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Dear Klout: It’s Not Me, It’s You

I was a Klout junkie. The first thing I did when I woke up in the morning was reach for my iPad and check my Klout score to see if it had gone up a point since the previous night (scores apparently change in the middle of the night). I’m a casual gamer (Settlers of Catan, Puerto Rico, Ticket to Ride), and Klout was a game for me. I traded retweets and @replies like I was trading wheat and sheep for brick and wood. I worked my way up to a 54, then took a month off from social media while on vacation over the summer, during which time my score dropped to 42. I’d been hiking and paddle boarding and rafting and camping and swimming—all well worth the social media sacrifice.

I worked it back up to 55, and it held steady for a while. I had come up with a “system” to maximize my ROI without working too hard, and I was happy. Then the sky fell when Klout changed its algorithm on October 26. My score plummeted to 46 overnight. And then, through some bug, it bottomed out at 10 (then popped back up to 46 the following day.) I wasn’t alone. Thousands of Klout users were incensed that their scores had dropped 10 to 20 points in one day (most of those with high scores saw a drop while those with low scores benefited from an increase.) To soothe my bruised ego, @missuku sent me this great xtranormal video about the inanity of Klout. And in response to one commenter’s lament that he had spent months getting his Klout score into the 70s only to see it drop back into the 50s, TechCrunch published an article titled Nobody Gives a Damn About Your Klout Score.

Back in April, when I wrote this blog post about Klout, that was true. When I interviewed agents and editors in the publishing industry, none of them had ever heard of Klout. They definitely weren’t checking writers’ Klout scores before deciding whether to take them on.

But all that has changed. Since April, Klout has expanded to include not only Twitter, but Facebook, LinkedIn, Tumblr, FourSquare,, Blogger, and more (I can’t check their site for the complete list because I refuse to look at my Klout score), and now literary agents and social media gurus are telling us that the size of one’s Klout score DOES matter. In fact, in this blog post, literary agent Rachelle Gardner says you should include your Klout score IN YOUR BOOK PROPOSAL along with your number of Twitter followers and page views on your blog. Kristen Lamb, author of We Are Not Alone, a social media guide for writers, responded in a post titled The Dark Side of Metrics—Writer Friend or Ticket to Crazy Town?. For me, Klout was a ticket to crazy town.

When I first started using it, I watched other Tweeters to see what raised their Klout scores. I noticed that getting any kind of mention helped, so I @replied and retweeted people each night hoping they would @reply and retweet me back. It worked. But it felt like a waste of my extremely valuable time to spend half an hour (sometimes up to an hour) on the Internet each night writing tweets like, “Hey, how are you?” or “I loved that movie, too!” in order to raise my Klout score. There were some aspects I liked about it. I was connecting more with people and we all know social networking is about being social. I worked harder at writing tweets that would get retweeted. I tweeted more frequently and more regularly, instead of 10 times one day and none the next. I was happy with my progress. 55 was a good score, and 60 was on the horizon.

What frustrated me most about Klout’s new algorithm is that I couldn’t figure it out. I no longer knew what to do (get my Twitter followers, get more FB likes, get more retweets) to increase my score. Whereas before, my “True Reach” was a transparent number—my number of Twitter followers plus my Facebook likes, suddenly my True Reach was a mysterious 700 while a friend, who has a fourth my Twitter followers and no Facebook page, had a True Reach of 3000. And another friend, who doesn’t have a Twitter account or a blog or a Facebook page (only a personal Facebook profile), suddenly had a Klout score of 43—just three points behind mine. And she HATES social media. How was this possible? My husband found the answer in this article. According to Annie, and I think she’s right, what matters is the percentage of your followers who are actively engaged with you. In other words, you’re better off with 50 friends who retweet everything you say than 10,000 followers of which only 500 retweet everything you say. The algorithm is clearly flawed. And it’s not the only one.

I’ve been to to score my website and my blog. My blog gets penalized for having infrequent posts that are long (the highest scores go to blogs with frequent, short posts) and for not having links to Twitter and Facebook. Uh, sorry, but I have not one but TWO links each to both Twitter and Facebook on my blog. In other words, these scoring websites make mistakes. Big mistakes. And there’s nothing we can do about it.

So I’m taking a break. That’s not to say I’ll never check my Klout score again, but for the month of November, while all your Nanowrimo writers are cranking out 1666.66 words a day, I will be assessing my social media influence the old-fashioned way—by instinct. And until Klout reveals what exactly goes into its cockamamy (I always thought it was “cockamany” but disagrees with me) algorithm, I won’t take my score too seriously. I’d rather spend my late-night hours playing games the old-fashioned way—sitting around my dining room table with friends, producing coffee and tobacco, and laying track between Palermo and Moskva.

What about you? Do you care about your Klout score? How was it affected by the algorithm change? Do you care? And have you found the secret to increasing your “new Klout” score?

40 comments to Dear Klout: It’s Not Me, It’s You

  • m++

    As with most algorithm development, the process is iterative, so the first pass was likely pretty simple and transparent as you said — add together basic metrics such as followers, and normalize on a bell curve from 10-100. The problem with that is SPAM robots can overwhelm such simple metrics. Just auto-generate 100,000 bots, have them friend each other, and tweet every minute, and they'll blow away any human metrics. This refocus on "engagement" is likely a response to those trends. But they will need to do a better job, and soon.

    I started really thinking about how a Klout-like influence metric could be calculated while taking this free Stanford AI class. This *highly technical* segment on how to design a Bayes Network to detect SPAM is something the Klout engineers should study for future designs:

    In my opinion, they need to *start* with SPAM detection — determining the likelihood a given account is a human or a robot. Bots need to be filtered out aggressively as the garbage they generate is fundamentally not influential. Getting an @reply spam message from some bot shouldn't be a free ticket into your "Influence Network". The current system gives a bot that tweets Pakistani cricket scores every hour a score of 30, and because it @replied me twice, this bot whom I don't follow and which I blocked from following me is one of my top 5 influencers. According to Klout, I'm worth 14 and this 30 bot whose messages I never see is master of my universe…

    Once a good P(SPAM) equation is built, they can expand on that determine whether one person's 140 words are relevant to another's. This would be more sophisticated and provide a much more relevant metric than simple retweet counting. Something like probability(Topic=Writing) and then factor in the correlation between users on such specific topics. My guess is they will break out general scores into per topic scores at some point, and then anyone that reads this blog will get a huge jump in their writing score whenever they hit the retweet or like button… 😀

    But back to the current update — yes, it is fundamentally flawed. There are so many hard examples of this: one broad influencer with 90,000 followers can get the *lower* score than someone who is able to get 90% of their 300 followers to retweet their every bowel movement. This is clearly not Klout's intention, but such is the real result of the recent changes. Klout seems to have followed the lead of NetFlix and overhauled their core product without sufficient qualification in the public eye, disappointing their most engaged customers. We can only hope they'll move quickly to remedy the shortcomings.

    • meghancward

      m++ That last paragraph says it all – when someone who has 90,000 followers, 1000+ of whom frequently retweet him, has a lower Klout score than someone who has 300 followers, most of whom retweet him, something is wrong. I think it's good that the scores aren't ONLY based on numbers – but you shouldn't be PENALIZED for having more followers who don't retweet everything, which is essentially what the new Klout score is doing. Those people may be influenced by reading your tweets, even if they don't retweet them – just like people may be influenced by reading a blog post even though they don't comment.

  • Kristan

    I think I mentioned this on your first Klout post, but yeah, I don't do numbers anymore. For a while that was important to me (mostly in terms of how many comments and how many visitors I had) and at some point I realized it was sapping all my time, energy, and positivity. Now I just try to make genuine connections and hope for the best. I'm a lot happier this way. 🙂

    • meghancward

      Kristan – I think that's the best way to go. I'm over Klout. If a simple algorithm change can change scores so drastically, it all seems pointless. If you score this way, I have a high score, but if you score that way, I have a low score. It's all relative. And none of those numbers can tell you whether any of those readers will buy your book when it comes out! That's what I want to see – a score that determines the number of people who will buy your book. Ha!

