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Getting 'Klout'-ed by Social Media

You may never have heard of Klout, but chances are it's already affecting you.

Remember the mean kids in high school?

I’m talking about the popular ones who appointed themselves to the top of the social hierarchy and decided who got “in” and who didn’t. Can you recall how nasty they were?

Upon your complaining, maybe your parents said something to the effect of “Don’t worry honey, it’s ok. When they get older they’ll be fat, bald and miserable. Besides, you won’t have to worry about who is or isn’t popular when you become an adult. You’ll be too busy working and having a family. Everyone will have matured by then.”

Guess what? The mean kids are here, in adult land, and they’re determined to make you revert back to the developmental level of a teenager, worried about your social standing once again.

The mean kids are the (presumably) full-grown adults at a company called Klout, and they’re judging you every day, deciding just how popular, or unpopular, you are. Their decisions are based on computer algorithms that measure your “social influence” and could affect everything from the customer service you receive to which job you get.

You probably don’t even know you have a Klout score, which is why its particular brand of evil is so very insidious. Klout has been behind the scenes, combing through all of your social accounts, spying on how many updates you post, how many Tweets you send, how many friends you have, how many “likes” you receive on Facebook and more.

Nothing in particular gives them the right to do this, of course; they just decided that they would start a business to profit from forcing people to fret over the most superficial aspects of life. They’ve also persuaded other companies to join in on the pack mentality, and punish people who have a low score while rewarding those who have a high one. Just as in high school, there’s nothing to stop them.

Klout Can Affect Your Career Opportunities, Your Grades, And How You Are Treated By Companies

When Sam Fiorella went looking for a new job, he was shocked to find that his Klout score knocked him out of the running. He described the experience he had a year-and-a-half ago in a recent phone interview with me:

“I was going to leave an agency I was at for 11 years, and I had almost 20 years of experience in the industry, when I found out there was an opportunity with [another] good-sized agency."

In his first interview as part of the process, "things were going really well," Fiorella said. The interviewer said he seemed ideal for the job.

"One of her comments was ‘Wow this seems like it was written just for you!’ " he said.

And then she asked, "What is your Klout score?"

Fiorella admitted he didn't know what it was, so the interviewer looked it up for him—and then the tone of the interview changed dramatically before it was cut short altogether.

When he didn't hear from the recruiter a little while after, Fiorella called her back to ask about the status of his application.

"She said one of the reasons was my Klout score was too low and one of the criteria they had placed was someone having a high Klout score,” he said.

Has your jaw dropped in shock yet? If not, consider this: Klout has deemed itself “the standard of influence.” High scoring “influencers” get rewards from companies, and low scorers can be penalized by companies, even by teachers.

According to an article on www.businessgrow.com by professor Todd Bacile, “Many firms are sizing up college student’s Klout scores as a quantitative metric to use for job applicant screening." Bacile decided to base a portion of students' grades on how high they could get their Klout score to rise.

If you’re neither a student nor in the market for a new job, Klout will still have a major impact on your life if it hasn’t already. According to Wired Magazine:

Matt Thomson, Klout’s VP of platform, says that a number of major companies—airlines, big-box retailers, hospitality brands—are discussing how best to use Klout scores. Soon, he predicts, people with formidable Klout will board planes earlier, get free access to VIP airport lounges, stay in better hotel rooms, and receive deep discounts from retail stores and flash-sale outlets.

Multi-Layered Problems

There are many problems with Klout which are so multi-layered that it’s difficult to know where to begin describing them.

Blogger Sharon Hayes’ “10 reasons why I opted-out of Klout” details some of the main issues, including problems with their metrics and the fact that “Klout creates profiles on social media users without their permission. You don’t even need to connect to Klout yourself to have a profile listed there. But in order to be removed from Klout, you need to specifically make the request.”

These are excellent points when it comes to the problems with the system and the ramifications of its use. Can you imagine being turned down for a job or receiving worse service or fewer rewards from a company based on a score you didn’t even know existed? Hayes goes on to point out that she knows of “three people who lost contracts or were eliminated in being considered for employment because their Klout scores rapidly dropped.”

Other bloggers cite major issues with the algorithms Klout uses, saying they are completely inaccurate. Blogger Lisa Thorell notes additional issues, and points out that Warren Buffet’s Klout score is only a 36, which is pretty dismal for such a truly influential person.

Where Have Our Ethics Gone?

The thought of anyone losing out on a job or a contract due to their Klout score is bad enough, but there is also another issue at hand here, and that’s the fact that the very idea of Klout is unethical.

Quite simply, it is wrong. It is wrong on a million levels. We should not be basing anything, let alone the ability for someone to get a job, on a platform whose very foundation is made of nothing but smoke and mirrors (a.k.a. social media). In his book Social Media is Bullsh**, author B.J. Mendelson says “social media has all the hallmarks of a get-rich-quick scheme…marketers, the media, and others packaging and selling that harmful bullsh** to further their own interests.”

Mendelson calls social media a “myth” and says in his chapter entitled There’s no such thing as an influencer “…Influencers are overrated and almost entirely nonexistent, at least in the way marketers portray them.” He also points out that according to PEW research, 87% of Americans don’t even use Twitter.

His book portrays social media, its marketing, and all that goes along with it as a fictitious and mythological creation of snake-oil salesmen peddling the Emperor’s New Clothes. He goes on to say that “Facebook is running an elaborate shell game because almost all of their revenue comes from fooling people into thinking advertising with them is effective, even though it’s seemingly not.”  

