Clout is in the Eye of the Beholder

Clout is an important thing to have.
Klout can be a fun thing to have.

Clout is the ability to influence, and get things done.
Klout purports to be a measure of your online influence.

Presumably, the more Clout you have in real life, the more Klout you’ll have online. And just like in real life, it turns out that we’re all influential in different things.

(Post now updated to include video)

What Klout is trying to do is admirable, in a way. But at times the execution will be off.

Because of my online connections, Klout seems to think I have sway in the areas of communications and social media. As such, I qualify for the occasional “Perk,” a freebie that I can try out with no strings attached, with the hopes that I might write about it or review it favorably.

Klout is very careful to communicate the complete lack of a quid pro quo, so this isn’t a complaint about that. They are also very responsive. I got a defective Weather Channel umbrella in the mail, and within a week they sent a working one.

No, this is a cautionary tale about using Klout to promote.

Gadget Geek

If you know me at all, you know I love gadgets. And I have been particularly intrigued with what Microsoft has been up to with its new Windows Phone platform. It is stunning in its beauty, simplicity, and functionality. As far as I am concerned, you can keep your iPhones and Androids. I’ve even talked friends into trying Windows Phone out — one bought a unit off eBay and probably would still be using it, but his company IT department wanted everyone on iPhones.

I am a Windows Phone enthusiast.

That’s why I was excited when my friend Joe told me about what was on his Facebook wall:



Apparently, my influence in the realm of Technology and Gadgets was high enough to warrant a nice Perk. I was looking forward to checking out a new device, and either getting my wife onto a Windows Phone, or using it as a loaner to friends who want to try one out. I was excited to log into Klout, and after accepting the perk and entering in my home address, I saw this:

Then, the details for claiming it:

Notice that it says that my phone is on the way, and then to be sure to RSVP for the party.

(I blacked out the URL and the code, as I don’t want to cause problems.)

Wires Crossed

Well, a few days later I received this:

Hi Ike,

Thanks for being part of Klout Perks! We see that you had signed up for the Windows Phone Perk,  but upon further review we found that you are not in the New York City area.The Windows Phone Perk is meant for influencers in the NYC area as the event is New York City. However, the Windows Phone event will be hitting other cities soon, so please stay tuned for something in your area.-The Klout Perks Team 



I can understand that.

But boy, the whole process seemed rather poorly-worded. They took all of my information, only to then determine that I was not eligible?

I can forgive that.

Dropped Connection

I do have a problem, though, with the way it was pitched to Joe. My friend Joe got a notice on his wall that said I had earned the Perk — they used my name and my reputation to make a pitch to a friend of mine. They never did their homework about residency requirements, either. (I mean, I know I live in Alabama and everything, but I have many hip and trendy friends in New York City who actually turn to me for advice about technology, communications and social media. Or at least I thought I influenced them…)

I certainly hope Klout learns its lessons — the notion of Online Influence is an important one as traditional advertising models assumptions continue their implosion. If Klout doesn’t get it right, someone else will. Klout’s first-mover advantage in the space can be spoiled if people get the idea that they aren’t people anymore, but instead are just an arbitrary computation of tweets, retweets and engagements.

Clout means being able to influence, to inspire.
Clout means having the assurance you can gather others to get the job done.
Clout means never having to say you’re sorry, but doing it anyway because it’s the right thing to do.

I have received the following from Klout:

  • Weather Channel umbrella
  • 6 bags of Pop Chips, with coupons
  • A DVD of “Men of a Certain Age”
  • A $10 card for Subway


The incredible Rich Becker referenced a video from the Wall Street Journal blogs. I present it below, for as long as they’ll host it.

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  1. Ike,

    It seems to me what Klout says it is trying to do … is not what Klout is trying to do.

    What Klout says it is trying to do is build a social media “influence” measurement system. But what Klout is really trying to do is build a vanity system that has influence over the participants, complete with some advocates in social media as hidden allies.

    It’s dangerous, not admirable. Not dangerous in their perk games, even if your post shows how it might fall short. But dangerous in how some people are using it, including as a portion of students grades. The more one knows about Klout, the more one doesn’t want to know Klout.

    All my best,

    • Rich, like you I am wary of what Klout could become… And even wary of what it is likely to become on this course.

