Klout is super hot right now among social media talking heads because it’s attempting to assign a number to measure online influence. We in the social media fishbowl love numbers, because they tell us who is ‘winning’.
But I think there’s a huge potential issue facing Klout and any of the likely competitors that will soon be popping up that will also want to measure online influence. That issue is, what happens when people start trying to game the system? When people begin to understand how to influence their influencer score, then the score won’t be measuring influence, it will be measuring our abilities to game the system.
Any decent attempt at measuring online influence has to evaluate existing behavior, not influence future behavior.
For example, do you remember the backlash that Fast Company received over it’s Influencer Project? Instead of telling us who the real influencers were, FC build a system where the influencers would reveal themselves by whoever did the best job of leveraging their online networks and convincing them to push them to the top. IOW, the project rewarded the people that did the best job of spamming their own networks. It didn’t measure existing behavior, it influenced future behavior.
This is one of the potential problems I see for services that attempt to measure online influence, especially if they have a scoring model like Klout does. Joe did a great job of explaining how Klout works in the last post, but in theory, people with higher Klout scores will likely be more coveted by partner companies. So if you knew how to use Twitter in a certain way to raise your Klout score up to 80, would you do it? Before you say ‘no’, what if the difference between having a Klout score of 70 and 80 was getting a Sony PSP, versus getting to drive a new Camaro for 6 months?
These are real issues that Klout and any of its competitors will have to address. And for the record, I do see potential for services like Klout, if companies are smart enough to leverage the information they provide. As I said in the previous post, I think it starts with targeting evangelists for your products, moreso than influencers.