Why I killed my Klout account (and how you can too)

November 15, 2011
By

As you’ll soon read, one of my issues with Klout is that it asks for too much and gives too little. In that spirit, I’m going to give you an incentive to read this 2000+ word blog post on why Klout isn’t worth your time, thought or data. Here’s how to remove yourself from Klout:

1. If you’re not yet signed up for Klout – as you’ll soon read, this doesn’t prevent Klout from creating a profile on you – go to this link and scroll to the bottom. Click the opt-out links there. Unfortunately, you still have to sign in to Klout via a social network to opt-out of it. (Yes, that’s weird.)

2. If you’re already signed up for Klout, click the button that looks like a gear in the top right. select Unlink Networks. On the page that opens, click Unlink next to each account. Click the gear again and select Profile settings then scroll to the bottom and click the words “click here” after the words “If you would like to delete your account…”

If you did it correctly, you’ll see this cute little guy:

UPDATE: A commenter notes that Klout has removed the opt-opt link from the Profile Settings page. Try this link to opt-out (which in my late-night posting hours was missing from the above graf as well).

Now, here’s why you might want to do all that:

Last week, I decided to delete my Klout account. Doing so was something I’d considered for a while now but the inciting incident was a tweet from @misterjayem that linked here. The post doesn’t make an airtight argument, but it did make me realize my own problems with Klout:

1. Little about Klout is transparent

Consider this: You stumble on a website that asks you to tell it who you talk to on a regular basis, where you go out to eat, who your friends are and where in Chicago you spend the most time. In exchange, it will tell you how truly Chicago you are. It will also rate your Chicagoness on a scale from 1 to 100 and tell you how much you affect how others in your social networks move through the city. But you have to agree to let it store and use the data you give it and can’t object to how it might use it in the future. Otherwise, it will stop telling you or anyone else how much of a real Chicagoan you are. What would you do?

What does Klout do with the data it gets from you? What will it do in the future?

If you can’t answer the questions I posed above – I can’t despite reading its Privacy Policy – but are OK with using Klout, you are more trusting than I am.

Moreover, it’s not clear to me why Klout wants me to link all my social media accounts to its service if it already creates profiles for people based on their social media usage (more on the problematic nature later). Perhaps it’s to make it a more accurate rating but I never noticed my Klout score change even when I added several new streams to it. If I contribute content to those streams and link them to my account, Klout should be able to adjust my score up or down. It did neither. But it’s obvious they’re collecting a lot of data on me and not giving me anything in return.

When Klout recently made changes to its ranking system, it touted “a more accurate, transparent Klout score.” On the issue of transparency, Klout said:

We’ve always been transparent about the various activities that could impact your Klout Score but we now have the power to share the specific actions that are helping or hurting your score. When your Klout Score changes you will be able to match it to a corresponding change in one of these subscores and understand why the change has occurred.

It was never clear to me how the old system worked – it was good about saying what changed but not why – and the definitions of amplification, reach, etc. were what you’d find in an average dictionary and not specific to Klout. The new system didn’t offer any additional clarity either in its blog or in the system itself. And I’m speaking as a savvy user.

Granted, you can’t give people all the details behind your secret sauce; if you do then they’ll either game it or steal it – Google is similarly tight-lipped about its algorithms. But if you tout yourself as the leader of determining influence you need to either show people how it’s done or display great results. Klout did neither, as I explain below.

(I’ll note here that under the new system my Klout score went down ten points but this has nothing to do with why I left. In fact, I was OK with with the downgrade. It felt more accurate to me and the people I consider most influential had a similar drop.)

2. What I was giving Klout was greater than what it was giving me

I was giving Klout quite a bit of information about my online identity. What did I get out of it? Perks (theoretically) and information about who I interact with online.

How’d that work out for me? Well, the only perk I took advantage of was a discounted bottle of wine from One Hope. And, admittedly,  it was pretty good. But for the most part, the few things offered to me through Klout were like the free t-shirts you get when you sign up for a credit card: you don’t really want them and what you gave up to get them is worth far more.

As for its list of who I influence or am influenced by, it was filled with people I was already familiar with or people with whom I had little in common. It included few people who tweet about the same kinds of things I do or might be interesting to follow. Plus, the people I am most influenced by online never showed up in Klout whether they were people I @-replied to or people whose links I often clicked on (a true influence measure) but did not retweet.

I know there are ways to discover more people via Klout (here’s one from the company’s blog) but very little of it was a service unique to Klout or very accurate.

