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Okay, I confess to being a people watcher.  You know that game some couples play when they are bored and just make up stories about the people and things they observe?  Yeah the same game that Tina Fey and Steve Carell play in the movie, “Date Night”.

To me I guess that is part of the appeal of Social Media and social analytics.  Watching all these normal people and trying to figure out their story and what makes them tick.  Then apply that to marketing and competition and I am quite admittedly in statistical heaven.  This is how sites like http://hotornot.com got big when people used to rate people looks. It is also how Mark Zuckerberg got started with Facebook only this rating system is based on more than looks.  Why is he rated higher than me?  Why is she rated higher than her?  Why do people find him interesting?  You get the picture.  Now that people are putting their lives out there selectively on Linked In, Twitter, Facebook and Google +, the question of: “I wonder what [Insert Name Here]  is doing now?” is being answered with regularity.

Because of the rise in social interaction and personal content management, the idea of personal branding has become a larger topic on the web.  It is the opportunity for people to have the vanity plates and bumper stickers on their lives that they choose to have.  Yes I am a fan of the San Francisco Giants!  I watch reality TV! I drive a VW Beetle!  And then you can hide the things you don’t want people to see such as your age, the embarrassing name of your high school (Lick Wilmerding) and any other guilty pleasures in your life (the fact that you listen to Debbie Gibson and new Kids on the Block when you are depressed).

A few years back I worked for Fair Isaac, creators of the FICO score which tells potential lenders (mostly credit card issuers and auto financiers)  if you are credit worthy.  People started paying attention to their FICO scores.  Your FICO score was a handy thing to have, but it wasn’t something people openly shared.  It isn’t as if people go around sharing their salary information.

Klout Score Dashboard

Well enter the age of Social Metrics.  The simple math tells you how many people follow you on Twitter, how many people “like” you on Facebook, or how many people you are Linked to on LinkedIn.  Since not everyone plays on all of these social channels, we have the introduction of companies like Klout and PeopleBrowsr / Kred.  Both companies have admitted that they are in beta and that they are always working to improve the metrics around their scoring so sharp swings in scores are not unexpected.  People on Klout for example, have seen their score go up when they add new networks such as Google+ to the network.  If that adds a whole new set of friends and interactions to their overall social scene, then their score would likely see an irregular bump.  Klout is not perfect and people knew that.  Weight was heavily skewed towards Twitter activities, no real reasons were given for sudden shifts, people with lower scores were considered more advanced than others, people were considered influential about topics that they knew nothing about (see @QAQN and Gary Johnson).

Kred Dashboard

The art of scoring people’s social prowess is a tricky one.  Once you give people a little candy they can get addicted.  People learned that if you wanted to increase your score, you couldn’t just tweet a lot, you had to get people to mention you more.  You needed to create more links, retweet others posts (give them credit for good content), and not just use Klout as a channel for clogging the digital airwaves.  This gave way to Follow Fridays, Twitter Tuesdays, and such where people saw their scores rise.   It also saw that when you were inactive for a couple days for vacation or a holiday that your score took a dive.  Imagine!  You go on vacation and somehow you aren’t as important or influential to your followers!  Take a week off from your podcast or your blog and suddenly less people follow you?  Doesn’t the saying go something like “Absence makes the tweets grow fonder?” Well you get the picture.   Oh well, nobody is perfect.  Your score would dip a couple points and suddenly your score would jump again.

This morning Klout changed their scoring method.  It was of Google Pandaesque or Netflixesque proportions.  Suddenly it appears that the social behaviors that Klout was encouraging are now discounted.  It’s like telling your wife of 15 years that you like that she colors her hair blonde because it makes her look younger and then suddenly the next day you tell her that you think that brunettes have more fun!

The jury is still out but here is what we know:

  • Klout says they are being more transparent about what affects your score, but people are stil speculating on what actually made their score go up or down.  Was there more weight put on Facebook actions?  Were certain influence types now given more weight?
  • Klout gave a bell curve shaped diagram showing a pretty even distribution of scores going up or down.  Yet it seems that those who saw their score go down heavily outweighed those who saw a rise.
  • Even social media celebrities Scott Kleinberg (@Scottkleinberg), Katrina Hill (@actionchick), and Michael Brandvold (@michaelsb) who were once touted in Klout’s blog saw their scores go down by 8 points or more each.
  • It seems that those people who saw their scores rise were those who had scores in the teens, 20s and 30s.  People in the 50s through 70s and even 80s saw their scores decrease
  • People saw their True Reach score increase (this is a subscore that basically tells you how many people follow you) as it used to be discounted.
  • Assuming that their other subscore, Amplification, is a product of your Actions/True Reach many large podcasters and online conversationalists saw this score decrease significantly.  This score appears to be weighted more heavily than in the past when it comes to your overall Klout score.

Klout Distribution of Score Changes

Let’s take a step back a second.  Was Klout right in trying to make their scoring more accurate?  Definitely.  But we are a society looking for affirmation and the Klout score was the best proxy.  Scoring on a scale of 100 had people asking wondering if they are above average or passing the “test”.  Incidentally, Klout’s closest competitor, Kred, which is physically located on the other side of the block in an adjacent building scores people on a scale of 1000.  People following their Klout scores most heavily are bloggers and other social media early adopters.  The “Twitterati” if you will.  These were people are also the largest advocates of Klout and encouraging their friends to check out their scores.  At a recent social media conference I  overheard someone tell their friend kiddingly that they would let the other person follow them only if they had an acceptable Klout score.

The backlash has been predictable.  People woke up to find their scores dropped by 10% or more.  I received a tweet from @ActionChick (the ex-Klout star) saying “Those @Klout numbers are so wrong”.  People are claiming they will boycott. Others are claiming they’ll not get social media jobs when their interviewers ask and they tell them their score is below 50 (that’s a little dramatic).  Mostly, you’ll find people with scores in the 80s (that’s a B in school) with scores in the 60s now (that’s a D in school).  Nobody wants to get a low grade in the area they call themselves an expert.  Even moreso…nobody wants to be called a social failure, but that is what Klout is doing.   They created a monster and today that monster is growling back at them heavily.

So you are asking if they are so screwed up, why do I care? I want this model to succeed.  Social analytics are important as Social search takes over Portal search.  It is more important to know if Suzie Smith is an important influencer of a certain product than Jack Martin.  Klout has some great tools and they were heading in the right direction.  Every company makes mistakes, but you don’t want to slap the hand that feeds you.  Coke survived the whole New Coke debacle.  Some people tried it, didn’t like it and went back to the old coke. We shall see how this plays out.

Author’s note:  Personally my score dropped from 61 to 53.  To me this means I’m barely in the 50th percentile.  Maybe that is right, I don’t know.  What bothers me more is that Klout has their version of a Myers-Briggs grid.  They group people in from Celebrities to Thought Leaders to Conversationalists to Listeners, etc.  That analysis has me listed as a “Dabbler”, someone who just isn’t that into social media and should try using it more.  What?  If I tweet or Facebook any more, my own mother might disown me.  Hey did I mention that my 80 year old mother now has a Klout score not far behind me and she has only tweeted twice?


If you’ve never heard of Klout, sign up here: http://www.klout.com

If you’d like to get a Kred score, sign up here: http://www.kred.ly

To read the post about the change announced by Klout: http://corp.klout.com/blog/

If you’d like to follow me and boost my Klout score (shameless plug), you can go here: http://www.twitter.com/Route53