I don’t usually take much pleasure in companies going out of business. There are always people who, no matter how misguided the idea seemed to be at the time, dreamed of succeeding and who worked hard at the company. Even at businesses whose mission I fundamentally disagreed with, some of the people there surely were just in it for the steady paycheck and the demise of the company is going to cause them some hardship.
That being said, I’m not at all conflicted about feeling good that Klout is folding operations. I do feel bad for the people who worked there, but the service was such a massive disservice to the entire social media marketing industry that if I could have killed it with fire a decade ago I would have done so gleefully.
The service, in case you aren’t familiar, collected information about your social media activity and followers to assign you a numerical score denoting how influential you were and on what topics. It was literally a leaderboard for the social web.
In and of itself that might have been innocuous enough, but as with any such ranking people became obsessed. They took a number that was easily gamed (even before the rampant proliferation of bots) and assigned life-or-death importance to it. On more than one occasion my contradictory opinion on a statement made by someone was dismissed because they had a higher Klout score than I did. People’s personal and professional strategies went from conversational and casual to engineered specifically to increase their score, something that often resulted in them turning into complete tools.
The criticisms of the service have been widespread since about a week after it launched. It was the canary in the coalmine in terms of how engagement could be gamed to create a false sense of authority even before Facebook introduced an engagement-based News Feed. It was crystal clear even then that trying to use people’s reactions to what someone posted to assign quality was poor and error-ridden. You could have Alexander Hamilton himself on Twitter talking about the Federalist Papers and someone else who was less challenging and more bland in their thinking would have higher score because people Liked it more often.
In the content marketing world, Klout scores were assigned a value well above how useful or accurate they were. In the early days of influencer marketing (when it was still called blogger relations or some variation thereof), clients would demand participants have a minimum Klout score to be considered even after it was pointed out that others might actually be a better fit. Even as recently as a month ago I was on a call with a social monitoring service that demoed how its reporting displayed Klout scores. It was all I could do not to audibly snort on the phone.
Klout became a way to avoid doing actual research. It was shorthand that could be easily digested by the C-suite but which meant next to nothing. Those of us who have espoused that point of view for a decade were constantly being told we were wrong despite no actual evidence to support that assertion.
As many people have noted, the announcement of the service’s shutdown comes just as GDPR implementation is about to become reality in the E.U., timing that can’t be coincidental. Klout’s entire premise was that it was collecting and packaging social user data so it only makes sense it was selling those packages to someone in some manner and didn’t want that exposed. If that’ what it took to kill a mean-spirited, misappropriated and harmful service, I’m completely good with it.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.