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Getting 'Klout'-ed by Social Media

You may never have heard of Klout, but chances are it's already affecting you.

Remember the mean kids in high school?

I’m talking about the popular ones who appointed themselves to the top of the social hierarchy and decided who got “in” and who didn’t. Can you recall how nasty they were?

Upon your complaining, maybe your parents said something to the effect of “Don’t worry honey, it’s ok. When they get older they’ll be fat, bald and miserable. Besides, you won’t have to worry about who is or isn’t popular when you become an adult. You’ll be too busy working and having a family. Everyone will have matured by then.”

Guess what? The mean kids are here, in adult land, and they’re determined to make you revert back to the developmental level of a teenager, worried about your social standing once again.

The mean kids are the (presumably) full-grown adults at a company called Klout, and they’re judging you every day, deciding just how popular, or unpopular, you are. Their decisions are based on computer algorithms that measure your “social influence” and could affect everything from the customer service you receive to which job you get.

You probably don’t even know you have a Klout score, which is why its particular brand of evil is so very insidious. Klout has been behind the scenes, combing through all of your social accounts, spying on how many updates you post, how many Tweets you send, how many friends you have, how many “likes” you receive on Facebook and more.

Nothing in particular gives them the right to do this, of course; they just decided that they would start a business to profit from forcing people to fret over the most superficial aspects of life. They’ve also persuaded other companies to join in on the pack mentality, and punish people who have a low score while rewarding those who have a high one. Just as in high school, there’s nothing to stop them.

Klout Can Affect Your Career Opportunities, Your Grades, And How You Are Treated By Companies

When Sam Fiorella went looking for a new job, he was shocked to find that his Klout score knocked him out of the running. He described the experience he had a year-and-a-half ago in a recent phone interview with me:

“I was going to leave an agency I was at for 11 years, and I had almost 20 years of experience in the industry, when I found out there was an opportunity with [another] good-sized agency."

In his first interview as part of the process, "things were going really well," Fiorella said. The interviewer said he seemed ideal for the job.

"One of her comments was ‘Wow this seems like it was written just for you!’ " he said.

And then she asked, "What is your Klout score?"

Fiorella admitted he didn't know what it was, so the interviewer looked it up for him—and then the tone of the interview changed dramatically before it was cut short altogether.

When he didn't hear from the recruiter a little while after, Fiorella called her back to ask about the status of his application.

"She said one of the reasons was my Klout score was too low and one of the criteria they had placed was someone having a high Klout score,” he said.

Has your jaw dropped in shock yet? If not, consider this: Klout has deemed itself “the standard of influence.” High scoring “influencers” get rewards from companies, and low scorers can be penalized by companies, even by teachers.

According to an article on www.businessgrow.com by professor Todd Bacile, “Many firms are sizing up college student’s Klout scores as a quantitative metric to use for job applicant screening." Bacile decided to base a portion of students' grades on how high they could get their Klout score to rise.

If you’re neither a student nor in the market for a new job, Klout will still have a major impact on your life if it hasn’t already. According to Wired Magazine:

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.

Multi-Layered Problems

There are many problems with Klout which are so multi-layered that it’s difficult to know where to begin describing them.

Blogger Sharon Hayes’ “10 reasons why I opted-out of Klout” details some of the main issues, including problems with their metrics and the fact that “Klout creates profiles on social media users without their permission. You don’t even need to connect to Klout yourself to have a profile listed there. But in order to be removed from Klout, you need to specifically make the request.”

These are excellent points when it comes to the problems with the system and the ramifications of its use. Can you imagine being turned down for a job or receiving worse service or fewer rewards from a company based on a score you didn’t even know existed? Hayes goes on to point out that she knows of “three people who lost contracts or were eliminated in being considered for employment because their Klout scores rapidly dropped.”

Other bloggers cite major issues with the algorithms Klout uses, saying they are completely inaccurate. Blogger Lisa Thorell notes additional issues, and points out that Warren Buffet’s Klout score is only a 36, which is pretty dismal for such a truly influential person.

Where Have Our Ethics Gone?

The thought of anyone losing out on a job or a contract due to their Klout score is bad enough, but there is also another issue at hand here, and that’s the fact that the very idea of Klout is unethical.

Quite simply, it is wrong. It is wrong on a million levels. We should not be basing anything, let alone the ability for someone to get a job, on a platform whose very foundation is made of nothing but smoke and mirrors (a.k.a. social media). In his book Social Media is Bullsh**, author B.J. Mendelson says “social media has all the hallmarks of a get-rich-quick scheme…marketers, the media, and others packaging and selling that harmful bullsh** to further their own interests.”

