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Klout: Validation or Vanity?

The surge of Social Media has led to an oft-joked-about side-effect. In addition to aggravating Nomophobia (the fear of being without one’s cellphone) and a general fear of being disconnected, Social Media has led to a rise in an unhealthy obsession with seeking validation. Sure, in theory, it’s great to have constructive feedback and it’s great to know your opinions matter, and that you do influence people around you. But aren’t we taking ourselves a little too seriously when we decide to keep measuring how much “influence” we have, just so our need for attention and self-importance is fulfilled? This is my primary pet peeve about Klout, and the narcissistic ‘Klout score’ metric.

I do get the relevance of such a metric and the need to measure social media influence for Brands and people whose livelihood depends on promoting themselves on social media. And I have to admit, as a marketer, Klout did pique my curiosity and I set about exploring its in’s and out’s with a lot of gusto. But I was quite disappointed when I realized there wasn’t too much science (or logic!) behind the metric, and that Klout can’t really be classified as a legit Validation metric. It’s really only a Vanity metric and an inaccurate one at that.

Klout has always relied on hazy parameters to measure influence, and their definition of Influence is, well, debatable, to say the least. They have a profound-ish explanation of what they mean by Influence on the site, and this little graphic below they’ve featured there is supposed to cover what Influence entails.

Klout “Influence” components
(Image source: http://klout.com/#/corp/what_is_klout)

As is obvious, this implied scope is completely partial to Twitter as Followers, Retweets etc are relevant to only Twitter. Question is, what happens then, to the content we share on other social media platforms? Shouldn’t there ideally be a way to take into account influence and interactions across all social platforms (including Pinterest) accurately? Also, going back to the image alongside, how do ‘Lists’ play a role in one’s Social Media Influence?? ‘Lists’ are just a convenient way for Twitter users to sort their feed. If I have 1,000 Lists on Twitter, how does it indicate my social influence? If anything, it indicates a degree of OCD in me, but I fail to see how having more Lists makes me more influential. Am I missing something here? If anyone knows of an actual relevance of ‘Lists’ to one’s Klout score, please feel free to leave a comment! (UPDATE: Vielen Dank to my fellow-blogger ladyfromhamburg for sharing some great information on this: The ‘Lists’ component of Klout’s definition of Influence shows the number of Lists one is a part of on Twitter. That sure makes more sense, and puts my Lists-related confusion to rest! Now if only Klout would take some inspiration and start decoding all these parameters and more on their site. :))

What further blurs the already fuzzy scheme of things, is the relative weightages assigned to the parameters used to define ‘Influence’. Shouldn’t Klout be a little more transparent about this, especially since it claims to be the “Standard of Influence” that is supposedly meant to empower people who share content online? Does the Klout score include sharing and amplification of content only? Then what is the relative importance of those respectively? For instance, basis what I noticed on my own Klout dashboard – Retweets and Replies seem to have a higher weightage than Mentions. Let me attempt decoding what that effectively means: Only if what you’re saying is being passed on, do you have influence. Okay, this could be partly true – but what about the other part of it where you also need to be listened to, to consider yourself as having some influence? What about all the new followers/subscribers/visits you add with every new piece of content you share? And what about the followers/subscribers you have retained over a period of time? Those people have chosen to stay connected with you as they see some value in it, and find your content interesting. Shouldn’t that account for something?

And what about all the metrics that tell you how many people actually click on the links you share to read your content? Shouldn’t those influence your Klout score as well? As an apparent disclaimer, Klout says in its FAQs: “The Klout score is a reflection of Influence, not activity.” Err, this doesn’t help their case, does it?

Nevertheless, all the anti-Klout sentiment aside – there are a couple of things about Klout that I do find pretty interesting. First, their Brand Squad feature. This basically helps brands identify their influencers and evangelists. This has SO much potential; and if they are able to throw in Sentiment Analysis and Blog-searching capabilities in here, this could potentially be a great one-stop shop social media measurement tool for Brands – one that Klout can actually hope to make some revenues off of.

The second feature that shows promise is – the Perks tool. Of course, in its current form and with its current targeting algorithm (or maybe the lack thereof), it’s fairly useless. But think about the tremendous potential Klout’s ‘Perks’ has: It could serve as Klouts’s very own advertising model to serve targeted offers based on content, influencers and influential topics; as well as retargeted promotions/offers from Brands.

