Klout and HootSuite: when influence becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy

Share |
Klout logo

Yesterday, we had some fun looking at Fast Company's Influence Project. (Well, I had some fun. If you did too, well, that must be my influence at work, right?)

Influence is weighing heavily on the social media community's collective mind right now. I've noticed a surge in Twitter and blog chatter around Klout, a tool that aims to measure influence on Twitter.

Klout's a pretty sophisticated tool, going way beyond a follower count:

Klout uses over 25 variables to measure True Reach, Amplification Probability, and Network Score. The size of the sphere is calculated by measuring True Reach (engaged followers and friends vs. spam bots, dead accounts, etc.). Amplification Probability is the likelihood that messages will generate retweets or spark a conversation. If the user's engaged followers are highly influential, they'll have a high Network Score.

We believe that influence is the ability to drive people to action -- "action" might be defined as a reply, a retweet or clicking on a link.

The reports are detailed and interesting... and I'll admit I'm also charmed by the way Klout elaborates on its assessment, using phrases that wouldn't be out of place in a job application letter, performance review or LinkedIn recommendation: "@RobCottingham has worked very hard to successfuly build a large, highly engaged network." "@RobCottingham is effectively using social media to influence their network across a variety of topics." (Hey, thanks! It almost salves the wound of having dropped nine points in the last week.)

Klout's newfound, well, influence has landed it a special place in the heart of Twitter web app HootSuite. (By the way, I've been using HootSuite heavily for the past few days, and can report it's amazing.) You can now filter the people you follow so you only see updates from those who surpass a certain Klout threshold.

That's a great way of seeing what the A-listers you're following are talking about. But if you're going to use that feature, may I recommend a healthy dose of caution?

There's a risk with measurements like these that they become self-fulfilling prophecies, and reinforce attention hierarchies. If enough people use Klout to divide the world between the influential and the non-influential, and listen mainly to the former, then the influential will continue to be influential - because audiences aren't hearing other voices.

And you'll miss out on some below-the-radar surprises. Because as cool as Klout is, it doesn't take into account the fact that your influence on Twitter is going with one segment than with others. It doesn't account for long-tail phenomena: people who are leaders in their particular communities. And it doesn't account for the kind of influence that isn't so easily measured automatically.

Ultimately, Klout gives you one number - derived from many factors, true, but it's a single number, aiming to measure something that is insanely multidimensional. I don't want to take anything away from what they've built - it's a great tool, it's elegant, it's beautiful, it's engaging, and I can see myself obsessing over it in the weeks to come - I really want to get more badges - but don't let it dictate where you direct your attention.


Veronica Heringer says

July 14, 2010 - 3:33pm

I couldn't agree more with you!

Apparently, klout is the new obsession of Twitter users, and honestly, I think it's very sad! I believe that communication professionals are paid to watch what is going to be trending before it happens, not after. If you start filtering and favouring information based on the broadcaster’s klout, you probably won't be able to see and identify new behaviours and trends.

However, let’s be fair and knowledge that the klout measurement can be very useful if you have a new product that you want to broadcast to a large audience online. Klout will help you with identifying the Twitter channels that you should persuade.

Twitter isn’t the only way in which we influence our peers. Word-of-mouth is still the best advertising channel that I know of.

Do you think that “Big Brother” will be able to develop a more accurate klout? What about the invisible connectors? People who don’t appear as big marketers but have huge influence on the decision-makers?



Marco Campana says

July 15, 2010 - 9:50am

Great post.

I found Klout interesting, until I clicked on the @jesus account, which had a Klout score of 100...

Which, you know, in some ways makes sense. But, in many ways, does not...

Your point about "self-fulfilling prophecies" ties very well into the concept of homophily that @zephoria has written/spoken so well about over the past year.  Then again, she's only rated at 49 by Klout, so, perhaps we shouldn't take her too seriously. :-P


Patrick Dodd says

August 28, 2011 - 5:46pm

I’ll be honest, when I first hear about Klout my reaction wasnt positive – I dismissed Klout as a simple validation service for online narcissists – great for those that like to take part in the ‘mine is bigger than yours’ conversations. But I was wrong. A couple of examples of how Klout is being used effectively are with the new Stephen King release (http://www.launch.is/blog/klout-the-next-force-in-book-publishing-influencers-get-earl.html) and Funny or Die giving exclusive access to people with high Klout scores (http://mashable.com/2011/08/24/klout-perks-funny-or-die/). Klout’s algorithm is far from perfect but as they continue to make adjustments and add new networks like Linked In it will become much more accurate at helping you decide where to apply the social lubricant.

Social Signal on...

RSS feedTwitterFacebookGoogle+

Work Smarter with Evernote

Get more out of Evernote with Alexandra Samuel's great new ebook, the first in the Harvard Business Press Work Smarter with Social Media series!

Available on Amazon, iTunes and HBR.

Join Newsletter

Rob on Twitter