A Plea to Klout

A Plea to KloutI’ve written about the gamification of influence before, and my main premise remains the same: gamifying influence dismantles trust systems. Some platforms, like connect.me, have actually attempted to create a system of trust based entirely on gamification. Klout has taken a smarter approach than that, but in the wake of the recent overhaul of the Klout system, I have a plea to make. Klout, I would like you to walk away from the gamification of influence. Please.

Klout has obviously been doing some soul-searching as a brand, because its most recent overhaul invites users to see more information about what signals play into the score. The result? Good press. “Klout is so much more transparent, now! This is a step in the right direction!”

But not everyone is congratulating Klout. Some authors choose to opine about how Klout’s system feeds into narcissism and is therefore devoid of value. Others believe that Klout is creating an unfair system where brands are encouraged to only reward people who have large audiences. All valid points. My problem with Klout? It’s squandering a huge opportunity to create a robust system of trust with credible signals that can be leveraged in a meaningful way by brands. How? By taking shortcuts with gamification. Specifically, +K.

Why is +K so bad for Klout? Think about Google Search.

Fundamentally, the Google Search algorithm is trying to establish a system of trust. The user, the searcher, is supposed to be able to trust that the algorithm will return the most relevant results from the most credible sources. Google only tells the world so much about how it determines that credibility and authority. Why? Because if it gave away the game, people would undercut the algorithm and the system would not be credible.

I would argue that Klout is trying to establish a system of trust just like Google does with its search results. Klout wants to be able to say to brands, “Here are the most influential people on the social Web whose interests align with your message and value proposition. Go forth and build relationships.” And that’s great! The problem is what Klout is saying to its influencers is:

Dear Klout users, please use +K to inflate each other’s influence — you’ll get a better score!

That’s the message. No way around it — when a user can see who has given a +K, I believe it triggers something I like to call obligatory reciprocation. We saw obligatory reciprocation on Facebook — when a Facebook user you didn’t know that well would add you as a “friend,” it seemed unkind to say no, so most of us accepted those weak connections into our networks. What was the result for most of us? Irrelevant noise in our newsfeeds.

But on Klout’s platform, obligatory reciprocation has much broader implications. Instead of simply “friending” people they don’t know, Klout’s users are trading +K like it’s a currency — and I believe this behavior undermines the entire system of trust that Klout should be trying to build and nurture.

What is +K?

For the uninitiated, I’ll elucidate: +K is a topic-specific, virtual high five you can give to another Klout user. You get a set number of +Ks per day to give to other users. When someone gives +K to you, you receive a notification that says something like, “Chris Pirillo gave you +K in Community Management.” The system strongly encourages saying thank you by tweeting or posting on Facebook — but it also encourages the user to “spend” that +K on other users in the network — including the person who gave it to you. And +K directly feeds into your Klout score. See the problem?

Here’s what I believe Klout should be saying to its users: “Do what you do in social media. We’ll take care of measuring it.” If it wants to be transparent about which signals play into the score, great. But for god’s sake, stop encouraging users to undermine the whole system with a sanctioned gamification tactic like +K.

What would Klout look like without +K?

It wouldn’t be perfect, of course. There are plenty of things to work out about what “influence” really means in context of social media. But if +K was nuked, I think Klout would look a whole lot more like Google Search: objective even when influenced by social signals in semantic search. And that’s a good thing. It’s more useful to brands, to the public, and to the entire industry that is social media.

Christina Trapolino has been building and nurturing digital communities for over a decade. As the Social Media Director at Jason’s Deli, she is responsible for the strategic direction of the company’s social media presence. In 2011, Christina became an early adopter on Google+ and grew a large following quickly. Her emergence as a thought leader on the platform earned her several highlights in publications like The Huffington Post and Gizmodo. Today, she continues to evangelize to consumers about ways for them to leverage their networks in order to drive ethical brand behavior.

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  • Guest

    <3

    • http://about.me/trapolino Christina Trapolino

      Ha! Thanks. :)

  • DaiTengu

    I still don’t get it. Why do people care about Klout?

    • http://about.me/trapolino Christina Trapolino

      A large part of it is ego for the “influencers,” but for brands, Klout has a very interesting potential value: as a business owner or a marketing professional or a PR executive, I have the chance to find influencers who have the right psychographics and audience to become ideal product/brand evangelists. Perks are only one part of the brand/consumer relationship that Klout is affecting. Social media management software includes Klout scores, as do many extensions for browsers. The idea of identifying influencers is not an unpopular one, despite how counter-intuitive it may seem to us personally.

  • JarrodSimpson

    All I know is that it seems how active I am with all the accounts that I have connected to it has very little bearing on my Klout score. Makes it worthless to me. I check it ever so often to see how many points I have fallen, which is usually after I know I have had a lot of activity on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I guess they have to reserve the most benefits to Klout for actual activity on the site itself. So that would make me more intrigued for the site that isn’t so needy.

  • http://twitter.com/WorkingWriter Mike McCallister

    Thanks for expressing what I’ve been thinking for awhile. I’d never quite understood +K before, but I’ve always felt that it was supposed to help those experts that I knew personally. They may not be famous yet for their expertise, but ought to be. Yet every time Klout encouraged me to give +K, it was usually someone who already had plenty of Klout. Like Steven Vaughn-Nichols needs to know that I think he knows Linux.

