There continues to be buzz about the value of Klout scores in assessing social media savvy. There are even some organizations hiring (or not hiring) potential social media and online community managers based upon their Klout score. But using a Klout score as a lazy man’s cheat-sheet to assess social media savvy is really not-so-savvy at all. In fact, for nonprofit organizations – in which building a tribe of engaged online evangelists is critical – making hiring decisions based on a high Klout score may result in an inability to efficiently reach your target audience.
What is a Klout score? Klout is a website that attempts to measure social influence on a scale of one to 100 taking into account a (somewhat ambiguous) algorithm regarding the reach, amplification, and influence of an individual’s social network. Twenty is the average Klout score. A score greater than 50 indicates that you are in the 95% percentile of social media influencers. Klout seems to constantly tweak their algorithms as they are aware of the issues outlined below. However, there may still be a long way to go before one number can summarize and combine exactly what individuals, for-profit companies, nonprofits, and other organizations want from a social media manager. In particular, the metrics that make up a high Klout score are off for nonprofit organizations…
The metrics measured through Klout scores are not the most important measurements for nonprofit organizations- or any organization whose financial solvency depends upon an engaged, targeted crowd. In fact, the metrics and overall number are downright distracting. In order for your organization to achieve the most success on social media, you’re going to need to hire a person who is…
- knowledgeable and perceived as “expert” in the area of your social mission
- can connect effectively with your target demographic
- posts quality, mission-related content
- is perceived favorably online, and
- has some real-life “klout” outside of the online space
Here’s how taking Klout scores too seriously and relying on them exclusively (or even too heavily) could possibly land you the complete opposite type of what should be your ideal online community manager:
1) Having expertise or area of focus on social media will land you a lower Klout score – but you want someone who can form a targeted tribe of highly engaged individuals and contribute to your brand’s credibility online.
Klout scores are necessarily lower for people who are focused or have an area of expertise online because a smaller number than the general population will have interest in this area of focus. However, these focused evangelists may be the kind of people with whom you actually want to associate in order to lend reputation and credibility to your brand online. I’ll bore you all for a moment with a marketing 101 lesson from our college days: it is important to have a target audience, and organizational resources are better spent engaging folks who are likely to interact with your brand rather than sharing a smattering of information-vomit to the general, broad population. You just get more bang for your buck when your dollars are going toward engaging the right person at the right time with the right message. This is still – if not even more – true and difficult on social media (a platform supporting broad, public communication…but with users who demand individualized attention). Klout scores generally reward folks who are good at reaching more people while communicating about very broad topics. Don’t get me wrong: this is a good thing to be able to do. However, just like your number of social media followers doesn’t matter for your nonprofit, appealing to the masses by contributing to the crowd doesn’t matter nearly so much as cultivating a tribe of highly engaged individuals.
As a very focused communicator regarding nonprofit marketing, I run into this problem with my own Klout score. I’ve noticed that the more focused I am on nonprofit marketing in my communications, the more my Klout score drops and my Traackr score for nonprofit marketing rises (Traackr is another site attempting to measure influence, except Traackr does it by industry or focus area). For instance, at this very moment, I have a Klout score of 51 (In the 95th percentile, but low for me), and I’m listed as the third most influential voice online regarding nonprofit marketing (my highest listing so far). Coincidence? Nope. Not to mention, the bulk of my Klout score comes from my personal Facebook page, where I post the typical, unfocused splattering of information that makes up most personal Facebook pages. Bottom line: one measurement system awards me for expertise, the other for being random and broad.
2) Frequent posters and online noise-makers are often rewarded with high Klout scores – but your organization needs someone who can contribute and interact thoughtfully online without inundating or alienating your audience.
Klout scores award quantity over quality. In his post, “Klout is Broken” Adriaan Pelzer found that a person can obtain a high Klout score simply by tweeting a lot. In fact, the more you tweet anything, the higher your Klout score. And perhaps the biggest kicker: bots (automatic twitter profiles that are computer-run) can achieve very high Klout scores. This very idea flies in the face of best practices for creating an engaged audience that is likely to translate into a visit or a donation for a nonprofit organization. Data suggests that these best practices may be especially true for marketing to millennials.
