not. If I want to fully utilize Klout, I am forced to put all of my social network eggs into one basket, so to speak.
Purely out of curiosity, I decided to calculate my Klout score using only my Twitter account. My Facebook page is locked down; people who search for me usually don’t have success finding me. My Twitter account is public, but I don’t have my name in my account. I am a very active Tweeter, so my assumption was that analyzing my Twitter account would give me some interesting results.

I clicked on Klout and found that I’d already signed up for it, but had forgotten about it already (telling, no?). My composite Klout score is 54, which is apparently a pretty decent score. Klout categorizes me as a “Specialist”, which means that I “may not be a celebrity, but within [my] area of expertise [my] opinion is second to none. [My] content is likely focused around a specific topic or industry with a focused, high-engaged audience.” I read this as: “You tweet about the same shit over and over again. You have a lot of @ conversations. Maybe you should take all this talking to emails and texts, bro.”

There are a few different factors that Klout takes into consideration when calculating one’s Klout score. The first is Network Influence. This is probably my least favorite Klout factor, as it’s kinda high school-ish; it measures how often top Klout influencers interact with me. My score is 60, which is slightly higher than my composite Klout score. I’m not sure what to make of this aspect of my score. Could my recent awesome day-making @ replies from Roseanne Barr and Judy Blume have catapulted me to a higher Klout score than the one I should actually be residing at? It’s the only thing I can think of, and has basically nothing to do with my general performance as a social networker; each reply was a random fluke. (Sadly for me, neither Roseanne nor Judy is dying to be my best friend.)
The second Klout factor is Amplification: how often people “share and respond to [my] content.” My assumption is that in Twitter terms, this is a measure of one’s @ replies and retweets; in Facebook terms, it’s reposts of articles, comments, and likes. My Amplification seems low- it’s only at 37. I’m not sure what to make of that, other than that I might get picked last for dodgeball in gym class today.
The final factor in determining one’s Klout score is True Reach, which calculates both the number of followers you have who aren’t spambots or dead accounts, and how often people communicate with you or repost what you’ve posted- some sort of amalgam of Network Influence and Amplification, perhaps. My network influence is 138, which seems exceptionally high. On the one hand, I have way more Twitter followers than people I follow; the following-to-followers ratio is about 2:3. On the other hand, I’d wager to guess that a big chunk of my dedicated followers are actually spambots. Hmmm. Could my exceptionally high score exist because I literally use the @ reply option to make evening plans on Twitter sometimes, rather than doing it in private like a normal person? Perhaps.
My skepticism about Klout not being exactly what it wants to be were founded once I looked at my Topics- a list of my supposed areas of expertise. My top three were “movies,” “groupon,” and “mississippi” (no capital letters on Klout). I’m originally from Mississippi, so that makes sense, I suppose. I am baffled by the other two. I am definitely no movie expert, and I haven’t bought a Groupon in almost a year. I have been live-tweeting my reading of The Help lately; perhaps this could explain Klout’s calculation of my new found expertise in movies, and my long-standing expertise in all things Mississippi.
Then I noticed that people’s votes can influence a user’s Klout. The reason I was viewed as being influential about Groupon is because one person gave me a vote there (in Klout terms, a +K). This measurement struck me as being sort of ridiculous. If someone wants to be perceived as being influential about something, they can beg their friends and families to vote them up. In this way it’s very clear that Klout is the big winner here- by allowing users to vote on what a social networker is influential about, they sign up more users, and have access to more people’s social networks. Those of us who have an understanding of how Klout works can view these Topics lists with a raised eyebrow, and companies with an interest in identifying users with expertise in certain areas are left with half of the story.
I scrolled further down the list, suddenly quite interested in learning more about the topics on which I suddenly felt incredibly knowledgeable. “Klout believes you are influential about massachusetts.” Hey, that’s fair enough; I live here. Klout also believes I am influential about “boston” and “memphis”; I currently live in Boston, and spent most of my life in Memphis. “community,” “moms,” “feminism,” and “writing”- these also make sense. I am super engaged in my various communities; I’m a babysitter; I’m a feminist; I’m a writer. Not bad, Klout. Not bad at all.Everything seemed at least somewhat on the up-and-up until I scrolled all the way down to the bottom of the page. That’s where I learned a deep, mysterious fact about myself, one that I didn’t even know existed- “Klout believes you are influential about diaper.”
Diaper! Klout doesn’t even believe that I am influential about diaperS. Just “diaper.” Clearly this news was of paramount importance, and I immediately felt the urge to click the “tweet” button next to my diaper influencer trophy. (Read the following screen cap from the bottom up, as is, of course, the way of the Twitterverse.)
My Twitter pleas to be +diapered did not go unanswered. Thanks to the votes of confidence from some friends and followers, within a few minutes “diaper” had skyrocketed to the top of my influential topic list (along with, curiously, feminism: perhaps feminism and diapers go hand in hand).

