Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Paul Gillin's Trouble with Klout & the need for a true measure of social media impact

Paul Gillin, a columnist for BtoB magazine, has been at the forefront in terms of discussing metrics for social media.  I recently came across a five-year-old column by him that spoke to the need of being able to measure social media impact, made the case that we need to define commonly assumed social media metrics -- like circulation or readership are for advertising and PR.

Klout, a service that says it "measures influence based on your ability to drive action" online, is trying to be the new standard by which people and organizations can measure their online impact.  And in his blog today, Gillin points out the many flaws in Klout's approach and methodology, such as the limited transparency into how Klout generates its scores and the fact that having a Klout account will raise your Klout Score.  (Check out his blog, The Trouble with Klout for more.)

I've discovered two issues with Klout:

1. Klout's algorithm identifies the top three topics you are most influential about -- but Klout is not always accurate. According to Klout, I'm influential about three topics I don't remember tweeting about:

    (Ok, I once mentioned Friendster, but it was ironically. And while I actually might like to be influential about parties, doubt I am.)  Another person I know found out from Klout, much to her surprise, that she's influential about community management and wheelchairs. Both are worthy topics but not anything she addresses. 
2. It's possible to game the system and boost your Klout score just by tweeting a lot. Earlier this year, after my name was mentioned in some spammer's tweet, I checked out the person via Klout. I found that he had only 11 followers but a Klout score of 59. How was that possible? Because he had posted 9,156 tweets.

What that says is that it's easy to manipulate the Klout algorithm by tweeting a lot.  Doesn't matter if no one else replies or retweets what you've said.  I've been able to boost my Klout by posting more frequently -- talking about four or five times a day, not anything like 9,156 tweets. (The converse is true, when I tweet less frequently; my Klout score always drops over the weekend, when I tend not to tweet.) 

I understand why my score will drop during periods on inactivity, but just posting a lot should not be a way to boost a Klout score. If someone posts a lot in a short time, and no one responds, they shouldn't see their Klout score increase.  More posts do not mean you're more influential. Also, on an interesting note, I've noticed that when I tweet something negative about Klout, my Klout score drops within a day, even when the frequency of tweets has not changed. Coincidence -- I think not.

Meanwhile, five years after Gillin's BtoB column about the need for metrics, we still need reliable metrics. Klout is interesting tool, but it is hardly comprehensive or accurate. I also check out from HubSpot.  I find that a more useful tool because I have not seen the same inaccuracies that I've seen with Klout.

Let me know if you're experiences with Klout and TwitterGrader are different.


    Alison Kenney said...

    Yeah, tweeting 9,000+ times in a day isn't necessarily "driving action" through social media. I don't understand why Klout is getting so much attention - glad you mention alternatives like TwitterGrader, Norman.

    Norman Birnbach said...

    I think Klout is getting so much attention because there's a lack of good alternatives to measure influence. To Gillin's point, I don't know how "accurate" TwitterGrader is, but I know it seems less prone to measurement swings (as in boosting your Klout score by posting nine thousand tweets).