The Standard for Influence: Is It Really?
Social media measurement tools are in hot pursuit by people attempting to leverage their networks. People are desperately trying to put a number on how far their reach is, how much engagement their audience is showing, and things of the like. Since I firmly believe any sort of result is worthless unless you understandhow people are using social media, I recently conducted a simple survey. I asked about age, gender, and a few basic questions about social media: What networks are you currently on? Which networks do you leave running in the background? How do you use social networks? And, have you ever checked your Klout score?
Almost 71% said no. And, of those who had checked Klout before, only one person found the Klout score "very helpful" (on a scale of 1 to 5, 1 being not helpful and 5 being very helpful). One person - that's not exactly something to brag about.
My sample, while modest in size, had a healthy amount of diversity: there was a decent male to female ratio, a nice spread of respondents ages 18-60+, and a variety of social network memberships. While more often than not, my participants were involved in the PR/marketing/advertising biz, there were plenty of teachers, stay-at-home moms, students, IT and web designers, and even a few paralegals here and there. If only a handful of these people have checked Klout before, and only one person found their score helpful... does Klout actually have clout?
There's What In My Klout Score?
According to the Klout website, a Klout score (from 1 - 100) measures how many people a user influences, how much a user influences people, and the influence of people within a user's "True Reach," or how much a user's messages are shared by other influencers. Sounds a bit convoluted to me, but when you think about it for a second, it makes sense. In addition to a fancy score, Klout lets users unlock "perks" based on their scores - like free Weather Channel umbrellas, or a cup of coffee that's served piping hot alongside your score gratis. The more you share, and the more people re-share or respond to you, the higher your score. Simple! You'd think a service that rewarded people for sharing on social networks - something that's become a favorite past-time of Internet dwellers worldwide - would be known by more than just a few heads.
Is it encouraging bad habits?
People love to get high scores (I used to work at a video game studio so I know this is true). Klout, although very loosely, makes social sharing a game by measuring how many people you can get to follow you, broadcast your message, and fire back at you. I know Twitter is a breeding ground for both quality content and networking opportunities, and shameless self-promoters who only follow to get a follow. Does Klout's method encourage this behavior, inviting people to senselessly seed links, schedule tweets, respond thoughtlessly to others' posts, and the like? Are my Foursquare check-ins really indicative of my social media prowess? Klout takes Facebook into account, so let's take a look at one of my more recent status updates:
It received 12 "Likes", which is more than I usually see from a network of about 375 people. Something as meaningless as my addiction to Dunkin' Donuts (it is delicious) saw that much attention, so does that automatically mean I have a higher "true reach" and an engaged network? Or does it mean I caught people at the right time who were slacking off of work and idly showed approval of my humor? Is this kind of sharing really adding value to the social sphere - a value that's worth my current Klout score of 52? I personally try to balance humor with interesting, thoughtful posts, but if this stuff gets more activity, who's to say I won't just dumb down my social media style to appease the casual masses? Or perhaps is that where we should be turning our attention in the marketing world?
Klout may be lacking, but it does have style
I'm not beating Klout into a corner (I promise), but like any service it's not without its flaws. That being said, there is something I think they've gotten right: their measurement of a user's posting & sharing style. I'm classified as a "Specialist": I am highly respected within my area of expertise, and post relevant content about a specific industry - no surprise that most of my content relates back to PR, marketing, and social media. There are a variety of other styles range from casual "socializers" to"celebrities" & everywhere in between. If you're trying to be more consistent, Klout's style chart is a great way to see how you're doing. Likewise, if you need to loosen up a bit, your Klout style will usually be dead-on.
So, should you use it?
You might be surprised to hear me say yes. But, like anything, use it with caution and take what you find with a grain of salt. The "Holy Grail" of social media measurement has yet to be discovered, so don't expect Klout to solve your every woe, and report back your every move. I'm perfectly happy being a 52 because I know that I have quality discussions with industry heads through Twitter, network with local professionals on Facebook, and learn great new spots to grab a bite on Foursquare. That's what matters to me, not some score. Until my followers drop off and people stop engaging me, I'm not going to worry about it. What's important to you? What messages do you want to spread? What persona do you want to be known for? Think about it, and share responsibly!
Steph Parker is currently a Community Manager at Neiman, a brand conversation agency in Philadelphia. She was also named one of Forbes' 30 Under 30 in Marketing & Advertising in 2012. In addition to managing clients' social properties, she'll be speaking at BOLO Conference in Arizona this October.