Klout Clobbers Facebook Phobia

by Dana Woldow on February 6, 2012

I admit it. I suffer from Facebook phobia. Technology has never come easily to me, but as a budding school food advocate a decade ago, the advantages of communicating through e-mail, online chat boards, and blogs motivated me to acquire the necessary skills. In 2003, the pilot project at San Francisco’s Aptos Middle School, which eventually led to the removal of soda and junk food from all of San Francisco’s public school cafeterias, would never have been possible without the ability to spread information electronically. The advent of social media has provided advocates with even more powerful tools, allowing them to reach all of their followers at once, in real time. Where would flashmobs, the Occupy movement, or food trucks be without the ability to tweet?

It is hard to imagine doing advocacy work today without taking full advantage of social media, and yet, I have what Facebook “power users” tell me may be the world’s only Facebook page that intentionally has no friends. The only reason I have an account at all is because it was mandatory for becoming an administrator of the Facebook page for PEACHSF, my better-school-food advocacy website. Having no desire to reconnect with people I knew in elementary school, and already spending far too much time at my computer each day, it seemed like a sane decision to shun my personal page. But now, thanks to yet another social media experience called Klout, I am reconsidering.

In case you have never heard of Klout, it is a way of measuring your influence, based on your ability to drive action in social networks. Sign up for the free service through your Twitter or Facebook page, and Klout provides your “Klout score” – a number between 1 and 100. A score of 20 is about average, over 30 is considered reputable, and over 50 is elite. It becomes increasingly harder to increase your score the higher up you move – that is, it’s easier to go from 25 to 30 than from 70 to 75. Scores are constantly moving up or down, depending on your activity and how many people you are interacting with on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, etc. Equally important is how those people behave in social networks after interacting with you.

As I write this, my Klout score is 41, driven entirely by my presence on Twitter, but my 22 year old’s son’s score is 51, driven almost entirely by his Facebook presence. Clearly, I am missing out on additional leverage for my issues by avoiding Facebook.

Of course, you don’t have to use social media yourself to get the word out about your cause, so long as enough other people are willing to do it for you. Just look at what happened when Dr Robert Lustig recently published a commentary in the journal Nature, claiming sugar is both toxic and addictive, and calling for government to regulate sugar as it does tobacco and alcohol.

The result was the equivalent of yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater, as people rushed for the exits, not to save themselves from the fire, but rather because the Internet reception inside the theater was so poor, and they all wanted to use their cellphones to send their snarky responses to the comments sections of their favorite news outlets. At SFGate, website of the San Francisco Chronicle, the article about Lustig’s comment drew the most page views for the week. On Twitter, tweets ranged from calling the proposal “insanity” to “Dumbest Progressive Disguised as a Scientist Award=Robert Lustig.”

One might think that so many negative comments would be a bad thing, but in the world of Klout, getting people to talk about you online, regardless of what they are saying, is a good thing which can only drive your Klout score higher. As one blogger put it, “Klout does not measure whether or not people like what you say, only if they share it. Don’t fear controversy.”

You may well think, “Who cares?” Certainly for the average person using social media just for their own amusement, a Klout score is meaningless. Even for those who care about their score, focusing too much on the number, and not on what it is supposed to represent, is probably a bad idea. Klout itself experienced a tidal wave of user outrage late last year when they modified their algorithm in an attempt to be more accurate, and zillions of people saw their Klout score drop 15 points or more overnight.

Obsession with one’s Klout score may not be just vanity, though. Increasingly, job seekers in the communications and social media world are listing their Klout scores on their resumes, and some people believe that it is a factor employers consider when hiring. At least one literary agent has advised wannabe-authors to include their Klout score along with other metrics when pitching a book proposal.

For advocates and bloggers focused on getting their message out to as wide an audience as possible, Klout scores are another tool in the toolbox, one that can provide valuable insight into who is listening to you and what effect, if any, you are having on their social media behavior. In short – are your efforts to get your message out working? In an area like improving school food, where it is possible to work for months, or years, before seeing any real policy change, anything that helps to measure progress in affecting public opinion is valuable.

Remember why you are using Klout. It’s easy to slip into a high school mentality and start to rate yourself against other people based on your respective scores, but the score is just a number; what’s important is whether the number is moving up or down in response to your efforts.

Dr. Robert Lustig has neither a Twitter account nor a Facebook page (although he does have a Facebook fan club), and so, at the moment, he has no Klout score. But he does have a video, Sugar: The Bitter Truth, which has close to 2 million hits on YouTube despite its 90 minute length, so clearly even without Twitter, Facebook et al., the man is getting his viewpoint heard, and he doesn’t need Klout to prove it.

But for those of us who still need to measure the effectiveness of our message, there is Klout. Just don’t forget that it is a tool – one of many in our toolkit. Use it, but don’t let it use you.

Dana Woldow has been a school food advocate since 2002 and shares what she has learned at PEACHSF.org. Follow her on Twitter @nestwife.

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