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Ascent of the social-media climbers

By Beth Teitell
Globe Staff / February 18, 2011

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After Valentina Monte accepts a date, the Boston University junior quickly goes online to see how many Twitter followers her suitor has. She checks her own follower count three times a day. When she meets someone who admits to following more people than follow him, she judges. “That means you’re a loser.’’

So when her Klout score hit an impressive 59 out of 100 recently, making it almost as high as Jay Leno’s score of 65, she was ecstatic. “I felt worthy.’’

Klout score? Learn it or, as Monte would say, be judged. Klout.com is one of a number of new status-measuring tools aimed at making social networking more like high school than it already is. Sites such as Klout and PeerIndex.net take public information from Twitter, and sometimes Facebook and LinkedIn, to determine a person’s influence on social media. Anyone can check her score or a rival’s by going to one of the sites and putting in her Twitter handle.

The companies use secret algorithms that go beyond simple numbers of followers — which can be bought in bulk — or friends or fans, and count retweets, the number of links clicked, and even how influential one’s followers are, among other indicators.

“A credit score for your reputation,’’ is how Dave Wieneke, director of digital marketing at Sokolove Law, in Boston, describes the Klout score.

Although many don’t know enough to worry about their Klout scores, for those keeping track, it can be one more ego boost or slap. “There’s a lot of emotion around this,’’ said Mark Schaefer, author of the “Tao of Twitter: Changing Your Life and Business 140 Characters at a Time.’’ “Generally it comes from people who have a low Klout score.’’

Garth Holsinger, vice president of global sales and business development at the San Francisco-based Klout, sees the desperation on a daily basis. “People call and say, ‘I work in social media, and I’m going to lose my job if my score doesn’t rise.’ We get celebrity managers asking how they can get their clients’ scores higher. We get people who are literally crying because their Klout score went down.’’

The stakes may only rise, Klout-wise. The company, which was founded in 2008, recently raised $8.5 million in new funding and said it plans to measure influence in more social networks — and beyond, to capture industry leaders who don’t bother tweeting or friending people.

Schaefer, an adjunct professor of marketing at Rutgers University, said the new score-keeping tools create a “disturbing’’ social media caste system that he dislikes. But, he adds, “from a marketer’s standpoint, they’re a dream.’’

Indeed, the Klout score has already jumped from the online world into the real one. As Advertising Age wrote in September: “Need a Reservation? That Could Depend on How Big You are on Twitter (Really).’’

During the Consumer Electronics Show in January, the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas hosted an event with free food and chair massages for guests with good Klout scores. When Disney debuted the movie “Tangled,’’ it asked Klout to find 500 mothers for exclusive Klout screenings and sent their children a “Tangled’’ kit with merchandise.

Holsinger said the company has 40 similar promotions waiting to launch, including one for the new BlackBerry tablet PlayBook: “We’re giving those to 100 super-high-scoring people before they come out.’’

The companies that partner with Klout are paying customers, Holsinger said. “About 1,500 companies use our data.’’

Of course, no one enjoys being kept behind the virtual velvet rope. When the corporate sponsors of a holiday party hosted by social media entrepreneur Peter Shankman invited many guests based on Klout scores, the snubbed were not happy. Shankman expected “whiners,’’ he wrote on his blog, and he did get complaints. “They’re stomping their little feet.’’ If they want to be seen as more influential, he said later, “they need to post more interesting, more engaging things.’’

Even as the low scorers complain about unfairness, Augie Ray, a senior analyst with Forrester Research, predicts an increase in both the number of firms doing social measuring and the number of places where one’s ranking will matter.

“Companies have always provided different levels of service, depending on how much money a customer spends, or how recently they’ve bought something,’’ he said. “Now we’re seeing a change where an individual’s level of influence also has to be taken into account. There’s a lot of buzz about whether it’s fair or not, but I don’t know how much fair has to do with it. A company can afford to anger a customer with a Klout score of 15 but probably can’t anger someone with a Klout score of 95.’’

Indeed, with more hotels interested in Klout scores, Holsinger said the new question upon check-in will not be: “May we have your e-mail address?’’ but rather: “What’s your Twitter name?’’ “If your score is 60 or above, they will upgrade you.’’

But even those who criticize the measuring sites as imperfect still want a good score. Wieneke, who blogs about the future of digital marketing, has serious privacy concerns about giving Klout access to his Facebook and LinkedIn accounts but he’s tempted to allow access in hopes that it will raise his score by providing a fuller picture of his influence.

“Ten points would be pretty nice,’’ he said, speculating on a potential boost. “It counts as social proof.’’

The question of gaming the system or raising one’s score legitimately is the Twitter user’s version of an author trying to raise his Amazon ranking. Beyond buying followers, some people ask friends to retweet their tweets, or follow people just so they’ll be followed back.

Azeem Azhar, chief operating officer of the London-based PeerIndex, regularly hears from users eager to do better, with competition a big motivator. “How come I got a score of 35 and my friend got 45?’’ a user will write as he asks for tips.

“The advice is always the same,’’ Azhar said. “The system is designed to reward good behaviors that suggest you are building your social capital. Those are, do others share or retweet your tweets? Another signal is how many people try and start conversations with me?’’

Perhaps the best thing about having a high Klout score is that it allows one to be blasé. That’s the approach taken by Internet marketing guru Chris Brogan, coauthor of the bestselling “Trust Agents’’ — and a man with 170,000 Twitter followers.

Brogan has one of the highest Klout scores in Boston — 76.4, only about two-tenths of a point behind Shaquille O’Neal. When he meets someone who’s impressed by that score, he feels bad for the person, he said. “I’d rather be measured by something other than a set of numbers a software company thought of one day.’’

Beth Teitell can be reached at bteitell@globe.com.

Top celebrities
When Klout compiled the list of top celebrities, Justin Bieber came in at No. 1, with a perfect score of 100. Kanye West was second, followed by Rev. Run, a founding member of Run-DMC, Trinidad-born rapper Nicki Minaj, and Peter Griffin, the protagonist of the cartoon show 'Family Guy.'

1. Justinbieber: 100
2. kanyewest: 91
3. revrunwisdom: 91
4. nickiminaj: 91
5. petergriffinn: 91
6. realwizkhalifa: 91
7. ladygaga: 90
8. chrisbrown: 90
9. kimkardashian: 90
10. joejonas: 89

In Boston
Who's got the most Klout in Boston? The top two Twitter scores belong to publications -- Harvard Business Review and New Scientist, a science and technology magazine that's based in London but has its US office in Waltham. Shaq's on the list, at No. 4, ahead of Internet marketing guru Chris Brogran, Boston rocker Amanda Palmer, and young comedian Bo Burnham. If you're wondering about BrianPCarter, Ed, and ThatPatsGirl, so are we. We failed to reach two of them, and Ed declined to speak with us.

HarvardBiz: 79.97454
newscientist: 79.10489
BrianPCarter: 78.01768
THE_REAL_SHAQ: 76.63492
chrisbrogan: 76.40123
BostonTweet: 76.39353
amandapalmer: 76.14720
Ed: 75.12749
ThatPatsGirl: 74.98117
boburnham: 74.51303

SOURCE: Klout

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