Imagine a business based on a mash-up of social media, analytics and ratings. And that's exactly where a company called Klout plays.
Klout exists to assess your social media importance. Using advanced algorithms, it looks at how active you are in social media, how big your audience is, how influential are the people in your audience, and the impact of your social media activity. All this gets rolled up in a Klout score - a number from 1 to 100.
If this sounds like nothing more than an interesting academic research exercise, you might be surprised. Klout reportedly has over 5,000 large companies tapping into its database to determine who really matters online. Uses are varied and fascinating. PR companies use Klout to assess whether or not to personally engage with someone who has made a negative online comment about a client. Marketers are creating customized pitches to those with the highest Klout scores in the hopes of engaging with them and getting them to talk to their audiences about their products. And this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of potential applications. Consider, for example, that Klout has already built a connector to Salesforce.com.
In terms of potential applications, some are cutting edge, but not all are necessarily positive. There are numerous reports floating around of people applying for jobs and being rejected due to low Klout scores. Some hotels reportedly will look up your Klout score at check-in, and provide free upgrades to those with high scores, presumably in the hopes of favorable online mentions. Similarly, Cathay Pacific airlines will make its San Francisco frequent flier lounge available to anyone with a high Klout score - regardless of what airline they are flying. The objective again is favorable mentions.
Implications? What we may be seeing is a devolution in advertising where marketers move to a bottoms-up approach to distributing their messages, with the hope that they can achieve powerful and cost-effective reach by having a small group of individuals amplify their brands and their messages for them. This could have serious impact on those that make money today by aggregating fixed audiences.
Of course, as the rewards for having social influence grow, so too will the number of people gaming the system to improve their scores to reap all these upgrades, free samples and attention. As these activities accelerate, social media measurement could end up getting so polluted and undependable that it becomes too difficult to isolate true influencers, likely a fatal blow to this innovative new marketing approach. Alternatively, Klout, like Google, could try to keep the game going by regularly tweaking its algorithms to maintain its value. But as we add the wisdom of algorithms to the wisdom of crowds, are we really getting any smarter?