One of the many things that inspires people is status. I don’t mean status as in "status update," or "What are you doing right now?" I mean status in terms of how we fit in and rank among other people. We do all sorts of things to either gain or display our position and standing within our society.

The search for status isn’t evil or bad or wrong. Sure, some of the actions taken can be pretty regrettable. But the search for status itself is simply a very human search for meaning in relation to others.

The problems come when the measure of status is misaligned with what it is supposedly measuring.

For example, the kind of car one drives does not indicate what sort of person drives it. Nor does the size of a house indicate whether the owners are good neighbors, or the degree to which they are helpful in their community.

To help this column feel a little more like a business column, I’ll throw in this bullet list. Three things about status, measurement and business:

  • this search for status occurs, obviously, in business;
  • social technologies have begun to surface measurements related to status;
  • status measurements may not be useful for your business unless your business goal is to achieve celebrity.

Metrics that we talk about with others but don’t use to make changes to our practice are good candidates as vanity metrics. We want to know what the number is but we aren’t willing to change anything to make the number "better." When it comes to vanity metrics, we just want confirmation that we’re doing the right thing already — then we can display to others how much "righter" we are.

There are many vanity metrics out there. I’ve discussed bounce rate as a vanity metric, for example.

Many of the metrics being talked about in relation to social media qualify as vanity metrics. But in today’s column I’d like to pick on just one of them: The Klout Score.

Klout as a measurement tool?

Klout is a tool that assigns an index "score" to social media personas. This score is, according to Klout, indicative of your "influence." When you establish a Klout profile you connect a variety of your social media accounts to it. Then Klout runs some black box algorithm stuff on your social media activity and assigns you a Klout Score.

Klout recently revised its algorithm. As a result, many people who formerly had what were considered "good" Klout Scores got lower or "worse" Klout Scores. It’s been all the rage for the past couple weeks to write posts critical of Klout and its scoring system.

When moral attributes are assigned to the Klout Score, that’s another red flag that it probably isn’t actually useful. It’s a red flag that instead of being a tool used to inform business decisions, Klout might simply be a badge that we wear to show others how "good" we are.

Klout, as a measurement tool, fails. It is an index of various activity on some social networking sites. It doesn’t do a very good job at all when it comes to measuring actual influence. Not just "how loud is my shouting" or "celebrities retweet my stuff" influence, but real genuine change.

Klout certainly isn’t a measure of how influential someone is in your specific town. Nor is it a measure of how influential someone is when it comes to helping people buy or sell property. The only person I know of with a Klout Score of 100 is Justin Bieber.

Which brings us back to business goals from the bullet list above. If your goal is celebrity, then Klout may be a useful metric to track.

But if celebrity isn’t a business goal of yours, then Klout really has no meaning and isn’t an accurate metric to track. I’m not sure that Justin Bieber’s influence is especially relevant in real estate, for example.

Worse still, pursuing a high Klout Score might prevent you from taking the time to build influence in ways that are meaningful for you, your business and your community. The things that you must do in order to achieve a high Klout Score may not be things which genuinely improve your business. Trusting the definition of "influence" to anyone not intimately familiar with your specific business is unsound.

Klout is a vanity metric. Increasing or decreasing your score might make you feel better when talking to others, but probably has no meaningful impact on your true influence with anyone worth influencing.

Klout is a product placement company

Whenever I’m unsure of how something works, I like to play "follow the money." Especially for tech and media companies.

Klout generates income by charging companies to give stuff away to Klout users, and Klout calls these giveaways "Perks." Companies choose to give Perks to people who Klout deems "influential" based on the network signals Klout is analyzing.

Klout is good at measuring general social network and media activity. It does a good job at identifying people who are chatty online. If your company gives stuff to people who are chatty online, perhaps they’ll be chatty about your company.

It’s a simple system and makes sense for the product-placement company and for Klout. It doesn’t hurt anyone because, "Hey, free stuff!" Klout as a product-placement company helps to solve a serious issue for marketers: How do I get people talking about my brand now that traditional media is dying and bloggers are quitting and switching to Facebook and Twitter?

But you probably don’t want to be making significant business decisions based on a product-placement company’s assessment of your influence.

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