Klout, which measures and assigns a numerical score to digital influence, has had its shares of critics since its September 2009 launch. Some have questioned Klout's scoring methods, its privacy policies and its psychological/societal impact. The Klout service was even deemed "socially evil" by CNNMoney.
The Klout controversies have quieted in the past year. With the service entering its fifth year, a few questions still remain. Does Klout matter? If so, to whom and why?
We interviewed social media experts, digital marketers, Klout users, and Klout CEO and co-founder Joe Fernandez to gauge the state of Klout in 2014.
Your Klout Score Can Help Get Hired
Dave Link, chief technology evangelist at PaySAFE, wrote in a recent blog post that true influence is "subjective, not objective" and therefore can't be so easily measured by an algorithm.
Link adds: "To get a true sense of a person's or content outlet's authority on a subject, you have to actually invest time and energy. Klout and other platforms can give you a good baseline to determine someone's activity, but quantity ≠ quality."
That said, those interviewed for this article say, overwhelmingly, that Klout does matter.
"Considerable debate exists over the legitimacy of Klout scores," says Ron Culp, instructor and professional director of the Public Relations and Advertising MA Program, DePaul University College of Communication . Even so, Klout matters "big-time" to hiring managers, often serving as a tiebreaker in hiring decisions involving two equally solid candidates.
"You should care about your score, especially if you're jockeying for a job with social media responsibilities," Culp says. "One agency head in Chicago told me he personally checks the Klout scores of anyone applying for a social media position. For such jobs, he expects a Klout score of 40 or higher."
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Klout can be used as a factor when considering job candidates in other fields, too. Klout CEO Joe Fernandez recently visited a long-time friend in Los Angeles. This friend had been turned down for a job as a bar manager. As Fernandez explains it, another candidate had better social media presence and a higher Klout score.
"From a consumer perspective, your online persona is really starting to matter," Fernandez adds. "Whether you're looking for a new job, dating, or going to a university, people will look for you online, and they will make a judgment about you based on what they see. Klout is the standard for measuring the effectiveness of your online persona on social media."
Your Klout Score Helps You Interact With Customers
Klout is particularly important for those in sales, marketing or any position that requires interacting with consumers, Fernandez says. "The ability to activate and leverage an audience via social media is an incredibly valuable skill for almost any worker."
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For digital marketers, Klout serves an important purpose in identify key industry influencers, says Jason White, senior SEO strategist with Dragon Search Marketing. "Klout is an excellent tool for figuring out who are the luminaries for link building and relationship building."
Your Klout score can help you get clients, too. "As a digital strategist, my Klout score does help prospective clients begin to understand whether or not I'm qualified to help them," says Lisa Richardson of Flow! Web Strategy and Design.
Richardson also teaches college courses on Web design, digital marketing and computer applications. "I explain in my classes that a Klout score is like a grade for your social media activity — and it's very, very hard to make an 'A'." (She notes that President Barack Obama has a Klout score of 99, Stephen Colbert a 91 and Ashton Kutcher an 89.)
If nothing else, Klout can boost self-esteem. "Klout is equal parts ego and feeling your pulse as a social media wiz," notes Varda Meyers Epstein, a communications writer for Kars4Kids.org. Watching her score rise and comparing it to that of younger colleagues, she says, "makes me feel like I'm still a player — and that does something for my self-esteem."
At the same time, Epstein acknowledges that, while this contributes to professional success on an emotional level, "In terms of practical application, Klout doesn't really do anything for me."
James A. Martin is an SEO and social media consultant and writes the CIO.com Martin on Mobile Apps blog. Follow him on Twitter @james_a_martin and on Google+. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn.