What does Klout buy you?

I was pretty popular in high school. Not Justin Beiber popular, but everyone seemed to know my name and remembered me. I was even voted Vice President of my senior class. It’s amazing what a name like Frantz in upstate New York can do for you. Well that, and throwing the biggest non-parent sanctioned party my high school had ever seen. But I never could turn that popularity into a sustained movement or the ability to make money or get free stuff.

In 2012, there is a way to leverage your social popularity to do just that. That process is by improving your Klout score and using your social capital on your followers. Companies like Klout use a mechanism that ascertains your social “Klout” score based on an algorithm that incorporates the number of Twitter followers, Facebook friends, Foursquare posts, Blog followers, Google+ friends, and LinkedIn connections you have. Klout puts all of this information into a magic pot and comes out with an assigned number from 0-100 that tells you how socially popular you are in the digital world. Other factors like your Youtube page and video views, Tumblr, Pinterest and Instagram followers will also be used to get a more accurate number on the breadth of your social influence.

Klout can also get more granular, and gauge how influential you are in Klout topics through a +K mechanism. Based on this score, companies are willing to give you free stuff, pay you to push their products, and if you work in marketing or advertising it may influence whether or not you will get a job. It is the credit rating score for the web and the world of social. I am waiting for the FreeKloutScore.com commercials to be produced. And just like a credit score you can do specific things to try and improve it, even though most regular people have no idea how that number is ascertained.

This brings up some morally ambiguous questions to be posed: Should I build my twitter following, get more readers to my blog, collect a huge number of Facebook fans or make a provocative YouTube video that gets a lot of shares and comments to drive up my Klout score? And after you build this score what do you use this social capital on? When I build my credit score I am able to cash in and get a great rate on a car loan or get the Black Visa card and its privileges. Now I can use my social influence and cash in on my reach for companies in order to get free stuff. For this reason I am considering building my Klout score so I can be considered an influencer in things I am interested in like: comic book movies, sports, and media (add +K right here: http://klout.com/#/roicayo). I would love to parlay my influence into free tickets to events at the Barclay Center, a free trip to Comicon or tickets to the @Avengers premiere at the TriBeCa film festival.

I have a decent Klout score (53 as of this writing) mainly due to my over 1,000 Facebook friends, but just like in high school, I have my doubts that I can truly mobilize my minions to make a significant impact on a brand or product launch. So what exactly can this Klout score get me and more importantly for Brands, what does it buy them? As Brand X, if I’m basing your influence on a Klout score, I want to ensure that you are not just collecting fans or followers but that these people actually care about what you have to say and will take action because of it (purchase cellular service, go to a movie, buy an energy drink). At the end of the day brands are more interested in your actionable influence as opposed to how popular you are. And this is one of the flaws in Klout. It does not truly gauge your true social influence but more your social popularity. And being popular does not necessarily mean you are influential. Yes, I know who Dwayne “@TheRock” Johnson is and I follow him on Twitter and will watch his movies (have you seen Fast 5? It’s wonderful!) but it does not mean that I will purchase a product he endorses. I am more likely to listen to my good friends from college than a celebrity endorser or influencer. But brands are betting on influencers to do this job for them and they want to find the right influencer for their brand.

When I worked at @RedBull one of my mandates was to collect influencers who would become “friends” of the brand and then talk about us amongst their circles of influence. The old mantra that it is better to have others talks about you then to talk about yourself was paramount. We wanted athletes, musicians and artists that embodied the attributes of the brand in our program. People who loved the product. This program went beyond just their social influence but centered on their overall real world influence. The 21st century expansion of this concept has gone social as Red Bull is the first brand to set up a brand page on Klout (nice one @Adnys to be a thought leader) and collect people who are +K influential about Red Bull (as reported by Mashable). They hope to use these people’s social currency to promote the Red Bull lifestyle and products socially. In exchange they receive the Red Bulletin for free and free Red Bull Zero as a Perk. But what is Red Bull getting from this play? Are these people truly influencers who can engage people with Red Bull or are they simply popular and/or have learned how to game the social graph system and collected tons of fans the same way I used to collect comic books and baseball cards (the ROI on these investments did not turn out the way I had planned and thus I am writing this blog)? And that is the question that all brands need to ask themselves as they use @Klout or @PeerIndex or @TwtMob to gather their influencers. Are these people simply socially popular or do they carry a certain amount of influence to actually sell your products and create actionable decisions? Because if they can’t then the money you spend to activate these people will never correspond to the return you will receive.

When we used Klout to promote the #4GTweets Twitter race our goal was to provide a Perk to engage tech and mobile influencers with over a 50 Klout score to not only enter the contest but also to also drive traffic to a hubsite that promoted T-mobiles 4G network. The ROI for this program was impressions and page views and I believe Klout (and Twitter for that matter) could provide that solution. I will need to re-examine how we would engage with Klout influencers if the KPI was phone sales. That is the next step for these companies, to help ascertain numbers beyond popularity but a true influence score. So I will reserve judgement on these services until I can test their effect on program ROI or until I am able to finagle my free trip to Comicon and meet Joss Whedon.

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