After Valentina Monte accepts a date, the Boston University junior quickly goes online to see how many Twitter followers her suitor has. She checks her own follower count three times a day. When she meets someone who admits to following more people than follow him, she judges. “That means you’re a loser.”
So when her Klout score hit an impressive 59 out of 100 recently, making it almost as high as Jay Leno's score of 65, she was ecstatic. “I felt worthy.”
Klout score? Learn it or, as Monte would say, be judged. Klout.com is one of a number of new status-measuring tools aimed at making social networking more like high school than it already is. Sites such as Klout and PeerIndex.net take public information from Twitter, and sometimes Facebook and LinkedIn, to determine a person's influence on social media. Anyone can check her score or a rival's by going to one of the sites and putting in her Twitter handle.
Virtual reality: Online following has a real impact.
The companies use secret algorithms that go beyond simple numbers of followers—which can be bought in bulk—or friends or fans, and count retweets, the number of links clicked, and even how influential one’s followers are, among other indicators.
“A credit score for your reputation,” is how Dave Wieneke, director of digital marketing at Sokolove Law in Boston, US, describes the Klout score.
Although many don’t know enough to worry about their Klout scores, for those keeping track it can be one more ego boost or slap. “There’s a lot of emotion around this," says Mark Schaefer, author of The Tao of Twitter: Changing your Life and Business 140 Characters at a Time. “Generally it comes from people who have a low Klout score.”
Garth Holsinger, vice-president of global sales and business development at the San Francisco-based Klout, sees the desperation on a daily basis. “People call and say, ‘I work in social media, and I’m going to lose my job if my score doesn’t rise.’ We get celebrity managers asking how they can get their clients' scores higher. We get people who are literally crying because their Klout score went down.”
The stakes may only rise, Klout-wise. The company, which was founded in 2008, recently raised $8.5 million (around Rs 38 crore) in new funding and said it plans to measure influence in more social networks—and beyond, to capture industry leaders who don't bother tweeting or friending people.
Schaefer, an adjunct professor of marketing at Rutgers University, says the new score-keeping tools create a “disturbing” social media caste system that he dislikes. But, he adds, “from a marketeer’s standpoint, they’re a dream”.
Indeed, the Klout score has already jumped from the online world into the real one. As Advertising Age magazine wrote in September: “Need a Reservation? That Could Depend on How Big You are on Twitter (Really).”
Of course, no one enjoys being kept behind the virtual velvet rope. When the corporate sponsors of a holiday party hosted by social media entrepreneur Peter Shankman invited many guests based on Klout scores, the snubbed were not happy. Shankman expected “whiners”, he wrote on his blog, and he did get complaints. “They’re stomping their little feet.” If they want to be seen as more influential, he said later, “they need to post more interesting, more engaging things.”
Even as the low scorers complain about unfairness, Augie Ray, a senior analyst with Forrester Research, predicts an increase in both the number of firms doing social measuring and the number of places where one's ranking will matter.
“Companies have always provided different levels of service, depending on how much money a customer spends, or how recently they’ve bought something,” he says. “Now we’re seeing a change where an individual’s level of influence also has to be taken into account. There’s a lot of buzz about whether it’s fair or not, but I don’t know how much fair has to do with it. A company can afford to anger a customer with a Klout score of 15 but probably can’t anger someone with a Klout score of 95.”
Indeed, with more hotels interested in Klout scores, Holsinger says the new question upon check-in will not be: “May we have your email address?” but rather: “What’s your Twitter name?” “If your score is 60 or above, they will upgrade you.”
But even those who criticize the measuring sites as imperfect still want a good score. Wieneke, who blogs about the future of digital marketing, has serious privacy concerns about giving Klout access to his Facebook and LinkedIn accounts, but he’s tempted to allow access in the hope that it will raise his score by providing a fuller picture of his influence.
“Ten points would be pretty nice,” he says, speculating on a potential boost. “It counts as social proof.”
Perhaps the best thing about having a high Klout score is that it allows one to be blase. That’s the approach taken by Internet marketing guru Chris Brogan, co-author of the best-selling Trust Agents—and a man with 170,000 Twitter followers.
Brogan has one of the highest Klout scores in Boston—76.4, only about two-tenths of a point behind basketball player Shaquille O’Neal. When he meets someone who’s impressed by that score, he feels bad for the person, he says. “I’d rather be measured by something other than a set of numbers a software company thought of one day.”
©2011/The New York Times
Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org