Klout – It Does Matter and Here’s Why

Connecting with influential Internet users is a great way to do, well, just about anything you need to do for your nonprofit organization. These influential users – aka “online ambassadors” – can make or break online fundraising campaigns, can boost volunteer engagement, and can drive overall awareness of your organization, among a slew of other things. They’re important, because nothing drives donor behavior more than a recommendation from a peer. And online ambassadors, by definition, have a lot of peers online.

So, how do you find these online ambassadors?

One quick, common, and easy way of identifying a user’s online influence is by looking up their Klout score. Klout is a measure of a person’s online influence that takes a number of factors into account including how often an Internet user has their content shared combined with the influence of the people sharing that user’s posts and/or other content. Klout is far from perfect, but I believe it’s a great place to start when trying to determine a user’s influence. Heidi Massey, who was in attendance and a speaker at the Social Media for Nonprofits event in Chicago where I recommended this approach, strongly disagreed. (To read Heidi’s counterpoint to this piece, click here). Heidi said that Klout is completely useless because, among other things, it can be quickly and deliberately influenced by a user despite that user’s actual online influence. To prove her point, she had some of our fellow social media users conduct the following exercise…

The exercise to alter my Klout

For the most part, Klout is accurate in the list of influential topics it has produced for my account.

As you can see in the graphic to right, Klout gives users topics they are deemed to be influential in, in addition to their Klout score. Prior to this experiment, I was influential in “Social media,” “dogs,” and “nonprofit.” Klout was dead-on accurate in that assessment.

In an attempt to prove wrong my suggestion that Klout is a good indicator of influence, Heidi had four people give me a “+K” for the topic “Hunger Games.” (a +K is something you give a Klout user in any given topic in which you think they wield influence) Immediately, “Hunger Games” surpassed “nonprofit” and moved on to my third most influential topic. So, four people give you a +K and it turns Klout upside down? Certainly makes Klout seem a little flimsy, doesn’t it? Except it doesn’t. In fact, given the real-world influence of the people who gave me those +K’s, it proves just how smart, valuable, and useful Klout can be.

First, let’s look at the Klout scores of the users who gave me a +K:

Doug Haslam – 69 – This is a great Klout score. For a frame of reference, most casual social media users have Klout scores in the teens, 20s, and 30s. Movie stars have Klout scores in the 70s and 80s.

David Svet – 63

Rebecca Denison – 55

Lisa Thorell – 48

All of those mentioned above are very active in social media. Most of them are considered leaders in the space and are at the very least “influential.” Klout knows this, (accurately) gives them a high score, and allows them more weight when they give someone a +K. When I asked Heidi, who has a Klout score of 60, if she believed she wielded influence online, she didn’t answer calling my question a “catch 22.” I wonder if Heidi thinks Klout is wrong in labeling the above users as influential? I didn’t get a chance to ask her.

Given their high Klout scores, the fact that a group of social media super users was able to influence my Klout only shows how accurate the service can be.

So let’s recap – Four Klout users, two of which are social media super users and the other two are higher than average users suddenly converged to give me a +K in the topic “Hunger Games.” Klout recognized this, and awarded me the topic in my list of influential areas. Klout recognized that multiple, influential users believed I had influence in a specific area and subsequently added that to my list of influential topics. (Little did they know that I had been organically labeled as influential in the “Hunger Games” earlier this year, but I digress…)

This experiment does show how easy it theoretically is to alter Klout. But ask yourself this: how many people do you know who sit around all day long trying to skew a Klout score? Also remember than you can’t do this on your own. You have to have a team of highly influential Klout users willing to help you artificially boost your Klout. Let’s say you work in higher education for a fictional institution named “State School.” Do you think a large number of Klout users are going to spend their time convincing influential social media users to help them artificially boost their influence about “State School”? A few might, the vast majority will not. Which means most of those you find with high Klout scores and influence about “State School” really do have influence in that area and might be valuable online users who you could develop into online ambassadors for State School.

Using Klout to Determine a Twitter User’s Influence

So, how then should you use Klout to identify online ambassadors?  First, remember Klout is NOT perfect. It’s a free tool that should be used as one of many first steps in a process towards identifying a crucially important group of influential online supporters of your mission.  But Klout can help and here’s an example of how…

A new Twitter user follows your organization’s official account. Next, check their Klout score. Is it low? That means they probably don’t spend much time on and/or don’t have a huge following on Twitter (they might in other areas – Klout measures all public Twitter accounts, but not Facebook, Google+, and others unless the user authorizes Klout to do so). Heidi took particular issue with this, but when I asked her to tell me about an influential Twitter user she knew of with a low Klout score, she couldn’t.

Next, take a look at the user’s content. Are they truly engaging and having lots of conversations with other users? Do they share a lot of content? In particular, is the content they share relevant to your mission? If so, then great! You likely have someone that you can target as a potential online ambassador of your mission. It’s not all about their Klout, but the service did provide you a nice starting point.