Mendelson calls social media a “myth” and says in his chapter entitled There’s no such thing as an influencer “…Influencers are overrated and almost entirely nonexistent, at least in the way marketers portray them.” He also points out that according to PEW research, 87% of Americans don’t even use Twitter.

His book portrays social media, its marketing, and all that goes along with it as a fictitious and mythological creation of snake-oil salesmen peddling the Emperor’s New Clothes. He goes on to say that “Facebook is running an elaborate shell game because almost all of their revenue comes from fooling people into thinking advertising with them is effective, even though it’s seemingly not.”  

Medelson is right, and that’s what makes Klout so very wrong. If influencers don’t really exist, and social media is nothing more than a pile of inconsequential noise, then real people should not be judged on any score pertaining to their activity on it.

Fiorella is a bit more forgiving than I. He says “Klout is a business, and they're not breaking any laws. I don't have problems with Klout as a business. What I have problems with is people who blindly follow it or give the score too much credence.”

Indeed, and those who are blindly following Klout are most of the same people who create and/or buy into the myth of social media. Those are the people who are helping to construct an invisible and non-existent product from which they, and they alone, can profit. It’s like a giant Ponzi scheme, and you’re included in it whether you like it or not.

Of course, if you’re a person in the business of selling social media services, then you’ll do wonderfully. If not, then you may have to stand by and watch as a 20-something gets bumped to first class on a flight based on their Klout score, while your 80-year old mother on oxygen is relegated to coach because she doesn’t know what social media is.

Klout is Based on a Destructive Platform

If all of this has you thinking you should begin your own Twitter account so you can raise your score, don’t rush out just yet. First of all, unless you’re a 13-year-old who is very well versed in Justin Bieber or are really into Lady Gaga, you may find very few people with whom to meaningfully interact.

According to a study by marketing firm Pear Analytics, 40% of Twitter conversations are classified as “pointless babble” while 38% are “conversational.” Much of this “conversation” centers around celebrities or technological gadgets. Of course, there are also plenty of Tweets from companies promoting their latest wares.

Twitter is a superficial place; a place where you can make meaningless noise, gossip about celebrities or shop for the latest iphone. It’s not a network on which your social standing should be judged. Of course, Twitter is just one of the networks in which Klout is interested. They also comb through Facebook, LinkedIn, and all the rest.

The problem is, social networks are bad for us, and make us weaker people in almost every category of personal health and social interaction. Many studies show that the more someone uses social media, the more narcissistic, depressed and isolated they are. Other studies show negative effects on self-esteem and independent thinking skills. Warnings have been given about the brain damage social media can cause in children.

Given all the negative effects of social media on our health, we ought to be limiting the amount of time we spend engaging in it rather than worrying about how we “score” in its use. Sites like Klout are no more ethical than a site which rates you more highly based on smoking more cigarettes. Klout is a modern-day caste system, and it should be abolished.

Opt Out

Thankfully, a lot of people, including Fiorella, are opting out of Klout. He decided to opt out after purposely raising his score and then realizing having a high score did not result in anything substantive:

“I went from the 40's to the 70's. It took me 4-6 months and I got myself to a 72. It was easy to do but it was time-consuming.

"I started getting inquiries to speak at conferences and inquiries for jobs," he said. "I know it was because of that because they would say, ‘You have a really high Klout score.’

"I did not feel the offers coming in had substance. I was asked to speak at conferences but none of them were paying me to speak. The interviews, none of them were legitimate or applicable job opportunities. Throughout the six months that I was building up my score, I realized it was all smoke and mirrors. It drove a lot of attention to me and my personal brand, but it was all of no consequence towards my business.”

After Fiorella opted out, he realized people were forced to begin paying attention to him as a real person, rather than a number. In the absence of a Klout score, interviewers and conference producers had to find out his actual credentials, experience and what he had to offer.

As a result, he was invited to be a partner at a marketing/technology firm, was offered payment for speaking at conferences and finally, received some real perks and benefits from businesses. He found engagements to be better without a Klout score. While he feels that Klout can be considered as one possible factor in understanding a person’s brand, he cautions against using it as the sole criteria on which to judge someone. 

“All marketing can be considered smoke and mirrors” he says. “The problem is, there are people who genuinely don't realize that it's smoke and mirrors and put too much emphasis on scores instead of looking at the totality of an individual, the situational factors that impact the nature of their supposed influence, and the audience’s receptiveness to that message” he says.

