Who cares about your Klout score? The influence measurement system takes a lot of stick over its - by some deemed laughable - methods. But what if Klout was actually the beginning of a small revolution for the companies of the world?
Influence measurement is seen by many as the next great untapped technological frontier. It makes sense, in a strange way. Having figured out how to analyse, quantify and optimise just about everything else online, the next logical step for the tech community is to divine a method of assigning value to individual people.
There are several competing influence measurement systems out there, most notably PeerIndex, Kred, and the largest, Klout, each with their own methods of determining an individual’s worth. Each system also has their own hardcore following who see their respective scores as a direct representation of their personal worth. See the rather tragic case of graphic designer Calvin Lee, who approached a holiday without internet access with trepidation because he was “worried that brands couldn’t get in touch with me.”
Several businesses have experimented with “targeting influencers” based on Klout, Kred or PeerIndex scores (most notably Cathay Pacific, who opened up their Business Class lounge at SFO airport to anyone with a Klout score higher than 40), but success stories have been few and far between.
Away from the devotees, Klout et al are largely viewed with a mixture of scepticism and outright derision. This is an industry still very much in its infancy. Like early versions of Google’s PageRank algorithm, current influence measurement systems can be easily gamed by those who spend some time learning their inner workings.
More importantly, influence measurement systems are hamstrung by the data they are not allowed access to. Even if you allow access to data from every single social network you use, they still have no way of reaching into your real, offline life to gauge your true influence.
Take the example of Tudor Brown, former president and co-founder of ARM. Brown is, by any stretch of the imagination, a giant of the tech and semiconductor industry, whose products are used by Apple, Samsung, and just about every noteworthy electronics manufacturer you care to mention. Brown took ARM from a share price of £70 when the company went public in 1999 to an all-time high of £645 in late 2011, shortly before his retirement.
However, a relatively low-key Twitter presence means Tudor’s Klout score is a rather piddling 28, less than half that of the Klout-embracing Calvin Lee, mentioned above.
Lee obviously has certain influence within his social graph, but twice that of the co-founder of a global chip manufacturer with a direct line to Tim Cook, Steve Ballmer and Oh-Hyun Kwon? Unlikely. It's discrepancies like this that cause people to dismiss Klout and other influence measurement tools as mere distractions.
Klout, however, is not taking such criticism lying down. The firm, which has taken around $40m in VC funding, has recently relaunched their service and is attempting to convince doubters they are more than just an amusing game. In an email exchange with the notoriously skeptical Mike Arrington (who has now invested), founder Joe Fernandez said he wants Klout to go “beyond the gimmicks and drive real value for everyone.”
If Klout is able to achieve its lofty goal, it could be a minor revolution for the corporations of the world. Airlines could do away with frequent flyer schemes and simply upgrade the most influential people on the plane. Restaurants could make sure their most important diners are seated first. A website analytics package with access to a visitor’s Klout score could turn the world of traffic analysis and conversions on it’s head overnight.
This is a big "if", however. Klout is, at its heart, a web and technology company. It is, in startup parlance, “skewed to tech”, meaning technology enthusiasts are more likely to use and take value from the service. For Klout to achieve the ubiquity its founder craves, and truly “drive real value for everyone” it needs to make inroads into the non-social-networked world, and measure influence with metrics other than likes or retweets.
How they will achieve this is anybody’s guess, but if Klout or one of their competitors can pull it off, they will become one of the most important tech companies of the modern era.
If they fail, however, influence measurement looks destined to remain nothing more than an amusing pissing contest for the uber-connected Twitterati.