Final Analysis: Under the Influence

Someday, your Klout score will be more important than your credit score. Sigh.
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Do you know your Klout score?

I used to be an 11. In the world of social media, it was appalling. On a Darwinian level, it put me somewhere between fungi and green algae.

Should anyone really care? Joe Fernandez, who founded Klout in 2008, thinks so. Last year, he told students in an MBA class at New York University: “We really believe every person that creates content online has influence. We want to understand who they influence and what they’re influential about, and reward them for that.”

The rewards Fernandez refers to—Klout calls them perks—are goodies that Klout showers upon its members to induce them to be more active in social media, so they can get even more stuff. In May, Cathay Pacific Airways opened its First and Business Class Lounge at San Francisco International Airport to Klout members with scores of 40 or higher. Nothing says influence like being able to go where the rest of the great unwashed cannot.

So here’s the drill: If you spend a lot of time telling us on Twitter what you had for lunch, or sharing on Facebook what you’re having for dinner, you can win swag from Klout.com. And your score goes up. Does this really mean anything in the grand scheme? I’m doubtful. But I’m also curious. So I joined Klout.

As noted earlier, I was an 11 at first. In Klout’s parlance, I was an “observer,” happy to hang out on the fringes of social media, keeping abreast of what’s going on but not inclined to cannonball into the deep end. Then I woke up one day and my score was a 43. (Hello, Cathay Pacific!)

I have no idea what I did to merit such a bump. I had done no cannonballing in my sleep. Hadn’t tweeted any more than usual. Didn’t post a thing on Facebook. I suspect it was simply a matter of Klout catching up with my vast network of Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn friends and deciding I was worthy of sitting in a fancy airport lounge in a city where I don’t live.

As I write this, I’m still a 43. No other perks have come my way, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before there’s an Audi parked in my driveway. (Klout recently gave “key influencers” the opportunity to test drive the new Audi A8.) Turns out I’ve gone from “observer” to “networker,” which means I “know how to connect to the right people and share what’s important” to my audience. I have “a high level of engagement and an influential audience.”

I have a feeling this is a load of crêpes. (Klout served them at its Bay Area headquarters last year.) “We’re doing something that’s a lightning rod for controversy,” Fernandez told his NYU audience. “We’re putting scores next to people. I totally get why that rubs people the wrong way.”

Fernandez also gets that Americans love competition. We love to see how we rank against our friends, our foes, our families. Companies are even using Klout scores as a metric in hiring. Wired magazine reports that a guy named Sam Fiorella lost a marketing agency job to someone with a Klout score of 67 (out of 100). Fiorella’s was 34—well above the national average of 20 but obviously not good enough. So he worked to get his score up to 72 and now reports the job offers are pouring in and he’s getting lots more speaking invitations.

“Fifteen years of accomplishments,” he told Wired, “weren’t as important as that score.”

Can’t wait until we’re all caught up in this insidious web. Forty-three out.

JOHN LEVESQUE is the managing editor of Seattle Business magazine.

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