I have no issue with a company creating a better mousetrap, or a better way of rating mousetraps. In the case of Klout, and their recalculations of social influence scores, the problem is implementation, not refinement. And that brings me to some other issues with Klout.
What I didn’t like about Klout’s recalculation is that it went forward only. What they should have done is normalized their historical data, and since they didn’t do that, I have reason to doubt their historical data. If the algorithm is better today than it was yesterday, then it is also better against yesterday’s data, not just today’s data. I would have been fine with a rational explanation of how my score changed completely, but not with the:
OOPS message that broadcasted to me that my influence had gone down, precipitously, by 11 points in one day.
From the customer perspective, this was completely mishandled. If Klout was as big a play as Netflix, this would be right up there with some worst recent communications from the embattled video distributor.
What Klout should have said is "your entire Klout history has been recalculated and you have a new score based on a refined model. Your Klout score has remained consistent relative to other except where the calculations were refined. Please click here for a detailed analysis of how your Klout score has been recalculated across all dimensions.
Whenever an executive says that "We believe our users will be pleased with the improvements we’ve made." (from Oct 19, 2011 Klout blog post: A New Era for Klout Scores) ahead of an announcement, be cautious. More often than not this is the company’s way of presaging discomfort that they haven’t really gauged for changes they haven’t really tested for perceived value.
I am currently working on analysis of influence scores, and I have to say, this is another example of a lack of transparency in the process. I don’t care that company’s "explain" the change, what they haven’t really explained is what a Klout score is and why it matters in the first place. I’m still waiting for why Klout matters to me beyond gaming the system for perks. We have a human need it appears, to see how we perform against peers in a category that matters to us. So social butterflies of the web have starting circling Klout like some mighty flame of credibility. Unfortunately, Klout is a black box. If Klout was a user-oriented tool, then it would provide me with deep insight into my network as well as clear analysis of how my various channels are performing against each other. It would be an analytics tools to help me manage my social network to achieve my goals, not a black box that may help others achieve their goals. If you add WordPress or Facebook, what does that mean? What is the overlap in my followers? Which channel performs better on various categories of content? Those are just some of the questions that Klout may be able to answer, but they haven’t answered them for me.
What none of this purported transparency says is "how" I influence my network. And that is the key, isn’t it? Don’t influencers really want to know what works and what doesn’t, not just some aggregate number. In knowledge management, I called these false metrics, because they count activity, not meaning. A big metric in the knowledge management world was number of posts to a knowledge base. The problem was, no one was tracking the value of the posts via reapplication of knowledge, so the repository became a contest for content posting domination, not a meaningful place to obtain knowledge. Saying that I am really influential for a member of social network is a false metric because it doesn’t say how. A relationship exists, but the metric that defines the meaning doesn’t exist. I want to know precisely which of my tweets, posts or updates influenced this person. Which channel worked best. Was it original content or curation that engaged them? What topics of combination of topics are they interested in? None of this is available in Klout at this point, at least not to the people who are profiled.
Klout, from a market perspective, is yet another tool focused on driving commercial revenue by creating a semi-credible score that advertisers and commercial concerns can use to drive engagement. It’s pretty cheap to go after "high influence" people to drive a market message. So Klout doesn’t have to be really good, just better than others, and have a clear upward trajectory in adherents.
What Klout now needs is credibility on its input side. It’s time to roll-back the black box and provide meaningful analytics, for free, to those who are members. I don’t have a choice in my credit score. That, however, is a ship that has sailed unless Occupy Something takes aim at the undue influence of the black box of credit scores. Social influence is a nascent industry that the social media world can still influence for good rather than ill. We need to demand that Klout open itself to our scrutiny and input so that we who are being profiled know what our profiles really represent.
Joe and Klout executive team, take this as a near-existential moment to consider what you are building at a strategic level. The Klout executive team needs to step back and create a meaningful vision of the firm and its place in the socialsphere. I’m all for emergence, but once something emerges, forces start acting on it. If you don’t engage the forces at play, you may well be another SOMA footnote rather than a meaningful source of insight and a trusted window into social media. Beware of flying too close to your own light.