We need to stop judging people based on computer algorithms and start putting humanity back into our interactions. Otherwise, we’ll all remain in high school forever, under the thumbs of the mean kids. We’ve come further than that. Opt out of Klout.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Cori Calvert September 21, 2012 at 05:49 PM
Wow, this is a huge can of worms I never knew existed. Thank you for posting about this!
Shachi September 21, 2012 at 05:51 PM
Wow! Amazing article! I am definitely opting out of Klout! Thanks so much for bringing this to everyone's attention. Social media is defintely getting out of hand and is causing a lot of damage. I can't believe that Klout is allowed to do this! Personal life should not be linked to professional life.
Larry Johnston September 21, 2012 at 06:20 PM
As an employer I don't want people who are spending all day on social media. This is crazy.
Rebecca Savastio September 21, 2012 at 06:23 PM
Agreed, Larry. Klout is very dangerous in that it encourages far too much social media use, above and beyond that which could be considered healthy. When I was speaking to Sam Fiorella, he stressed how very time-consuming it was to try to raise his score. People should not be spending so much time on something which is so shallow and lacking in substance. I agree that we have gone totally crazy as a society with this kind of stuff, and it has to stop.
Ross Griff September 21, 2012 at 06:37 PM
I think the hype surrounding Klout rests on the assumption that “influence” equals dollars: If you appear in the feeds of multitudes, than there must be some tangible dollar reward for you or somebody else. This is an interesting perspective considering the failure Facebook’s initial IPO. If a titan like FB, which defined social media, can be so grossly overvalued (and continues to perform modestly), than how can Klout’s measurements of “influence” claim to have any relevance in the real world? The fact is, social media is a classic bubble-- it has sucked in countless investor dollars and provides only questionable returns. It has escaped hard scrutiny only because of a constant stream of sparkly new innovations that temporarily distract critics and give enthusiasts something new to fetishize. But there is a natural limit to people’s willingness to engage with social media and once that limit is reached, the illusion will be broken and the whole system will come crashing down. Or at least we’ll see social media “influence” valued in some relationship to its actual worth.
Rebecca Savastio September 21, 2012 at 06:46 PM
Amen, Ross! Beautifully and eloquently stated :)
Gary B September 21, 2012 at 07:08 PM
If you are in an interview, and a grown individual actually asks you what you're Klout score, that would be an appropriate time to laugh in their face and walk out. There is no reason to ever subject oneself to an interviewer asking about your Facebook page, Klout score or Twitter handle. Do yourself a favor, get up and get out. That company actually did you a favor; they showed their hand how you will be treated within their organization, with sheer immaturity. ....and if they are so focused on the shallows of social media, remember, it works both ways....people can take to company pages and let everyone there know exactly what ridiculous operation they are running :)
Jeff M September 21, 2012 at 11:53 PM
Thanks for the exposé and the opt out link. Nice job!
Lisa Thorell September 22, 2012 at 03:12 AM
Hi Rebecca, Thanks for citing my research - albeit some of my observations were made in a post over one year ago. It should be pointed out that Klout has made considerable additions and refinements to their (still secret) algorithm. Some of these include counting mentions in Twitter and Facebook, commenting on the same, addition of Google and, most notably, including references to a person's name in Wikipedia - the latter allowing some accounting for offline aka real world influence. (btw Warren Buffet now has a Klout score of 77). So were I to write a critique today, I would truthfully have to say they have addressed some of the obvious failings. That said, the single-number score has inherent failings and still remains highly game able. So I would still agree that a company is grossly misguided to use a Klout score as any basis for hiring or not hiring someone. Now - I do think it over-generalizing though to take down all of social media just because Klout- a single tool of social media - has problems. You in fact, reached out to me using social media (Twitter) to find this post and encouraged me to comment. It worked! As much as I dislike Klout, I remain very bullish on social media and think social business - conversing with customers online, showing the human side of your company, particularly using it to do customer service at an unprecedented scale (like Zappos) has immense marketing and sales potential for companies.
Rebecca Savastio September 22, 2012 at 03:34 AM
