Klout is FarmVille for grown-ups

Klout is a social app that aggregates your social media/network data and gives you a score based on your activity. You can connect with your Twitter or Facebook account, and then link other networks to your account. The higher your score, the more ‘influential’ you are.

In June 2011 I was re-tweeted once by @Wired – my Klout score rocketed as my account was exposed to all the people who follow Wired on Twitter, and I got some follow on re-tweets. I was famous! Well, not quite, but this boost was short-lived, and a month later my Klout score had dive-bombed back to normal levels, leaving a gaping hole in my ego. Silly competition with friends and coworkers has seen me increase my score steadily – but the cost has been my online life turning into a giant game of FarmVille.

Klout says it exists to measure your influence online, and in some ways it achieves this. But its real success is rather that it turns your online life into a frantic competition; one where you are rewarded for posting popular things on social networks, and punished for time off or talking about niche interests. Be consistently popular or your score will drop!

Klout also makes deals with companies who offer perks to Klout users with higher scores (the higher the score, the better the perk), so your popularity can get you stuff. Like Farmville, Klout needs constant attention, and requires you to use your social contacts to succeed.

How Klout can change you

Social networks are pretty flexible things, and you can make of them what you want. Maybe you just use Facebook to keep up with friends and family, or maybe you are more into it, creating events and posting your thoughts, photos, videos and everything else the platform offers. Similarly for Twitter – there are various ways to use it, and doing so passively can be as valuable for some people as being a heavy tweeter is for others.

I’ve been on Klout for a while now, and I’ve noticed it can turn your Facebook and Twitter activity pretty cynical, pretty quickly. Your Klout score increases when more people comment on your Facebook posts, give you ‘likes’, retweet and mention you, or give you Google +1s. Join Klout, and you may find you start fishing for these:

Instead of doing whatever you want on social networks, you’ll design your interactions with Klout in mind: be controversial, comment more, do things you know will get you interactions from friends and followers. Nothing going on? Stick an Instagram picture on Facebook, and watch as your poor friends inadvertently feed your addiction and boost your Klout score. Yes, I have done that.

We should use social networks how and when we want. Attaching a score to them and rewarding the ‘winners’ turns something useful into a competition. It’s quite natural that if you grade someone, they will compare themselves with others and want to improve. This doesn’t really help you make meaningful use of social networks, unless you think trolling your connections for interaction is meaningful.

Celebrities: influential by default

Celebrities on Klout are invariably experts on topics as fascinating as themselves (seriously), and while they are certainly popular no one could credibly say Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber are posting anything particularly original or insightful. But to Klout, by sheer popularity alone, they are ranked highest. Now I’m not saying I would expect a score that high, but there are people out there who are much better on social media platforms than top ranking celebrities.

Just like Twitter’s trending topics and Google+’s Explore, the biggest Klout scorers are pretty vapid and dull. The top ten Klout scores are all celebrities with lots of fans – not necessarily people who post interesting, original or influential things.

Klout is fun, I’ll admit that, but as Wired noted recently, people are starting to take it seriously. Having a high Klout score shouldn’t mean hotels treat you differently for fear of your influence on Facebook, and employers shouldn’t be taking it seriously when hiring. Also, I should not be thinking about getting a puppy for all the cute and popular photos I would be able to put on Facebook to boost my Klout score.

What do you think about Klout?

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