Maybe you've never heard of Klout, the San Francisco-based startup founded in 2009 that purports to measure how influential users are across social networks. But that doesn't mean Klout hasn't heard of you: If you have a Twitter account, you have a Klout score.
According to Wired, marketing consultant Sam Fiorella was recently passed over for a job when, during his interview, he confessed that he had no idea what a Klout score was. He subsequently learned that his Klout score was 34 - not too bad - but the guy who got the job had a Klout score of 67.
Klout assigns people a score of between 1 and 100 - with 1 being someone who's never seen social media, and 100 being Justin Bieber. The average person has a score of 20; anything higher means that you're at least moderately influential in your area of expertise. Everyone with an active Twitter account has a Klout score, though they can opt out of the system if they wish.
Your next job interview may not include a question about your Klout score, but I wouldn't recommend ignoring it entirely. According to Matt Thomson, Klout's VP of platform, having a higher Klout score may soon enable you to nab earlier plane boarding times, free access to airport lounges, hotel upgrades, and discounts from retail stores. Gilt Groupe recently offered discounts based on Klout score - from 20 percent for users with scores of 20 or lower, to 100 percent for users with scores of 81 or higher.
What Is Klout?
Klout attempts to measure your online clout--that is, your ability to influence people on the Internet. Using data aggregated from social networks, Klout determines how good you are at persuading other people to act.
"Klout defines influence as the ability to drive action," says Lynn Fox, Klout's head of communications. According to Fox, "we analyze a number of social media engagement variables to measure influence, including Twitter retweets and mentions, Facebook comments and likes, LinkedIn comments and likes, Foursquare tips and to-do's, and Google+ comments and reshares."
Klout's website notes that ae Klout score takes three major factors into account: True Reach (how many people you actually influence), Amplification (how much you influence those people), and Network (how influential your network is).
To increase your Klout score, you need to focus on these three things - increasing the number of people who respond to and share your content, ensuring that your tweets and status updates are easy for people to respond to and share, and strengthening your network by engaging with people who have high Klout scores.
How to increase your Klout score
Though Klout does not share its reputation calculation algorithms with the public, figuring out how to increase your Klout score doesn't require an advanced degree in Bieberology. Here are ten unofficial tips on how to become a social media maven and a VIP at venues responsive to that sort of status.
1. Go public
Everyone who has a semi-active Twitter account automatically has a Klout score. If your Twitter account is private, though, your score will hover around 10--no matter how actively you post to it. That's because Klout, as a third-party application, can aggregate only public data or private data that you explicitly grant it permission to access.
If you currently keep your Twitter account private, a surefire way to increase your Klout score is to log in to Klout, allow Klout to access your private data, and make your Twitter account public. Having a public account increases the chance people who are not in your network will share and respond to your content, thereby increasing your score.
2. Link your social networks
You may not be a Twitter superstar--I'm certainly not. But even if Twitter isn't your thing, you can cobble together a respectable Klout score. You can link up to 13 social networking accounts to Klout, including Blogger, Facebook, Flickr, Foursquare, Google+, Instagram, Last.fm, LinkedIn, Wordpress, and YouTube. Klout plans to add at least seven more social networks, including Yelp and Posterous, to its roster.
Klout says that connecting networks can only help your score, and it recognizes how "nearly impossible [it is] for any person to be consistently effective across every network." That said, you should link only to accounts that you keep up with, according to social media expert (and founder of new media agency Plastick Media) Tori Kyes. You should also make your linked accounts public.
3. Build relationships
Your True Reach is a measure of people who not only follow you and friend you, but who actually engage with the content you produce. Having 3 million Twitter followers won't mean much if they follow you but otherwise ignore you.
To increase your True Reach, you must build online relationships with people. The easiest way to do that is by talking to them--responding to their content, asking them questions, or commenting on their profiles. This will put you on their radar, and in the future they'll be more likely to respond to your content.
Klout says that it never punishes users for interacting with people who have lower Klout scores, so you should try to talk to everyone when you have the chance.
4. Pay special attention to influencers
Since Klout rewards you for engaging with people who have higher Klout scores, it's worth your while to identify "Influencers"--people who have high Klout scores in your field of expertise--and try to engage with them without looking like a suck-up or a social climber.
