Big Boulder: Measuring Influence Online with Klout

An interview with Klout’s Joe Fernandez and Matt Thomson about measuring influence online.

Joe Fernandez and Matt Thomson of Klout

Klout began as an idea in 2007 because Joe Fernandez had jaw surgery, and his mouth was wired shut for months. Unable to communicate on his own, Joe had to depend on social sites like Facebook and Twitter. As is only means to speak, Joe’s way of thinking was radically changed. His conversations with his friends made him think about influencers, and it was while he was wired shut that he starting building Klout. Joe wanted to find the answer to “how do we help every person understand their influence?” Four years into the business, Klout is tackling a very ambitious challenge to  understand conversations, relationships, and tie that back to influence. It’s an early start, but they are leaders in the space and hope to continue to grow and expand upon the idea of influence.

Measuring influence on the web can be a challenge. Joe says Klout strives to brand themselves correctly, which is why they chose their name. They wanted to push out the API for growth and not for monetization: to simple put the data out there so users can see it. It’s an easy entry point for consumers, albeit a bit counter intuitive for business plans. Though the data is often criticized for being incorrect or off, Joe says it’s a huge challenge to measure influence and they are striving to make it more measurable and more actionable. Klout is keeping up with ingesting every piece of data that is becoming available. While Klout is a leader in the space of influence, they’re still not satisfied with their product. They are consistently working toward better real world influence associated with online influence, and taking a first shot at addressing that. Matt Thomson gave the example of Google; In 2000 they had the best search engine available, but it was nowhere near where Google has taken search today. Matt says Klout’s algorithm will continue to change to incorporate the most relevant data becoming available.

Influence spans many topics and platforms online, so Klout must decide what matters more or less on the social web. They aim to include as many signals of influence as possible. Klout  chooses specific data to decide where influence lies and which signals trigger value in their platform. Their team of scientists works with more than 500 different variables to determine Klout scores. However Klout uses tools like “Who is more influential” that asks a user to rate two friends and uses that against their algorithm to benchmark themselves and their data.

The real value of Klout lies in the context of influence: what someone is influential about, and how they get to a place to have influence. Joe emphasized that if you’re doing anything with customer service, targeting, or filtering, you know data can be a lot of noise. But a Klout score can help with decision making within a business. Klout is consumer-focused because they want something really digestible. Klout hopes marketers are using this, and on some level users are investing in the future of Klout, and where it can go. Klout ranks topics in the background as well, and hopes to bring that feature to the forefront. Topics are critical, and the second biggest investment for Klout after influential people.  Understanding topical analysis, is difficult because often there is so little context. It’s a big challenge, but Klout hopes to evolve to incorporate topics into their product.

Klout’s business model right now is very consumer-centric. One way users are benefiting from Klout is through their perks program. Klout Perks are exclusive products or experiences that you earn based on your influence. Influencers have earned sweet Perks like laptops and airline tickets. Chevy is a great example of this; they came to Klout looking to reach out to influencers about cars. The influencers were given a Chevy Volt for a weekend with gas money to burn, and in turn these influencers generated social proof on Chevy. While these influencers weren’t paid to do this, they felt empowered to talk about the Chevy Volt. And it worked: 180 million impressions on the Chevy volt were produced, and advertisers were happy.

Joe had a great personal example when he tweeted about a poor experience with Delta. Because Delta was using a tool that incorporated Klout into their API, they were able to immediately contact Joe and remedy the complaint. Joe says this is exactly what Klout is working toward: improving customer experience. Every interaction between a company and a consumer is an opportunity for a story to be told through social. If you have the most passionate people talking about your brand in good ways, it’s super valuable.

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