December 5, 2011
Liz published this at 7:50 am
It’s My Story
When I was growing up, what we knew about each other wasn’t called data. It was called interaction, stories, and information. It came in the form of experience and shared events, gossip and oral history, and reports and report cards. Not every story told about us was unbiased, accurate, or even true.
In my youngest years, my dad taught me three guiding principles about such stories:
- Don’t believe anything you hear and only half of what you see.
- Consider the reliability of the source and what the source’s purpose might be.
- People can see what you do, not why you did it. Stick to your values and your actions will prove them true.
This Saturday those three guiding principles loudly came back to me. And they came with advice I give every day, “Own your own story. Never give power to tell your story to someone you don’t trust.”
Why Opting Out Was My Only Choice
I had high hopes for Klout when it started, though I thought they were taking something close to impossible in trying to quantify influence. I was interested to see how they would approach it, hoping they might identify something useful toward sorting the gamers and spambots from the people who were making the social web work. Did I think they would identify true influence? Not really. But I thought they might find a stone of solid respect around engagement activity that was worth looking at. It seemed a big quest, but possible.
As months passed, I grew leery. The algorithm that seemed to make sense, started changing violently. The first change rated inactive accounts higher and people I respected lost ground. The second or third major change came with an explanation using the word transparency, but what it transparently said was “We’re changing this to something better and we’re not telling what that is.”
People who had started using their measure, who had trusted it enough to include it in their client work, woke up one morning to find Klout had changed the algorithm without notice and with abandon.
It was at best a naive decision to move without thought to the people who were building on what Klout offered. Those people who were putting Klout scores in their marketing plans and on their resumes were building Klout’s credibility.
Still I stuck with them, because who hasn’t made a bad decision, especially when starting something new? But I watched with new interest in what they would do.
I became more aware that my data, your data, our stories are their product and they seemed to become less aware of the responsibility that might come with a offering product like that.
The Klout perks I was offered — especially the invitation to audition for the X-Factor — were all about my number not me. The additional unannounced tweaks to the algorithm that made it unpredictable and unstable did more damage to a sense of credibility.
Over the past few months, as changes have occurred, I’ve worked with folks at Klout via email, sending screenshots and describing problems that included:
- Some pages never have loaded completely.
- Notifications numbers and the notification report page varied widely from click to click and at times dropped out a whole month — skipping from 8 hours ago to 53 days with nothing in between.
- My Facebook connections still never linked.
The service response was that of begrudgingly tolerant, but helpful people who lost interest when they couldn’t find a fast fix to their problem — which they saw as my problem. And in each case, the problem was never resolved and my last screenshot went into the ether, even though they had asked me to send it to them.
Saturday’s algorithm change brought this all back to me.
All this, my dad’s guiding principles, and my own words were staring me in the face.
Why I Opted Out of Klout – Three Guiding Principles
Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy to align my goals and share my data with people who share my values and care for my story. I see the value in marketing data to brands who want more information and to brands who want to identify appropriate outreach partners. But when I considered a partnership with Klout and my dad’s three principles this is what I realized.
- Principle 1: In the last month, I played with Klout giving out +Ks like they were candy. I didn’t broadcast them. I was checking how the tool worked.
- I compared my list of people I influence and people under my profile pix to the people who actually gave me +K — thereby saying that I’d influenced them — only 1 person was on both lists. I have never exchanged conversation with the people on the Klout list.
- I received several achievements for “Raining Klout.” My last badge was for Raining 800 +K.
- The more +K I gave and the more profiles I visited, the more +K I got for “doing something awesome.” One day I couldn’t get the amount of +K I had to give down to zero for over an hour.
- As I looked to give only 1 +K to each person, I found that many of the people I admire had already opted out. The puppy on the 404 page and I became good friends. I also found that about half of the profiles I visited who still have a Klout presence have few to no +Ks on them.
Even at their best, numbers flatten the data. They tell the what but not the why. In Klout’s case, we don’t even know the what and the what keeps changing.
As my dad said, “Don’t believe anything you hear and believe only half of what you see.”
- Principle 2: The business model seems to be collecting data, identifying influencers in topical areas, and selling access to them via Klout perks. That model is like selling real estate where you and I are the houses. In their model, we aren’t the customers because we “get” the product for free. The people who pay the bills are the brands who read our profiles and “buy our stories” based on what they see. To make the model work well and be profitable, Klout needs “influencers” across verticals (real or make believe) that attract brands who want to reach them.
When I looked at the story that my profile was telling, I found this.
- Like most of us, my topic list included things I only mentioned once
- My topic list didn’t include the name of my own event — SOBCon — though I tweet about it often and had it as a Klout list, a Twitter list, and admin a Facebook page by that name.
- Others are considered experts about SOBCon, but my partner and I who founded the event are not.
- All but one of the people listed as those I influence have never exchanged a word with me.
- The latest label they gave me was Broadcaster.
It sure seems the concern was not about telling a reliably true story. Consider the reliability of the source and what the source’s purpose might be.
- Principle 3: My values are these:
- Loyalty — an honor for trust relationships with all of the people who help our businesses growth. Trust means that I can believe that you hold my best interests high.
- Brilliant decisiveness — the ability to see a solid business decision and to understand how decision we make impact the people who help our businesses thrive.
- Generosity of Spirit — the humanity to find solutions that serve all of the people who help us thrive as well as our own business growth.
- A Playfully Responsible Sense of Humor — the room for fun and meaning in aligning our goals to build something bigger than ourselves.
- Creativity — the expansive approach that allows everyone who helps our businesses thrive to have a “Wow! I wish I’d thought of that!” idea.
All of my work has these values. All of the people I work with — employees, customers, partners, vendors, clients, and sponsors are the outstanding examples of the same values in business and in life. As a friend who works for an international PR firm said recently, “Klout has become the outreach for lazy companies — those who don’t want to build relationships.”
I’ve always been about relationships.
People can see what you do but not why you did it. Stick to your values and your actions will prove them true.
In the process of opting out, I was faced with a list of options that asked why. I was looking for one that said “Changes in the algorithm” or “Too many changes.” I found it telling that the only choice I found that might describe my reason was “I don’t like my Klout Score.” That, of course, implies something that could be all about my ego and not in the least about their product.
The disclaimers went on to tell me that it might take a few days to totally remove my data and to be sure I should go to every network and revoke access myself. They also said should I decide to opt back in I needed to know it would 90 days for me to get my influence back.
I suppose the lawyers wrote those, but they read like softly worded threats. … which sealed the deal for me. I don’t recall seeing a statement of regret … something that said, “we’re sorry to see you opt out.”
Never give power to tell your story to someone you don’t trust.
If I listen to my dad, my values, and my own advice, opting out was my only choice.
I hope Klout becomes what they want to be and if, one future day, our values align, I’ll be back.
Be irresistible … to yourself first.
–ME “Liz” Strauss