Monday, November 28, 2011
Klout and the Observer Effect
Rohn Jay Miller’s “Delete Your Klout Profile Now” (published Nov. 9, 2011 on SocialMediaToday.com) brings up a couple interesting points about measuring “influence” on social media. First, he brings up the fact that Klout is, in fact, a corporation seeking to leverage its subscribers into become influencers or advertisers for the company at little cost to itself. Secondly, Miller points out that Klout (and other SM measurement sites) are somewhat perverting the actual purpose of social media, making an immeasurable product into one that can be analyzed and sold. While Miller has valid points, he is missing the worst aspect of social media “influence” measurement — the fact that Klout’s measurement is affecting those it purports to monitor.
Physicists write about a phenomenon called “the observer effect” — referring to changes that the act of observation will make on the process being observed. Klout is similar. While there may be moral problems in Klout’s packaging its measurements — gained for free through the efforts of countless social media users — there is a bigger problem in that many users are changing their online behaviors in an effort to gain more “influence.” I have heard numerous social media users note that they are Tweeting at certain times of day or about certain topics, or even trading “+K” on Klout in an effort to improve their influence scores. Even if Klout’s scoring system is otherwise accurate, its propensity for being gamed (like Google search results) by users brings its credibility — and usefulness — into doubt.
Klout succeeds in that it meets a basic human need for recognition. This human desire makes Klout’s business model a successful one: some sample of people will alter their online behavior in order to improve their Klout score. And while there are philosophical issues as to whether Klout (or similar sites) is entitled to use its data in a business sense, there is a larger issue of credibility. If Klout’s measurement is affecting social media behavior, is it actually measuring accurately at all?