The latest Internet-fueled "Occupy" movement has nothing to do with Wall Street, bailouts, or student loans. It's all about Klout.
Klout is a social media influence metric service that purports to measure how many people you influence ("True Reach"), how much you influence them ("Amplification"), and how much they influence others ("Network"). These three metrics combine into one overall Klout score. The maximum Klout score is 100. (Presently, only one person is known to possess a perfect Klout score of 100 -- Justin Bieber.) Klout also purports to measure what topics you influence people the most on.
Klout is not the only social media influence-measuring tool on the Internet, but it is the most prevalent -- partly because of Klout Perks.
Klout Perks are freebies provided by Klout sponsors that Klout gives away to certain users. Eligibility for a particular Perk is based upon the user's Klout score, topics of influence, and/or geographic location. Perks include products, services, "experiences" (like invitations to special events and test drives of a new car), and discounts.
High Klout scores can bear indirect perks, too. At conferences, a high Klout score can mean preferential treatment, additional swag, and invitations to exclusive parties. Additionally, at least one hotel is already referring to Klout data as part of the reservations process; guests with high Klout have exclusive access to special amenities.
Some socialmediarati even rely on Klout scores and similar indicators as "popularity metrics" to judge and discriminate against others. So too at the workplace; at some companies, a Klout score can make the difference in getting hired -- or fired.
These aggregated factors mean that, to some, there is a lot at stake when it comes to Klout.
On Wednesday, Klout changed its algorithm, boldly declaring: "We've launched the biggest improvement ever to the accuracy... of the Klout scoring model." While these changes were in the works for the past three months, they were not announced until a week beforehand -- quietly, in a corporate blog post. To most users, the changes were a complete surprise.
Klout claims that most users' Klout scores increased or stayed the same with the algorithm change. The number of users whose scores decreased, however, is easily close to half -- and more users saw modest decreases than saw modest increases. Some saw their Klout scores drop by as much as 20 points.
Unsurprisingly, many Klout users are livid. Klout's blog and Facebook page are lit up with angry and distressed comments. The anti-Klout vitriol has spread throughout the very social networks from which Klout gets its data. One person has started a mildly tongue-in-cheek "Occupy Klout" movement on Twitter -- which is quickly gathering steam. Other angry users are comparing Klout to Netflix -- a low blow indeed.
Unlike Netflix, however, Klout has responded to some of its critics, insisting that its new model is more accurate than the old one. Several users are defending Klout. Writes one commenter, "Your Klout score went down[.] [S]o what[?] [Y]our network is still there. Your followers, your ability to drive action, your content hasn't changed. How can you possibl[y] complain about a more accurate scoring system[?]"
Indeed, Klout likens the change to Google's PageRank algorithm updates. In both cases, the goal is greater objective accuracy. Just as Google is not beholden to SEO specialists who cry about being punished for bribing others for backlinks, Klout is not beholden to "influencers" who may not be as influential as once thought. Truly, the only people who influence Klout are its sponsors -- the companies paying for its data. As with any free-to-use social Website, Klout's users are not its customers; they are the products being sold.
Nonetheless, Klout failed to adequately prepare its users for these changes. The fallout could mean fewer Klout users -- and therefore fewer "products" to be sold.
More likely, however, if Klout users emotionally invested themselves in Klout's invented numbers this much to begin with, they'll continue to do so. Meanwhile, real social influencers will continue to engage as they always have.
— Joe Stanganelli is a writer, attorney, and communications consultant. He is also principal and founding attorney of Beacon Hill Law in Boston. Follow him on Twitter at @JoeStanganelli.