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Focusing on a Klout score is detrimental to your business

by on August 22, 2012
Last updated on
We've been fielding questions from clients (and potential clients) about Klout scores, Hubspot, and what all these services mean for their websites and their businesses. There is a perception and fear among these business owners that they're not doing enough to "engage", and thereby missing potential customers. The questions I receive are typically "how can I get my Klout score higher?", "should I fork over lots of money to Hubspot?" and "if I pay for Hubspot and get my Klout score higher will I get tons of new business?"

My answer, quite simply is: No.

Focus on what we've advised you to focus on: running your business, publishing quality content, and using the tools you've set up to engage your audience to the best of your ability in the forums that make sense for you (whether they are Facebook, Google+, blogs, etc.). Please continue reading for our analysis...

What is Klout?

Klout is a venture-capital funded company that has developed a "Klout Score" whose purpose is to measure your (or your brand's) influence on the web. By tracking "network signals" such as Facebook mentions, Twitter retweets, Google +1's, Foursquare tips completed, etc. Klout's aim is to quantify and grade how "socially" engaged you are in the social media space and whether you have influence on the actions of others within the social networks.

Who is Hubspot?

Hubspot is an internet marketing company with a software package that aims to provide greater insight into your online marketing actions and provide intelligence regarding your effort and spending. Part of their strategy is to have you build your company's blog on their platform, send out emails via their email platform, and set up automation publishing via their platform. Sure, there are other software packages that do these same things (Google Adwords, Google Analytics, Google Webmaster, Blogger, Constant Contact, etc.), but the utility of their platform is that it is in one easy-to-use package. It doesn't come cheap, but if you have money to spend and don't mind paying for the convenience, go for it.

Why don't we believe the hype?

We have nothing against people buying software/services for convenience, nor do we have anything against people using scores for measuring their own self-importance.

However, we could never recommend any service that relies on an undisclosed proprietary formula, convincing businesses that the formula and resulting number has value that will contribute to the success of their business, and then selling a service to help them increase that number. In our opinion that is what the social media scientist behind HubSpot is doing. In that single post there is a mass confusion of two charts, Klout score, website success, and the discreet sales pitch that you need Hubspot to help you make your site successful.

Before we get too far, we can all agree that:
  • inbound links are good
  • unique visitors are good
  • engaging customers online is good

The only chart and data provided to support this theory by Hubspot's social media scientist is on this page:

Argument #1: Klout does not measure website successfulness

Klout measures your (or your brand's) online noise in the social media realm, and a veneer of your (or your brand's) clout when it comes to your fans/followers engaging with you online or sharing/re-sharing your content. However, But Klout score does not equal website successfulness, not does it even measure website successfulness. Unless your website's goal is to simply get mentioned and get eye-balls, the key metric in this discussion should instead be conversions. What percentage of those tweets and retweets, shares and +1s lead to sales, sign-ups, or other actionable goals and not just a louder online chatter?

Argument #2: correlation does not equal causation, and where is the correlation?

Is it surprising that sites with more inbound links get more unique visitors? No, not at all. But does a preponderance of inbound links directly translate into more unique visitors? No. And does a preponderance of unique visitors directly translate into more inbound links? Not unless they're all going and sharing, bookmarketing, liking, etc. The "correlation" spoken of in the article assumes that there is a direct relationship between inbound links and unique visitors, ignoring the fact that there are other ways that people learn about websites (direct, search, paid advertising, etc.).

The observed relationship is only that: one which is observed by visual inspection. The charts were made to look similar, but without any actual data to support the existence of a direct correlation between the three. If I take steps to increase my Klout score, will that directly cause my inbound links to go up, as well as directly cause my unique visitors to go up? It seems to me that the inverse is true, that a Klout score is an imperfect scoring and gamification of your efforts to market your site, none of which indicative or predictive of your site's success at anything other than this gamification. Wouldn’t it make more sense to say “a successful website is more likely to have a high Klout score” than to state that “a high Klout score is more likely to lead to a successful website”?

