Something that was once of interest only to digital analytics geeks is now bordering on something of a cultural phenomenon. With its addictive business model in hand, Klout has become the supreme authority in measuring and ranking online influence. Each day it seems that more and more people are checking their Klout scores to see how influential they are among their online circles.
Yet the service has also left some people scratching their heads. Anyone who has peered into their Klout profile to see the “People You Influence” and the “Topics” may be taken aback by the combination of hair-raising depth and daunting precision. For me, Klout has been able to call out my top influencers, one of which I had only mentioned once on social media. Other times, Klout told me that I was an influencer of people I hadn’t engaged with on social media for well over a year.
This left me begging the question: What specific information does — and doesn’t — Klout have access to?
It would be too lengthy to detail the exact data that each social network makes available, so I’m going to focus on the most popular one — Facebook — for the remainder of this article (bear with me as we delve into the techier side of social media).
Social media networks make their data available to third parties through something called an API. When you connect Klout to your Facebook account, you’re providing Klout with a permission slip — which you, the user, authorize — to tap into Facebook’s API to access your information.
What few people realize is that each third party can “customize” these permission slips. Below is the comprehensive list of every customizable permission that Facebook allows third parties to request access to:
Like most apps, Klout only requests access to a couple of these permissions: Access posts in my News Feed and Access my data any time.
But this only provides one layer of detail.
Luckily, Facebook allows us to pry into exactly what information has been accessed by each app. Here is my information that Klout has retrieved from Facebook:
Some of this information, such as “News Feed,” require even deeper investigation to answer the questions I had. For instance, can Klout see who has looked at our profile? Can it see the number of impressions per post, and from whom?
To answer this, we need to pry back the lid of the Facebook API to see the raw data within it.
The Raw Data
When apps like Klout make a request to Facebook for News Feed information, the following data is returned (I’ve formatted it so that it’s easier to read):
- News Feed Post
- id: 1783567607139
- name: Eric Wittke
- id: 1777951407
- message: “The trouble with weather forecasting is that it’s right too often for us to ignore it and wrong too often for us to rely on it.” -Patrick Young
- updated_time: 2012-01-11T18:48:23+0000
- id: 1783567607139_123456789
- name: Niccolò Machiavelli
- id: 123456789
- message: Don’t know why but always been fascinated by it. For a time I used to wake up and have the weather channel on while I was getting ready for work.
- can_remove: true
- created_time: 2012-01-11T18:57:34+0000
As cryptic as it may seem at first, it’s pretty intuitive once you look over it a bit (to see even rawer data, check out Facebook’s API Explorer). This is a snippet of data (names and IDs modified for privacy purposes) that I took from one of my own posts that showed up in my News Feed.
Now that the exploring is out of the way, let’s recap and go through the data that Klout is retrieving.
Summary: What Klout Knows
- About you and your Facebook friends (whether they’re connected to Klout or not)
- Name, User ID
- About Me, Website, Religious Views, Political Views
- Education history and work history
- Likes, music, TV, movies, books, quotes
- Significant other, relationship details and family members
- And much more: browse the API Explorer
- About you
- Every status update
- Likes and comments within each update
- Every comment on and around Facebook
- About your Facebook friends (whether they’re connected to Klout or not)
- Their posts in your News Feed
- Their Likes and comments on your Wall/Timeline
Does it factor all of these variables into its algorithm? I can’t say for sure. I would venture to guess that many of the details are used to target its Perks incentives towards certain demographics.
And while this information may seem to reveal the obvious to some, there are also some interesting things we can glean from the data.
The biggest takeaway has to do with Facebook users who don’t have their Facebook linked to Klout. That is, Klout indeed has rather robust access to the information of your Facebook friends who haven’t granted Klout permission. This data can be linked to their unique user ID and aggregated from the accounts of multiple Klout users.
The other takeaway pertains to what Klout doesn’t know. For users, Facebook does not allow access to data about impressions, virality, or any other descriptive statistics that are available to Facebook Page managers.
It’s important for public relations professionals to at least be aware of the variables that services have available to work with. For a practice that relies so heavily on influence, understanding the gears that help us measure this influence is of the utmost importance.
I must make clear my intentions of writing this post, as Klout has gone to great lengths to address the unease that some have felt around their product (check out their Understanding Klout series).
My goal with this is similar to interpreting the small print at the bottom of legal forms: all of the details are there, but it always helps to have someone take the time to translate it into English.
For the privacy sceptics out there, it’s worth mentioning that the data that Klout has access to is no different than the data that apps like Groupon and Mashable can access (actually, those two apps require far more permissions than Klout does). On top of that, Klout has made very clear that data is analysis is left solely to computer algorithms. My personal opinion is that if there is any moral fault found with any of these takeaways (that’s not for me to decide), then that fault would lay with Facebook’s privacy and not with Klout’s usage.
I encourage those who are interested to dig around the LinkedIn API, Twitter API, Instagram API, and any other API that Klout (or Kred) use, to see what kind of information is being taken into account.
Find out more about Klout from CEO and co-founder Joe Fernandez, and share your thoughts in the comments below.