Klout is a social media tool designed to measure how influential you really are recently changed its algorithm taking into consideration both online and real-life influence.  The Klout team boasts that it now uses 400 signals, instead of 100 and 12 billion signals, instead of 1 billion to develop a more accurate reflection of a user’s influence.  It even takes a user’s Wikipedia page into account when creating a Klout score–the minds behind Klout allege that Wikipedia is a true gauge of real-world influence because it shows how you affect the world and people.  Joe Fernandez, the CEO of Klout, explains Klout’s new algorithm in an interview with Brian Solis.  In Fernandez’s opinion, having a “number” associated with influence is empowering and encourages people to build an audience and increase their influence.  Furthermore, Fernandez believes that Klout cultivates a more thoughtful social media presence.  But is Klout oversimplifying influence?

The question remains if Klout really accomplishes Fernandez’s goal of successfully grading each user’s ability to impact others and is good gauge of a person’s presence, not impact, on social media.  Blogger and consultant Mark Schaefer explains that Klout finds, “the people who are experts at creating, aggregating, and sharing content online and creates a measurable reaction. Nothing more. In the old days, we called this ‘buzz’.” Schaeffer is correct in his assessment that Klout does reward those who create and share content online, but people who are active on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. can have high Klout scores without being true influencers.

Klout falls short in its attempts to accurately depict real-world influence, but does so without using quantitative data.  Wikipedia is a great resource, and yes, many of today’s influencers have robust Wikipedia pages, but not all robust Wikipedia pages are an accurate indicator of real-world influence.  It is not difficult to write your own Wikipedia page or add links to your page.   Wikipedia’s strength is in its ability to curate accurate information on anything you want to learn.  After implementing the new algorithm, Obama finally has a higher Klout score than Justin Beiber.  Obama’s score is now 99 whereas Bieber’s is 91–but it is election season.  Klout has the tremendous limitation of only being truly pertinent in an online context, but it can be valuable to measure your online influence against more traditional measures.

The real limitation of Klout is not with Klout itself, but with how people use it.  A professor at Florida State University plans to grade his students by their Klout score in an attempt to prepare them for job-hunting, when Klout scores may matter.  The problem with this is that while Klout may be a good initial indicator of online popularity, it cannot fully judge a person’s influence.  Klout should be considered as a complement to other information, it should not be the only important factor in deciding someone’s influence and success.  On Klout, blogger Matt Owen  explains, “if you have a million followers then it’s a bit more likely someone will click on a link in your tweets. If I advertise sofas on national TV, more people will see that ad than if I put it on a card in my local newsagent’s window. Will they purchase? Only if they’re looking for a sofa.”  A high Klout score is not necessarily correlated with a high influence.  The content that someone publishes on social media is what matters.  The context of different user’s scores needs to be taken into account.  A social media user with a small audience that covers a specific niche effectively is more valuable to users than an “online celebrity” that dishes on everything to millions.

If you want to understand someone’s ability to influence others, you can take a look at their Klout score, but realize that this score does not fully measure total influence.