Like just about anyone and everyone who writes about social media, I am going to jump in with a point of view on the reports that Klout will be acquired for $100m by Lithium.

I’ve written about Klout before, back in 2011 in this post “They don’t want your name, just your number” and my caution remains.

While I completely understand the noble aim to put value on a community, to understand the movers and shakers within that community and who could be your sneezers (as Seth Godin describes your vocal advocates) – has Klout really achieved this, making it the jewel of social influence that a $100m valuation would suggest?

As I shared in that post in 2011, what scares me is that people pay attention to Klout scores – people are making decisions about people based on these numbers.

For example I worked with some folks that used Klout as a way to asses the qualities of an external writer for a blog, their process threw up someone with a decent Klout score and were therefore highly recommended.

The “writer” was then hired, the writing was terrible and it’s at this point they found that they could not find a single piece of original content by this “author”. The prospective “writer” had built their blog, their Twitter following and credibility by only curating and sharing the work of others.

Their Klout score was completely and I mean COMPLETELY useless for the purpose of discovering authority.

In this case it ONLY tells you that someone can amplify something not that they are an influential authority on something specific. Maybe the word ‘Klout” sets a wrong expectation.

Yes, I take a look at my Klout score from time to time, I ‘m usually hovering between 55/60 (just like just about everyone else that I know that isn’t some superstar and has a fairly healthy and regular relationship with social media).

Once I noticed that my Klout had taken a bit of dip, I discovered that my Facebook account had become disconnected from Klout and once I reconnected I was back to my steady number. This demonstrates what an imprecise and clumsy tool it is to measure real clout.

For example – I wish my wife happy birthday on Facebook, lots of friends and family like it and comment – this influential event then contributes to my score.

Does this have a direct correlation on how influential I am professionally?

No, you’ve crossed the streams, the “Facebook me” has no correlation with how much of an authority I am on “Content Management Systems” or “Customer Experience”, the topics  that Klout associates me with (pretty accurately to be fair).

Then, lets take a look at some of the signals of influence and authority it does not measure. Maybe you have a popular and much shared blog, but you barely ever share your thoughts on Facebook or Twitter. Klout will reward the sharers, not you the original source, not the authority.

OK, so maybe I am harping on about authority and maybe that’s not really what Klout is for, it’s just what people have overlaid onto these scores (and the word Klout).

Maybe we should look at it as a measure of curation and amplification .. but still.… basically you have a tool that can tell you, perhaps to some accuracy how active someone is on social media and whether some people (any people) interact with them about err.. something.

As a marketer is that helpful to me? Well.. a bit, I guess, I can find noisy people – but does it deliver the precision it promises? To deliver me with useful and relevant influencers? Those people that are going to engage with and share my message. I don’t think so.

If I run a community, to know I have good amplification, content sharing, curation and social reach is also great, but I have no way through Klout scores alone of knowing if this amplification is helpful – if the content is what my community cares about.

Also – if we agree that Klout just rewards social activity, not authority – could it be that an employee with a high score could be a bad hire?

That they just share popular Facebook updates about Kim Kardashian or dancing, piano playing kittens with a big groups of like minded folks?

Playing into the hands of the Luddites that think social media professionals sit around on Facebook all day.  

Ah.. yes..  piano playing kittens, reminds me of similar caution I have for web analytics that I often share – for example here in Website Magazine.

One thing I would say on that though is that those metrics should be considered very carefully as they can be divisive and drive skewed behavior not in-line with the broader business objectives. If for example you measure website hits, then why not just publish a video of a cat playing the piano on your homepage? Because that’s not necessarily going to drive sales of widgets or raise brand awareness of you being a serious law firm.

I’ve digressed to a general point about marketing metrics – they can be gamed, they drive behavior and it’s the same with Klout.

Back to the reported acquisition, the valuation aside – the idea is delicious, for a community tool to pick up someone that measures the value of that community – not only for their own purposes but to own the well that sits on top of this most recognized resource of social authority and influence.

But… is it that?

I leave you with this quote, from the Millennial CEO blog

Now if someone could only come up with an influence platform that really helped brands find those that can move the needle; that just may be a billion dollar idea.

Please read that article and the comments, it’s worth a read.

Also stop by Fierce Content Management and their commentary which inspired me to write this post, as I started writing a comment over there and that became this.

Agree? Disagree? I’d love to hear it…