What had started out as a long, solemn writing night had culminated in the creation of a mini-meme amongst some of my friends and Twitter followers, and I was officially more influential in “diaper” than in any other subject in my life. Not the three places I’ve called home in my life; not my political philosophies, intellectual callings, or choice of jobs. Nope. “diaper” was the new king of my world.

Now that I was beginning to settle into my role as Queen of “diaper”, I decided to check out the Klout scores for some of the Twitter users whom I follow. While much of it was scarily accurate (for example, NBC’s chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel, is influential about “nbc,” “airports,” and “egypt”), plenty of it was straight up hilarious. One guy I follow is, according to Klout, highly influential about “celery.” A Memphis journalist I reciprocally follow is highly influential about “Memorial Day” (it must have been a helluva weekend for him this year). A friend in Memphis, this one a filmmaker, is highly knowledgeable about Eddie Vedder- this, I presume, is due to his photo-journalistic coverage of the recent release of the West Memphis Three, whose cause was taken up by the Pearl Jam singer. An Eddie Vedder expert, though? Methinks not. Sometimes the results were downright depressing: Poly Styrene, the X-Ray Spex singer who recently died of cancer, was an expert in “hospice.”
My deep, social networking “specialist” expertise led me to the following conclusion: those of us who use social networks because we find them useful and fun don’t have much use for Klout. Klout’s most serious error is that it measures a person’s place in a social network, rather than the network itself. I have been a consistent, devoted tweeter since spring of 2008 (definitely Twitter’s early days); I’ve stuck around because of the network itself, not because of how I want to be perceived by the world. I have great conversations with friends on Twitter. I learn things about friends that I never knew before. I have made new internet friends. When the East Coast earthquake happened a few weeks ago I immediately tweeted, then checked my timeline to see if others had felt anything; once I scrolled down my timeline, I could literally see the waves of the earthquake undulating out to different parts of the East Coast- New England friends were the most recent tweeters, followed by NYCers and DC residents a few minutes back. In that moment it struck me how Twitter has become the primary news source in my life. No media outlet can match Twitter users in how quickly and accurately we are able to share and consume information.
It may sound a little ridiculous to say, but more than any other social network, Twitter has become an invaluable part of my life. I adore it. I’m not so worried about how important I am in the Twitterverse; I’d rather focus on contributing to Twitter and getting something back from it. I will continue sharing articles where I learned important information, retweeting friends-of-friends’ lost cat tweets, and telling bad fart jokes. It works for me. From what I can tell, the people who are likely to find Klout useful are the same people by whom every active tweeter is randomly followed at least once a day; you click on their profile and there’s a picture of a bearded man in a suit who follows 13,000 people, is followed by roughly the same number, and has a profile that promises to “get you thousands of followers in a short time!” Uh, thanks but no thanks.

On the other hand, Klout is right, in a way. There is no doubt that last night, I was pretty darned influential about “diaper.” I actively engaged the people in my social network, and influenced them to participate in a specific act, all of which relates to “diaper.” Granted, I’ve changed the meaning of “diaper” to my own devices, but there it is. So who is the joke on- me or Klout? Klout are the dumbasses who put it there in the first place; I’m the one with “diaper” at the top of my influence list for all to see. I guess the answer depends on how much importance we choose to place on sites like Klout.

It’ll be interesting to see whether Klout rises to the top of the heap, or disappears into obscurity within a few months. Personally, I’m hoping for the latter. Klout is still in beta release, but the overall goal of the site doesn’t sit well with me. I Tweet because I enjoy it, not because I want to be perceived as a social media expert. I suspect that plenty of other people feel the same way.
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One Response to Klout: A Measure Of Influence (Alternately: How One Woman Became Influential in “diaper” Overnight)

  1. pillarofsalt says:

    A) I totally almost snarfed my tea all over my notes in class while reading this.

    B) just remember who’s the one who talked you into twitter. back when we used to live-tweet the minutiae of every single day AND text nonstop. #hotboss #suecookisinfluentialatwobinjacks

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