I’ve been using Klout for more than a year and this is the first time I’ve been attacked for devious purposes using the +K. Every other +K I’ve received has been from well intentioned and genuinely influential users who, over time, helped me build a Klout profile that is a mostly accurate portrayal of who I am online. And, when it comes to social media, nonprofits, dogs, and yes, even the Hunger Games, I do believe I have a decent amount of influence.

Again, Klout is not perfect. There are other measures of online influence and you should always consider the value an individual brings both online and off when determining how much effort you’re going to dedicate to communicating with them. Some highly influential leaders spend very little time online. But if you’re trying to find influential ONLINE ambassadors, Klout is a great, free resource that can help you start forming a picture about just how valuable the person behind that Twitter account could be to your organization.

For more on how social media is transforming philanthropy, visit BWF.com.


13 thoughts on “Klout – It Does Matter and Here’s Why

  1. Definitely interesting that I’m still considered influential when I haven’t really been using Twitter much since I started grad school back in January. 😉

    But seriously, you bring up some good points. While Klout did recognize that four influential folks gave you +K in “Hunger Games” what it failed to take into account was whether any of us are influential in Hunger Games, movies or young adult fiction. My problem with Klout resides in the fact that it just can’t cover all of the facets of true influence. It can tell me who is interacting on Twitter more than others, and it can tell me who may be getting more attention or more retweets. But Klout doesn’t tell me what that activity really influences or drives. Personally, I’d consider you more influential in Hunger Games if you convinced me to read it or see it, not just because Klout thinks you are because you mentioned it enough times (or however that became one of your topics in the first place).

    • PS I just had to remove the following topics Klout assigned to me: Derby (WTF?), Travel and Tourism, Red Bull and “Eek.”

      “Eek” is the only one that makes any sense to me because I do use it a lot, but the others? No earthly clue why Klout believes I’m influential.

  2. I’m influential in Wheelchair curling and Shepherd’s leap, despite not even knowing either was a thing before friends added them to my profile. Of course, I consider it a badge of honor to be “influential” in those. I also was “organically” considered influential in Apple Store for quite some time because I tweeted one tweet about it. I have friends who are influential in Grocery Store, Magic and other ridiculous things, organically, because of one thing they may have said one time.

    The fact is, Klout is far too easily gamed to be taken at all seriously, IMHO.

    • Klout can be easily gamed, but how many people spend any effort at all towards gaming Klout? I would suggest not nearly enough to make Klout irrelevant. Again …it’s not perfect, but serves as a great starting point for its cost (free).

  3. Very good points, Rebecca. I want to reiterate that I believe Klout is FAR from a complete picture of online influence. Instead, I view it as a starting point for gauging the “value” of an individual connection online. It’s one of many snapshots that make up an album that tells the story of a person’s influence online.

    Thanks for weighing in on the debate …and for helping make me influential in “Hunger Games!” 😉 #TeamKatniss

    • I understand where you’re coming from. It can be a great starting point, and I keep failing to mention that my biggest bone with Klout is really their marketing. They shouldn’t be called the standard of anything but how often people engage on Twitter. When they call themselves the standard of influence, they give lazy marketers the ability to skip past the research you and i would do after starting with Klout. And that’s what gets me. Too many people use it as a one and done tool.

      • Very true. Ultimately, the best approach is dedicating the time to getting to know your followers. There are tools that can help (some much more so than Klout), but in the end, it’s about good conversation management.

  4. Hi Justin, one of the merry “hunger game” pranksters here, weighing in. Thank you for being a gentleman about it and yes we were playing and experimenting a bit — as we all should be in the social world to press its limits. But our point was- as Rebecca expressed so well – what are we four doing having an effect on your “credibility score” on The Hunger Games? I haven’t even seen the movie so my rating of you should have been null and void. But here’s an interesting experiment: – what if all four of us had never seen Hunger Games and given you that +K with our “highish” Klout scores. Would that have “upped” your credibility on the subject? And while we don’t know that, none of us had any basis for knowing you even saw the movie (it could have been another who “voted” you that capability with no knowledge). My own +K areas completely lack topics that I have very deep knowledge in (eg. color vision, open innovation — some of which Klout could verify using Google Scholar but apparently doesnt) and yet lists me as +K on Rutgers (with whom i had a few online convos) and Netflix (i only wrote 2 blog posts on one competition they ran). This is a problem – So what is an “influence score” if it is so coarse as to list areas of expertise based on a few superficial online convos and ignore 10 online citations from authoritative sources? Isn’t that crazy abit?

    • Excellent points, Lisa. The funny thing is, I don’t think my thinking on Klout is all that much different than your thinking. It’s not a panacea that makes all your social media ills go away. It’s a free tool that has it limitations, but also has its value. When trying to build a base of online ambassadors, Klout is one of many indicators that helps paint a picture of how active and influential a user is online – most specifically, on Twitter. Again, would you say that any of your merry band of pranksters is not influential? You all have, accurately, high Klout scores. Beyond that, I can look at what you’re tweeting, how active you are on other networks, how engaging you are on those networks, if your online conversations are consistent and focused in any area …all in addition to your Klout score.

      Thanks for weighing in on the discussion!

  5. Pingback: Klout: Not Even A Good Starting Point « The Nonprofit Connection

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