"Don't just retweet them; that means nothing," says Rachel Hutman, an account executive at Clearpoint Agency. "Respond to what they are saying. Ask them additional questions. Be enlightening, funny to get their attention. The more followers someone has, if they then talk about you, your Klout score will undoubtedly go up."
You can also engage with Influencers who are not in your field of expertise, but you're more likely to receive a retweet or a comment if they have a reason to talk to you. As a tech writer I'm more likely to get a comment from another tech writer (say, about technology) than I am to get a comment from rapper 50 Cent. Though it would be awesome if I got a comment from 50 Cent, it makes more sense for me to solicit comments from other tech-focused people.
5. Ask questions
The more questions you ask, the more answers you'll get. People love to give their opinions--whether about the weather in Seattle, which Android phone to buy, or how insane traffic is during rush hour in New York City.
Tweeting something like, "What's the craziest thing you've ever done to get a cab at rush hour in NYC?" will elicit more responses than, "Ugh. Trying to get a cab in NYC." Likewise, asking people if the sun ever shines in Seattle during the summer will net more answers than just complaining about the weather.
One especially effective strategy id to ask people to share their own stories. People love to talk about themselves, especially on the Internet.
6. Know your audience
Once you get to know your audience, you'll be able to share, comment on, and ask questions about topics that interest them; and in turn, they'll be more likely to engage with you. If your audience is mostly teenagers, you probably shouldn't tweet incessantly about politics and finance. If your audience is mostly Silicon Valley computer engineers, you probably shouldn't bore them with makeup tips.
It's also smart to find out where your audience is located. If you have a ton of followers from Japan, for example, you might want to send out tweets at times when they'll be awake. If the vast majority of your followers are on the east coast, you can taper off the tweets at around 10 p.m. Pacific time.
7. Make your content easy to share
One of the quickest ways to raise your Klout score is to pile up Twitter retweets, Google+ reshares, and Facebook shares. The key is for people to see your content and think "I absolutely have to share that."
Aside from making your content appealing, you'll want to make it easy to share. You can do this in a few different ways: by using tagging to give others credit, by adding hashtags and keywords to make your content searchable, and by cleaning it up--avoiding swearing, keeping your entries simple, using proper English when possible, and so on. People want to be able to click and share; they don't want to have to edit your tweets to make them searchable (or inoffensive).
8. Post at the right time
If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound? And if a tweet goes out at 3 a.m., does it have any impact? The answer to both questions is maybe. But "maybe" isn't good enough if you're serious about increasing your Klout score.
If you constantly think intriguing thoughts and achieve fascinating insights in the middle of the night, consider using a third-party application such as HootSuite, Twuffer, or FutureTweets to defer the posting time of these updates to ensure that they hit the Web at peak traffic periods. You can also use services such as Timely, which analyzes your followers to determine when your tweets should go out, and publishes them accordingly.
9. Quality over quantity
According to Klout, "being active is different than being influential," and your score depends far less on how much content you create than on how much engagement you generate. So while teenage girls may be superactive on Twitter and Facebook, they're rarely very influential, even within their own network.
The best course is to maintain a steady flow of interesting, engaging content--not just content for content's sake. If you update your Facebook page 3000 times a day, but people comment on it only 5 times a day, your Klout score will be lower than if you update your page 10 times a day with the same amount of comments.
10. Don't stress
Your Klout score isn't everything, of course. Just because one person reportedly was passed over for a job because of his Klout score, that doesn't mean that you should treat your Klout score as the ultimate objective measure of your social and professional worth.
For one thing, your Klout score doesn't measure your offline influence and success, which helps explain why, until very recently, tech pundit Robert Scoble had a higher Klout score than President Barack Obama. (Justin Bieber has the highest Klout score, period, but he is arguably more influential than even the President.)
Though Klout's ever-changing algorithm remains somewhat mysterious, you can (and should) feel free to game it to your advantage, just like any other arbitrary scoring system. But don't let such considerations cloud your judgment - and don't lose any sleep worrying over your Klout ranking.