Full disclosure: I don’t have a Klout score. I opted out months ago.
Klout is the Farmville of online metrics. It encourages obnoxious behavior and is the latest step in the gamification1 of our online lives. We can earn badges and get ranks for our tweets! Hooray! We might even get some cheap plastic swag2!
The idea that people can be ranked by a simple metric is appealing. That impulse gave us the IQ test and attendant controversies. But those controversies have a lesson: Applying objective, scientific measures to human behavior is always a dicey proposition.
My distaste for Klout is nothing new—or, indeed, very original. But Seth Stevenson’s Wired article about the presumed impact of one’s Klout score has made me somewhat unbalanced.
The article leads off with someone not getting a job because their Klout score was too low.
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.”
I say he dodged a bullet.3, as any company concerned with a Klout score isn’t a place reasonable people should work.
For one thing, a job running social media marketing isn’t about the number of followers someone has, it’s about their vision for the brand’s account. For another, using a proprietary metric—one whose validity you can’t test—to make hiring decisions is never a great idea. It shows willingness to follow trends, not a something I like to see in potential employers.
Setting aside the impossibility of objectively measuring human interactions, the entire idea of a single score to sum up a person’s entire online experience is silly on its face. One goal, and one I’ll admit it succeeds at, is to give some technology-savvy people something to brag about. Of course, it has another goal, too: To show companies who to market to.
The story about Fernandez falling in love with the idea of the way his posts could influence others is very nice, and it’s what has driven so many people to start a Twitter account, but by measuring it, his company actually diminishes the beauty of sharing.
And for all the talk of the “democratization of influence,” the credit for that goes to the social networks themselves, not companies that measure them. The highest Klout score is 100, and that’s held by Justin Beiber. Granted, he came to light through YouTube, but people hardly need to be told he’s influential.
The article talks about rankings as being inherently freighted, and they certainly are, but I’d argue the better point is one Stevenson makes in his article that service like Klout reward the echo chamber mentality, where for brief moments, everyone is tweeting about the same thing—even if they’re just tweeting that they have no idea what the aforementioned thing is.
For me, though, it’s worse than that. Klout doesn’t—cannot—measure the part of online life that matters most to me: interacting with people who by rights should be total strangers, but who I’ve come to know and care about. It can tell me that someone is influential on the topic of babies, but it can’t show me pictures of a friend’s newborn. These are warm and fuzzy things, things that marketers don’t care about, but I don’t care about marketers. I care about my friends—those I’ve met in person and those I’ve yet to meet—and their lives, not the products they buy or services they recommend. And if I were to find out they were recommending something because they got it for free, I certainly wouldn’t trust their opinion4.
I understand the importance of metrics, and I run several social media accounts for the college where I work. But I’m entirely unconcerned with the college’s Klout score—I opted that account out, as well. When it comes to the social media accounts, my job is to help forge connections, not to act in a way that fulfill’s someone’s idea of the perfect twitter or facebook account.
And I’d suggest that if people spent more time trying to forge real connections with others rather than worrying about Klout scores, the Internet might be a better place.
1: Can we all agree that the -ification construction is ugly? I’ll promise to stop using it if you will.↩
2: OK, as a lifelong car guy, I’ll cop to being jealous of the guy who got a loaner Audi A8 as a Klout perk.↩
3: I might be a bad example. When I got my first newspaper job, I had to quit the temporary, seasonal work I’d found at a department store. Because I didn’t give two weeks notice, they told me I could never work for their chain again. I asked if that was a promise.↩
4: Maybe I spent too long in journalism, but I automatically distrust people talking about something they got for free. Reviews are one thing, but a lot of the “perks” seem more like very subtle bribes to me5.↩
5: That said, if Audi is reading this, I’ve always been a fan of the S8…↩