How Klout is shaping the conversation for brands and consumers to benefit

Picture credit: Flickr/Jason Howie

It’s no secret that brands are having a tough time of it on the social web. They’re not in control of the conversations, they get slammed if they say something, they get slammed if they don’t say something. To top all that, consumers expect a greater level of service from an always-on system. It’s enough to make you hand in your notice and take up lion taming for an easier life.

There are upsides, however. Among the vast swathes of anger and irrelevance lie some pure gems; user-generated content which not only mentions your brand, but praises it. Consumers who have actually taken the time to engage. More often than not it lies dormant, which is bad enough, but here’s the rub: you’d much prefer it if that content was being written by a consumer with a wide sphere of influence, rather than Joe Bloggs with 13 Twitter followers. How do you sort the wheat from the chaff?

That was roughly the vision which helped form Klout back in 2008. Nowadays, Klout is more likely to pop up in nostalgic ‘remember me?’ articles, such as this one. Yet it was bought for a reported $200m by Lithium Technologies in 2014. It’s still pretty relevant and has a clear place in the Lithium roadmap, as Katy Keim, Lithium chief marketing officer, explained.

“One of the principles we have is that you have to have as deep a context of your customers as you possibly can,” she tells MarketingTech. “In the digital world, that’s been really difficult.

“One of the things we’re doing with Klout since we bought them is integrating the profile between Klout and the brands,” Keim adds. “Today when you sign up for Klout you connect all of your networks together and all of your activity, but one of the things we’re doing is thinking about the Lithium communities as an additional network.”

The theory is straightforward. If there’s something you’re interested in, you join a community on Lithium based upon it. The brand gets a fuller context of who you are, instead of some link-spamming automaton, and you contribute another network to your Klout score.

But one piece has been missing – until now. Keim explains: “Klout was always a standard of influence that says ‘here’s all the people I reach, and here’s how I engage with my content’, and now we’re adding topic areas of expertise.”

Again, it works out nicely. The brand can see more about you, and if they’re paying attention it makes their job a bit easier; it gives them interesting avenues to reward consumers, or tap into their knowledge, or give them a personalised effective notification.

It’s not a new concept, of course. LinkedIn’s much derided skills and endorsements section allows users to wield their influence and give contacts a wealth of expertise in one click. Yet it’s for that reason why it’s derided: “I’m always really interested when someone that I haven’t talked to in five years is giving me some kind of expertise on something,” Keim observes.

With Klout, it’s different. The algorithm engine already categorises and parses content users share on social networks and has an idea of what categories would be there, be they social, marketing, CRM, whatever. If you wanted another category in there, then great, but the algorithm checks what you share and, more importantly, how well you share it.

Keim says if you’re in the top 0.5% in that area, you will start to earn that expert status. “I think where this kind of gets cool for consumers is that they now can start to do a few things,” she says. “It makes them more thoughtful about what they share, and valuable content they share, so we give them suggestions for that. But it also allows them to find experts in those areas.”

It’s certainly a different metric to a simple number. Digital leader Thomas Power has started the ‘Klout70’ campaign, putting across the idea that if your Klout score is about 70, then you are a social media expert. According to Klout, a score of 63 would put you in the top 5% of all users.  But Power, in one of his roles as a social media trainer, only looks for other potential trainers with the magical 70.

Keim is aware of the campaign, and jokes about her worry if her score drops to 69, but adds: “It’s interesting to me how much people care about the score. This is a company we’ve bought; we’ve known the power of the brand and the power of the score and elicited both negative and positive responses.

“I would like to see it head in a more value based conversation. We aren’t trying to grow our score just for the score’s sake, but wouldn’t it be cool if it trained people to put things out there that were more valuable?” she adds. “And I think that’s the more noble purpose of Klout. What we’re trying to get to is – stop just blathering on, on social channels.”

As MarketingTech has previously explored, when new kids on the block appear, such as Periscope and Meerkat, brands rushing to become the first to it without much of a strategy can give off that impression. For Klout, which currently has nine networks embedded with social signals, adding another one is purely a numbers game, but Keim explains that for now there is more interest in adding Lithium community networks than a Periscope, or a Vine.

She explains: “What’s really interesting for these networks is they all seem to have this dramatic uptick right at the beginning. I think a lot of the new networks are having trouble sustaining the rate of growth and engagement, because once it’s the new kid on the block I think the lasting power of whether it’s going to be in someone’s daily behaviour [is] getting crowded.”

And so back to the brands, trying to make themselves heard in a crowded room. Consumers appreciate good content, but that takes time and effort. User generated content is an open goal for them, but goes begging more than it should.

“As individual consumers I feel we rarely make a decision without checking with someone,” says Keim. “What’s interesting to me is that brands talk a lot about content strategy, and it takes a tremendous amount of people, creativity and planning, and at some point that just can’t organically scale.

“I don’t think it’s the brands ignoring it, it’s that they don’t know how to do it,” she adds. “And so they go back to what they know, which is content they control. Unfortunately, they can’t do that at a pace that can be consumed.”

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