Translating and tranquilizing Kloutrage

KloutKlout has become the social networking world’s punching bag once again after a Wired article revealed how very real the consequences of your score can be. One prospective hire told the site how his job interview had been cut short once his dismal Klout score surfaced.

It’s not the first time the social leveraging site has made an impact. Last year, an algorithm update and some privacy questions had everyone (me included) examining the site and its sudden impact. Now the uproar over Klout has returned, and once again it’s time to take a step back and see the site for what it’s really worth.

Sometimes, Klout matters

The general reaction to the recent Klout speculation can be summarized as “Klout doesn’t matter.” It’s just a silly site that we’ve all put too much collective stock into, and now the drawbacks are some people take it a little too seriously (more on that shortly). The problem with that line of thinking entirely rejects any element of purposefulness Klout does have.

The Internet and social platforms have made jobs out of thin air – social media managers and digital marketing strategists are now a dime a dozen. These positions are completely tied to Web proliferation and a person’s ability to manage the Internet for all its worth, eking every last bit of blood out of any and all effective mediums.

Is there something scummy-feeling about all this? Probably: the advertising and marketing industries have never been known for their terribly virtuous business operations. There’s a lot of manipulating and leveraging going on, and it was happening long before Facebook and Twitter took over.

Klout is both a product of and for this. If you want to hire someone to help with a brand’s digital and social media campaigns, that person probably needs to be well-connected. And while the science behind Klout isn’t exactly clear and likely has its caveats, it’s currently the only available system for determining a person’s social influence.

There are plenty of jobs and situations in which a Klout score shouldn’t matter. Teachers, lawyers, doctors – even many media-friendly companies don’t need every single person to be a networking netizen. But there are jobs that there never were before that depend solely on who you know and how well you can virtually connect. And these people absolutely know what a Klout score is and how to get a better one (think SEO experts; it’s a similar frame of mind) – and it makes sense for that to matter.

Klout is our own damn fault

Eventually, not having a Facebook account will be like not having an email account – which is to stay largely unacceptable. If you plan to compete in (most of) the corporate world, you have to have one. Klout is just an extension of this, and sure, it’s a shallow one, but so are all things social media. Does anyone think the endless, 140-character descriptions of how one’s day is going coming out of Twitter are for the larger good? Reality check: They’re not.

It’s understandable that we don’t want to be judged by our Klout scores, but the fact that we even have this (very, very first world) problem is our own fault. If you have a Facebook, Twitter, or Google+ account, or troll Tumblr, rely on Linkedin, and own your own About.me or Flavors.me landing page, you’ve engaged with social media and are using it to promote yourself. There are very few among us who can actually play the “it’s the best way to stay in touch with (fill in the blank)” card.

Most of us have been sucked in to the presentation, promotion, and undeniable narcissism of social networking, and the fact the something like Klout exists is all our faults. It’s not like what Klout is doing couldn’t be done in a cruder and perhaps more mathematical way; concerned parties could simply add up your Facebook friends, Twitter followers, and the like by hand, take into account what sort of people and brands you’re interacting with, your subject of expertise, etc, etc. It would be time-consuming, but in most cases very possible.

For some, Klout can act as a nice middle man. You might not want to share everything on social sites, but a score to show you’re interactivity prowess would be helpful. You can give Klout permission to see your data and create a score without inviting any individual eyes to the party. A Klout score reveals you know what you’re doing without all the details.

Everybody, calm down

The uproar is understandable: It’s this unknown science that’s ranking our digital worth, and we don’t know anything about it or exactly how important it is. But before you try to demonize the site, keep in mind that it is far from showing up on your average work application – and that interested employers will judge your social networking standing with or without it.

But a healthy Klout score will continue to mean perks, not jobs. People who toe the line and strive to improve their numbers (which don’t necessarily reward thought provoking statements or hard-hitting analysis) will receive Klout partner perks. The site works with Gilt Groupe, Moo, Red Bull, and others to reward users. And plenty of other brands pay attention and in some cases treat those with high scores differently.

For a handful of constantly tweeting, Facebook-checking people, this means some really amazing things: Expensive dinners, car rentals, free hotel rooms. But for most of us, it’s a free pack of Moo business cards. When it comes to the things that really matter, Klout will remain an outlier. It’s a tool of the social media echo chamber that encourages brand loyalty and is a boon to marketers, but it’s far from a legitimate tool signifying worth.

If you’re a person that needs to worry about your Klout score, you probably already have – or you should perhaps consider a different career. And if you’re not… well then, you’ll miss out on the brand-pumped perks, but (largely) will be saved from worrying about being asked to provide your Klout score and Social Security number next time you apply for a job. 

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