Business Technology

3 Reasons Klout’s Algorithm Is Bogus

Labeling itself “The Standard for Influence,” Klout has worked to become a relevant influence-measurement tool for businesses and individuals.

While every marketer would love a way to quantify social media influence, is there really any substance behind Klout’s numbers? Does a high (or low) Klout score really have an impact on whether you can influence others’ behavior — or is Klout simply an imprecise measurement of one’s social media prowess? Here are three reasons Klout’s algorithm is probably more alchemy than science.

Measuring the Wrong Things

A pie chart graphic from

One of the main problems of Klout is that it relies on third-party APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) to get data from the networks it scans — and those APIs have limits. A good example of where this falls short is that Klout has no way to monitor click-through rates. The service has no way of knowing what volume of traffic flows through the items a member posts, or if these posts actually lead to any action offline. How can a service claim to monitor influence adequately with such a huge blind spot?

Another issue is what Klout actually tracks and how it tracks it. With Twitter, scores are determined by monitoring things like follower counts, mentions, and retweets. However, it doesn’t give credit very well for those using Twitter’s native retweet system. When a member retweets something, Klout gives credit back to the original account, even if another user’s retweet exposed it to a larger audience.

Some Twitter members don’t like this and have devised ways to game Klout’s handling of this metric. These individuals choose to use the older manual “RT @name” style retweets instead of the native Twitter system. This way, when the post is retweeted by their audiences, they get the score boost and increased visibility instead of the original user. This is essentially a way of stealing influence, and Klout’s algorithm (as it is today) encourages it.

An Ever-Shifting House of Cards

Image credit: Peter Roberts

In February of last year, an infographic made the rounds on the web highlighting a Justin Bieber Twitter spam account with an astoundingly high Klout score. This illustrated some major flaws with Klout and served to embarrass the company briefly.

To combat the loss of confidence in its service, Klout has attempted to iterate and improve its scoring dramatically over the past year. However, it has often done this without notice or explanation. It was not uncommon for members to log in and find that their scores had plummeted by tens of points without explanation. These changes, while aimed at improving the service, essentially stomped all over Klout’s credibility and gave the company a boy-who-cried-wolf reputation with each new algorithm upgrade.

Perhaps most damning is the way Klout has de-emphasized and removed certain metrics in its latest redesign. For example, the latest revision has removed things like user classifications and score analysis. The company has even hidden the ability to track changes to certain metrics over time. If Klout felt more confident in its algorithm, it would expose more of this data, not less.

Topical Misunderstanding

Klout’s system of topics are, in many cases, baffling. For example, having one tweet including the words “Paparazzi” and “Matt Damon” retweeted by someone Klout deems of greater influence can get you labeled as influential on those topics. This can happen despite that tweet being the only time you ever mention those topics. It doesn’t matter if you have many other tweets pertaining to broader topics, such as politics or technology, that achieve a broader reach.

It appears that Klout matches its “topics” to keywords used in social media posts alone, instead of using actual, objective, topics. It also appears that Klout’s algorithm is not smart enough to understand and classify posts based on context—without the usage of such keywords directly. These are some of the flaws of automation. Algorithms cannot understand things like sarcasm and tone, and they have an especially hard time with nuances of language and meaning that only humans would pick up.

At the end of the day, Klout is trying to quantify something as inherently subjective as influence. But while some metrics can be helpful to understand audience reach, influence cannot be distilled into a single number. While Klout’s promise is tantalizing for marketers, it will always need to rely on a certain amount of assumption and fabrication to seem legit, thus leading its value to be questionable at best, and bogus at worst.


Personal Branding: Not a new concept.

I’ve had a few conversations recently around the topic of “personal brands.” Most recently, last Monday with some friends, Daniel, Tim, and Rebecca.

There has been a lot of buzz recently around the term “personal brand.” In our discussion last week, I posed the question: In a few years, do you think we’ll still have big PR agencies, or will personal brands replace those of the agencies? Perhaps we will have smaller teams organized and managed by one high profile individual to represent clients. Competing heavily against the established industry.

Daniel makes this point well when he talks about the companies Chris Brogan represents, and he points out big agencies have taken notice. Edelman has by hiring people like David Armano.

But is there a risk involved in big agencies hiring these people? (I don’t mean to imply anything against David, he’s just the first name that came to mind.) These days there are some people with such high profile personal brands that they already eclipse their employers. Sure it’s great that a firm has a personal branding rockstar working for them, and it brings them attention, but in the end, are they working for the company, or are they working for themselves? When they leave, will their clients follow?

I want to pose another perspective entirely, however: This is nothing new.

Look at the names of some of the oldest most successful brands in marketing/advertising/PR. Names like Leo Burnett and Daniel J. Edelman come to mind.

Weren’t these men, in their respective fields, the personal brands of their times? Is the role of a personal branding ‘superstar’ really anything different now than what we see Don Draper doing on Mad Men with his business moves (minus the drinking and sex)? Sure we didn’t have things like Twitter back then, but names were known throughout their industries anyway without “social media.”

If there is anything different these days, it’s that social media has given us more control over our reputation than ever, and a “personal brand” is little more than a modern-day extrapolation of a good reputation. It’s really not the giant shift everyone makes it out to be; we’re just confronted by it more clearly now. The real topic is the accessibility of powerful technology in our daily lives.

Sure we’re dazzled by these individuals now, and they are doing remarkable things, but the role of superstar has always been there and always will be. Some people are destined to climb to the top of their industries. What we call “having a good personal brand” now is no different than being at the top of your game 60 years ago. We’ve just found a new label for it.



screenshot of sinnermanensemble.orgToday I put the wraps on a project that has been ongoing for about a year now. While the delays on both ends were frustrating I’m very proud to announce that I have completed my work on the new website.

For those unfamiliar with Sinnerman, they are an amazingly talented up and coming theater group here in Chicago. Their performances of The Incredibly Famous Willy Rivers and most recently their production of their original piece Sweet Confinement have both been met with huge success and critical acclaim.

I am proud to have worked with them and to finally be able to launch this site.

It’s worth noting that the group has plans to do some exciting things with social media that I don’t think any other theater companies have tapped into yet. Including a Twitter Account and a Flickr page.

Stay tuned to Sinnerman’s blog for more info. They have a new show planned for March with a working title of “Bible B-Sides” that will run from March 23rd 2009-April 25th 2009 at the Viaduct Theater. I wish them all the luck in the world.