Medelson is right, and that’s what makes Klout so very wrong. If influencers don’t really exist, and social media is nothing more than a pile of inconsequential noise, then real people should not be judged on any score pertaining to their activity on it.

Fiorella is a bit more forgiving than I. He says “Klout is a business, and they're not breaking any laws. I don't have problems with Klout as a business. What I have problems with is people who blindly follow it or give the score too much credence.”

Indeed, and those who are blindly following Klout are most of the same people who create and/or buy into the myth of social media. Those are the people who are helping to construct an invisible and non-existent product from which they, and they alone, can profit. It’s like a giant Ponzi scheme, and you’re included in it whether you like it or not.

Of course, if you’re a person in the business of selling social media services, then you’ll do wonderfully. If not, then you may have to stand by and watch as a 20-something gets bumped to first class on a flight based on their Klout score, while your 80-year old mother on oxygen is relegated to coach because she doesn’t know what social media is.

Klout is Based on a Destructive Platform

If all of this has you thinking you should begin your own Twitter account so you can raise your score, don’t rush out just yet. First of all, unless you’re a 13-year-old who is very well versed in Justin Bieber or are really into Lady Gaga, you may find very few people with whom to meaningfully interact.

According to a study by marketing firm Pear Analytics, 40% of Twitter conversations are classified as “pointless babble” while 38% are “conversational.” Much of this “conversation” centers around celebrities or technological gadgets. Of course, there are also plenty of Tweets from companies promoting their latest wares.

Twitter is a superficial place; a place where you can make meaningless noise, gossip about celebrities or shop for the latest iphone. It’s not a network on which your social standing should be judged. Of course, Twitter is just one of the networks in which Klout is interested. They also comb through Facebook, LinkedIn, and all the rest.

The problem is, social networks are bad for us, and make us weaker people in almost every category of personal health and social interaction. Many studies show that the more someone uses social media, the more narcissistic, depressed and isolated they are. Other studies show negative effects on self-esteem and independent thinking skills. Warnings have been given about the brain damage social media can cause in children.

Given all the negative effects of social media on our health, we ought to be limiting the amount of time we spend engaging in it rather than worrying about how we “score” in its use. Sites like Klout are no more ethical than a site which rates you more highly based on smoking more cigarettes. Klout is a modern-day caste system, and it should be abolished.

Opt Out

Thankfully, a lot of people, including Fiorella, are opting out of Klout. He decided to opt out after purposely raising his score and then realizing having a high score did not result in anything substantive:

“I went from the 40's to the 70's. It took me 4-6 months and I got myself to a 72. It was easy to do but it was time-consuming.

"I started getting inquiries to speak at conferences and inquiries for jobs," he said. "I know it was because of that because they would say, ‘You have a really high Klout score.’

"I did not feel the offers coming in had substance. I was asked to speak at conferences but none of them were paying me to speak. The interviews, none of them were legitimate or applicable job opportunities. Throughout the six months that I was building up my score, I realized it was all smoke and mirrors. It drove a lot of attention to me and my personal brand, but it was all of no consequence towards my business.”

After Fiorella opted out, he realized people were forced to begin paying attention to him as a real person, rather than a number. In the absence of a Klout score, interviewers and conference producers had to find out his actual credentials, experience and what he had to offer.

As a result, he was invited to be a partner at a marketing/technology firm, was offered payment for speaking at conferences and finally, received some real perks and benefits from businesses. He found engagements to be better without a Klout score. While he feels that Klout can be considered as one possible factor in understanding a person’s brand, he cautions against using it as the sole criteria on which to judge someone. 

“All marketing can be considered smoke and mirrors” he says. “The problem is, there are people who genuinely don't realize that it's smoke and mirrors and put too much emphasis on scores instead of looking at the totality of an individual, the situational factors that impact the nature of their supposed influence, and the audience’s receptiveness to that message” he says.

We need to stop judging people based on computer algorithms and start putting humanity back into our interactions. Otherwise, we’ll all remain in high school forever, under the thumbs of the mean kids. We’ve come further than that. Opt out of Klout.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Christina Paciolla September 24, 2012 at 05:22 PM
Wouldn't someone in a position like that want to use social media to promote, advertise and strategize as much as possible? Therefore his or her social media footprint would need to be quite large. As a reporter, who was a reporter BEFORE Facebook, Twitter and other social media, these outlets are perhaps one of if not THE most important tool.
Martin Maisey December 08, 2012 at 09:45 AM
Agree with most of this with regard. Aside from their rather distasteful business model, Klout have the wrong dataset and approach to do reputation scoring well. However, my previous role was on a product doing large scale graph analysis for fraud protection, and my gut feel is that - done right - this type of reputation scoring, done on a more granular basis and per skill, could be very powerful. Although no doubt it will some interesting privacy and societal implications, potentially on the scale of credit agencies. LinkedIn's recent move over endorsements is - I think - much more interesting. See my post at http://mjmaisey.tumblr.com/post/37458343893/linkedin-endorsements for more detail.
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Liz Matt January 04, 2013 at 02:35 AM
Rebecca, I'm with you on the smoke and mirrors. And look what commercial dreck was posted tonight..
Dan Reynolds January 04, 2013 at 04:38 AM
Dear Hongfeng. Leave, . Sincerely, DR.

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