    FWIW, I’ve never played the +K game for the most part, and Klout still thinks I’m more influential than I ever thought I was; even with the new formula!

    • http://about.me/trapolino Christina Trapolino

      Thanks for commenting!

      I think it’s possible that +K has a place. An anonymous place. And a very small place — maybe just a “checking to see if the algorithm got it right” place.

      Maybe Klout could just put one robot on +K duty, and its job would be to make sure that if a famous food blogger suddenly gets lots of +K about fashion, Klout can find out why, make sure it’s not a glitch, and adjust the blogger’s topical scores accordingly. That would probably be a more trustworthy system. But I’m a dreamer.

      I get it — Klout wants to be an engaging platform unto itself. There are plenty of ways to do that. But gamifying +K is low hanging fruit — and low hanging fruit is only worth picking if it won’t negatively impact your credibility.

  • http://twitter.com/GeoValentine Geocosmic Valentine

    It’s embarrassing to me that Klout considers that I’m playing games socially. A male friend of mine who is above 85 tweeted me and Klout’s little 5 dot scoring system gave me 3 dots with the comment “Well played.” That feels insulting and disgusting. It reads quite sexist to me.

    • http://about.me/trapolino Christina Trapolino

      I don’t see the sexism in it, but I do know what you mean about the “good job” and “nice moment, [name]” stuff. It’s a little cheap.

      • http://twitter.com/GeoValentine Geocosmic Valentine

        The sexism enters into it when you consider our genders, the nature of the friendship/relationship and his level of influence/power in the industry we both work in. In that regard it sounds incredibly manipulative. Imagine your mentor has strong international influence and he initiates contact with you and you receive a message saying “Well played.” insinuating that you’re playing games with people. The feeling of insult was immediate.

        • http://about.me/trapolino Christina Trapolino

          I see your point, although I think the lesson to take away from it is this:

          Do not ever forget that when you create an interactive platform, your users are going to have an emotional relationship with you. When that platform’s purpose is to measure influence, the emotional investment of the user increases significantly, making every marketing decision particularly important. Maybe Klout needs to change its target audience, which shouldn’t be the system-gamers or the egomaniacs. It should be the true influencers who want to better understand their impact.

  • http://abbaselmas.com/ Abbas ELMAS

    i made an ifttt.com recipe for my klout score by the help of twitter which is based on creating list who share their +K on twitter. I got approximately 400 +K from people that i never know in 3 months and i didnt even ask for them to give me +K i just add them to the “auto” list which is super easy to make on ifttt and thats it. There are lots of people obsessed about klout and lots of exploiters
    Klout has no future at all
    thanks for the post :)

    • http://about.me/trapolino Christina Trapolino

      Interesting! That’s a lot of +K to be getting from people you don’t even know. The question for Klout on that is – what does that really mean for “influence?”

  • http://hotblogtips.com/ Brian D. Hawkins

    It’s a private site and they can do whatever they like with it but I do like the new direction they have started moving in. As far as the +K, it’s no different than any other social site’s grading system; anyone with the desire and time to mess with it can work the system for their own benefit.

    With that said, I have to wonder how fair a “Google Like” system would be in less than popular niches. Sure, social media would be a simple thing to track and grade but what about the people into fly fishing? The 14 people into that would stand a better chance if they could pat one another on the back by giving +K rather than competing with the millions into x-box or real estate. The problem with allowing a ‘One fits all’ measurement is the popular kids on the block wouldn’t win unless they lived in the big city. Make sense?

  • http://hotblogtips.com/ Brian D. Hawkins

    It’s a private site and they can do whatever they like with it but I do like the new direction they have started moving in. As far as the +K, it’s no different than any other social site’s grading system; anyone with the desire and time to mess with it can work the system for their own benefit.

    With that said, I have to wonder how fair a “Google Like” system would be in less than popular niches. Sure, social media would be a simple thing to track and grade but what about the people into fly fishing? The 14 people into that would stand a better chance if they could pat one another on the back by giving +K rather than competing with the millions into x-box or real estate. The problem with allowing a ‘One fits all’ measurement is the popular kids on the block wouldn’t win unless they lived in the big city. Make sense?

  • http://www.facebook.com/ammon.hardin Ammon Hardin

    +K for you. Great article.

    • http://about.me/trapolino Christina Trapolino

      Haha, thanks, Ammon!

  • http://twitter.com/BillHibbler Bill Hibbler

    Christina, thanks for the article and you make some excellent points but you do realize that Google essentially has their own +K system. While it’s not as simple as giving +K on Klout, Google’s currency is links. For years, we’ve been able to link to our friend’s blog posts via blogrolls or crosslinks with similar effects and more room for gaming the system via garbage links. Google works hard to counter the garbage links but isn’t concerned about friends linking to friends.

    To me, it looks like Klout’s business model relies on a lot of activity and interaction with their site, thus the +K and constantly rising and falling scores. If they were content to let us go about our business while they created something that’s strictly a measurement tool, they’d be more relevant but get far less attention.