3) Klout Scores are not indicative of positive influence or actual, online public perception – and you want your organization to be perceived as an expert, positive social force with a significant mission.
Let’s revisit Adriaan Pelzer’s experiment. He found that more tweets resulted in more followers, but many of the followers were bots themselves. In other words, if your organization has calculated a monetary value for each Twitter follower, your organization is living on false hope because these may not all be real people. Does this mean that people with high Klout scores just have a bunch of bots following them? Absolutely not. But it does mean that the more you tweet, the more you increase your Klout score, and, in turn, the more bots are likely to be following you. However, bots will not be donating to your organization or paying your museum a visit.
Also, (and again, despite Klout’s constant tweaking of the algorithm) Klout scores still don’t effectively measure perceived reputation or how “expert” someone might be. Controversial folks and celebrities often have high Klout scores but the thoughts and sentiments that are being retweeted, shared, or discussed online may not be entirely positive. One could selectively argue that it’s okay not to have entirely positive sentiment regarding your brand – it makes for conversation and opportunities for engagement. However, keep in mind that when you see a Klout score, it is based on an algorithm and not based on public perception or online credibility.
4) Klout Scores have (very little to absolutely) nothing to do with offline influence – and online influence needs to be part of a bigger package in order to secure actual donors, visitors, and supporters.
This has been called the “Warren Buffet Problem” and Klout itself has acknowledged that for someone like Warren Buffet to have a low score is a failure. One writer jokes that, based on his low score, Buffet might be passed over for an investment banking position … It’s funny because if hiring organizations are ignorant, it may just be true. Nonprofit CEOs, academic leaders, and folks in high executive leadership positions: think of your own mentors, most influential board members, and important donors. They likely don’t have a high Klout score but I’ll bet you that you’d consider them much more influential and relevant to your organization than a random person with a high Klout score.
It should be noted that, even if you’re not a frequent, broad tweeter, being famous will generally land you a high Klout score because you likely have many followers, already have an audience that knows you, and many people will be willing to spread your message. In this sense, Klout scores do have to do with offline influence, but this may be a side effect of the system.
5) Klout Scores can be easily manipulated and, thus, are not true measurements of capability.
At the end of the day, Technology blogger Diego Basch may have summed up Klout scores the best: “It’s simply a game that measures how good you are at it. Your Klout score measures how good you are at getting a high Klout score.”
Hiring managers may find themselves with a problem on their hands if they use Klout scores as a significant factor when hiring for a social media (or any other kind of) position because Klout does not measure the kind of engagement that necessarily makes for the best nonprofit community manager. But a high Klout score is not at all indicative of a bad community manager either. It’s simply a distraction.
Hiring someone who cares about their Klout score may even be a good thing in some cases. For instance, one social media manager for one of the client organizations I serve very frequently tweets and retweets her personal account (and those of her friends) from the organization’s account, which has a significant following. It’s pretty clear if not downright obvious that she’s doing this to increase her Klout score and improve her own online influence… but this may actually be benefitting the organization because she has a particularly strong, broad following in the geographic region where she and the organization are located. She has a great Twitter tone and she takes to the platform quite naturally. Not to mention, her offline “crew” seem to be engaged with the organization. Or perhaps her being associated with the organization drives their engagement? Either way, this symbiotic relationship works out well. She’s an evangelist who helps lend her personal brand to the organization – which is more than good. It’s smart.
Even if you don’t know much about assessing social media behaviors and creating online communities, please do your organization a favor and not hire an important resource based on something as relatively meaningless as a Klout score. Even as Klout continues to tweak and make changes, follow this number too closely and you’ll likely end up with someone who has the wrong skill set to engage targeted audiences with quality content and perceived expertise.
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About the author
MPA. Chief Market Engagement Officer at IMPACTS Research & Development. Nonprofit marketer, Generation Y museum, zoo & aquarium writer/speaker, web engagement geek, data nerd, marathoner, nomad, herbivore