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For Klout, downsides to being the belle of the influence ball

What's your Klout score?

It is a question an increasing number of digitally engaged people are asking each other as a way to quantify their influence.

The flagship product of, the Klout score is calculated by using a variety of social media channels and activity from services such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+.

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It gives people a ranking of their status within the social sphere at a time when there is more attention to influence and the role of influencers. The higher your Klout score, the more influence you have about a particular topic.

At the recent meshmarketing conference in Toronto (of which I was one of the organizers), Joe Fernandez, Klout's founder and chief executive officer said the company was aiming to establish the Klout score as the industry "benchmark" for assessing someone's influence.

In many respects, the real value of the Klout score is how it has become a major marketing vehicle for Klout. It has established the three-year-old company as the leading player in a market attracting more players, including Kred, PeerIndex and Appinions (disclaimer: Appinions is a client of mine).

Klout is learning the hard way, however, that there is a downside to being the belle of the influence ball. As the company evolves from cool startup to a business attracting a growing number of brands interested in connecting with influencers, Klout is coming under more scrutiny and criticism.

What's interesting is that Klout brought the scrutiny upon itself after it recently unveiled a change in the algorithm used to determine an individual's score. Many people, including diehard social media users, saw their scores drop in a major way. This generated a hailstorm of critical news coverage and blog posts.

While the algorithm change was intended to improve how scores were calculated, it also put the spotlight on the validity of the Klout score and whether people should care or be interested.

For Klout, it is crucial for the score to be seen as credible because brands are buying into the notion that the scores have value, so that when they use it to connect with people who have high scores, they are, in fact, connecting with people who truly have influence.

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As a fledgling company in a fast-moving space attracting more attention, Klout finds itself in a precarious position. As much as it has garnered the spotlight as the leading influence player, it has also opened the door to competitors who may have a different or better approach to identifying influencers.

The danger for Klout is its first-mover advantage may disappear if it fails to effectively deal with the criticism it has attracted.

Unless Klout can convince people that a Klout score is a legitimate and acceptable "metric," its goal of becoming the industry "benchmark" will fail to materialize.

For startups, one of the biggest lessons provided by Klout's recent travails is the importance of transparency, honesty and sincerity.

Truth be told, Klout is just one approach to influence. There are other options and a growing number of players happy to take advantage of Klout's struggles.

Time will tell if Klout will recover from its recent stumbles, or whether it is the opportunity that its rivals need to establish a strong foothold.

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Special to The Globe and Mail

Mark Evans is the principal with ME Consulting, a communications and marketing strategic consultancy that works with startups and fast-growing companies to create compelling and effective messaging to drive their sales and marketing activities. Mark has worked with four startups – Blanketware, b5Media, PlanetEye and Sysomos. He was a technology reporter for more than a decade with The Globe and Mail, Bloomberg News and the Financial Post. Mark is also one of the co-organizers of the mesh, meshmarketing and meshwest conferences.

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