      If it continues to have issues like this one, however, you won’t have to worry about Klout gaining traction and credibility.

  2. Twitalyzer, albeit without the free stuff, is a much more effective measure of online influence, imo. However, one is a subscription model and the other is ad/perk revenue driven, and of course people flock to Klout for the stuff (and due to the persistent urging to tweet/post interactions with the service).

    I can absolutely agree, though, about the customer service. They’re committed to getting it right, and that can go a long way.

    • IF they get it right.

      They did, with my broken umbrella.

      They didn’t with a targeted phone offer that was misleading.

  3. My problem is that Klout also seems to reward you with more Klout points the more you utilize Klout and encourage others to do so. I may not prefer to use Klout on a daily basis and I certainly don’t want to spam my friends with Klouty tweets – but that doesn’t mean I don’t have clout.

    • I’m okay with the idea gaming that sharing behavior, or incentivizing it, as long as it is transparent.

      Inviting ME to share a perk with my friends is fine.

      I wasn’t invited in this case, and it makes me wonder how many other times I’ve been used to promote products (that I may not be as passionate about as Windows Phone.)

  4. Ike,

    If you have not, you really need to see that WSJ video. Then you will see it already is dangerous. Even evil.


  5. Great thoughts, Ike. And I agree with you. From the earliest days, Klout has been focused on “influencers” – people who have high numbers of followers and conversations with other people who have high numbers of followers, and not about really defining “influence.” As we both know, someone can be highly influential, but have a few number of followers on Twitter.

    Like you, I believe that an influence measurement system is important – and will continue to be a focus, especially for brands, and I get that. But it alarms me to hear that people don’t get jobs based on a Klout score deemed not high enough, college students being told to focus on Klout scores, and the like. It is NOT a perfect measurement, and those who look to it as such are very ill-informed. Unfortunately, it is oft those ill-informed who are making decisions – and that stinks.

    I use a combination of tools, including Klout, PeerIndex, Twitalyzer (whose founders I love and who have GREAT customer service) and several others. Today, no one is wholly accurate, but I believe that using many and then analyzing a variety of results helps me get closer, on behalf of my clients, to a true assessment.

    I loathe the fact that that message was posted to your Facebook wall and I can’t imagine any way that a brand could alienate me more rapidly. That REALLY stinks.

    Now I need to go find the WSJ video that Richard mentions.

    Thanks for pointing me to this post – I’d missed it the first time around and I’m always happier when I get to see your brain in action. Mostly.

    Your pal,


    • Thanks…

      The funny thing about this whole episode is that nothing could turn me away from being a brand advocate for Windows Phone. I love my Samsung Focus, and I would have likely lent it out to a variety of friends to try it out — which is exactly the sort of behavior that I would think Microsoft would have dreamed about from its Klout participation.

      Shelly, you’re a peach.

      And by that, I mean “sweet and good-for-you,” not “jaundiced and fuzzy.”

  6. This is a great case study. You would think that with all of the information they are pulling they could have gotten location right.

    They are using the same contextual advertising as Facebook but not allowing you to opt out of it (up until now Facebook has allowed you to do so if you know the secret passcode and have a map to get there).

    As a marketer this seems a dream, but as a human being this seems the worst kind of exploitation.

    • And as I mentioned to Shelly, the irony is that I would be a MUCH better advocate for the product than anyone they are inviting in New York City.

      Want proof? Shel Holtz talked about his Windows Phone experience on the FIR podcast. (Listen starting at the 48-minute mark.)

  7. I love this analysis Ike. Scientific methodologies that lack science are a slippery slope, especially when they focus on that which can’t be measured, i.e. a subjective construct like influence. As a society, we place an inordinate amount of attention on fame (or infamy), influence and celebrity without truly examining the drivers of that attention. The fishbowl magnifies this behavior to the nth degree.” My beef with Klout and other false idols is that as soon as they fade, another shiny measure comes along to replace them. And rarely are the measures or the people worthy of the attention that they garner and garnish. Thanks for a provocative post.

    • You are most welcome, Liz.

      And I think you have tapped into a very subtle point here, regarding the “sciencification” of subjective things. (Stephen Colbert, I beat you to that one.)

      Wrapping spurious arguments or statistics in a shroud of algorithm and process does not make them any more valid, a full 73.38 percent of the time.