  • I think the Klout change made me realize – it doesn't really mean anything. I don't really pay attention to numbers too much. I do look at them randomly, but they aren't significant. I do find significant the relationship and information I find via Twitter and blogs. Those rock.

    • meghancward

      I agree – the numbers don't really mean anything. I can't help wondering if Klout didn't have some other motivation to change its algorithm besides being more "accurate." It's more difficult than ever to have a score in the 60s or 70s – and perks were going to people with those scores. Now fewer users will be eligible for perks.

  • Hey Meghan, good post! As with all new internet toys where you can see the effect of things you do changing a number, Klout for me combined the lure of instant gratification with the addictive power of irregular reinforcement. And just like you, I've found myself chronically checking my score, my mood fluctuating based on whether it went up or down. And while I acknowledge that Klout can be useful as a reminder to put interesting, helpful, or funny stuff online, my rabid attentiveness to my score feels unhealthy now, so I think it's time for a break for me too. Good reminder!

    • meghancward

      And Nate – you have a HIGH score! I want to know your secret 🙂 And yes, when an Internet score starts affecting our mood (and it was affecting mine, too), it's time to say adieu.

  • Awesome post! I, too, got all caught up in my Klout score, and I believe it was a primary culprit in dereailing my writing. Once we spend more time worrying about artificial metrics than practicing our craft, we've crossed the line into crazy town. I don't intend to return anytime soon.

    • meghancward

      Totally agree, Jackie. I feel much saner than I did last month. I love no longer being a slave to some arbitrary number.

  • I have had exactly the same experience as you, right down to the numbers. Worked up to 54, slipped in the summer when I was busy doing irrelevant things like editing my books for my new publisher, then got back up to 55-56 just before the Klout Krash of Oct 26. Now I don't effing care. Rachelle always seems to be about 6 months behind the curve, as I suspect most publishers are.

    I've been playing the social media game (and been tyrannized by it) for way too long. I'm burned out.. I think a lot of people are feeling the same.

  • I personally would not look at someone's Klout score and draw any hard conclusions from it.

    • meghancward

      By the way, the CEO of Klout said in an interview that associating online with people with low Klout scores does NOT hurt your score. It just doesn't help it nearly as much as associating with people who have high scores. So I can still retweet and @reply my dear friends with low scores 🙂

  • That good to know, if it wasn't that way, people that are just getting started would be digitally ostracized… that's not very social!

    When I see a really high score, I usually assume that the person spends a lot of time tweeting… which seems like it tells you only that the person spends a lot of time tweeting!

    Within the last couple of months a bunch of news reporters that I know — due to my boyfriend being one of them — have been getting into twitter for the first time and have been asking me lots of questions about it.

    Most industries are just getting involved. Things will prob keep changing quickly, who know whether Klout will matter more or less a year from now?

    • meghancward

      I think Klout will be bigger than ever a year from now, but five years from now – who knows. And I totally agree – that people with the highest Klout scores tend to be the people who tweet the most frequently – and I can think of better uses of my time.

    • Melanie, as far as I am concerned, you all ready have a star on your belly! I don’t cnmmeot often but I do so admire you and your strength since the accident. I thoroughly do enjoy reading your blog and try to never miss one!

  • KLM

    I don't even know what Klout is, to be honest. I assume it's one of these "indispensable" new measuring sticks that everyone will dismiss in about 18 months as meaningless.

    About a year ago I decided to create my own marketing philosophy and that is this: extrapolate from my normal, day-to-day social interactions and behave accordingly online. IRL I don't rush up to people, gushing at them, trying to get random strangers to listen to me. I let relationships grow naturally. I'm not pushy or aggressive. When I don't get the reception I'd hoped for, I assume it's because people are just distracted or busy and I have to accept that and give people space. Mostly, I realized that letting my envy of what others seem to be achieving get the better of me was like taking the HOT lane to Crazy Town.

    Some days are better than others, of course. We all fall into that Dark Place occasionally ("Do People Like Me? DO THEY? HOW MUCH DO THEY LIKE ME????"). I think you can't utterly disconnect either but you need to find your equilibrium.

