What Is the Point of: Klout?

by: Jon Mitchell


Whenever a new Web trend comes along, there are people who ask, “What is the point of this?” If millions of people are using something, there has to be a reason. In our What Is the Point of… series, we’ll explain it to you.

This week, we’re asking, What is the point of Klout?

Klout is a service that uses a secret algorithm to measure online influence. You connect it to the social networks you use, and it analyzes your activity and “engagement” – the interactions you have with other people on those networks – to determine your score. A Klout score is a public rating of how important Klout’s algorithm thinks you are on the Internet. That’s about it. It doesn’t take into account your job, education or real-world interactions.

Klout breaks down people’s online “influence” by topic, which should theoretically help you find interesting people to follow on topics you like. Most social networks do this, too, but Klout uses something called +K points.

Klout 55

If someone thinks you’re expert on a certain subject, they can visit your user page and award you +K points, which is supposed to further increase your “influence.” But like your overall score, it doesn’t have a lot of relevance outside of the Klout echo chamber.

Just search for “received +K in” on Twitter, and you’ll see people broadcasting their thanks to people who gave them +K in topics like real estate, boats, email marketing, food, and even Klout itself. They might be really proud of their +K, but their tweets aren’t “influencing” anyone, it’s a closed feedback loop. On top of that, people can give +K for intentionally wrong and hilarious things, which makes Klout scores look even more arbitrary.

But that hasn’t stopped Klout from becoming hugely popular, to a point where some companies will ignore a customer’s complaints unless their Klout score is so high that they’re likely to get the word out about how horrible the company is.

Social media influence is a real thing – surely, public social networks thrive on personality and popularity – but Klout is a nearly arbitrary scoreboard. For marketers and other people who care about segmenting the population, like maybe government agencies, Klout is a nice tool for aggregating clumps of people into various tiers of “importance.”

But for individual users, it’s just uncomfortable. Imagine if people had popularity numbers floating above their heads in high school. That wouldn’t exactly improve the atmosphere.

In other words, there is no point of Klout, at least for normal people. If you just want to have conversations on the Internet like a human being, you should probably mute it, block it and avoid it entirely.

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