Having no clout with Klout

Ever the curious one, I signed the Dudes up for Klout a few week ago to see what it was all about. Apart from grasping the notion that Klout was supposed to measure your influence in social media, I knew nothing more about it. And here I am, Friday 30th December, 2011, drinking egg nog and rum at 10:00 in the morning [1] and coming to the realization that I know little more now than I did when I signed us up.

Klout logo

Klout™ logo

Here’s what appears to happen: I get an email from the Klout folks telling me I have notifications, so I go there and find some comments about how we are influential with regard to Boston, Starbucks, YouTube, Surgery, Brain Tumors, Blogging, and Magazines. [2] I’m tempted to try to make a sentence that uses all those words just as an exercise in summarizing what exactly we are influencing – but I’m giving it a miss just now.

We also have a score. 43. It might as well be a bajillion gazillion for what it’s worth. So what difference would it be if we had 40? Or 47? What exactly does this score measure?

Well, I did take some time to look at the “Understanding Klout” section of the Klout website and here, in a nutshell, is what it the Klout score is: It’s a measure of the things that Klout measures. Tada!

OK, so I am being unnecessarily harsh, am I, and not taking a serious look at what it going on, yes? Then let’s take a 5-minute look at the evidence for what is being measured and see if the data does in fact provide anything significant. Or for the research folks, let’s take a peek at validity.

Although Klout do not supply all their metrics – and that’s fine because I understand that they want to maintain some proprietary information otherwise they will get ripped off – here are the examples they do cite as measured activities:

  • Facebook: Comments, Wall-Posts, Likes
  • Twitter: Retweets and Mentions
  • LinkedIn: Comments, Likes
  • Foursquare: Tips, To-Do’s, Done
  • Google+: Comments, Reshares, +1

The first point to make is that there is an assumption that you have to be operating in all these social media domains in order to optimize your score. If you, for example, choose not to participate in FourSquare [3], you are already lowering your score. Granted I don’t know what the weighting for each media channel is but membership and use of FourSquare has to be contributing to the Klout score – otherwise it wouldn’t be being measured!

But let’s assume that the Klout score is just based on those five activities and you are active in all of them, what exactly are we measuring other than activity? The underlying assumption is that “activity” is “clout” and that “clout” is somehow important. [4] Is it? Is it really?

Clout single from the 70's

Gratuitous 70's band reference

So I go back to the claim that the Klout score provides a measure of what the Klout company measures. It may be internally valid but what about external validity? If I have a Klout of 30 and you have a Klout of 60, are you twice as influential? And what, pray tell, is “influential” anyway?

We could introduce something called “The Dude Score™,” which is a measure of how many tweets you post divided by the number of retweets, multiplied by the number of blog posts you write, multiplied by the number of comments on the post, then multiply it all by the number of social networks you have posted to in the last week, and finally divided by 100 so as not to have a huge number. [5]We then assign the following rankings:

0 – 20: Dude
21-50: Duuuuude!
51-70: Cool Dude!
71-100: Super Dude
100+: Awesome Dude!

This measures your “Dudosity™” and it is, of course, highly desirable to achieve as high a level of Dudosity as you can because no-one wants to be less than a Dude.

Stupid as this may sound, the internal logic is not much different from the Klout score. Pick measurable attributes; conflate the score to produce a single measure; promote the value of having that score.

The power of a Klout score ultimately comes from the value that we, the consumers, put into it. It only becomes “valid” when, and if, the masses decide that they will accept it as such. [6] There is nothing intrinsically magical about what Klout measures – it measures what it measures and no more – but the real spell is cast when people begin to believe it. When the crowd actually begins to see the clothes on the naked emperor, no amount of little boys shouting “but he’s naked” will change their minds.

Notes
[1] I’m still on vacation so don’t judge me. The egg nog mix will now be officially off the shelf at my local store so once I’ve finished off the carton, I’ll not be drinking these until next Christmas. And yes, I know I could make egg nog from scratch, but seriously, if I started doing that, there would be no brakes!

[2] I can understand the Starbucks link if only because I am fully aware of how much I actually spend with this company on a yearly basis. I’d share that figure with you if I wasn’t so ashamed at the number of digits in it. My excuse is always that we should all be allowed certain pleasures in life but I’m beginning to think that after adding up all the pleasures I allow myself that I’m in danger of being regarded as a pathological Hedonist.

[3] I appreciate that FourSquare is popular with some people and becoming the Mayor of my local Starbucks would be mildly amusing, I’m not at all interested in telling people where I am, what I’m doing, and all in real-time. Yet to enhance the Dudes’ Klout score, I’m supposed to sign us up to make sure you know where the Dudes are? I don’t think so! And the question is; do you care? To what extent is knowing that Dude 1 is at the “Tipsy Crow” a measure of our “social influence?” Who in their right mind is going to rush down to the Crow and buy a beer just because we are there? But if you want to buy ME the beer…

[4] The word “clout” in the sense of “personal or private influence” first appeared in a 1958 Chicago Sun-Times article; “Defendants in Chicago, as in Los Angeles, are found innocent on the age-old legal premise of ‘reasonable doubt’—not, as the judge insinuated, ‘reasonable clout.'” The sense came from the earlier meaning of a “clout” as a heavy blow, especially using the hand, and that dates from the 15th century. Prior to this, the word seems to have come from “clod,” a verb meaning “to pelt with pieces of earth or stones,” then ultimately from Germanic “*klutto,” a lump of wood or mud.

[5] We are not, at this point, offering to provide a “Dude Score” service, although if anyone reading this would like – just for the fun of it – create a piece of software that could do this, we’d be happy to hear from you. And if we can find a way to make money out of it, the programmer who completes the job can have 5% of net profit for a 5-year period.

[6] This is also how money works. The crumbling Euro only crumbles because of a lack of faith, not because of the loss of anything intrinsic to a “Euro.” The same goes for gold, despite what the increasing number of TV and radio adds keep saying about how it’s a “safe haven” in times of economic depression. No, even then, gold only has value so long as people believe it to be valuable or desirable. Faith in gold is simply that; faith. If you need a loaf of bread and you take a lump of gold to the baker, he’ll only take it if he believes he can then take it to the butcher for a piece of meat. If the butcher doesn’t want gold, it’s just a chunk of yellow rock.

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