Facebook has a profile for you. Twitter has a profile of you. Google+ has a profile of you, too.Klout, a “measure of your influence” on the Internet, has access to all of them. Klout users connect all those accounts to the site and whittle it all down to a score.
What do you get out of it?
Well, bragging rights, for one. There’s constant bickering, even in the Business Insider office, over whose Klout score is higher.
But you also get perks — which is the main purpose of your Klout score. The whole service is designed to connect “influencers” with brands and give those brands a way to spread the message organically.
Still, it’s a lot of information. What is Klout doing with it?
We sat down with Tim Mahlman, chief revenue officer of the company, to find out exactly what’s going on, at Business Insider’s Social Commerce Summit. Here’s what we learned:
- Klout actually isn’t selling that data. It doesn’t sell access to your profile to advertisers or brands, even though it has a very complete picture of you.
- But Klout is leaving the door open to trying new revenue models. Mahlman didn’t immediately strike down the idea of selling access to that data, but said the company intends to “keep the user first.”
- The only thing brands have access to is the influencer’s Klout score. They don’t even have access to the topics he or she is influential about. Klout is the gatekeeper here — you can only get introductions through the company.
- Klout is really interested in Pinterest. You can already connect with Twitter, Google+ and a bunch of other social networks, but it’s interested in connecting with social networks that are growing lightning fast, Mahlman said.
And here’s the full interview:
BUSINESS INSIDER: The first question I have to ask, I guess: is your Klout score really a measure of how much less influential you are than Justin Bieber on the Internet?
TIM MAHLMAN: Yeah, haha. Yep. For us, our vision is that everyone has clout. The beauty of it is that we actually have a vehicle with social media to be able to ingest that and be able to reward people with a score of their influence. For the first time, you now have the ability to explicitly highlight to someone what their true influence is — whether it’s a Justin Bieber or that mum of three in middle America. We’re trying to build a business that enables us to highlight that to people.
BI: I can see how that’s important for businesses, they want to pinpoint the influencers. Why is it important for the mum of three?
TM: One, it’s to recognise them for who they are, it’s an identifier that they can hold onto. When that mum is walking down the street, everyone else doesn’t recognise her, but when she’s online she’s really influential when it comes to deodorant or detergent. This allows us to recognise that and pull in that data for our algorithm and recognise who she is — and equate a score to that.
Our goal is to be able to introduce that woman to these brands and for them to have a relationship with these brands. Not from an advertising perspective, but from a pure customer relationship management perspective that says, P&G, meet middle America mum who’s influential when it comes to detergent. You two guys should meet. That’s the goal.
Courtesy of Klout
BI: You guys are already tied in with Salesforce on the CRM front. Are you guys planning any future integrations like that? Maybe a Zoho or some other CRM?TM: That’s actually something we’re really excited about, not only the integration with Radian6 via Salesforce, but the vision is to have Klout be a part of every day life. We want more of those partnerships. We ran with a financial services company over the holidays, they introduced their members to Klout over email, and if they opted in their credit card would award them with more points based off their Klout score. I thought that was brilliant, it gave users a platform to amplify how exciting it was to have this card, and gave the brands a way to interact with them. We look at that as a true social commerce and continue to keep iterating on.
BI: How does the whole perk system fit into this vision? I know you guys have big partnership programs for revenue, but the perks seem like a consumer approach.
TM: The idea behind it is the same way brands buy search — we ask them to give us three to five words. I can find topics and find the most influential people in those topics and introduce those brands to the influencers. The same way Larry Page built page rank, we’re trying to build people ranking. You can then introduce your products — maybe a month or so before they go live — to them and allow those influencers to amplify the message in ways that marketers have had a difficult time of trying to do. T
I really emphasise the term relationship, we aren’t trying to hard sell a brand. When we introduce a user to that particular brand, there’s no guarantee the influencers will be an advocate for that brand. But they should meet those people regardless of sentiment.
BI: What do you do to insulate your users from, maybe the word corrupt is too strong, but have a wall between the brands like P&G and influencers? How do you keep them from sticking their hands in a little too far? Is that something you want to protect against?
