Social Influence Scoring: Klouty with A Chance of Pointless

cloudy_jello_wallpaper_1024As social media becomes more intertwined with our daily lives, there are a growing number of ways to try to evaluate our online credibility, capability, influence, and value.

It’s easy to think the “influence scores” generated by one-click endorsement (Klout, Kred,  PeerIndex and others) services might provide real insight into our contacts, prospects and peers on social media.

The reality is, however, these social scoring systems really don’t work very well to evaluate us online. Here’s why:

Gamification Kills Validity

How many times have you received a one-click social network endorsement from someone who really doesn’t know you, your skills or capabilities? If you’re like most of their members you’ve undoubtedly received your fair share. These one-click endorsements provide the social network with data points on members’ capabilities – the same data points that are used as a  component of  recruiting solutions that enable recruiters to quickly search and identify candidates who possess skills they’re searching for.

While many members offer valid endorsements to their peers, coworkers and friends, others are generated through a tit-for-tat game by members who endorse others hoping they’ll return the endorsement favor. The result is noise – with a motley assortment of valid and invalid data points, it’s near impossible to decipher what differentiates a good endorsement from a return-the-favor endorsement, and a qualified candidate from one who isn’t.

Unintentional Influence… of Social Influence

Assessments of social influence should also be taken with a grain of salt: By analyzing retweets, replies, mentions and follows on Twitter, Facebook, and elsewhere, social influence scoring systems like Klout and Kred attempt to evaluate our credibility as connectors, thought leaders, and social engagers.

While these point systems indicate members’ status and standing, these systems also introduce conflict by incentivizing behaviors that can bias behavior, rankings and results and cloud the chances of a true assessment of one’s relative social standing.

Automated Endorsements: Hitting Rock Bottom

While hardly a surprise, the recent revelation by the New York Attorney General that online business review services like Yelp, Google Local and City Search were flooded with fake reviews created by companies paying overseas labor $1 to $10 per review, sheds a brighter light on the questionable validity of crowdsourced business evaluations.

The existence of Endorser, promoted as a “recommendation generator” for social networks and “your new perfect endorsement…is just a click away” is a clear sign that our reliance on, and faith in, peer-based and anonymous endorsements is reaching a potentially dangerous inflection point.

Regarding Influence, Context Is King

It’s become near-impossible to differentiate between real and paid-for reviews; between solicited, non-solicited, and computer-generated peer endorsements; and between influencers who game the system and those who don’t. While not an evaluation criteria unto itself, context is probably the single most important factor to consider when evaluating anyone or anything online: Social networks and crowdsourced review systems provide the statistically representative sampling size required for statistically valid results, but validity requires more than size – and it certainly doesn’t emerge from noisy and uncontrolled environments where conflicting motivations comprise the fabric of the network itself.

So what’s the lesson? It’s confusing but logical: Using influence-scoring to influence our decision-making puts us at risk of over-influencing the importance of online influence scoring. Put another way, good decisions always come down to doing your research and relying on resources you know and trust to support your evaluation process.





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jonathan kreindlerAbout the Author: Jonathan Kreindler is a co-founder of WhoToKnow, a former strategy consultant turned entrepreneur whose career management and networking expertise has appeared in CNN, Fortune-Money and Forbes. He’s an avid mountain-biker, a husband, and father of three. Follow him on Twitter!


Image courtesy of via “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”… thank you!



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