Now, you might be asking yourself why I stay on Facebook or Twitter or any other site that takes user data and builds a business on top of it. Simply put, I get much more out of those services and am – for the time being – still getting a fair deal from them in the exchange since they provide me with the best news of the day and updates on the lives of my friends  And speaking of friends…

3. Klout depends on you to do its dirty work

Anyone who uses Klout is familiar with the message “You influence [WHOMEVER] but they’re not on Klout yet. Invite them now!” (I’m paraphrasing since I can’t get the exact wording unless I sign up for Klout again). As anyone knows, social networks are only as good as the number of friends you have there. But unlike other social networks, you aren’t asked to convince them to sign up like some social media Ponzi scheme. This is a small matter compared to the rest but rather than just track influence, Klout wants you to use yours to make their service better.

Still, the biggest advantage of Klout for someone in the social space should be the measure of influence. But not all influence is the same…

4. Klout’s ability to measure influence is questionable, at best

For a while, my Klout list of topics I was influential about included the NBA.  To this day, I have no idea why. I know nothing about the NBA, never discussed it in my social spaces, didn’t follow any NBA players or link to news about it. On the other hand, I was able to game Klout by tweeting about booze enough over a couple of days that for a while I was influential about “alcohol” and “hangover.”

Klout’s measure of influence is only for people who don’t know any better. Despite all the streams of data it reads, Klout doesn’t do a very good job of providing influence insight beyond what can be gleaned through a learned read of someone’s social media streams. In essence, it’s just a self-disclosed social media profile…of social media profiles. If someone is really accomplished in social media, his or her footprint will be easy to find and discern. Someone who knows what to look for on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. will get a much better read on a person’s influence in the overall social space as well as on a particular topic. And as the graf above illustrates, the data Klout gets from all the profiles it tracks isn’t turned into anything useful (which really ought to make you wonder why they want so much of it).

All this explains why Klout’s biggest failing as a service is its inability to provide useful influence information on topics, particularly niche topics. For example, let’s say you want to discover who is influential about the topics “Chicago” and “journalism.” Take a look at the Klout topic pages for those topics.

Right now, when it comes to the top influencers on Chicago, you get Red Eye, Chicagoist and Time Out Chicago. On journalism, it’s Jay Rosen, Nick Kristof and Nieman Labs. If you’re at all knowledgeable about these topics, your response is likely along the lines of “No shit, Sherlock.” If you know even the basics about a topic, Klout won’t direct you to anyone influential about it.

Looking at the top Klout-getters (or “top +K recipients” in Klout’s vernacular) it seems each topic lends itself to people with engaged, active audiences but not necessarily those engaged and active about the topic in question.

“Chicago” and “journalism” were topics Klout said I was influential about. I’m not, really (take my word for it) . But you could make a good argument that I’m influential about “Chicago journalism” (again, take my word for it). And Klout can’t measure that:

http://klout.com/topic/chicago-journalism

(If you’re a Klout user, you just got bounced back to your profile. If you’re not, you got a Not Found page.)

So instead it just breaks the larger topics up into separate components which overstates my knowledge/influence about the general topic and understates my knowledge about the specific topic. More to the point, Klout can’t measure this niche topic, even though much of the Web is about niche topics. Weird, huh?

But none of this matters as much as my last point:

5. Klout – unlike every other social network with any claim to integrity – is opt-out, not opt-in.

That’s a complicated way of saying if you aren’t using Klout, it doesn’t matter: it’s using you. The service probably has a profile on you, your friends or your family if they’re connected to people who do use Klout. Even your kids. This New York Times article goes into detail on this point. Even if your social media profiles are private, Klout might have built a profile from them. (A friend of mine tweeted today that Klout created a profile on his 7 year old even though the kid’s Twitter account is private.)

Imagine Twitter building a profile and bio of you without you ever sending a Tweet. Imagine Facebook saying who your friends are even if you’ve never accepted a friend request.

Until very recently, you had no choice about this. Klout had a profile on you, like it or not. It was only recently that it created the ability to opt-out.

All of this means Klout – which is supposed to be a service for people who are serious about social media influence – isn’t very serious at all about how it measures social influence. If people whose opinions I respect didn’t care about Klout, I wouldn’t either. But they do. And it’s time they stopped.

The facts are these: No serious social media service makes people who don’t use it, opt-out of it. No serious social media measurement tool asks for so much data but seemingly uses so little of it or is so prone to major mistakes or gaps in measurement. And no serious measurement would try to convince you that using it would mean you’ll be treated like a high roller in a casino. When casinos do this, it’s because they’re trying to convince you to part with something valuable: money, time and good judgment. Why does Klout do it?

When it comes right down to it, Klout is little more than a game, like Foursquare. But the sum total of data about your online identity isn’t something serious people take for granted. And just like you can’t learn much about what it’s like to have a job or a family from the Game of Life, you can’t learn much about a person’s influence from Klout.

