Thursday, October 27, 2011

You Had Klout

I confess to having a few good belly laughs yesterday over the minor tempest that was Klout revising its algorithms. For the 99%+ of the population that has no idea what a "Klout" is, it's a site that purports to measure online influence as calculated by a user's activity on twitter, for example.

Klout recently revised its scoring algorithms. And, apparently, various self-styled social media experts saw their scores drop dramatically. Outrage ensued.

One user (no names used in the interest of protecting the terminally self-important) in a reply to Klout's blog announcing the changes:

Very unhappy with this change. My score went from 73 down to 53. 20 point drop. I've been working for months to increase my Klout score. Please fix this.

Really. Seems like a good use of time. This video captures the concept perfectly.

Another social media "guru" (and I use the term sardonically) is now faced with explaining to clients that he might have been, umm, wrong in getting them to put a lot of faith in this proprietary metric:

Not only have I used Klout to measure my score, but I've instructed my social media beginner consulting clients to use it too- as an easy way to market their progress as they begin Tweeting and using Facebook.  Thank you for making my job harder- now I have to explain why, with all of their hard work, some their scores went DOWN.

Paraphrasing: "I blindly pimped Klout and now they've screwed me":

Unfortunately, I have been promoting Klout to clients as one of the various metrics to use in measuring the impact of social media campaigns. This change has already caused me to lose clients, and I have to start over using PeerIndex instead. Pity they hit us so hard after we helped make KLOUT influential.

I could go on. The whole comment thread to Klout's blog makes for an amusing read.

It's hard to feel much in the way of sympathy for those affected. It would seem that they've been among the most responsible for promoting Klout, a score based on a proprietary algorithm, as something companies ought to weigh heavily. I'm also suspicious that many of these social media "experts" busily working to increase their Klout have probably been engaging in the sort of reciprocal linking and retweeting behavior that Google fights to keep out of its search rankings.

That was fun.

More seriously, though, was this a good or bad move on the part of Klout? I'm just going to throw a few thoughts out there.

Self-styled social media mavens getting their comeuppance is a feature, not a bug.

If a dramatic one-time change was needed to clear a backlog of gaming behaviors, so be it.

Although Klout published a graph showing how users were affected by this change in the aggregate, they haven't said anything--even at a very high level--about the sorts of behaviors that resulted in large swings. Even Google does this to a degree.

Most to the point though, OK maybe Klout needed to make a one-time change. But their business is predicated on the idea that their score means something. That complaints about this change aren't akin to complaining that your horoscope wasn't specific enough, as Jared Sprool remarked on Twitter. And this, in turn, implies continuity of results modulo ongoing changes needed to address specific types of behavior that Klout perceives as gaming their system.

Whether or not you think that there is any connection between a measure of influence derived from social media metrics and objective business results, that is Klout's mission in life. (Personally, I think the connections are tenuous but so are lots of measures that companies around the world make decisions based on every week from pageviews to clickthrough rates.) And therefore, it is also in Klout's interest to avoid making changes that amount to saying that its measurements last week didn't mean anything.

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