    I think you're lovely, Meghan, and I'm a pretty good judge of these things. Klout schmout, I say.

    • meghancward

      It's funny – because with Klout I never even cared if anyone liked me – I just wanted a high Klout score for the sake of having a high Klout score – in case agents or editors looked at it when deciding whether to publish my book. And I guess I do like to know, too, that I'm not tweeting to the wind. But I can tell that better by people's mentions than by some number. Anyway, thanks for the comment. I'm overdue to visit your blog (and many others).

  • […] Dear Klout: It’s Not Me, It’s You – “was a Klout junkie. The first thing I did when I woke up in the morning was reach for my iPad and check my Klout score […]

  • Meghan,

    I had not considered that they may have done it to reduce the number of people eligable for Klout perks. That is an interesting take. I have my own metrics which I use to decide how I am doing and they aren't even as accurate as my gut telling me I'm goofing off too much. So I too have lost my love for Klout. It was a fun game for a while.

    • meghancward

      I agree – like the time I got obsessed with Warfish for about a year. It was fun while it lasted. What are your own metrics, btw, or are they a secret?

  • This is another information overload for me. Honestly and seriously, I don't know what 'Klout' is. Hope someone can give me a hint.

  • sierragodfrey

    I don't pay attention to Klout–I don't have time. But I don't like the way it all smells, because when people start considering representation from your Klout score then it pretty much stops being about writing a sellable story and starts being a popularity contest.

    But most worrying, the whole thing takes the "engage" out of social media. The day I start replying to people in order to increase some irrelevant number is the day I'm no long talking with people on a personal level or exchanging ideas and information. I'm with KLM on this–I interact online as an extrapolation of the way I interact in real life.

    • meghancward

      Eh hem, Lady, I remember you competing with me a while back for the highest Klout score. As for @replying to increase my score – it was always in a sincere effort to engage people, but I think it needs to be done in moderation. To spend an hour each night talking to strangers on Twitter to increase isn't the best use of my time. A few minutes here and there is much more productive and enjoyable.

      • sierragodfrey

        You're right, I did compete with you for half a minute, and it was super fun to see my Klout score inch higher than yours. But that was about all the use I could see of Klout–to inspire nonsensical competitions!

  • kimkircher

    I hadn't heard of Klout until reading Rachel Gardner's post. Then I briefly stepped in and marveled at my score. It was up to 54 at one point, then dropped back into the 40s. When I was a kid, my mom always reminded me that school was "not a popularity contest." But it felt like it was. Klout is simply a popularity contest for grownups with all the negative connotations that go with it. Thanks for this post. I'm officially following you now.

    • meghancward

      Thanks for the follow, Kim! And I agree about Klout being a popularity contest. I feel so much better since I stopped using it.

  • Thanks for this resource Meghan. I pretty sure that Klout will matter more few years from now.

    • meghancward

      Hey Sybil – you think Klout WILL matter more? I wonder if that's true. I think it's growing, but I also think a lot of people are disgruntled with it and have stopped taking it as seriously as before.

  • I find my klout score steady for three weeks in a row now. I wonder what I could do to increase it. Thanks for this post, I think I now have a good idea in mind.

    • Meghan Ward

      I also found that my Klout score was much more difficult to increase after the algorithm change. Before I could tweet a lot and increase it one point in a day. Now I can tweet a lot and it just stays the same, day after day, which is one of the reasons I stopped checking it!

  • […] 3. Twitter Twitter is a great way to connect with a LOT of people without spending a lot of time online. Granted, those who do spend a lot of time on Twitter have higher Klout scores, but then again, who cares about Klout? […]

  • I have been a fan of Klout for a while but have recently become very disenchanted with it when I couldn't develop any consistent method to scoring. Even though I have a ton of RTs and replies, and discussions, my score and reach continued to drop. I've since given up on any kind of measurement. Honestly, trying to measure something as ambiguous as social media is a little like trying to find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

    • Meghan Ward

      I agree, Charity! Have you noticed a change in your score since Klout's last algorithm update? I did, and it went up, but I still rarely look at it and only through HootSuite. I never log onto the Klout website anymore.

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