I’ll admit it right off the bat: when it comes to Klout, I bought in early. I’m a “Klout OG” and I’ve got the badge to prove it. No, really:
There were times when I felt self-conscious about it. I saw so many social media luminaries bashing the platform. In a Twitter conversation with Justin Kownacki – no social media slouch – he revealed to me his real feelings about Klout: “if a “social media consultant” ever cited Klout during a pitch, I’d walk him to the nearest taxi.”
I disagreed at the time, but I was uncertain. I thought maybe I had missed something. But the more I thought about it, the more sure I became. I’ve talked about this before. Klout may be imperfect, but it’s the best measure we’ve got on the aggregated data points that make up online influence.
Today, I came across Seth Stephenson’s piece on Wired about “What Your Klout Score Really Means.” And it’s very telling. In contrast to Kownacki’s assertion, Stephenson recounts this rather sobering wake-up call:
Last spring Sam Fiorella was recruited for a VP position at a large Toronto marketing agency. With 15 years of experience consulting for major brands like AOL, Ford, and Kraft, Fiorella felt confident in his qualifications. But midway through the interview, he was caught off guard when his interviewer asked him for his Klout score. Fiorella hesitated awkwardly before confessing that he had no idea what a Klout score was.
The interviewer pulled up the web page for Klout.com—a service that purports to measure users’ online influence on a scale from 1 to 100—and angled the monitor so that Fiorella could see the humbling result for himself: His score was 34. “He cut the interview short pretty soon after that,” Fiorella says. Later he learned that he’d been eliminated as a candidate specifically because his Klout score was too low. “They hired a guy whose score was 67.”
Partly intrigued, partly scared, Fiorella spent the next six months working feverishly to boost his Klout score, eventually hitting 72. As his score rose, so did the number of job offers and speaking invitations he received. “Fifteen years of accomplishments weren’t as important as that score,” he says.
If a Klout score is important to the employability of communications and marketing professionals, it’s also important to the consumer experience:
At the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas last summer, clerks surreptitiously looked up guests’ Klout scores as they checked in. Some high scorers received instant room upgrades, sometimes without even being told why. According to Greg Cannon, the Palms’ former director of ecommerce, the initiative stirred up tremendous online buzz. He says that before its Klout experiment, the Palms had only the 17th-largest social-networking following among Las Vegas-based hotel-casinos. Afterward, it jumped up to third on Facebook and has one of the highest Klout scores among its peers.
Klout is starting to infiltrate more and more of our everyday transactions. In February, the enterprise-software giant Salesforce.com introduced a service that lets companies monitor the Klout scores of customers who tweet compliments and complaints; those with the highest scores will presumably get swifter, friendlier attention from customer service reps. In March, luxury shopping site Gilt Groupe began offering discounts proportional to a customer’s Klout score.
Matt Thomson, Klout’s VP of platform, says that a number of major companies—airlines, big-box retailers, hospitality brands—are discussing how best to use Klout scores. Soon, he predicts, people with formidable Klout will board planes earlier, get free access to VIP airport lounges, stay in better hotel rooms, and receive deep discounts from retail stores and flash-sale outlets. “We say to brands that these are the people they should pay attention to most,” Thomson says. “How they want to do it is up to them.”
Stephenson discusses the potential problems with this means of assessment, but for the moment, that’s not my concern. This is no longer an issue of if businesses should be looking at Klout scores this way, but how it will affect you.
You certainly don’t have to play, but the game goes on, with or without you. And isn’t that the heart of the message we social media evangelists have been shouting from the rooftops to our clients, colleagues, and business partners for at least the last 6 years? That social media is happening, with or without them, so it’s better to engage and shape the course of events rather than stand on the sidelines and hope it will pass?
My gut is telling me that Klout is here to stay, and that none of the other competitors that have risen up – ProSkore, Kred, etc. – will do more than nip at Klout’s heels. Klout will get smarter. The algorithms will get better. And Klout scores will matter more, not less.