Is there any benefit to staying on Klout? It’s as I said above: Only if you want to demonstrate your supposed influence to people who don’t know any better.

UPDATE: A friend of mine noted that even after she opt’ed-out of Klout she still had a Klout app in the Applications section of Facebook. I checked mine and I did too. Even more curious? It said the app accessed my account yesterday even though I left Klout last week. Very strange. To check this yourself, click the arrow in the top right hand corner of Facebook, select Privacy Settings then click Edit Settings under Apps and Websites. Click it again on the page that opens and click the X next to Klout.

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7 Responses to Why I killed my Klout account (and how you can too)

  1. November 15, 2011 at 9:13 am

    Too bad Klout removed the option to delete your account from the profile settings page.

    http://i41.tinypic.com/nvw948.png

  2. Tracy Samantha Schmidt
    November 15, 2011 at 1:47 pm

    Scott thank you for this post. It’s incredibly well written & argued.

    A question this raises for me is that of the credibility of social media strategists.

    As you know, I develop and teach classes on social media at the Chicago Tribune. In the past year, I’ve taught close to 2,000 people how to use social media personally and professionally. In all of my classes, people always ask about what to look for in hiring a consultant to help them create/manage their accounts.

    By instinct, they turn to 20somethings already in their networks–family, neighbors, interns, etc. I tell them to rely on these people in a limited way, such as setting up a profile or trouble shooting problems.

    In terms of creating a strategy and monitoring profiles for business purposes, they should turn to experienced strategists. I consider myself to be one and I consider you, Scott, to be one as well. However, because of Tribune’s no-compete contract, we can’t do outside work without approval.

    The question then is, how do people like my class attendees find someone to hire? There is no licensing or accreditation for social media strategists. So-called “social media gurus” harm us because they often don’t know what they’re doing and that gives the fledgling social media consulting industry a bad reputation.

    So in my classes when people ask for help in picking the right strategist, I’ve started telling attendees about Klout scores. I tell them it’s not a perfect measuring of strategists, but at least you get a sense of how active & connected they are.

    Klout raises a much larger question which is validating the strength & expertise of social media “strategists.” I suspect we will see organizations of marketing professionals creating licensing/accreditation programs in the years ahead.

    In the meantime, Klout is the best tool I can give to my attendees to help them find the best experts to help them.

    • Jen Healy
      January 12, 2012 at 4:16 pm

      Tracy,

      While Klout on the surface appears to be a neat little packaged synopsis of one’s social worth, it is not an effective tool as the accuracy isn’t there. That has always been my biggest issue. I look at accounts of people I know and follow and compare them to others and the numbers only seem to make sense in reality, maybe 1/2 the time. I can’t help but feel a big part of that number has to do with how you use Klout itself. (Like Scott said, it’s more like a game than an analysis tool.)

      I would recommend to those looking to hire to actually look at a candidate’s account. There is no better way to get an idea of their social media skills and experience than by looking at what they have done. (Ask applicants to submit links to all their channels.) Klout can serve as an “extra”; Maybe a supplement, but I would highly discourage people from using it as the end-all, be-all of judging influence in the social media world.

  3. Amy
    November 16, 2011 at 10:02 am

    Informative and helpful post, Scott — thanks for giving me the nudge I needed to delete my account (it didn’t take much — the extent of info sharing on the service has made me uncomfortable since I signed up). I thought I’d share the messages I received once I chose to opt out (included below). Note the single line informing me about the long breadcrumb trail of my data after leaving: “Traces of your data may be in our scoring system for up to 180 days after opting out.” Why this is, I’m not really sure.

    Messaging before confirming opt-out:
    Once you opt-out you will be removed from Klout.com within 24-48 hours. You will be removed from our API within 7 days. Traces of your data may be in our scoring system for up to 180 days after opting out. If you decide to opt back into Klout you will have to sign up again and it will take at least 90 days for us to accurately measure your influence.

    Pop-up that appeared after completing opt-out:
    Thanks, you have successfully opted out of Klout. You will be removed from Klout.com within 24-48 hours. You will be removed from our API within 7 days. If you decide to opt back into Klout you will have to sign up again and it will take at least 90 days for us to accurately measure your influence. For the quickest removal from our systems you can choose to deauthorize the Klout app from your social accounts by going into the relevant network’s settings page.

  4. April 18, 2012 at 11:45 am

    Thank you so much for your post. Thanks to you I’m finally out of the Klout wagon. At first it seemed interesting (I even qualified for a few perks) but then I just didn’t see any value.

  5. January 20, 2014 at 10:44 am

    Thanks for this info. I am planning to delete my account on Klout. I connected my personal fb account on klout and the pictures of my family are also showing on my klout profile.

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