Even so, all the potential genius behind these tools notwithstanding, the fact that remains is – Klout still has a long way to go. Sure, a handful of Social Media mavens may already be judging us on the basis of our Klout score, but it’s going to take Klout a lot many enhancements before it can be taken seriously as an accurate social media metric and a reliable measure of actual social CLOUT, or it won’t be soon before long that Klout has to bow out! (Just couldn’t resist that cheesy rhyme!)

Facebook and its Chairy faux pas

October 4, 2012 marked a milestone of sorts for the world of Social Media in general, and Facebook in particular. Facebook reached the magic 1 billion number in terms of total active users. To put the enormity of that number in perspective: that's 1/7th of the world's population, and almost as many people as in the entire country of India! And to think they were at half a billion users only two years ago - which means they added the other half in a mere two years; Google+, privacy issues, and the lackluster IPO notwithstanding.

Isn't this a brag-worthy achievement in itself? The fact that there's this intangible product that has touched the lives of a BILLION people across the world in such a way that it has become a ubiquitous part of their online social expression and communication - surely deserves mention?

If I were Mark Zuckerberg, I'd make sure this fact was celebrated and given due emphasis. Apart from the pure PR-worthiness of it, this is a milestone I would have definitely wanted to highlight in the first major mass-media campaign that I commission to mark the occasion. As opposed to digressing and comparing my thriving Social Network to a chair. Whether or not I am a Clint Eastwood fan.

But then, I'm not Mark Zuckerberg. So I can't help but wonder: what was he thinking?! I understand the noble underlying intention was to draw a parallel between Facebook and Chairs - in terms of their being ubiquitous in people's daily lives. But the approach and even the "big idea" leaves a lot to be desired. See the ad for yourself here.

And here's the voiceover copy, in verbatim:

"Chairs are made so that people can sit down and take a break. Anyone can sit on a chair, and if the chair is large enough, they can sit on it together and tell jokes, or make up stories, or just listen. Chairs are for people. And that is why Chairs are like Facebook."

Before you get a chance to let that last profound statement "...Chairs are like Facebook" sink in; the Ad goes on to include Doorbells, Airplanes, Bridges, even the cosmic Universe in the list of things Facebook is supposedly like. Again, I do get the noble intention they had of driving the point of "connecting people" home - but seriously, was this the only way to do it? Seriously, 'Chairs are for people and so is Facebook' - that's the best they could come up with? Heck, by that logic, even coffee (or beer, for that matter) is for people. And people share things over a cup of coffee (or a mug of beer). So Facebook's like coffee or beer too, right? Oh, wait. I see where they're going with this now: Facebook's like a chair, a cup of coffee, an airplane flying in the sky, a bridge between two sides of the river, and like the limitless Universe out there. Ohhh - Facebook's like everything in life itself. Wow. I think I have goosebumps. 

Okay, I should probably be a little kinder. All they're trying to say is: Facebook connects people. But you know something? Even Nokia made that point better, years ago. Which is why, I don't really get the point Facebook's trying to make through this Ad. Also, who exactly is the audience for this Ad? This isn't Year-One of Social Media or Facebook: We know how social networks work, and what they do. So here's a thought meant for the marketing guys at Facebook to hear: Why don't you simply focus on the fact that you're not just some social network anymore - you're an essential part of people's lives. Period.

And that's exactly why, Wieden + Kennedy Portland, I have to disagree with you. Facebook is NOT like a chair. A chair is something that's sitting somewhere in my room. Sure I use it, but I don't care about it so much. It's a chair, for God's sake! I could replace it, or sit on another chair. Are you then trying to tell me that Facebook is just like some piece of furniture, and as replaceable as a chair? Why would you want to proactively downgrade your status in the lives of your 1 billion active users? Speaking of whom; how come there's no mention of that milestone either - even as a tiny little baseline on the last screen of the Ad?

Must say, Google+ did a much better job with their Ads by talking about what they shrewdly knew were the best features of their network: An Ad focusing on their 'Circles' feature, and an Ad showcasing their 'Hangouts' feature. The fact that not as many people actually use Google+ actively, as do Facebook - is the topic of another blog post! But the point is, at least Google did a good job communicating their features to people who weren't aware, and they managed to present the technology aspect in a human way.

I'm not sure Facebook has managed to convey any of its features well at all. Sure, we don't really need to be educated about what Facebook does at this point in their lifecycle, but the 1-billion milestone deserved a muscle-flexing Ad reasserting their position not just in the world of social media, but in the daily lives of regular people. Unfortunately, the 'Chairs' campaign is far from asserting anything positive and is unlikely to do Brand Facebook any favor. And quite frankly, it seems like an internet meme just waiting to happen.