Lisa, thank you so much for your comment and for the clarification on the changes Klout has recently made. I am curious if Buffet purposely tried to get his score to rise and/or how that happened. A lot of people have commented to me that I use social media and therefore they question my criticisms of it. I respond by saying that if I were in prison and all I had to communicate with was a cup and a string, I would be forced to use the cup and string but I would certainly complain about the medium. I feel that since this is the medium which exists, I am forced to use it if I want my voice to be heard, yet I find many flaws in it. I am especially concerned about the recent research which shows major problems in self-esteem and the brain itself with the use of social media. The most upsetting studies are the ones which show that social media directly causes brain damage. It is true I use social media but it is only because that is the medium which allows my message to be heard. I try to limit my use and to be aware of the problems it can cause. I believe that some people are largely unaware of the issues surrounding social media use and that's one of the reasons why I wanted to tie it into my article. I also wanted to back up my calling the idea of Klout unethical. I truly believe that social media is harmful and that's why I have attacked it. On the flip side, I am very glad that in this case, it has opened up such a stimulating discussion.
Lisa Thorell September 22, 2012 at 03:53 AM
Ah yes. One can get too obsessed yay compulsive about social media. I highly recommend a read of Doug Rushkoff's "Program or be Programmed" as he explains so well what makes this stuff addictive, how to be aware of it and yet use it to best purpose - where you're in control, not the algorithms. Using social media ensures you understand it and don't get played. But, yeah, my specific problem with Klout Marketing is that it seems close to extortion, creating a false world of online elites, the worst of whom engage for the sake of status and perks.
Rebecca Savastio September 22, 2012 at 03:55 AM
Thanks again Lisa. I will check out Rushkoff's book :)
Matt Skoufalos (Editor) September 22, 2012 at 05:52 PM
My question: for what job was Sam applying? I'm not unconvinced that a Klout score could be useful if he were to be engaged as a marketing manager or professional speaker, etc.--which it sounds like what he was later engaged to do. Again, I don't think that's a reason to dismiss someone outright, and neither did he, I'm assuming. But it's not inconceivable that it could be a piece of the measuring stick.
Liz Matt September 24, 2012 at 11:04 AM
Rebecca, I contend that own frequent use of or preferences for social media doesnt need to be defended here. It also has no bearing on your standing up against the Klout algorithm. It's the hubris of the use of Klout as a measure of worth that is galling. Glad you're calling them out and alerting the rest of us who blog a bit or pass along a tweet, now and then. I'd love to think I would have the nerve to laugh in the face of an interviewer who addressed my "score". But in this economy, interviewers hold ALL the cards.... Besides, I connect on social media in three different identities. Does that mean I have 3 separate "low scores" out there in the ether?? Thanks for alerting me.
Liz Matt September 24, 2012 at 11:10 AM
I'm starting to think this may explain why there are an increasing number of people in far flung places with no social or business connection with me whatsoever following my twitter account or asking to connect on Facebook and LinkedIn. Are they trying to raise THEIR "scores"?
Christina Paciolla September 24, 2012 at 02:40 PM
^ What I came here to ask
Rebecca Savastio September 24, 2012 at 04:45 PM
Hi Matt and Christina, I am not sure of the exact title of the position, but I know that his current title is "Partner and Chief Experience Strategist". So I would assume the job for which he was applying would have been similar. According to an article I found online, "An experience strategy is that collection of activities that an organization chooses to undertake to deliver a series of (positive, exceptional) interactions which, when taken together, constitute an (product or service) offering that is superior in some meaningful, hard-to-replicate way; that is unique, distinct & distinguishable from that available from a competitor." I don't think that is the same as marketing manager. It seems to have more to do with making a product of service unique. I don't really speak corporate that well, or I would have a more cohesive explanation :)
Rebecca Savastio September 24, 2012 at 04:46 PM
Hi Liz, it is very possible that people are trying to raise their scores when they interact. The whole system is based on smoke and mirrors, with nothing meaningful behind it. That's part of what makes it so destructive to real human connection.
Christina Paciolla September 24, 2012 at 05:22 PM
Wouldn't someone in a position like that want to use social media to promote, advertise and strategize as much as possible? Therefore his or her social media footprint would need to be quite large. As a reporter, who was a reporter BEFORE Facebook, Twitter and other social media, these outlets are perhaps one of if not THE most important tool.
Martin Maisey December 08, 2012 at 09:45 AM
Agree with most of this with regard. Aside from their rather distasteful business model, Klout have the wrong dataset and approach to do reputation scoring well. However, my previous role was on a product doing large scale graph analysis for fraud protection, and my gut feel is that - done right - this type of reputation scoring, done on a more granular basis and per skill, could be very powerful. Although no doubt it will some interesting privacy and societal implications, potentially on the scale of credit agencies. LinkedIn's recent move over endorsements is - I think - much more interesting. See my post at http://mjmaisey.tumblr.com/post/37458343893/linkedin-endorsements for more detail.
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Liz Matt January 04, 2013 at 02:35 AM
Rebecca, I'm with you on the smoke and mirrors. And look what commercial dreck was posted tonight..
Dan Reynolds January 04, 2013 at 04:38 AM
Dear Hongfeng. Leave, . Sincerely, DR.

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