My Life Without Klout

kloutThis is a guestpost by Brad Shorr from Straight North.

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

  1. 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?
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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”

The brilliant John Scalzi wrote a great piece at CNNMoney titled Why Klout scores are possibly evil. Here’s a passage that resonated with me:

“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.

No Backlash

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.

Klout PerksNo 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 on SocialMouthsBrad 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.

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  • http://www.garrettira.com/ Garrett Ira

    Agree with all of the above – I deleted my Klout profile a month ago & have no regrets so far!

  • http://twitter.com/MorganBarnhart Morgan Barnhart

    Hey Brad!

    I’m all the way with you about the many reasons and examples you’ve stated. I have been disconnected from Klout for a couple years. I joined the bandwagon when it was first announced, but once I discovered that I was being ranked an influencer for something that I mentioned ONCE (I believe I said something about cheese, and suddenly I was the expect, according to Klout), I quickly stopped using it. 

    It’s bad enough feeling the anxiety of whether my latest blog post will be RT’ed or not, I don’t need the anxiety of being ranked and judged on a flawed system such as Klout. 

    It’s a fun game, but that’s about it. :)

    Thanks for your insights! 

  • http://kevinekmark.com/ Kevin Ekmark

    I was feeling the same way Brad. I deleted my account around the same time and I haven’t had any second thoughts.  I appreciate how you brought your reasons for leaving klout so succinctly. 

  • Meredith Allison @RockTique

    When Klout first changed their algorithm, my score dropped over 20 points. Along with plenty of others, I freaked. I spent the next few weeks trying to figure out how to ‘up’ my score. It worked (although very little). Shortly after, I realized how much precious time I was wasting. I didn’t want to disable my account but I decided I wasn’t going to participate either. I go on the site occasionally, see that I’ve been given +Ks, perks, etc. When I have the time, I return the +K ‘favors’ as well as redeem a few perks. In my opinion, people are ‘over thinking’ Klout. It is what it is. No need to be all in or all out (black and white)…I’ve found a happy medium in the grey area and can honestly say I don’t think about Klout. If my score goes up or down, so be it. I can continue to use social media the way I choose & if Klout happens to benefit me, great, but if not..oh well. I’m the same person with or without it :))

  • Anonymous

    I broke with Klout in November and have the same result- no backlash, and I’m glad I did. Excellent article. I don’t know why more intelligent people don’t understand that Klout is just the same as Farmville.

  • http://twitter.com/freundcontainer Freund Container

    good post

  • http://twitter.com/kadeeirene kadeeirene

    Thank you for posting this – I’ve never quite been a fan of Klout and to be honest, have always felt like it was another useless number for people and companies to get hung up on. Just like the number of followers, people care too much about these stats which focuses their attention away from the things that do matter … like quality of followers, having meaningful conversations, helping customers, etc. Its inflated self-esteem at best.

  • Anonymous

    I’m in agreeance with you Brad. It would be nice to see a clear outline of the pro’s vs con’s, side by side, more so for those who want to make a decision on whether to keep Klout or not.

    I dropped Klout about 6 months ago for many of the reasons mentioned above, and have never looked back.

    Great posts!

  • http://twitter.com/bradshorr bradshorr

    Hi All, thanks for sharing your perspectives on this. I hope more people decide to opt-out. BTW Morgan, are you sure you are totally disconnected from Klout? HootSuite is reporting a score for you, which I noticed after you so kindly tweeted this post. 

  • http://brittinspired.com Brittany Rubinstein

    I completely agree with everything you’ve said. Yet for some reason, I keep using it. I think it’s that it motivates me to interact more. I know it’s not accurate, and I know no matter what I do, my score still may not go up, but the idea of having something to work towards, a number to aim for, pushes me a little harder. Even if it’s just a fantasy. 

  • Michael Q Todd

    Dude sorry but you do not get it. Klout is about networking and connection. The score is a tiny insignificant part of it. It is actually my favourite social netwok as the members are the most engaging. The FB Klout related groups I am in are so much fun and the sole aim of Klout is to bring people together.Rejoin, make some lists, start promoting and connecting people with it

  • http://twitter.com/willrussell_ Will Russell

    I agree with the anti-klout sentiment, not a fan of it myself either – but I don’t think you make particularly good points to support your view.

    Primarily, of your 10 reasons for disconnecting, all but #9 (and maybe #5) would still make sense if you replaced ‘Klout’ with ‘Google’. Would you remove your site from all search engine visibility? Of course not. I don’t think you should have those double standards and, more importantly, I’m not sure you should be promoting them. These factors are all part of the online world these days, so it’s pretty hard to succeed online without just accepting them and moving forward.

    I like the idea of the post, and my comment is more of a discussion-driver than a criticism, but I think you could have written this post in a much more persuasive manner.

  • http://twitter.com/houseofannie Nathan Lau

    Klout says I’m an influencer in topics I don’t really talk about, but doesn’t say I’m an influencer on topics that I talk about a lot. So is their algorithm working or not? 

    I don’t need Klout to tell me who I should be connecting with. 

  • http://twitter.com/sbhsbh Steve Hughes

    Klout articles can still bring the comments and traffic.  Powerful.  Any platform where an individual is scored always leads to criticism.  If a person isn’t happy with their score, it must be the platform.  My score should be higher, so this platform is wrong and I’m going to delete my account.  It’s human nature.  We all know scoring influence with 100% accuracy is impossible.  Can Klout give us a ballpark score of our online influence? Yes, an idea.  All the Social Media big boys – Scoble, Pirillo, Kawasaki, and Cashmore are all north of 80.  Would you say that is deserved? Yes.  Would you have deleted your account if you were above 80? No.  These guys are all active on Klout.

