Like many social media participants, I “joined” Klout without really knowing it, without really caring one way or the other. Towards the latter half of 2011, Klout became quite prominent — and controversial. Despite a lot of criticism of it from people I respect and my own ill-defined angst, I kept playing along.
Eventually I decided not only that Klout has fatal flaws, but also that I needed to put my money where my mouth is and disconnect from it. So I did.
The purpose of this post is to share my reasons for opting out and how it’s positively affected me – in the hope that you will kiss Klout goodbye, too.
My Top 10 Reasons for Disconnecting from Klout
- No understanding of how the Klout algorithm works. It scores my “True Reach”, “Amplification”, and “Network” – but what do those things mean and how are they measured?
- Perceived inconsistencies in rankings. Lots of tweeps have noticed, for instance, person A has a Klout score of 60, while person B has Klout score of 40 – even though their social media numbers and reputations match up equally. Scoring doesn’t mesh with perception and common sense.
- Sweeping changes to the algorithm. Klout infamously “improved” its scoring formula in October 2011, and scores changed radically. Had our scores been that far off since 2008? Why should we assume the scores are accurate now? Read the 1500+ comments on Klout’s explanation of the change and judge for yourself.
- Motives are suspect. Why is Klout collecting all this data? Klout has come under fire for collecting private information on adults and children. Klout claims it does not and has no interest in selling data to third parties for advertising. In the long term, I don’t believe it. A company that spends as much money as Klout collecting data is going to look at every option for monetizing it.
- Difficulty of measuring influence in principle. Lots of people have pointed out the difficulty in measuring something as abstract, subjective, and nuanced as “influence”. Look at it this way: would you say that two people with identical Klout data have, by definition, identical influence? I do not think it follows at all. Every piece of social media data and its impact are unique. Furthermore, one of Klout’s underlying assumptions, that influence requires the constant driving of action, is questionable at best, and unquestionably self-serving.
- Built-in accuracy problem. Because people focus on their scores, lobby to get “Perks” and “+K” endorsements – activities Klout aggressively encourages, of course — you have a situation where marketers are talking to marketers about marketing. Klout enthusiasts can up their scores by working together in their little Klout ecosystems. But is this score-inflating activity reflective of genuine influence? If I’m adept at lobbying for +K endorsements, does that make me a social media sage? I think not.
- Time wasting and manipulative. Getting caught up in the Klout score mentality, as outlined above, became more and more obviously a waste of time. Klout exploits our competitive spirit to suck people into the game: you see your score every time you turn around, and you want to make it go up. You see you’re only five points behind your best social media buddy and you want to pass him/her up. Nobody said Klout isn’t smart.
- Klout is a self-proclaimed “standard”. By virtue of smart marketing and a big budget, Klout is squeezing out competitors. But does that make it the best, or even a good, arbiter of influence? In addition, Klout’s insidious opt-out (rather than the more ethical opt-in) policy ensures that the vast majority of social media users will at minimum passively go along with the program, giving it enormous strength in numbers. But a big user base doesn’t make Klout good, reliable, or even useful.
- Currying favor with Perks. Last year I got a nice Perk from Klout – a jar of eye-health vitamins. (I soon discovered refills were about $50 and I could only find them at one place, but that’s a different story.) If Klout is such a reliable “standard”, why are they schmoozing users with freebies? Answer: To generate advertising revenue and get people to use the platform more actively. There’s nothing wrong with either of these things, but neither gives me confidence that Klout is a neutral observer of influence. Rather, its objective seems to be identifying users who are ready, willing and able to promote its advertisers’ products.
- Opt-out difficulties. Disconnecting from Klout – or any type of email list or social platform, for that matter – should be easy. Not the case. I had to dig deep into my Google account to turn it off. Klout tentacles unexpectedly showed up in Facebook and LinkedIn. (Here are instructions on how to get your profile and data completely disconnected from Klout.) Just another indication that Klout relies on heavy-handed tactics to muscle its way into a position of dominance. I’d have to see some pretty amazing membership benefits to play (or more accurately, play the pawn) in that game. I didn’t see any.
Life without Klout
I’m happy to report that after a couple of Klout-free months, I’m still in one piece. Actually – I’m in much better shape. Here’s what I’ve experienced:
No More “Status Anxiety”
“But what purpose does it serve for Klout’s members? Aside from the occasional quid pro quo freebie, it seems that what Klout exists to do is create status anxiety — to saddle you with a popularity ranking, and then make you feel insecure about it and whether you’ll lose that ranking unless you engage in certain activities that aren’t necessarily in your interest, but are in Klout’s.”
It is truly wonderful to be rid of that anxiety: God knows we all have enough things to be anxious about without manufacturing silly new ones.
Tuning Klout Out
One of my fears in disconnecting was that I would then hypocritically continue to judge tweeps based on their Klout scores. As it’s played out, I haven’t paid any attention to scores at all. Instead I’ve gotten back to simply interacting with and following people based mutual interests and what they have to say.
Better Interactions and Influence
Perhaps the biggest deal is that I’ve experienced more conversations and better conversations since leaving Klout, which I attribute to getting back to focusing on people rather than scores. I feel as though I’m being influenced more, and also influencing more people — even though I can’t clearly describe, let alone measure, what this influence is or is worth.
When I de-Klouted, I thought I might be shunned for not playing ball, or called out for not having a score. None of that has happened. In a way, this indicates Klout’s inherent irrelevance … or perhaps mine. Either way, it hasn’t disrupted anything in my little corner of the social media world.
No More Free Vitamins
For everything there is a price.
What Will You Do?
Within social media, there has always been tension between the purist mentality and the marketing mentality. Purists emphasize authenticity, transparency, relationships, and relevance. Marketers emphasize branding, conversions, reach, and metrics. Klout takes the cause of marketing too far. It threatens to disrupt the delicate balance between conversation and commerce that has so far enabled social media to thrive for B2Bs and B2Cs.
Klout can only succeed by keeping its members in the fold; its greatest strength is its universality. It plays on our instincts and counts on our passivity to keep us in their game. To paraphrase Edmund Burke, all that is necessary for Klout to win is for enough good social media people to do nothing.
The obvious question is, what would a Klout win look like? I fear it would look like this: a shift away from authentic social media conversation and toward a massive gaming of the platforms; a greater and greater reliance on faulty or rigged data for important corporate marketing decisions; a communications environment in which quantity is valued above quality, and action above the nature of the action. It’s true that social media platforms are extensively gamed already, but if Klout runs rampant it will legitimize gaming, something that could prove quite dangerous.
To me, these are big deals, but more important, what do you think? And most important of all, what are you going to do?
Images by: marcusnelson
Brad Shorr is Director of Content & Social Media for Straight North, an Internet marketing, Chicago-based agency. They specialize in middle market B2B, with clients in niche industries such as truck GPS tracking and military flame retardant clothing.