Robin Cannon: Competitive Social Media is Pointless


My Klout score increased today. This surely means that I’m more important as a social media user, and I passed some other people. They’re less important than me now. I’m winning…go me! If I try and do all the things that Klout suggests I do, maybe I can win even more. Or should I follow Lynette Young’s advice, so that I don’t have to feel “dirty or hypocritical“?

Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing

Lynette makes a very fair point when she says “I just don’t believe this is how social networking is supposed to work”. I think she’s absolutely right. Competitive social media means changing your activity in order to maximize your “score”. Social media should be about genuine networking and discussion, not about high scores.

The problem with a system that measures your social media influence, particularly when it reduces it to a single number, is that it encourages a focus on that score. When you start giving our [sic] perks (i.e. prizes) for higher scores, that encouragement becomes even stronger. There’s a direct reward for gaming the system as opposed to genuinely contributing to your social network.

The pressure to measure

It’s obvious why services like Klout, PeerIndex and others exist. There’s great pressure to quantitatively measure social media influence, particularly from a business perspective. I know that social media is important, that it can benefit website traffic, customer engagement, the financial bottom line. It’s not easy to explain why that’s true to an employer or client, who may be unwilling to invest time, money or personnel to maximize their social media capacity without seeing some metrics on the measurable benefits.

Influence isn’t exactly something that can be measured, though. It can’t be broken down into figures, and it’s difficult if not impossible to measure the specific impact of a particular social media activity. I know who’s influential, just like I know what’s cool, but it’s a subjective, qualitative judgement, not a quantitative one.

But I still have a Klout account, what’s up?

Yes, I still have my Klout account (and PeerIndex). While I don’t think my Klout score is particularly relevant as any kind of measurement of my influence, I don’t see any great harm in it. I’m not sure I agree that there is any kind of “fundamental sleaziness” in the Klout model. So long as I’m not letting a social media score influence my social media activity, I’m happy to occasionally pick up a small perk from time to time.

I’m making a choice to accept the reality of the situation. I don’t think social media measurement is going away any time soon, even if it encourages artificial behavior. That’s me being lazy. I’m not acting to improve something that I think is being done badly.

I think if we have to accept that influence measurement is going to exist, the demand for a relatively accurate measure will force a change in the end. Services which encourage artificial social media behavior will be forced by that demand to become more passive. I hope I’m right.

Originally published 13 November 2011 on Robin Cannon’s blog