    If you can’t get past your score, you can’t get past your score…You’re missing out on a channel to engage and connect with others.  That’s how I would suggest you look at Klout.  With an injection of $30M earlier this month, it won’t be going away anytime soon.  You might as well make the most of it…

  • Emma Geraln

    I hate the Klout website, I can’t do anything on it without some pop up trying to get me to tweet. I won’t tweet, I’m not a marketeer, I don’t make money online and I never spam my followers with auto generated irrelevant junk.

    I play Empire Avenue for fun and because I meet interesting people, I’ve never seen that on Klout. People often ask for Ks I do it for 2 reasons, to help them out, and because it amuses me to think of all these sales people paying for crap data :)

  • http://www.simplexstudios.com John Bunka

    Great post! I fell into to this as well like many of the people here and I am ready to walk. I felt like I was answering to their graphs rather than worrying about relationships!

  • http://www.socialmouths.com/ Francisco Rosales

    Thanks for your input Michael, I have to be honest and say that I never saw Klout as a social network.

  • http://twitter.com/bradshorr bradshorr

    Hi Will, those same thoughts about Google crossed my mind as I wrote this post. The difference is, Google offers value to offset their negatives. I don’t see much if any value in Klout, but would anyone say Klout’s value is anywhere near Google’s? At any rate, if you have better reasons, I’d love to hear them. Cheers, Brad

  • http://twitter.com/bradshorr bradshorr

    It’s there, it’s big, so use it — whether or not it’s accurate, whether or not it’s useful. There’s hundreds of channels to engage on – so where is the value that makes me want to concentrate on Klout? I just don’t see it, Steve. 

  • http://twitter.com/LOHADdotcom Craig Peters

    Good post. I’ve never understood how I can be incredibly active across all my social media platforms one day and my score goes down a few tenths the next, while another day I can do almost nothing and my score goes up a point and a half. I assume Klout is hesitant to release too many details of their algorithm to prevent people from gaming their system, but that doesn’t mean they can’t give some additional insights. I think Meredith’s comment below gets it right: “people are ‘over thinking’ Klout. It is what it is”

  • http://seriousprod.com/ Maylene Kuahiwinui

    Thanks for the final nudge to get this done. I’d been kicking around the idea of disconnecting because of many of the reasons you outlined above.  

  • http://jonloomer.com/ Jon Loomer

    I haven’t disconnected from Klout, but I find very little value in it. It’s a nice little gauge and whatnot, but you can’t put much stock into it. I might check it once per month for fun, but it’s not like I “discover” anything.

    To me, Klout is what’s wrong with social media. It brings out the worst in us. Everyone is desperate to be liked, desperate for certain measuring tools to verify that they are awesome. People not only cling to them, but they’ll do everything to manipulate the data. First, it was all about how many Twitter followers you had. So people went crazy manipulating that number with auto follows, #TeamFollowBack groups and whatnot. I’m seeing the same thing with Google+ circles and people taking advantage of reciprocation to inflate numbers. Even Facebook, which I thought was clean for so long, has underground schemes to get your page hollow likes.

    It’s all a bunch of bunk, and it’s only window dressing. It covers up what you truly are and what’s actually important.

    Thanks for the post!

  • http://twitter.com/LauriRottmayer Lauri Rottmayer

    I’m with you. All the the reasons you got out and all of the things you mentioned about having gotten out. Although I never got eye vitamins, I did get a free $500/night suite at a hotel WITHOUT klout in December which just confirmed no real need for some abstract number driving my life. :-) Yay us! :-)

  • http://www.meeps.com Mat Ranauro

    Well said.

    My main grievance with Klout is the type of data they are basing their algorithms on in the first place. Much of the data used is a measure of popularity, and that’s a terrible way to rank someone. 

    True influence has so many facets if we want to genuinely understand someones value in a community, social setting, area of interest, etc. 

    I wish Klout the best but find their approach dangerous, misleading, and superfluous. But, I do think solving “true influence” is a super worthy problem worth tackling… 

    Quora is doing this, but from the ground up… learning from a passionate community of bright people who actively enjoy contributing their thoughts and answers.

  • Anonymous

    Klout summed up in your single statement: “Time wasting and manipulative.”  The major benefit I saw to joining– NOT receiving dozens of “invitations” everyday from my friends and followers via email, Twitter, etc to “join.”  I will likely stay “in” just to avoid the constant nag.  But I may change my mind soon enough IF they would stop encouraging ‘score whores.’  The lists and connection options have nice possibilities, but as long as there is the score focus the site is sullied.

  • Diane

    One of my big issues with Klout is this: I’m a writer and an herbalist. I tweet about writing and herbs. What does Klout give me influence about? Surreys. Why? I once quoted a song from Oklahoma in a tweet. Here’s another reason I’m leaving: Despite the fact that my followers have doubled over the last couple of months, and despite the fact that I tweet more and get retweeted more, my Klout score dropped quite a bit. Right after I lodged a complaint about a perk gone awry…

  • http://stanfaryna.wordpress.com Stan Faryna

    Who’s Klout? [grin]

  • http://megmccormick.com/ Social Media Meg

    Thanks for the post and your good points. I like your point about the balance between actual social interaction and marketing promotion vs. manipulating social platforms for pure marketing greed. I won’t worry about my inability to log into my Klout account today!

  • http://profiles.google.com/jaqstone Jacqueline Stone

    Thanks for sharing this, Brad. I never liked Klout from the start. They can’t measure how you touch another person’s life, and that is true influence. I also don’t like platforms that grab my account and play games with it without my authorization. It shows a lack of integrity.

  • http://www.installsoftware.com/ Siobhanham

    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.

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    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.

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    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
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    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.

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    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.
     

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    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.

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    Had our scores been that far off since 2008? Why should we assume the scores are accurate now?

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