TM: In the early stages, brands looked at social media as a way to find celebrities and professional bloggers to get their products in their hands. They still do that strategy, we want to stay away from it. We’re always the buffer between the brand and the influencers. Any time we identify an influencer for a perk, we’re the ones who reach out to them, not the brands. We deliver it to the user, then the user has the ability to opt in to be part of that perks program.
Even through receiving the product, we stipulate in our code of conduct that the user is not obligated to write about it. It’s completely up to them if they speak about it, all we do is offer the introduction. By creating the buffer, we feel that’s a more genuine, trusted environment. When we roll out the perks, we have our own customised boxes in our own Klout tangerine colour. We want to make people feel like it isn’t paid, that they are getting in and there’s no obligation and it’s simply because they get Klout.
BI: So what kind of access to Klout profiles do you give advertisers? You have this profile of the mummy blogger, how much does, say, P&G know about the mummy blogger?
TM: We wouldn’t even introduce P&G to the mummy blogger. We want to make sure who we introduce these influencers to are not professionals. We want to find John Smith from Des Moines, those are the people we really want to reach. They are the true celebrities, it’s just brands.
BI: But what kind of a profile do brands get?
TM: Nothing. Brands get nothing, it’s completely obfuscated. All you need to know is these are the set of influencers you want to reach, we recommend who they are, and we identify it through specific topics as to justification why they receive it. Other than that, no data gets passed to the brands for them to have the ability to have any further relationship with them, it always has to get funneled through Klout.
That’s not just protecting our database but also adhering to our own codes of conduct for how we want our data to be used between our advertising brands and the influencer. The minute we start overstepping those bounds, we’ll have lost trust with our community and we don’t have the value we’ve been trying to build for years.
BI: You guys have access to all those profiles — Facebook and Google and Twitter. Users are opening their entire social lives to you. That seems powerful — what do you guys use that for?
TM: The only way the advertisers are working with us now is when we introduce perks. The other way companies use it is through our API and our analytics, and even then we are very strict on what data gets passed to them. In fact, to date, we don’t actually pass topics, we only pass the score. That also allows us to control exactly how our data is being used.
It’s pretty much from lessons learned from companies in the past that stepped over the line. Yes, we need to build revenue models to sustain our business and continue to grow it, but Joe’s (Fernandez, CEO of Klout) vision is to make sure when he and I discuss how we’re going to strategically build that out, is we take the user and the influencer first, and that becomes the catalyst of how we then build relationships with brands. We really think that social and leveraging Klout should be a relationship, it should not be pushing.
BI: So you guys don’t give out any marketing data as a source of revenue?
TM: Nope, the only thing we do from a marketing data perspective is what we put in our blog and any of the case studies we build with our brand advertisers. We create sheets on how an ad campaign performed — how many influencers were reached, how many pieces of content were created and how many people were reached, how many impressions there were. That could iterate as we mature the business, but for now we feel there’s no need to go down that path. As far as we’re concerned, the user comes first, and everything we do from a decision standpoint starts there.
We hope that it gets to the point that you’re checking the score for a good reason. The phone is something we’re heavily invested in, mobile is something you’re gonna see from us shortly. We want to have perks be tied to our mobile app so it’s not just waiting for that box to show up, you have Klout part of your every day life. When you go to a restaurant you get preferred table seating, when you’re boarding an aeroplane you board with the premiere people. When you check into that hotel you get an upgrade, it’s about who you are and we’re introducing you to that brand for them to curate that relationship.
BI: Any platforms you guys have your eye on?
TM: We have partnerships with fourteen different social networks, we’re gonna keep building it. I believe in diversification, in order for us to be the standard for influence and be that measurement tool, we’re evaluating the content being written across all social graphs. Although you do have the mass scale within those major three — Facebook, Twitter, Google+ — I would say don’t discount any company growing at lightning speed like Pinterest. That’s a company we’d love to have a partnership with. Moreover, there’s a point where Klout will start to look beyond just social, the concept is still there.
There are also those uniques in the online world that aren’t on social media, or they might be but they aren’t engaged. They do engage in other properties. For example, what if a news organisation know that this person has influence so when they write a comment on a particular article, and pushes their comment to the top. If I see the top comment comes from someone who has a Klout score of 60, that’s relevant to me. Give recognition to that influencer and give me quality content to read beyond what that article is written about. Those are the things we want to iterate on.