  8. Wait – people actually want a Windows Phone? Even for free?? 😉

    I’m just surprised they can’t decipher that someone is outside a location, based on the information we know they have (looking at the source code on Klout profiles). Or, if they don’t have it, have some sort of system where they can identify your location (heck, systems far less tech savvy than Klout can do that).

    And, as many others have said, if brands are looking to give to influencers to spread the message via Klout (or any other platform), they best make sure it’s accurate information that Klout is providing.

    Which – at this minute in time – is questionable.

    Cheers, sir.

    • Yes, Danny. The Windows Phone really is that good. (I am not a paid endorser, nor have I received anything from the company.)

      They started from scratch, and built a phone that puts the people first. Imagine that — the Danny Brown in my phone pulls in ALL of Danny Brown, tweets, texts, posts, emails, pictures, everything all in one place. The interface is fluid, and it’s really easy to get done what you need to get done without hunting through screens of apps.

      I got Stacey Hood to try it, and he really liked it… but his company would only reimburse for an iPhone. Ugh.

      I got Shel Holtz to try one, and he is really enjoying it.

      I would figure out a way to hook you up, but your initials are not S.H.

      Back to the Klout issue — it does seem rather short-sighted that they would let someone get all the way through to a message confirming “the phone is on the way!” without verification and vetting. There was nothing in the wall post nor in my signup that indicated that New York residency was a requirement. All they had to do was allow people to sign up, and then indicate there would be a verification. I could have walked away from that respecting their decision.

  9. In their FAQ section How do you choose who gets Perks, there’s the following:

    “Perks are distributed to select influencers based on their topics of authority, location and score.”

    And under I meet the criteria displayed by the perk, why am I being told that I’m ineligible?:

    “Sometimes there are more specific criteria under the hood, such as a precise zip code or neighborhood.”

    So you’re totally at the mercy of whoever happens to be on the perk-decision shift today. And did anyone outside the US get any perks anyway?

    • I understand the requirements… you’d just think they would actually make sure you meet them before displaying messages like “Your phone is on its way!”

  10. Thanks for this great case study, Ike. This adds to this week’s line-up of significant Klout fumbles including:

    1. Automatic, involuntary profile posting of <13 year old kids of Klout members, representing potential privacy invasion. See:

    2. Of significance to brands, Ad Age's article on potential conflict of Klout Perk disclosure and the FTC blogger disclosure rules.

    In short, continuing inaccuracies, (of which i wrote a summary of on my blog in the past) privacy insensitivity and now possibly FTC-related questions are part and parcel of Klout's still prioritizing marketing over science.

    From their highly likable and truly responsive CEO, we continue to get assurances that greater efforts on accuracy are well nigh. I see instead marketing aggressiveness which puts them right on the technical fault line of now even FTC issues. Overall, this is not a good picture of appropriate rigor or demeanor for "The Standard of Influence", aka a measurement company.

    Klout likes to liken themselves after A.C Nielsen and other measurement companies – which never had anything comparable ( to my knowledge) of a Klout Perks Program feeding into their measurement system. Frankly, I am beginning to believe there is a conflict in hosting a Perks program and pursuing a scientifically accurate influence measurement program. Love to hear your thoughts on this.

    • You raise an excellent issue… can they be the Platypus?

      I don’t think there is a viable business model in being the Nielsen of the Web… too many people used to free services, and no good means of micropayments to make it happen from the ground up.

      Now, if Klout migrated to a model where companies paid to find the topical influencers, maybe. But you’re right that Klout being in the middle of the Perk mechanism tends to give it incentives to behave in a manner that doesn’t befit the research/aggregation function.

      (I have long said that the value in Twitter and Foursquare and other networks is buried deep in the data, studying trends and discovering new correlations that give a real predictive quality. See this post for an example.)


  1. […] of at least $200 million. And it looks as though the marketing is very hard nosed indeed as Ike Pigott’s experience clearly […]

  2. […] targeting influencers and offering Klout Perks, free stuff designed to excite the influencer and encourage online word of mouth activity. Klout perks vary depending on the brand’s campaign objective and desired user […]

  3. […] you pointed out in an earlier blog post, the phone promotion was only available to influencers in the New York City area. When we […]