Argument #3: crowd noise vs. quality of the link

Not all inbound links are created equal; one could be a tweet from a Twitter account with 0 followers, or one could be a link-mention from a high-value business periodical. Both are counted as a single inbound link, but they obviously have different values in terms of driving traffic to your site, and the quality of that traffic. Measurement of inbound link quantity is an interesting statistic, but there is only so much value you can place in that one measurement.

Argument #4: where are visitors from non-inbound links?

According to Forrester Research anywhere from 80-93% of website traffic originates from major search engines and for most major sites it is common to have at least 40% of the traffic originating from searches (not inbound links!). Yes, inbound links are a contributing factor in how your site performs in search engine results and rankings, but they are only one factor, and the quantity of inbound links is just as important a factor. Looking at this graph, will business owners ask "if I just get my Klout score to 70, does that mean my website is going to have an explosive growth of traffic because I hit that benchmark number?"

Argument #5: why the jump at "70"? What is the value and meaning in the Klout score?

Looking at the charts, the first thing I asked was "why the jump at 70?" What's the meaning of that jump and, if Klout's value is as a predictive indicator of clout, shouldn't it be a straight line (e.g., from bottom-left to upper-right) instead of an exponential curve? As you approach a Klout of 100, does your clout expand to infinity? Who has more Klout, President Obama or Justin Bieber? And if one of them says something online, with a score of 100, does that mean you have to link to it? Does that mean you're almost bound to do or buy something as a result? And if I just get my Klout score to 70, does that mean my website is going to have an explosive growth of traffic because I hit that benchmark number? My current score is a 60; should I start working really really hard to get those 10 more points? Will that really make all the difference?

Argument #6: Klout leads to social media attention deficit disorder

Klout rewards you for having your hands in many networks, but would your efforts province greater benefit for your business if you instead focused heavily in anetwork or strategy? For example, would you be better off maintaining a Pinterest account, Twitter account, and Instagram account, or instead focusing all of those efforts instead into blogger outreach and content writing that drives traffic to your own site instead of those 3rd party sites?

I think the first strategy would increase your Klout score more, while the second strategy would lead to more success for your website and your business.

Argument #7: Statistics and the importance if intervening variables

Let's accept that there is a relationship between Klout scores and Inbound Links, and that there is also a relationship between Klout scores and Unique Visitors. One could assume (using the laws of associative mathematics: A=B, B=C, A=C) that there also exists a relationship between Inbound Links and Unique Visitors. However, not only is there a lack of causation (ref) but one could also assume there is an intervening or third variable in play. As with the classic example that the relationship between ice cream sales and violent crime is mediated by a third variable (in this case, hot weather), the relationship between Klout score and Unique Visitors is mediated by Product Demand (or lots of other variables).

So why is focusing on your Klout score detrimental to your business?

The Klout score will have you focusing your attention on the beauty-pageant-like "popularity contest" of social media. A lesson learned back in college from the head of programming at the college radio station was "don't keep asking people to call in, and don't ever ask 'is anyone listening?'; produce a great show and people will start listening and talking about your show". He was right. Good content (with catchy titles and images) gets shared innately, it shouldn't need to be actively or overly promoted.

Klout rewards you for putting yourself into as many different social media networks as possible. Honestly, does everyone need a Pinterest account, a Twitter account, a Facebook account AND Facebook page, a Google+ account, a LinkedIn account, a FourSquare account, a YouTube account(?), an Instagram account, a Tumblr account, a Blogger account, a account, a account, a Flickr account... sure, they'll boost your score and make you feel like you're accomplishing something, but as we recently wrote about, you'd be spreading yourself thin, diluting your brand origination point, and promoting the social media services instead of yourself. A business should put itself in the networks that make the most sense for their type of business, should factor those networks into their overall strategy, and should do so with the goal being the capture of new business, not the contribution to the social media echo chamber.

Am I making a mountain out of a molehill of an article? Possibly. But I think it's fair to say that the theories, logic, and mentality expressed in the article are indicative of the entire argument and strategy that both Klout and Hubspot subscribe to. Perhaps this strategy has value to your business, but we'd strongly suggest that you keep an eye on your ROI.

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